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COFFEEDAN'S TRIVIA EXTRA -- Lon Chaney on make-up


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Hello, everybody! I'm back once again with this new trivia supplement. I'm still working out a format for this new venture, and I've been trying a few things over the weekend to see how they look, so please bear with me over the following weeks while I experiment. It's going to be fun! And thank you all for your kind comments and additions to the last Trivia Extra. This page thrives on your questions, comments, and suggestions, so keep them coming!




A long, long time ago on a trivia page lost somewhere on this website, I posed the question: "What film actor wrote an entry on make-up for the Encyclopedia Britannica?" The answer, of course, is Lon Chaney. While I verified from several sources that he did indeed write for the Britannica, I was unable to find the actual entry he wrote. Well, after digging in the stacks of the public library, I found it in the 1929 edition, and it's everything I thought it would be -- almost like a workshop with the Man of a Thousand Faces, published a year before his death. While Chaney doesn't appear to divulge any deep secrets of his trade, this is still a rare occasion where he spoke directly to his audience in an informative history and instruction on movie make-up. But let Lon Chaney speak for himself:




The need of make-up in motion pictures was evident from the beginning, but few of the principles of stage make-up could be applied to the new art. Actors found that the make-up of the stage appeared in films in a vastly different way. Red, orange, and brown photograph as black or nearly so; blue, pink, yellow, and mauve photograph as white. Pink cheeks became a dirty gray, gold fillings in teeth appeared as black specks; freckles "picked up" more black than the eye could see; disguises applied after the stage fashion became, under the merciless eye of the camera, ludicrous. Actors, in experimenting with different colors, found that pinks with bluish tones photographed better, and today some stars use a make-up that appears purple. Women, especially, found that applying the laws of photography to their make-up enabled them to correct defects in their faces. For instance, many actresses paint the upper eyelids green, which photographs as a light gray, and tends to make eyes that protrude slightly recede. Double chins can be partly obliterated by a tint of red, which, photographing in a darker tone than the rest of the face, places the offending chin in an apparent shadow. Red under the nose casts an optical shadow, and various colors are used about the eyes to make them appear as desired on film.


These first make-ups, of course, were achieved by the use of the grease-paint and powder of the stage. But on the stage such make-up is worn only a short time; in films the actor has to wear it all day. Perspiration, dust, and great activity before the camera made necessary frequent renewals of the grease-paint make-up. Cosmeticians began experimenting to find combinations that would last longer. Liquid make-up was devised, in which the coloring pigment was suspended in a solution containing a gelatine-like material. This make-up was found to require less patching or repairing. Later a gelatinous make-up was developed, containing materials rich in violet, which requires less light to photograph. The invention of the panchromatic film gave a greater latitude to the camera in dealing with colors, thus permitting the natural face to be filmed, and eliminating the "straight" make-up, which is designed to allow the face to be more readily photographed. To-day men use little or no make-up for "straights," and women use a make-up which tends to bring out the good points of their faces and hide the poor ones, but in both cases the make-up is much simpler than before. With a knowledge of the fundamentals of stage and screen make-up and the many possibilities in the use of various paints and pigments, it remains for every screen actor to study the anatomy of his own face in order to appear "natural" before the searching close-up of the camera. The following instructions should be kept in mind for practical make-up.




Materials Used.---The necessities for make-up are: cold cream; grease-paint or liquid "ground" colors, graded from No. 1, a very light pink, to No. 13, a very dark brown, with No. 14, lavender, and No. 15, white; lining pencils, in black, brown, gray, blue, green, and red; powder, ranging from white to olive; rouge and lipsticks, in four shades of red; starch or aluminum powder for whitening hair, also liquid colors and brilliantine; nose putty; plasto, or undertaker's wax, for building up face, and collodion or "new skin" for scars; gutta-percha, black wax and white enamel for teeth; spirit gum and crepe hair.


Straight or Foundation Make-up.---Apply cold cream, then wipe it off, to fill pores. Put on "ground" color, grease-paint or liquid, and spread evenly, fading to nothing at nape of neck. After make-up for eyes, nose, etc., suggested below, powder thoroughly with lighter shade than "ground" paint, as it darkens when dry. To remove the entire make-up, apply plenty of cold cream and wipe off with towel.


The Eyes.---Shading is done with blue or violet lining pencils for soft shadows. Some use reds or gray-greens to shade blue or gray eyes. Black can be used, but with extreme caution, shading gradually to the eyebrows. For the eyelashes, women especially use mascara or sometimes a heavy black grease-paint.


The Nose.---A broad nose may be narrowed by drawing a high-light down the ridge of the nose with light paint, shading with red at the sides to determine the contour. Small nostrils are widened by inserting red around the edges, and large ones can be narrowed by high-lighting the same way.


The Lips.---Work the "ground" color well into the edges and reshape with lip rouge, making corners come to a point. A small mouth can be enlarged by extending the red beyond the corners, and vice versa.


Hints on Character Make-up.---Shaping the nose, building up the cheek-bones, blotting out the eyebrows and making the eyelids heavy can best be accomplished by the use of putty or plasto wax. To puff out the face, cotton wool is often inserted between the teeth and the cheeks. This material is also used for making bags under the eyes. Cut into a crescent shape, affix with spirit gum and paint over, mixing a little olive oil with the paint. To broaden the nose, negro style, cut 3/8 inch ends of two rubber cigar holders and insert into nostrils. For scars, brush on collodion, which draws the skin; apply a second coat for deeper scars. To remove, add more collodion to soften the scar, then peel it off. For very old age, a thin coat of putty can be applied to the face and lines graved into it with a sharp point for criss-crossing deep wrinkles. Trace the lines with red water-colors. Do not line the eyes. Make shadows with color a little darker than the foundation, and where face would sink the most, make the shadow darkest, always keeping the anatomy of the face in mind.


For Chinese make-up, use bits of library mending tissue to draw back the corners of the eyes, thus giving a slant to them. Cover with the "ground" color, and then paint the eyebrows with an upward tilt. A number of light black lines downward from the inner corners of the eyes and upward from the outer corners accentuate the slant.


False teeth can be made by fitting dental rubber over the natural teeth, carving the sort of teeth wanted on this, and painting with tooth enamel. False beards should be made with crepe hair a little lighter than the natural hair. Comb out well, press in a book, cut off a straight edge, and after applying spirit gum on the face attach the straight edge to the face, and trim with scissors to the required shape. To gray the hair, apply starch or aluminum powder. The latter is better, but much harder to wash out. "Polished brass" bronze powder, sold by paint stores, will "blonde" a brunette.


For the negro in film make-up, use medium-brown grease-paint, not burnt cork. Cover the lips with the "ground" color, and build them up with cotton or false teeth from the inside. Do not use a wig, but clip the hair and cover the head with a brown grease-paint. (See Make-up.) (L. C.)




This essay was accompanied by a page of pictures showing "Lon Chaney, American actor, in make-up for a variety of roles." Some of the captions also offer interesting details, as for Sergei in MOCKERY ("Grease paint without powder gives the greasy effect"), the title character in MR. WU ("A make-up produced with plastic material. The folds of the head-covering aid in making the face appear thin"), and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA ("False teeth are used before the front teeth").


The whole section on Motion Pictures in the 1929 Britannica features a stellar roster of contributors, including Terry Ramsaye on early cinema, Jesse Lasky on production, Cecil B. DeMille on direction, Cedric Gibbons on set design, and Lillian Gish on "A Universal Language." We will definitely be returning to this material in the near future.


But that's all for now. I'll be back here again in about a week or two, as I keep tweaking the format into something fun and workable. Let me know how I'm doing . . . see you next time!

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