Dick Smith: The Godfather of Makeup

Jul 20 – Aug 24, 2023

For Yale pre-med student Richard Emerson Smith (1922–2014), a routine library trip would lead to his encounter with Paint, Powder and Makeup, a book that altered the course of his career from dentistry to the art of transforming actors through makeup. Known professionally as Dick Smith, the American special makeup effects artist got his start at WNBC-TV in 1945, where he worked as Department Head of Makeup through 1959 to develop his craft and reimagine the possibilities of prosthetics. Developing his methods and makeups from his Larchmont, New York, basement workshop, Smith is best remembered for his realistic aging makeup, most notably for Dustin Hoffman as Jack Crabb in Little Big Man (1970) and F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus (1984), the latter for which he won an Academy Award with Paul LeBlanc. Smith’s experimentation with materials went beyond full-face masks to employ multiple overlapping foam latex pieces, allowing actors a fuller range of facial expressions and resulting in massive shifts in the field. His career achievements were celebrated in 2011 with an Academy Honorary Award “for his unparalleled mastery of texture, shade, form and illusion." To highlight Smith’s work on Marlon Brando’s makeup for The Godfather (1972), currently celebrated in our gallery The Art of Moviemaking: The Godfather, on view through January 5, 2025, this screening series showcases some of Smith’s greatest achievements in movie makeup magic.

Programmed and notes by K.J. Relth-Miller.