Joe Blasco! Not Just Monster Makeup!
Veteran makeup artist Joe Blasco came up in the business during Hollywood’s hey day of horror. Transforming men into monsters, however, it was only the beginning.
by Lisa Randazzo
Beauty Store Business, August September 1998
Raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s, Joe Blasco’s fascination with the entertainment industry was sparked by the monster movies of that time. He later apprenticed with Hollywood’s legendary makeup artists, and went on to paint the industry’s most glamorous faces, open training centers on both coasts and launch his own product line, Joe Blasco Cosmetics. Here he shares some colorful moments from his life as a Hollywood makeup artist.
LR You’re known for your work in the movie industry. What sparked your interest in makeup, and when? Were you drawn toward makeup specifically, or the entertainment industry in general?
JB At first I was drawn toward the entertainment industry in general; I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I wasn’t certain exactly which aspect of film making attracted me the most. When I watched a film or a television show I understood, even at a very young age, that the performers were following a script, that they were being directed, lighted and made up, and that there were camera people in the background. I knew incredible teamwork was responsible for creating what I was seeing, and that fascinated me.
In junior high school I focused mainly on lighting, directing, makeup and camera work. When I was about 13 or 14 years old, a neighborhood friend received an 8mm camera as a Christmas gift; over the next two years, all of the kids in the neighborhood proceeded to create films. Of course, being the entrepreneur of the bunch, I spearheaded the efforts: I wrote scripts, directed, did makeup, set up lights – even acted.
While I was doing the monster makeup for one of these films, I became fascinated with the process. And once I saw my handiwork on film, I set my sights strictly on the path of a makeup artist. And that’s really how I got started.
Of course, I saw pictures of the makeup artists working inFamous Monsters of Film Land magazine; just about every makeup artist in my peer group was inspired by this publication, which was created and edited by a man named Forest J. Ackerman. And if it weren’t for Forrie – we all lovingly call him Forrie – many of us would have never gotten the inspiration to go into the field of makeup.
Jack Pierce, who was the head of makeup for Universal Studios from the late ’20s until 1947, also inspired me greatly. He was the makeup artist who created the original Frankenstein monster that was played by Boris Karloff, and I’m sure in one way or another he assisted Bela Lugosi in the makeup for Dracula. He did the original mummy, also played by Karloff, and the original wolfman, played by Lon Chaney Jr. When I was growing up these films played on TV quite a bit.
“New low-light film emulsions and television cameras required less intense lighting, which meant the makeup colors needed to look more natural.”
LR What fundamental differences separate entertainment make-up from society makeup?
JB I suppose the primary difference is that in entertainment makeup there are technical requirements which must be satisfied. For instance, in makeup for the live stage, the facial features are accentuated enough to carry over the footlights and well into the house so that the people sitting in the audience are able to see the actors’ features and facial expressions.
In television, the features have to be painted in such a way as to be photogenic under the lighting that’s used, and able to reproduce well through television’s electronic process. Your goal is to make up the face so that it’s not distorted in any way by the electronic process-the lighting and the camera.
When you’re dealing with makeup for film and television, or even still photography, you’re dealing with a photographic process that translates the 3-dimensional form into a 2-dimensional format. So makeup must be applied in a manner that helps to create the illusion of a third dimension.
A more obvious difference between the two types of makeup ,would be that of character makeup, which is rarely used in society unless it’s Halloween. But in motion pictures, makeup artists must be very adept at understanding highlighting and shading so that they can transform the face into various characters depicted in the script. If you’re doing a monster in the script, of course, you need to have a knowledge of monster makeup. Very often you see a character in a film that progresses to a very old age, and the makeup artist would have to know how to apply highlights and shadows properly to effect that aging.
LR You also work with plastic surgeons. How did you get involved with this kind of work and what exactly does it entail?
JB At a wrap party back in the early ’70s I met a well-known Beverly Hills plastic surgeon by the name of George Semel, who does reconstructive work. I explained that I was in the process of formulating my own makeup products, and that many of them could, I thought, be used for postoperative work: to conceal the redness, bruises and discoloration’s that occur after plastic surgery, facial peeling, rhinoplasty and various other procedures. I sent him sample products to experiment with, and he told me which products he thought worked well in covering redness and bruises. I incorporated his recommendations into the products that I was making. Before you knew it, I ended up with a complete line of products specifically intended to cover bruises, redness, discoloration’s and blemishes.
I also worked for three years as a makeup artist for the Humana hospital chain, lecturing at the hospitals’ burn centers and demonstrating how my Dermaceal products could be used to effectively cover scars and surface discoloration’s, such as birthmarks.
I still work with Dr. Semel occasionally, but right now I’m intensely involved with researching and developing the new products we’ll be introducing this fall. We’re coming out with 50 new lipsticks and approximately 30 new eyeshadows. We’ll also be introducing several new types of products, including a highly pigmented makeup for liplining and a blemish cover for teenagers.
LR Are the formulations for medical makeup different from formulations for other types of makeup?
JB Joe Blasco Cosmetics formulations in general are different from some other cosmetics inasmuch as we don’t use any animal byproducts or chemicals known to cause allergenic reaction. Most cosmetics that are in cream form are made up of approximately 10% to 15% pigment and 85% to 90/o wax and oil. The predominant component in our cream bases, on the other hand, is pigment. This enables the user to achieve good coverage with a very thin application. That characteristic alone makes it ideal for use as a medical makeup, but it also makes it ideal for any application-motion picture, television and every day.
The other unique characteristic of our product line is its wide range of flesh tones, which have been designed to duplicate the actual undertones of the different races of human skin. When you apply this makeup, it not only goes on thin and covers completely, but it also blends perfectly with the natural undertone and color of your skin. This helps prevent that tell tale line at your jawline.
LR What prompted you to manufacture your own makeup products?
JB Well, for approximately 20 years I worked as a makeup artist in the film and television industry as personal makeup artist for Carol Burnett, Rona Barrett, Olivia Newton John, Bette Midler, Charo, Lauren Bacall, Orson Wells and many other celebrities.
I was very lucky, actually, to work for eight years with Rona Barrett on her TV interview show doing makeup for many celebrities. Working with different people, I learned about the many varieties of skin tone and because each of these celebrities had a favorite makeup, I worked with many different products. Most of the makeups were much the same-very low in pigment and too orange, pink or yellow in color. Few colors really looked natural; you had to blend and mix a lot. I would end up creating colors that worked well for each of these people, and from mixing all of these colors and working with so many different consistencies and textures, I learned what made a good makeup.
And so I began experimenting, because I felt someone should change the products that were available to the professional makeup artist to make them more user-friendly. At about the same time, the lighting changed with the advent of fast film. The new low-light film emulsions and low-light television cameras didn’t require the subject to be lighted so intensely, which meant the colors of the make-ups needed to be changed to be more natural in appearance. It took me about 15 years, really, to develop the process for my makeup line.
“In the past, the television and film processes bid almost any bad makeup application, but today, what you see is what you get. If you don’t do it right, everybody knows it.”
LR Do you update your line according to industry trends? How often?
JB We find that it’s not usually necessary to update the line, as far as industry is concerned, more than once every five years. There are advances being made in the film and television processes, but once you get to a point where you’ve created a make-up that duplicates nature, where else do you go?
The only thing that changes are trends and styles: color palettes and the manner in which makeup is applied. For instance, do we apply eyeliner? Or not? Eyelashes? Lipliner? These are seasonal trends normally dictated by the cosmetic industry. We will