William J. Tuttle, one time head of MGM's makeup department, passed on July 27 at the age of 95. He worked on over 300 films.
Tuttle was born April 13, 1912 in Jacksonville, Florida. His father deserted his family when he was only 15, forcing Tuttle to leave school to support his mother and brother. He found work in Vaudeville playing violin and working with various comedy teams. He went to Hollywood in the early Thirties and became assistant to legendary makeup artist Jack Dawn, who would eventually become head of the makeup department at MGM. The first movie upon which he worked was Mark of the Vampire, as an assistant makeup artist. Tuttle was also an assistant makeup artist on The Wizard of Oz.
For the most part it was Tuttle's job to insure that the beautiful people of Hollywood looked beautiful on screen. In the Fifties he would work on such classic films as Father of the Bride, Singin' in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, North by Northwest, and The Catered Affair. In the Sixties and Seventies he would work on such films as How the West Was Won, Mutiny on the Bounty, Marlowe, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and Bogie. While Tuttle was an expert at making beautiful people even more beautiful, he was also adept in drastically altering the appearances of actors, even making them monstrous. He made Kirk Douglas up as Vincent Van Gogh for Lust for Life. He created the Morlocks in the 1960 version of The Time Machine. He was responsible for the makeup on the cyborg Box in Logan's Run. Beyond The Wizard of Oz, however, his crowning achievement may have been his work on The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. In that film he transformed Tony Randall into Dr. Lao, the Abominable Snowman, Medusa, Merlin, Pan, and Apollonius of Tyana. For his work on the film Tuttle received an honourary Oscar, making him the first makeup artist to ever win the Academy Award. In 1981 the Academy Award for Best Makeup would finally be established.
Tuttle also worked in television. He created much of the fantastic makeup for the original Twilight Zone, including the classic episodes "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet " and "Eye of the Beholder." He also worked on the TV show Northwest Passage.
Tuttle also developed his own line of makeup, Custom Color Cosmetics. He taught at the film school at the University of Southern California as well.
William J. Tuttle is arguably one of the greatest makeup artists of all time. He worked on an inordinately large number of classic films, supervising the makeup on everything from Summer Stock to Young Frankenstein. With the exception of a few other makeup artists (Jack Pierce and John Chambers among them), his work is unmatched. We might have more advanced technology today, but even now the quality of Willim J. Tuttle's work holds up.