Saturday, March 5, 2011

1st "Honorary Academy Award for Makeup"

1964: Oscar for "Outstanding Achievement in Makeup": William Tuttle

"The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao” - The Chinese circus of Dr. Lao turns the western town of Abalone and its citizens topsy-turvy.

Producer: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Director: George Pal
Starring: Tony Randall, Barbara Eden, Arthur O’Connell, John Ericson

Special Makeup: William Tuttle
Hairstyles: Sydney Guilaroff

The Film:

This is a classic western tale of a greedy landowner, Clinton Stark (Arthur O’Connell,) who wants to buy up the entire town Abalone, homes, stores, and everything in between. The intrepid newspaperman, Ed Cunningham (John Ericson), is the only citizen willing to stand up to Stark. Cunningham is enamored of the town schoolmarm and librarian, Angela Benedict (Barbara Eden), a lonely widow living with her son and mother-in-law. Benedict fends off Cunningham’s advances, but together they are the only two citizens who question Stark’s motives.

Into this turmoil come the magical Dr. Lao (Tony Randall) and his Chinese circus. Lao and his circus denizens; Merlin the Magician, Apollonius the Seer, Pan the God of Joy, Medusa, the Giant Serpent, and the Abominable Snowman (all played by Randall), teach the townspeople about who they are and remind them what life is all about. In the end, the town is saved and even the villain is redeemed. This is a charming film which touches the heart while it teaches a moral. It also falls into the category of a good film, the fact that the Makeup is also fantastic is the frosting on the cake!.

The Makeup:

The “Special Makeups” created by veteran makeup artist William Tuttle are magical. Tony Randall plays all seven of the faces of “Dr. Lao:” Dr. Lao, Merlin, Apollonius, Medusa, Pan, the Abominable Snowman, and the Giant Serpent. The most remarkable aspect of these characters, Randall, is still recognizable in each. Tuttle uses prosthetic eyelids, noses, lips, along with wigs, beards, moustaches, and contact lens to effect his transformations.

My favorite character is the title character of sprightly mischievous Dr, Lao with Randall in a bald cap, Chinese epicanthic eye folds, a wispy long moustache and beard. This makeup is very convincing changing Randall’s Caucasian visage into an Asian one. This makeup allowed Randall a full range expression, which was necessary for Lao’s chameleon-like emotional changes appropriate from one situation to another.

Even under the convincing age makeup for Merlin, you can see Randall, playing the feeble old magician. This is an extensive makeup including a bald cap, long nose, age prosthetics, and long white hair, beard and moustache. Randall’s Merlin is heart-wrenching as the old magician who’s magic has been reduced to tricks.

Randall is even more recognizable as the beleaguered Apollonius, the blind Seer, in a false nose, watery contact lens, and a mane of wavy blond hair with beard and moustache to match. Randall does a fine job of portraying the weariness of Apollonius who carries the weight of the future on his slender shoulders.

As Pan, the God of Joy, Randall sports sensuous pouty lips, a hooked nose, pointed ears and horns, and dark curly hair with moustache and goatee (pardon the pun). In the sequence when Benedict (Eden) falls under the seductive influences of Pan, he transforms into her admirer Cunningham (Ericson) as her seducer. It is very steamy stuff!

If there is one makeup that mildly disappoints, it is the Medusa. In this case, Randall is too recognizable as a man under the smooth skin, green lipstick, and hypnotic contact lens of Medusa. The wig of snakes is fantastic with heads moving this way and that. The Medusa is a Gorgon afterall, and therefore not necessarily “feminine." but, one could wish for a bit more to sell the illusion.

The only makeups which render Randall unrecognizable is the Abominable snowman, with his protruding cheekbones, sunken eyes, snaggle-toothed mouth, and shaggy bangs.
There is also the Giant Serpent, which has a stop-motion animated face of Arthur O’Connell, but is voiced by Randall.

Tuttle’s achievement in creating this array of characters is truly noteworthy. But, it is also a testimony to Randall as well. All of us know that a makeup doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Without the talents of the actor to bring it to life, makeup is nothing more than a bit of rubber, glue, and greasepaint.

This is a film where Makeup is at its best. It serves the script to create the world of the film without usurping the film and overshadowing the story.

Side Notes:

In 1980, I took the Film Makeup course with William Tuttle at University of Southern California (USC) film school. I had been a admirer of Tuttle’s work in “The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao,” so it was a privilege to meet him and be his student. He was a consummate artist and a very kind “gentle”man. Every week he would teach us what he thought we should know as well-rounded makeup artists. Coming from a theater background, I appreciated the time he took teaching us to do “painted” age makeup appropriate for film work. I remember him saying, when presented with an age makeup “too many of today’s makeup artists run to prosthetics for even a simple aging effect.” He demonstrated a technique for painting fine delicate wrinkle lines to create skin texture that I adopted and teach my theater students. Studying with Mr. Tuttle was a honor. His recent passing in 2007 was a true loss to the world of Makeup.

Further Info:

Use this link for further info about William Tuttle: IMDB Bio: William Tuttle


  1. Thanks for the blog post. it was really interesting.

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