Michael Westmore was, in his own words, “the makeup creator and supervisor of everything Star Trek” for 18 years. While that history alone is fascinating and well worth telling, his entire career will blow your mind when you read his memoir “Makeup Man — From Rocky to Star Trek, The Amazing Creations of Hollywood’s Michael Westmore,” written with Jake Page and featuring a foreword by Patrick Stewart.
Westmore comes from a dynasty of Hollywood makeup artists that started with his grandfather George, who established the first movie makeup department in cinema history. George’s five sons all went into the same business; Westmore’s father, Monte, designed Paul Muni’s makeup for Scarface (1932), helped create the flapper sensation with Clara Bow’s “It” girl look, and worked on Gone With The Wind.
The book covers the Westmore family history, then takes a deep dive into Michael Westmore’s astonishing career. He worked on all of the Rocky films, and was the ONLY makeup artist on the first one, having to keep meticulous records of each cut, swelling, and bruise on the faces of both Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers. This came in handy when he was working on Raging Bull with Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, too.
He has worked with every major Hollywood star you can think of: Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Shelley Winters, Robert Duvall, Shirley MacLaine, Elizabeth Taylor, and more. He made up Michael Jackson so the superstar could go for walks in public without anyone knowing. He created makeup for Blade Runner, Mask, and First Blood, the first Rambo movie. “When traveling with Sly,” wrote Westmore, “I could never carry enough fake blood and sweat.”
Star Trek comes a-calling …
In the spring of 1987, he started getting a lot of phone calls from friends who wanted help with Vulcan ears, Klingon foreheads, and alien makeup, all for a brand new Star Trek series. Finally the producers heard his name so many times that they called him in for a meeting, and offered him the job that same day. Westmore created and shaped aliens from the early days of Star Trek: The Next Generation to the final days of Enterprise, and four of the movies as well (Generations through Nemesis).
Some of these stories will be familiar to longtime fans, some will be new, but all are pretty fascinating.
1. Brent Spiner’s chest hairs got special treatment.
Occasionally, Westmore had to make a plaster cast of some part of Brent Spiner for a specific scene. Once, while doing one of his chest, he didn’t have quite enough Vaseline on hand to prep him. When it became time to remove the cast, it stuck, so Westmore had to snip Spiner’s chest hairs one by one until he was free … and each snip, no matter how carefully done, was followed by an “ouch!” from poor Spiner. (Westmore had some experience with this, as he and his uncle Bud once similarly trapped Rock Hudson’s entire head, and Bud had done the same to Loretta Young with a plaster leg mold, but in that instance, the snipping had to happen a lot lower. Ouch, indeed.)
2. Alien heads were not always that easy to remove.
Remember the Selay from Star Trek: The Next Generaton? Originally designed by Andy Probert, the costumes followed Gene Roddenberry’s rule that one always had to be able to see aliens’ eyes and mouths. Things were so busy that week, as they were also creating Anticans for the same episode, they farmed out the creation of the Selay headpieces. When they got them back, the heads were very rigid and difficult to put on, or remove, quickly. One day on set, an actor in a Selay costume wasn’t feeling well, and while everyone scrambled to get the headpiece off him, they were too late: he threw up inside it. Needless to say, that particular headpiece was permanently retired.
3. There’s a reason Jolele Blalock’s eyebrows kept changing.
Westmore was never happy with Jolene Blalock’s eyebrows; he thought that they violated the rule that all Vulcans have arched eyebrows, and hers were pretty round, especially at the beginning of Enterprise‘s run. Over the course of four seasons, he arched them more and more, and says that if the show had gone to a full seven seasons, they would have been perfect by the end.
4. The Borg were made from some pretty old tech.
Westmore’s son Michael helped him design the Borg, using parts from old, broken circuit boards to make the various implants and pieces stuck to their bodies.
5. The Borg concealed some silly secrets, right on their bodies.
They took things a step further for the movie Star Trek: First Contact. Makeup artists were creating dozens of individual pieces for the Borgs’ faces, and wrote their own names directly onto the implants, making sure they wouldn’t be seen on camera. One artist added the words “Westmore’s House of BBQ” in one of them, and Westmore himself didn’t find out until long after the movie was finished.
6. The Borg’s blinking lights were not as random as they looked.
Final Borg fact: the blinking lights on some of the Borg actually spelled words out in Morse code, including the name of Michael Westmore Jr.’s dog.
7. Sometimes Westmore was very literally behind the scenes … as in RIGHT behind them.
Remember TNG “Conspiracy,” when Remmick swallowed the parasite and his neck started puffing out in all different directions? Westmore attached air bladders to Robert Schenkkan, who played Remmick, and to that attached some rubber tubing and ran it down his back. But the only way to inflate it to get the effect they wanted was for Westmore to lie on the floor behind Schenkkan and puff into the tube whenever the director told him to. It required a lot more takes than he expected, so with each retake he slowly changed from light pink to dark pink to red until he was so exhausted he had to just lie there, helpless, for a while before he could breathe normally again.
Fun fact: Robert Schenkkan is a playwright who has won both a Tony and a Pulitzer, and co-wrote Hacksaw Ridge.
8. LeVar Burton had a very specific morning routine.
LeVar Burton used to look at each day’s scripts while in the makeup chair on shooting days, while he ate his cereal out of a coconut shell. He had no trouble memorizing his lines, even though this was the very first time he was seeing them.
9. Dax’s spots and Chakotay’s tattoo held secrets.
Westmore used to hand draw both Dax’s spots and Chakotay’s tattoo every day, and would number the day and add his signature every time. Chakotay’s final tattoo was numbered “#750 MW” and Dax’s final set of spots was signed “#538 MW,” right on her neck (but under the uniform collar). He frequently gets asked how he managed to make Dax’s spots identical in every episode, but admits that they weren’t, and no one ever noticed–not the producers, and not even nitpicky Star Trek fans. Chakotay, however, remained perfectly consistent, despite being hand drawn every day, and Westmore accomplished this by making sure he always started and finished in the same spot, right over Beltran’s inner left eyebrow.
10. Makeup had its very, very unglamorous side.
There’s a scene in TNG’s “The Offspring” in which Data has first created Lal and is introducing her to Deanna Troi. Lal doesn’t look human yet, and is a metallic-looking android with no discernible facial features. To get that effect, actor Leonard Crofoot (who also played Trent in “Angel One” and a Qomar dignitary on Star Trek: Voyager) had to endure a very complex process. His whole body was covered, including his head, and while he had a small space near his mouth to breathe, his ears were covered and the director had to shout for Crofoot to hear instructions. More challenging still, getting the right look meant he had to wear full latex body pants glued in place, coated with an adhesive-based bronze makeup, and was then rubbed down with a bronze powder so he wouldn’t stick to everything he touched. The entire concoction was was so confining that he couldn’t go to the bathroom while he was in it. He spent one very long 14 hour day in that makeup, and avoided all food and drink because 14 hours is a very long time to not use the bathroom!
For many more reasons than Star Trek you should pick up this book. If you have any interest in TV, movies, Hollywood, or the creative arts, you won’t be able to put it down. Pick up the book here.