Interview with Marvin Westmore: Make Up Artist and Educator

I met with Marvin at Westmore Academy and got the Hollywood scoop on the Westmore family dynasty! Marvin is the father of five kids: Kevin, Kandy, Eric, Kris and Matthew. Four out of five kids work in the TV and Film Industry! Marvin is one of the forefront educators in makeup artistry education, has a classy resume that will knock your glitter eyelashes off, and is even a Boy Scout Mountain Man for the Western LA County Council. Marvin serves on many local committees, is a fabulous cook and insists if he doesn’t learn something new at least once a week- its been a bad week! Read all about Marvin’s career and family history in Hollywood’s Motion Picture Industry.

Give me a brief history of the Westmore’s family history in Hollywood’s makeup industry.

The Westmore family in Hollywood originated in the Isle of Wight, England. My grandfather, George Westmore was a wigmaker and hairstylist. He immigrated to the United States through Canada back at the turn of the century. He came in through Canada to Philadelphia and onto New Orleans. He had his first salon in the Isle of Wight, then a salon in Texas, and came out to Hollywood in the early days of silent films. My grandfather and his sons built their own shops; they were all very handy with carpentry and plumbing. As I understand it, back then, in the entertainment industry, everyone used to do his or her own makeup. There was no one person responsible for the hairstyling or makeup. As the story goes, Adolphe Menjou, a very early actor, who always had that pencil thin mustache, accidentally shaved half of it off. He stopped by the wigmakers to see if they could do something. My uncle Perc crafted him a duplicate side that equaled the real side. The Production Company was so impressed that they stopped production and had all of their hair goods made by the Westmore brothers, Perc, Ern and Wally. My grandfather got involved in a couple of projects where he could see that there needed to be a unification of actions, a department so to speak, to take care of makeup and hair. He was instrumental in establishing the first makeup department. My grandfather got his sons involved in the studios working at a very young age. I have some advertisements dating back to 1926 showing Perc and Ern doing wigmaking for the industry. As the departments evolved, my father (Mont Sr.) and all of my uncles, Perc, Ern, Wally and Bud, ended up as department heads of major studios. Wally was at Paramount for 45 years. Perc was at Warner’s for over 20 years and was most famous for his creation of the seven classic facial shapes and the classic eyebrow diagram. My father, Mont Sr., died in 1940, and is best remembered for his work on his last film, Gone With the Wind.

How did you and your brothers get into the makeup industry?

The generation after that, which is the third generation, is myself, my older brother Mont Jr., and my younger brother Michael, who came into the business at another point. I came in through live television back in 1958 at CBS network. I started out on Art Linkletter’s House Party, worked my way up to the Red Skelton Show, and the Danny Kaye Show. I also did a series of live shows, called Playhouse 90′s, which were serious dramas performed live, as if you were in the theatre. Everything had to happen in real time, and that was exciting. It was good training, because you had a lot of people to makeup in a short period of time. I went to work on the soaps for a year. I usually had a cast of 12 to 15 to makeup in a four-hour period. There is no makeup time allocated, but everybody got makeup. This was an exercise in how to get the essence of a look without doddling or extra brush strokes – total time management. This is what I taught my daughter Kandy. When Kandy and I work on a show together, we do the work of three people because we have really good time management in our department.

Because of your family history, were you expected to go into the makeup industry? Was makeup something you knew you wanted to do, or did you have aspirations of doing something else?

Makeup was not something that I set out to do. When I was in high school, I fell in love with drafting and art. I wanted to be a set designer/architect. I got out of the military after the Korean conflict, married with one child. I took my portfolio to Disney, and they said I was acceptable, but they required one year of formal education at an art school. At the time, I did not have the discipline to study set design. I had a job offer at the Glendale Light Opera co-designing sets, something I really enjoyed. I worked at a liquor store for a while, then my family said, “you’re out of the liquor store, here’s a make up case, you’re going to work at the studios”, so I started daychecking here and there. Makeup was like another three-dimensional art form to me. Makeup wasn’t difficult for me to grasp; it was learning some of the techniques that are similar to painting, but different. I got involved with the studios and worked at CBS network for six years. It was a great learning process because I ended up running my own shows. I learned a lot about time management and purchasing. I rented all the wigs for the shows. We had a department head and an assistant department head but I was considered the “Key” makeup artist on the shows. I was an assistant makeup artist on the classic film, “Stagecoach”. I continued on in TV and film.

Who were your mentors along the way as you honed your craft?

I got a tremendous amount of experience from Bud Sweeney and Stan McKay who were my mentors. My father passed away at the very young age of 39 in 1940. I did not have the benefit of his presence and expertise.

Did you have any formal training in makeup artistry?

I wasn’t taught by anybody. It was basically being around it all my life. My mother was a hairstylist. As a child, I would go to work with her on Saturday’s at Warner’s. I was always hanging around with the makeup guys. They were the interesting people. My older brother Monty trained prior to me and I was his model. He probably gave me a couple of quick lessons on how to do a beauty makeup. Everything else was watch, observe, and duplicate. My training was to translate script needs into an art form, then being around people who were generous with their comments, suggestions and help. I have never been afraid to ask if I was unsure.

Would you say you formed your own style and technique learning from all these mediums?

Yes. I don’t know if it’s that strong but I do have a style and approach to makeup. My approach is simplicity. A lot of people who get into minutia are just picking at makeup in infinitively tiny pieces. Unless it’s a makeup of tiny pieces it complicates time and motions. You also have to think of the size screen you are working on. If its TV you loose a tremendous amount of detail not that you shouldn’t do quality work, but there are certain details you don’t need to worry about and you can get by with. If it’s for film where the heads are ten feet tall, it’s the same as if you were doing HDTV (High Density Television). HDTV and the big screen are no different; everything shows up on the big screen. I developed a tremendous sense of skin color and skin tone. I work freely with any group of nationality or origin. I match 100% accurate skin tones. I used to get in trouble with my boss for not using the old Max Factor tinted powder, instead I used the Westmore colorless transparent powder. Tinted powder changed the color of the foundation and I didn’t want to change any foundation color by using tinted powder.

Do you have any regrets not pursuing your dreams of becoming a set designer/architect?

I don’t have any regrets about it. I have used most the skills I acquired as a young person. I have used my skills in scouting programs, helping out in church plays and landscaping my yard. I have utilized all those skills in a great number of areas throughout my life.

Which areas of media do you prefer working in the most? Television or Film?

I enjoy the project no matter what the medium is. If it requires creativity, that’s what I want. I want something to keep my mind and hands working and functioning as opposed to cranking out the same old makeup’s day after day. That gets boring.

Looking back over your career, what has been your favorite project?

I have had a number of favorite projects. Dr. Doolittle with Rex Harrison was my first big film. Ben Nye was the department head at FOX and I ran the day to day operations on the set. I also took care of Rex Harrison, who was the lead. It was a wonderful project. We spent 9 months filming in various locations like St. Lucia, Santa Barbara and the FOX lot. The project was rich.

What has been the most challenging project of your career?

There are two big ones. Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) with Dolly Parton. I didn’t do Dolly’s makeup but I supervised the rest of the show. The other tremendous challenge was Blade Runner (1982). It was a challenge as a film, but the other challenge was management working in a negative energy. It was difficult. You had to stay angry to overcome the negative energy and point of view. The cast was wonderful and very creative.

What projects are you working on currently?

Right now I am spending time at Westmore Academy working on the curriculum. I did two HBO movies recently, The Rat Pack and The Meyer Lansky Story.

When did you open Westmore Academy?

The school formally started in 1981 but was in development since 1979.

What made you decide to open a makeup school in Hollywood?

There were two things that brought me to feel there was a need for makeup education. All of the makeup education outside the motion picture studios was by cosmetic lines. Line education is bent towards sales. I was asked to judge a makeup competition for the Long Beach Hairdressing Guild Show. I watched these young people struggle with application techniques, and not knowing when and how to use products. People were interested and had a desire to learn but had no place to go. That was the consumer aspect of the school forming. The second reason I formed the academy was my work with actors and actresses who periodically had face lifts and eyes done. They can only be down for a couple of days before they need to be back to work on the set. I spent a lot of my time, as a result, taking care of their bruises and making them look real and healthy. A couple of actors and actresses talked to their physicians about what we had been doing in the makeup chair to help them through their surgeries. The surgeons begun asking if we could help some of their other patients. The doctors felt it would be an interesting business opportunity. I took what I knew and the products I had and proceeded to help those in the medical field. This evolved into what used to be called paramedical makeup and now is referred to as medical aesthetics. I work with hospitals, burn units, and those with congenital disfigurations. The consumer makeup, medical aesthetics and motion picture elements all encompass Westmore Academy’s curriculum.

What sets Westmore Academy apart from other Hollywood makeup schools?

There are several things that set Westmore apart from the competition. The head of Westmore Academy is a living breathing makeup artist that still functions in the industry. We put the “artist” into makeup artist. We teach drawing, color theory, and psychology of color. I wanted to incorporate the artists’ elements into Westmore Academy’s curriculum. These things alone separate us from the competition.

What is Westmore Academy’s goal for the millennium?

The program has a living curriculum. As the times change, techniques change, products change, we do to. We are not stuck in any one area. There are things I want to add to the program such as more art, costume, and hairstyling on a full-time basis. Airbrushing classes are being brought in within the next few months as a standard in our curriculum. The joy I’m having is working this to make it come to fruition.

What do you find is lacking in makeup artists’ today?

Most of the makeup artists today have training in beauty makeup. They don’t think of themselves as being an all around makeup artist. They consider themselves beauty specialists. They hire someone like me to come in and do the beards and bald caps and I am a specialist. In reality, I’m not a specialist I am a well-rounded makeup artist. If someone wants to pursue a career in the business they need to be a well- rounded artist.

What advice do have to an aspiring makeup artist wanting a career in the TV and film industry?

My recommendation applies to whatever category of makeup you want to get into. Go take art classes. Draw, sketch, and study color. You have night school, junior college and can do it inexpensively. Don’t try to be a Rembrandt. Learn to use your head, eyes, and your hands. All three are necessary for makeup. We jokingly call our school the Zen school of makeup because long before you touch the face its got to be in the head, before it can translate to the hand and onto someone’s face.

Give us your best beauty tip.

Concealing skin discolorations. Forget the green cutting the red, yellow cutting purple and blue cutting orange. Using those theories you just change the skin color not conceal it. The tip is, go right to the color that matches the skin tone and get rid of that other step. You will eliminate half the makeup thickness. Wherever the discolorations, go directly to that area and match the skintone.

For more information about Westmore Academy or Marvin Westmore: Log onto www.westmoreacademy.com or call 1-800-WESTMOR or (818) 562-6808 Westmore Academy 916 West Burbank Blvd, Suite R Burbank, CA 91506

2 Responses to “Interview with Marvin Westmore: Make Up Artist and Educator”

  1. Sherri Lujan says:

    Please send information on your makeup classes – I’m in Sacramento. Thank you.

  2. Barb Powell says:

    back in 1973 I had got Marvin Westmores name at the end of a film for which he had done the makeup. Asking what I had to do to break into the motion picture make up business He answered my letter on paper that had his name across the top and told me to study art and purchase this make up book I did I never went out to the west coast but make up has always been my passion. After my kids wre grown I worked for Clinique and I loved it I had to drop that job and take care of ailing parents. I have nothing holding me back and I still would love doing make up for movies. I think I will contact Marvin Westmore again

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