Main > Series > Articles/Interviews > Making-Up For Fame
KAY ANDERSON TALKS TO THE TWO EXPERTS WHO ENSURE THAT THE FAME CAST LOOK GOOD ON SCREEN!
No-one who watches the programme could fail to admire the make-up and hairstyles on Fame. There has been some spectacular stuff, especially in the Wizard of Oz episode in the second series, the proper title of which was "Not in Kansas Anymore". Who could forget the sight of Miss Sherwood, turned into the Wicked Witch of the West by means of green greasepaint, or Bruno, painted silver, as the Tin Man, or Leroy as the Scarecrow, with bits of straw woven into his corn-rows?
Jack Wilson, Fame's make up man, was nominated for an Emmy award for his work in that episode, but such fantasy make-up is only a small part of his art, even though its impact is so dramatic and memorable. On most occasions, the goal of the make-up artist is to have all his hard work go completely unnoticed! He uses his skills to make people look natural under the unnatural lighting required for filming.
The lighting is not only very bright - a visitor to a movie or TV show set is usually amazed at how many lights are required, even when shooting outdoors in bright sunlight - but it seems to subtly distort some tints and hues of colour, and makes the actors look pale and washed out. I've noticed that the red tones in human hair aren't picked up well on film and the same is true of green eyes. Erica's eyes contain flecks of green, which don't show up on film, and Lee's eyes, which usually photograph a sort of hazel, are actually a beautiful shade of sea-green. On the TV screen the natural mahogany highlights in his hair and Valerie's are lost, and their hair appears to be just very dark brown.
Make-up for the camera and the filming lights doesn't look very realistic to the eye under normal lighting, but that's where the skill and imagination of the make-up artist comes in. Through long experience, he knows that red lipstick will appear much too dark on film, but that a particular shade of rosy peach will photograph true red. If it's necessary to use stage blood, he has. to know that, of the couple of dozen shades available, the one which will look the right colour on the TV screen is the one which looks almost violet in sunlight, because the one that looks right to the eye will look unnaturally scarlet on film.
Fame presents a tremendous challenge to both the make-up artist and the hair stylist. The cast is huge. Every episode is likely to involve a dozen o the show's continuing characters, fifteen dancers, plus anything from three to six guest stars, all with different colouring.
"No two people on this show have the same shade of hair and complexion", makeup man Jack Wilson told me. "I love all the different colours".
To cope with them all, he has a huge array of sticks, tubes, pots, cakes, and bottles of liquid make-up arranged on tables on each soundstage and out in the special makeup and hairdressing trailer parked alongside Stage 26. Jack wears a fisherman's vest and fills the many little pockets in it with small supplies which are handy to have on the set.
Fame's hair stylist is Gloria Montemayor, who was nominated for an Emmy for her work on the series last year. Her badge of office, and equivalent of Jack's fisherman's vest, is a huge shoulderbag crammed with a stock of every type of hairbrush imaginable, plus combs and a couple of cans of hairspray.
"Fortunately," Gloria said, "Most of the kids don't have elaborate hairstyles, since they're supposed to look like high school kids who do their own hair. Gene has his hair done on weekends because the styles he likes take so long". Last year Gene wore his hair in corn-rows, and this year it is sectioned into one inch squares, then braided, which is equally time-consuming. Dancer Eartha Robinson, who is a childhood friend of Gene's, often does his hair for him. She wears her own fine, lustrous black hair in braids which are individually, hardly wider then a pencil lead. Remembering how I used to squirm and complain as a schoolgirl when my mother put my hair into only two big plaits each morning, I asked Eartha if putting in all those tiny, tight braids hurt.
"Oh, yes!" she informed me cheerfully. "It pulls, because you have to keep so much tension on the hair to make tiny braids. I just sit there the whole time with tears running down my face. But it doesn't have to be done very often. I can wash my hair without disturbing the braids, so they last for weeks".
"The kids also try to help us out as much as they can", Jack explained. "When we're really busy, such as on Dance Day when the production numbers are filmed, they'll be in front of the mirrors putting on their own foundation make-up, or combing out their own hair. Many of them have stage experience and know pretty much what they're doing". (Stage shows don't have hairdressers and make-up artists, so each performer is responsible for his or her own.)
"Valerie started doing her own make-up during the Oz show", Jack continued, "and she's quite good at it. Erica uses very little make-up, just something to take the shine off her face. In fact, some of the boys on the show need more make-up, to cover their beard pattern that often shows on dark-haired men, no matter now closely they shave".
The main make-up sessions, where work is done that will last all day long with the occasional touch-up, are carried out in a big white trailer parked opposite the long row of dressing-room trailers alongside Stage 26. The major hairdressing is done in there, too, at the shampoo sinks, salon chairs, and hair driers. Half a dozen umbrellas lean against the wall near the doors, so that, if it rains, the hundred-yard dash from the trailer to the soundstages won't ruin all Jack and Gloria's work!
Additionally, there are make-up tables on both soundstages, for touch-ups and quick jobs. The one on Stage 28, the building containing the school auditorium and other related sets, is sometimes used on the show as a set. Whenever it is, most of the make-up supplies are removed, because no high school would have that large or that professional an assortment. Part of the realistic feeling of Fame lies in remembering such details. The powders and sticks we see in use in School of the Arts productions are just what would be within the budget and abilities of the students, just like the sets and props for the shows the school puts on. It would be much easier simply to draw upon MGM's magnificent wardrobe department to provide the outfits for each dance number, but it wouldn't look believable. Instead, the costumes for the school productions look as if they came from bargain basements, attics and thrift shops, just as they would in real life.
The same philosophy is behind the hairstyles and make-up which the students and teachers adopt in the everyday scenes, when they're not taking part in a production number. Anyone who watches TV regularly can name a couple of series at least in which the hairstyles and make-up always look too perfect, and the actors look as if they're ready to go to a formal dinner when the scene calls for them to be riding a horse or cleaning a cupboard out. In Fame people look comfortable and appropriate for what they are doing.
For instance, Lydia Grant wears her hair in a simple, short cut that's easy to style and quick to dry, as a hardworking dance teacher would. "Debbie's hair tends to curl tighter and tighter as she works and starts perspiring", Gloria told me, "so eventually we have to dry it out between shots and straighten it out with a brush, to make it match earlier footage in the same scene.
"I'd say Valerie has the most versatile hair", she continued. "It has a lot of natural curl and body, so she can get a variety of different looks with it. Carlo has thick straight hair that takes a cut very well, and Lee's has a mind totally of its own!
"Carol has wonderful hair, thick and heavy, with a great deal of wave. It styles beautifully. Albert's hair is perfect for Professor Shorofsky just as it is. I might just comb it a little in the back to bring out the wave. All I do with Morgan's hair is mess it up a little .... his character is a little more rumpled than Morgan himself usually is."
"This Fame group is the most co-operative bunch of people I have ever worked with", Jack put in. "No-one is ever demanding, everyone is always helpful and pleasant. In my experience, they're the tops!" Jack certainly has a lot of experience to speak from. He's a tall, lean man with ginger hair and beard and bright blue eyes, and he's been a make-up man for over forty years. He came to MGM in 1945 and worked on many of the fabulous musicals for which the studio became world-famous. His credits range from "Gigi" and "Bells Are Ringing", and Westerns such as "True Grit" and "How the West Was Won" to TV series like "The Rockford Files", "Baretta", and "The Fugitive".
Jack and I stood and watched the crew setting up for one of the big production numbers on the auditorium stage.
"Most of MGM's old musicals were filmed right here", he informed me. "The Wizard of Oz was shot on these same floorboards where we did the Oz episode last spring, forty-four years after the movie was made. Fame is the grandchild of those old musicals. It just feels right"
Judging by the cheerful, hardworking people all around me, it's obvious that everyone on Fame feels right in these surroundings, contributing to the happiest series on television today.
This interview was provided to me by Stuart Farrell.
The article above is from the Official Fame Magazines from 1983. The OFFICIAL FAME MAGAZINE was published by Beat Publications Ltd. and the interviews are copyright MGM/UA Entertainment Co.