Monday, January 11, 2010

Who do you want to be today? Who do you want to be?

I went through a long stretch when I was a kid where nothing was as exciting as dressing up to become someone (or something) else.

Oh, I'm an avid Hallowe'en kinda guy, so of course I continue to enjoy costuming and so on, but when I was little I'd go whole days as anyone from Mickey Mouse and Timmy from Lassie to Casper, Jimmy from H.R. Pufnstuf, and a thousand other childhood heroes.

I'd talk like them (as best I could, I imagine), do my hair like them, and find ways to turn my very normal and mundane wardrobe-of-a-little-kid-in-the-70's into a costume paradise. Upside-down beige dress shirts became mad doctors' lab wear, long undies a mummy's wrap or (later) a Skywalker's garb.

But early on, I also got the bug to try to look like them. Not just clothes and voices and mannerisms, but really look like them.

Enter my obsession with all things MAAAAAKE-UUUUUUP!

Stealing eyeliner pencils and creme fashion colors from the bathroom drawers and cabinets (and a few times Mom's purse, but that was like really really stealing so I didn't do it more than once or twice), I'd attempt the iconic Dracula widow's peak, the Wolfman's canine nose... eh, it was all a very fun mess.

Then one day I found a little magazine-like book at the West Valley Regional Library (paradise for a generation):

It originally came out in 1965; I found it in the early 70's and proceeded to collapse to the library floor to devour each page, soak in every detail of how to turn myself into insane characters like these:
The discovery was dizzying and eye-opening. After some time had gone by I figured I'd had a long enough look for this visit, and hoping it would be there the next was about to put it back on the shelf, when I suddenly remembered I could take this thing home for two weeks... library, you fool!


This now-classic (and very desirable) magazine edition was my introduction to the legendary make up master and mentor to generations of make up artists, Dick Smith (here looking a bit like Andy Williams).

If you've seen The Exorcist, The Godfather, Ghost Story, Amadeus, Little Big Man, Altered States and dozens of other similarly remarkable and ground-breaking films, you've seen Smith's inimitable work, and by simply watching the work of every other make up artist in film and TV over the last 40 years, you'll know the indelible imprint he's made on an entire industry.

But back then at 6 and 7 years old, I wasn't really aware of such things. I just wanted to be a monster. Boy! did this thing produce!

In terms even I could understand, the little 16 page booklet outlined how to turn things like cheese wax and plastic putty into this:
... and make up and hair from wigs and crepe to turn little kids like this (I think it's Dick's son?):
... into incredible monsters like this!:
But it wasn't just for kids. No, this work was written for anyone wanting to enhance their knowledge and craft of make up. Step by step photos abound, and the effects are amazing.

This Skull make up features teeth made of wax affixed to thin strips of nylon stocking, and
glued to the face allowing talking, eating and drinking. Superb!

Of course, I loved the pictures of the finished MONSTERS most of all...
Mr. Hyde

The Vampire (always loved the eyes!)

The Mummy

And of course, the personal favorite...
The Wolfman!

Here, Smith himself displays a neat method for creating 'weird skin textures' using liquid latex,
bread crumbs, ground coffee and tissue.

The page showing pictures of Smith's own experiments when he was a kid like me (well, maybe not nearly as young as I was then but still, not yet a grown-up pro) were truly inspirational!

Soon I began to look for other make up books, other ideas and techniques for making monsters.

The first and best-remembered of the other publications I found would have to be Monster Make Ups and Creature Costumes, both by Marcia Lynn Cox. I first had them as separate titles, but by the mid-70's they had been released as one:
(clever title change... ahem!)

Of paramount importance in reading Monster Make Ups was finding more Wolfman stuff!:
A bit more like The Shaggy D.A. than a Werewolf but I loved this chapter and would read it over and over.

I remember my dad asking me about this book one afternoon as he read over my shoulder. I turned the page to see this Reptile Man, and he said 'They show you how to become Mel Torme?' It's still funny.

Still can't decide which is more terrifying.

Now, there's no good reason that Frankenstein's Bride should look like a late '80s streetwalker
just sprung from a bar fight, but I've always liked the oddness of it.

Scar Face. Al Capone, not... but a pretty hideous concept for a kid, using Jell-O and such. Loved it!

Not as detailed a Skull as Dick Smith's booklet gives us, but this is a very cool cartoon-like
design. Love the hood.

Creature Costumes was a very fun book, offering ideas for using Elmer's glue, poster board, foil, dried beans, crepe streamers, all kinds of odd but certainly found-around-the-house goodies to help my daily costuming needs.

I pored over the steps for hours. My favorite was the last in the book, the Space Man.

Wonder where 'Robert Urban' is now, and if he has an original hardback copy of
this book around?

Whether you want to be a Crocodile Creature or just a guy whose trash
exploded on him, Daniel's outfit is sure to please.

Hold on a sec. 'Demon Spirit'? This book MUST have been published before the
early '80s. It wouldn't be allowed now. Plus, I think little Daniel Kushner is
getting a bit too much papertime, if you ask me.

A rousing reunion of some of the monsters from the pages of these books.

And because The Skull & Pumpkin is such a fine establishment, I offer you this cool added extra free gift

If anyone's interested (and why would you be visiting the S&P if you weren't at least a little?), Dick Smith's Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook is still in print and available here, or here, and many other places where such things might be found.

For anyone playing along at home, the pictures I used in this post were taken from the 1985 reprint, which I got as a Christmas gift in 198

Marcia Lynn Cox's books were very popular titles in the '70s and '80s, and while they seem to be out of print now, can all be found in cheap, relative plenty all over the used paperback/Scholastic Books collector market.

There are other inspiring make up and special effects books from my younger days, and I'll get to them shortly.

Spook out!


  1. Oh, man, I remember that book. It and the fact that a costume shop was on my way home from school explains where almost all the money I earned mowing lawns went.
    There was a great place called Salt Lake Costume Company, and to this day, if I smell something just back from the dry cleaners, my mind goes back to buying crepe hair by the foot and liquid latex in 4 oz bottles.
    They had all the cool stuff there. Grease paint, liner pencils, spirit gum you name it--Monster Kid heaven.

    When I was in junior high(about 1967), my dad decided to grow a mustache. It got quite long, and he was toying with the idea of waxing it. One day he was wondering aloud where he might find mustache wax. And I piped up: "Salt Lake Costume! They have all sorts of things for funny faces!" I can still see his look of shock rapidly melting into almost uncontrolled laughter. When he and Mom finally stopped laughing, Dad handed me some money and sent me to get some mustache wax.



  2. Haha! From the mouths of babes! Well, early teens anyway... and looky here -- your make up obsession creating a fun family moment and a good memory of helping out Dad! Thanks for sharing the story, Dave. We need more of that around here.

  3. Ah, thank you for posting these pictures! I have only the earlier edition of Dick's book that doesn't have the pictures of the makeups he did on himself. I was hunting around the web for them the past couple of days, and lo and behold, I end up at the old S&P! Hope you're well, Mike.