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Obituaries

William J. Tuttle, 95; pioneering film makeup artist was first to get an Oscar

August 03, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

William J. "Bill" Tuttle, a pioneering makeup artist whose ground-breaking work in "7 Faces of Dr. Lao" prompted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to officially recognize his craft for the first time by giving him an honorary Academy Award in 1965, has died. He was 95.

Tuttle, who created innovative techniques and trained generations of makeup artists during his 35-year career at MGM, died Monday of complications related to old age at his home in Pacific Palisades, his family announced.

His honorary Oscar was a breakthrough because "it marked the beginning of makeup really being recognized and focused attention on the field," said Kevin Thomas, a film critic and former Times staff writer.

Rick Baker, who won the first competitive Oscar for makeup for "An American Werewolf in London" when the category was established for the 1982 awards, told The Times that Tuttle "influenced so many people" as one of Hollywood's top makeup artists from the 1940s through the 1960s.

"His work also greatly influenced me," said Baker, a six-time Oscar winner who as a boy of 10 often tried to re-create the Tuttle makeup techniques he saw in "The Twilight Zone" on television and in movies such as "The Time Machine" in the early 1960s.

"7 Faces of Dr. Lao" is considered "a landmark in make-up artistry" that "will forever remain a goal for other artists to accomplish," according to the 1995 book "The Technique of the Professional Make-up Artist." In the film, Tuttle transformed Tony Randall into the seven characters of the title, including the Asian character Dr. Lao, a deeply aged and bearded Merlin the Magician, and a Medusa with upper and lower lips of foamed latex meant to create a more feminine appearance.

"He shaved my head and eyebrows.... The effect gave me an unborn look. But professionally it was a masterstroke," Randall recalled in the 1977 book "The Films of George Pal." "All of my preconceived notions on how I would play the characters vanished. As soon as Tuttle applied his makeup magic, I felt myself actually become these strange people."

In an early credit -- the 1935 film "Mark of the Vampire" -- Tuttle fabricated a bullet hole on the side of the head of Bela Lugosi's character, a development that was cutting-edge for the time, wrote Scott Essman in the 2004 book "A Century of Creature People."

In one of the dozen "The Twilight Zone" episodes he worked on, Tuttle "provides one of the great 'Zone' twists of all time," Essman told The Times in an e-mail. In the episode called "Eye of the Beholder," the faces of the doctors and nurses aren't shown as they fret over a bandaged patient who wants to look like everyone else. When her face is revealed, the audience sees beauty, but the camera pans to reveal Tuttle's handiwork -- doctors and nurses with deformed faces and pig-like noses.

He worked on hundreds of films, creating the monstrous Morlocks in "The Time Machine" (1960) and turning Peter Boyle into the monster in the Mel Brooks' comedy "Young Frankenstein" (1974). Tuttle's final credit, in 1981, was for "Zorro, the Gay Blade."

William Julian Tuttle was born April 13, 1912, in Jacksonville, Fla., and raised by his mother. Tuttle dropped out of school in his teens to help support his mother and younger brother, Thomas, who also would work as a makeup artist in the film industry.

At 18, Tuttle moved to Los Angeles and took art classes at USC with Charles Schram, who became his longtime makeup-effects collaborator. They were recruited to apprentice with Jack Dawn, a makeup artist who was then head of makeup at Twentieth Century Pictures.

When Dawn moved to MGM, Tuttle went with him and spent 35 years at the studio. After Dawn retired, Tuttle ran the department for more than 20 years. Colleagues remembered him as a gentleman and a gifted artist who ably drew and painted what he envisioned for his characters.

Studio chief Louis B. Mayer "felt that all women should appear beautiful and all men should be handsome," Tuttle recalled in "MGM: When the Lion Roars," a retrospective that first aired on TNT in 1992.

With more beautiful people than monsters to make up at MGM, Tuttle helped "revolutionize beauty makeup techniques," said Joe Blasco, a makeup artist and educator.

In 1975, Tuttle created his own line of makeup called Custom Color Cosmetics, which was the most popular makeup among Hollywood professionals for at least two decades, said Naimie Ojeil, owner of a North Hollywood beauty supply store that caters to the industry.

By the 1970s, MGM was dismantling its back lot and Tuttle had shut down the makeup department. He was left with an extensive archive of plaster masks he had made of the faces of actors. They were part of a system he developed to speed the process of repeatedly applying the same makeup during shooting.

He donated the more than 100 masks -- featuring such famous faces as Paul Newman, Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier -- to USC, where he taught from 1970 to 1995.

"He was interested in passing on all he could to the students," said Herbert Farmer, an archivist at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. "He had a real following."

The first of Tuttle's five wives was actress Donna Reed; their two-year marriage ended in 1947.

He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Anita A. Tuttle, and his daughter, Teresa.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. today at Woodlawn Cemetery, 1847 14th St., Santa Monica.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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