Dick smith: THE TRANSFORMER
This week Hollywood bid emotional farewells to tortured comic Robin Williams, and smoldering film noir star Lauren Bacall. Another recent loss to the film industry was pioneering make-up and special-effects artist Dick Smith.
Today we take movie special-effects for granted. Everything from Biblical battles to alien planets can be created at the click of a few software commands. But when it comes to transforming actors, one name stands alone. Dick Smith.
Born in New York in 1922, Smith passed away on July 30 this year, aged 92. During his working life he was responsible for some of cinema's most enduring and iconic images.
Although dentistry was his original career choice, after army service in World War 2 he began experimenting with theatrical make-up. Initially rejected by the film industry, he set to work designing prosthetics to apply to faces. In The Moon and Sixpence (1955) his lurid foam masks transformed Laurence Olivier into a leper. Olivier remarked "Dick, it does the acting for me".
Some of his memorable creations included make-up for a man who loses 50% of his face after a chemical accident - from Way Out (1961). In Little Big Man (1970) he turned Dustin Hoffman into a 121-year-old. In seminal gangster flick The Godfather (1972), although Marlon Brando refused prosthetics due to the time required to apply them, Smith employed a dental device to cause Don Corleone's trademark drooping jowls. He also pioneered bladders containing fake blood that would explode during shoot-outs, paving the way for the bloodbaths we recognise in all today's crime films.
Another landmark creation of Smith's was for Linda Blair's demonic possession in The Exorcist (1973). The projectile vomiting and 360-degree head revolution still have the ability to shock audiences forty years on. More blood-drenched action followed in Taxi Driver (1976). As well as the mohawked Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, he set-up the murderous finale.
Smith and Paul LeBlanc won the Oscar for Best Make-up for Amadeus (1984), when 44-year old F Murray Abraham was transformed into a bitter old man. Smith continued to create brilliantly realistic masks for the likes of Forever Young (1992) and the horror movie House on Haunted Hill (1999). Now in his late 70s, he decided to pack away the latex layers and enjoy a well-deserved retirement.
Fittingly, Dick Smith received an Academy Honourary Award in 2012 for his lifetime's devotion to transforming his subjects. He passed away in L.A. in July 2014.