ABOVE: Jackson as the Scarecrow in 'The Wiz'; BELOW: Thomas and Jennifer Aspinall at the 2006 'SNL' make-up artists reunion; sketch by Jackson.
ABOVE: Courtesy Stan Winston Studio; BELOW: Photo by Deverill Weekes; sketch ctsy. Michael Thomas
Posted: Tuesday October 20, 2009
Editor’s note: This summer, make-up
artist Michael Thomas and pop star Michael Jackson died within two
months of each other (Thomas’ obituary is posted on our site). Here,
Thomas, who was Jackson's make-up artist for The Wiz, recalls some
memorable experiences with Jackson on and off the set. Thomas’ wife,
Christine Domaniecki, shared Thomas’ memories with us.
Wizardry Behind The Wiz
The Wiz, we had Vac-u-Forms made from plaster life masks of each actor
who appeared as a main character (including the Cowardly Lion, the Tin
Man and the Scarecrow, played by Michael Jackson). They were made
because every week or so, Stan Winston’s Los Angeles-based lab would
ship a bunch of the actors’ freshly made foam-latex appliances to New
York, where we shot the movie.
After I brought the Scarecrow
appliances home, I would lightly attach the foam-latex pieces to the
Vac-u-Form and pre-color them. It saved a lot of application time when
we were in the make-up room at the Kaufman Astoria Studios. Keeping the
foam-latex pieces on the form during pre-painting kept them in shape,
the way a coat hanger keeps wrinkles out of a coat. On the inside of
one of the forms, you can see a few color swatches. I duplicated the
color of the Scarecrow's greasepaint in artists’ acrylic. I put acrylic
on the neck ruffle he wore as well, because if I used greasepaint, it
would rub off onto his costume.
We were allowed to keep the forms at the end of the movie. I have about five.
morning I began Michael’s make-up by applying a bald cap to keep his
hair, which was in very small braids, in place. Next I would apply the
foam-latex pieces: a forehead piece, two cheek pieces, a nose piece
(which was supposed to look like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup wrapper),
a chin piece and a neck ruffle. They went on in the morning and had to
be maintained during the day.
Because the Scarecrow was a very
cartoon-y character, Michael made lots of exaggerated facial
expressions to bring the Scarecrow to life. The facial calisthenics
looked great, but they also loosened the foam-latex pieces, so I would
have to re-glue and re-paint the make-up (for more on this, see the
Martini Shot in Issue 81 of Make-Up Artist magazine). To remove the
make-up at the end of the day, I would stand behind Michael, lift the
back of the bald cap and peel it up over his head. The cap and the
foam-latex appliances would come off pretty much all in one piece.
then I’d duck down behind his chair so he couldn't see my reflection in
the mirror, put the make-up (which now looked like a spooky mask) on my
hand, slowly raise it up behind his head and jiggle it, going,
“OOODLE-OOODLE-DOOODLE-DE-OOOOHHH!” He would laugh like crazy, as if it
were one of the funniest things he'd ever seen. I really enjoyed his
childlike sense of humor; I could say or do any dumb thing and it would
get a big laugh. I would then remove the remainder of his make-up, glue
and adhesives and that would be it. We’d go home and get ready for the
next day's shooting.
Fun and Games
we were talking one day, I told Michael that when I was a little boy, I
taught myself how to draw, which was pretty much the beginning of my
becoming a make-up artist. He asked to see an example. I took a pen and
drew a quick sketch of the Frankenstein monster. He liked it. He said
that he and his brothers and sisters sometimes played a game to fight
boredom: One of them would draw a few abstract lines on a piece of
paper, give it to another sibling and say, “OK, now make a fire engine
out of this, or a tree,” etcetera, and the other sibling had to
complete the drawing in a certain amount of time.
When I played the game with Michael, I tried to trick him by drawing afew curvy lines that I felt did not suggest a cat. As far as I was
concerned, these curvy lines looked nothing like a cat. So I said, “Go
ahead, make a cat out of these lines!” And within 30 seconds he had
drawn a cat. Not as I would have pictured one, standing on all fours,
but a pussycat curled up asleep.
Then he made a couple
new drawings on the spot, and I kept them with his blessing. One of the
drawings was of a man’s face. It’s pretty sketchy and kind of
impressionistic, but there are a couple of eerie similarities between
the drawing he made and his own face, later on, after he had so much
plastic surgery done.
On the Outside
a phenomenon that frequently occurs when a make-up artist and an actor
work together: instant intimacy. Make-up artists and hairstylists are
kind of like psychiatrists or bartenders. You’re in the same room,
physically close for hours at a time, sometimes for many days. Because
people usually have the urge to talk, the subject matter often changes
from chitchat to some very serious subjects. And though the two of us
were only together to work on a movie, we got to know each other pretty
I asked Michael over for dinner one night. We had to keep
quiet about it, because if anybody found out, word would spread like
wildfire. It was 1978 and at age 19, Michael was already well-known
around the world. So he came over to our apartment in Bergenfield, New
Jersey with his armed bodyguard, Spence. Dinner was Cornish game hens
and, by Michael’s request, Stove Top Stuffing, which he said the folks
in his home town of Gary, Indiana referred to as “dressin’.” When he
ate, he really dug in: He got food all over his face, all over the
table, all over his clothes. He was very passionate about anything he
did, and I suppose eating was one of those things.
We had a
great time that night. Because I play guitar a little, I showed him how
to play some easy chords on my acoustic guitar. He had always admired
people who could play musical instruments and had often fantasized
about being the lead guitarist in a rock band.
At that time,
the comedian Robert Klein had made an appearance on Saturday Night
Live; he came out with a harmonica, gave the band the downbeat by
stomping his foot, and cried, “Lemme hear some blues!” The band struck
up the introduction to a blues number and he began playing the
harmonica with them, stomping his feet, leg pumping in time. After the
opening 16 bars, he pulled the harmonica from his lips and, foot still
stomping, sang, “I can't stop my leg, little darlin’ ... I can't stop
my leg, little guurrl!” Well, Michael got a big kick out of this. So
while I played a blues chord progression on my guitar, Michael stomped
his foot and sang, “I can’t stop my leg!” At one point while he was
singing, he said, "Now listen to me, people” and I broke up because he
was really getting into it. From this visit, I got the sense that he
was a very normal, healthy kid.
So I got to know the great
Michael Jackson a little. He told me once that whatever he happened to
be doing—working on a movie, cutting a record, appearing live on
stage—it was the most important thing in his entire life while he was
doing it. It really showed. No matter what he was doing, his talent
spoke—and sang, and danced—for itself.
Michael was a very
special person whose life was a combination of extremes. He enjoyed
normal, down-to-earth things, but he also earned lifetime membership to
a very exclusive club. His talent, tempered by lifelong discipline,
reached the hearts of countless admirers and reshaped music for all
time. He was denied his childhood; I think he spent the rest of his
adult life trying to live it for the first time. He was a big kid!
London-based make-up artist Angela Holthuis and photographer Izabela Habur set a challenge for themselves: Habur
asked Holthuis, a fashion pro, to create “a small story with bold looks
within a small time frame, to test out how far we [could] push
ourselves creatively,” Holthuis said.
Make-Up Artist magazine is now accepting student competition
applications for the 2009 Los Angeles International Make-Up Artist
Trade Show. The themes for this year are Gothic and X-Men Mutants. The competition is open to students of a recognized make-up school and
to those who graduated 12 months prior to the competition. Make-Up Artist will only accept competition entries postmarked by May 22, 2009.
If you like Prescriptives products, you’d better stock up while you
can: On Sept. 17, Estée Lauder Companies announced it will stop
production and global wholesale distribution of the brand by Jan. 31,
2010. The brand will still be sold online at www.prescriptives.com
while inventory lasts.