Anger is a long-form tabloid that covers the scandals surrounding some of Hollywood’s earliest stars, including as Rudolph Valentino, Roscoe Arbuckle, and Clara Bow. These scandals take place against the backdrop of a city that is characterized by uncontrolled hedonism and great glamour.
Although Hollywood Babylon focuses primarily on the decade’s nightlife, the working habits of early film stars were just as outrageous as their after-hours antics. For the sake of this exercise, preparation is of the utmost importance. Therefore, I thought we’d have a brief history lesson today, focusing specifically on how one may prepare ready for a movie set in the past.
The earliest films were shot using orthochromatic film, which was insensitive to wavelengths in the yellow-red spectrum (so colors on that end of the spectrum became almost black). The blue and purple tones, on the other hand, came out as being very light and almost white.
The unpleasant effects that this had on screen were numerous; performers with ruddy skin seemed unclean, and blue eyes turned blank and frightening when they were affected by it.
When Norma Shearer was advised by D.W. that she was at risk of falling into the later trap, it came dangerously close to derailing her chances of winning an Academy Award. Griffith, who directed The Birth of a Nation, told her that her eyes were “far too blue” for her to have any kind of success in the film industry.
A common press photo set-up in the 1910s and ’20s featured the starlet sitting at her vanity and featured the actor applying his or her own makeup. This was done so that the actor could create an impactful (and hopefully natural) look despite the harsh lighting and conditions of the time. During this era, most actors were given the responsibility of applying their own makeup. During this time, studios would hand out color usage guides.
Grease paint with a blue undertone was used to create the foundation and contouring shade, while yellow paint was used to color the lips. When the actors first arrived at the studio, they must have presented a rather odd appearance in real life.
The early grease paint had a difficult consistency to work with. The heavy hand that was used to apply it resulted in the surface layer frequently cracking whenever there was a shift in the actor’s expression. It was also possible for it to be dangerous, as demonstrated by the case of Drew Barrymore’s maternal grandmother, Dolores Costello, whose complexion and career was irreparably harmed by the early film cosmetics of the time.
Max Factor, who owned a wig and cosmetic shop in Los Angeles at the time, came up with a solution in the form of Flexible Greasepaint in the year 1914. He went on to become the most in-demand makeup artist in Hollywood and the industry’s preeminent person in the field of cosmetic research and development as a direct result of his innovation.
The personalized approach to makeup artistry that was taken by Factor was responsible for the establishment of a few distinct, studio-endorsed “looks.” For Clara Bow, he drew her sharply peaked cupid’s bow; Joan Crawford’s signature “smeared” lip (extending far beyond her natural line) was all thanks to Factor and helped assuage the actress’ thin-lipped insecurities.
In addition, industry regulations mandated that performers’ eyebrows be done in a way that made them look straight, bold, and extremely lengthy, and that their eyes be shadowed all the way from the lash line to the socket to create a dark and gloomy appearance (think Louise Brooks).
When panchromatic film took over from orthochromatic film in the 1920s, lustrous hair and eyelids were able to capture the shine of incandescent bulbs used on set to great effect. This created a more realistic appearance. In order to adapt to these changes in the industry, Factor developed light-refracting hair dyes and even sprinkled gold dust on Marlene Dietrich’s wigs when she requested it.
However, the company never slowed down. But he didn’t have much time to bask in his accomplishments because Technicolor was just around the corner, and with it came an entirely new set of cosmetic issues.
One other thing to mention: back in the early 1930s, when pantone was still riding the “high shine” wave, Factor developed a glossy lip coat that he marketed to his celebrity clients. The formulation would eventually be brought to market as “X-Rated,” which is recognized as the very first lip gloss ever produced. Something that I believe the majority of us are still kind of like.
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