The Heyday of Hollywood
GEORGE WESTMORE AND THE WESTMORES
To say the modern makeup industry started in Hollywood is no exaggeration and in those days, the Westmores were the makeup industry. During this golden era, at one time or another a Westmore headed up the makeup departments at Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, RKO, 20th Century-Fox, Selig, Eagle-Lion, First National, and a dozen other film studios.
But the family’s origins were far from the glitz of the Hollywood Hills. George Westmore was born on the Isle of Wight, in Great Britain, in 1879. He worked as a baker and barber, and served in the British army for a period until he was pronounced medically unfit,‚ at which point he opened his own hair salon. A combination of success and probably more influentially an innate sense of wanderlust led him first to Canterbury in England, then Canada, and finally the United States. A move to Cleveland in 1913 was the point at which George began to move beyond hair to painting women’s faces. He did all his makeup training on prostitutes, as they were the only women who painted their faces apart from actresses. Every day after work, he would take his rouge pots and practice painting the bordello ladies, applying rouge to nipples, ankle bones, hip bones, and the backs of thighs, as well as to faces. He also started training his young sons in the art of wigmaking.
George loved going to the movies to watch the big stars of the day, such as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Lilian Gish, but he noticed that their wigs were badly made, and that the makeup used on-screen looked ludicrous (actors still did their own and hadn’t really adapted theatrical techniques for film, painting their faces as if trying to project to the last row of the theater rather than a movie camera that was just a few feet away). The makeup not only looked amateur but also had no continuity, meaning that the actors often appeared completely different from scene to scene.
Westmore started a dynasty and set Hollywood precedent when he created the first studio makeup department in 1917.
George knew the fledgling movie industry desperately needed his skills, so he made his way to Hollywood. After starting out at the hair salon Maison Cesare, he convinced the Selig studio that they needed an on-site makeup department. George set up the first ever studio makeup department in 1917, clocking in from five to eight each morning, after which he worked a full day at the salon. One day, actress Billie Burke walked in, and noticing how thin her hair was, George promised to make a wig for her. He worked fast and, astonishingly, presented her with a bespoke ventilated wig the very next day. At the same time, he took the liberty of telling her that her makeup was wrong. When he finished restyling her, something still bothered him about her eyes, so he cut bits of hair from the back of her wig and pasted them to her eyelashes one by one probably creating the earliest individual lash extensions.
In 1935, the House of Westmore was opened and the brothers began selling their own line of salon and consumer makeup products.