I loved art when I was in grammar school, and I remember I used to always draw pictures of hairdos and makeup. I can remember being in fourth grade and drawing these pictures of pretty women that I wanted to look like, that I thought you looked like when you were an adult.
Where did you grow up?
I'm from Piermont, New York; it was a little Hudson River town. My father was mayor of the village that we lived in. He was also an electrician full time; he was mayor when he got home at night. (laughs)
In grammar school, I always got good grades…and loved artwork. Then I went to a middle school when I was in sixth grade, and it was a regional school, so all of a sudden there were a lot of kids from different areas. And a lot of kids that had moved from New York City to the suburbs; the parents had moved there to bring their kids up in the country, so to speak. But the kids that I was meeting, all of a sudden, were much more urban, and sort of…well, what I thought of as "worldly" (laughs) than I was. I felt thrust in the middle of these kids that were just much more ahead of me.
I found that getting involved in theater was something that really helped me a lot. That's when I met Kim.
Wow, you've known each other a long time!
Yes! So, I got into theater through Kim and Martha because they were very involved in it; it was happening in their town, Palisades, in the community theater. And it was a really great outlet for me.
Do you remember the plays you did there?
Oh, yes. We did musicals - Pirates of Penzance, and Guys and Dolls. And then when I would be home by myself, I would imagine myself as the lead, but I never had the courage to audition for it. When I finally did get the courage up to do that, I GOT a lead in the play.
I started singing, and doing more, and getting involved in choir and getting solos. So I kind of put art projects second, and I clung to my music. When I got into college, I was a music major, and then got the lead in some things in college, at SUNY Oswego-- and then I left college after two years to move to New York City. I just decided that I wanted to go full force into acting and singing.
That's so brave.
Yeah…well, I did it with a boyfriend who was also into acting, and he was the person that got me into it…he directed me in high school, in a couple of the plays that I did where I was the lead. So he was really instrumental in giving me the confidence to go for what I wanted to go for. And it felt like it was something I had to do. I just knew I wasn't going to be happy in college anymore. I'd always wanted to move to New York City, since I was a kid. I remember when I was in grammar school, and thinking about moving to the city, I wanted to become a secretary. (laughs) That was a big thing. But this was something totally different, and I just felt like I had to do it.
What was it like to move to the big city?
It was really exciting, but also there was this major scary thing about it. Because for one, my parents were not happy about me moving to New York with a boyfriend, and were not happy about me leaving school, and were not happy about me going to live in Greenwich Village, which is where we lived.
What year was this?
1976. You know the Beatles song, "She's Leaving Home"? I left a note for my parents and just took off. (laughs)
You just left?
Yeah. And in fact, when I finally got to New York City and moved in, in all my packing of boxes and stuff, I found that my mother had put in a little book of "Gidget Goes to New York". (laughs) And for the short first duration, I really felt like "Gidget Goes to New York." It was wild.
What was Greenwich Village like in the 70's?
Oh, it was great. I mean, it was very community-like. It was a small sort of community; you would see the same people on the street every day. And it was just before Soho was coming around-- people were starting to buy up old buildings to make into lofts, and there was always a lot of construction going on down in Soho. We would always walk down there and see what was going on, and it was great.
I guess I was there about two months, and I got into an off-Broadway musical. It was a show called Boy Meets Boy. It was a gay musical. It was really sweet; very 30's style, and it was right around the corner from my apartment. Six nights a week, eight shows a week.
What was your part?
I was one of the women in the chorus-- there were three women and three men in the chorus. It was a small musical. But it was so great! Every night we'd put on these major false lashes and fishnets. (laughs) It was a real chorus kind of scene. It'd be in this tiny theater on 7th Avenue called The Actor's Playhouse, I think. The dressing rooms were all in this basement, and you could hear all the stuff that was going on in the street from the basement where we had our dressing rooms. There were all these great little nightclubs. It was just magical, you know? It was one of those great things. And my boyfriend at the time worked at The Bottom Line, which was a big music venue. We would see everyone from Dolly Parton to Bette Middler, or the Harlettes, which were her backup singers…I got to see a lot of music after the show. The show would be over at eleven o'clock at night, and I could go over to West 4th Street, where The Bottom Line was-- it was more in the East Village-- and go see a show! It was amazing. I did that for seven months. But there was always hardly any money-- I made sixty dollars a week.
Did you have to work another job to make ends meet?
On the seventh day, I waitressed. (laughs) I was always exhausted from being up half the night, and having to work a lunch shift or something. But it was still a great time to be living there. I mean, it was hard, definitely…but there was more of an artsy community down there, I would say, than there is now. It's much more upscale. And then there were definitely people who were struggling, but really trying to make it with their art.
Did you keep going, then, in the theater?
Yeah-- actually, I got my equity card. I did this children's musical, where I had to travel for three months and do this terrible version of The Wizard of Oz. (laughs)
Where did you tour?
Pennsylvania and Boston, and then New York. In New York they threw eggs at us. (laughs)
Oh no! For real?
(laughs) Yes. And I couldn't blame them. It was terrible. And I was Dorothy, of course.
Of course! Why was the show so bad?
It was a weird take on the play. It was like, I'd start singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and it would go, "Somewhere over the rainbow… (upbeat jazz)…THERE'S A LAND OF LOLLIPOPS AND ROOOOSEEESSS…."
(laughs) So it messed with the classic…
Yeah. And not in a good way. (laughs) After that, I came back to New York, and I was waitressing again, and I got into a band with two other women, one that I'd gone to college with and one that I met waitressing. We were in a band called Modern Romance, and it was kind of a disco band, sort of along the lines of Doctor Buzzard's Original Savannah Band. It was like swing disco. (laughs) We tried very hard to get a record deal, and couldn't, but in addition to being in the band, we did a lot of backup singing gigs with other people. They were fun gigs. I loved backup singing; it was really fun.
I've always wondered what that's like.
Well, it's great to harmonize with two other people, and to sing in the middle of all of that, and to know exactly where to go, to the next notes. I just loved it...I liked the little bit of choreography we did-- we did a little bit; not much. We called it "hand-eography" because it was mostly with our hands. (laughs) But it was fun, you know? It was a good time. I did that for a couple of years, and then I just knew I couldn't waitress anymore. It was really tough.
It's grueling work!
Yeah! And…New Yorkers and food, oh my god. (laughs) It's like a whole other animal. I just knew that I wanted to do something else. And I always liked the makeup part of performing, when we'd get ourselves all duded up for a backup singing job, or when we were in Modern Romance, and so I took a course at Parson's School of Design, just in doing makeup for yourself. I let the teacher know that I really wanted to try to be a makeup artist. He was great. He said, "you know, just get yourself a Polaroid camera and practice on your friends, taking before and after pictures, and see what works well for the camera." And that was really fun, you know? I really enjoyed that.
So you were practicing on people you knew…?
Yes. EVERYBODY that I knew. (laughs) Kim was working at Self magazine at the time, and she said, "Why don't you come with me on some of my shoots? We're basically doing real people, but you'll still get to see what the makeup artist does on the set." And so I did that, and it was great. It was really an eye-opener. And actually, the makeup artist that she had me watch became kind of a mentor-- my first mentor. I'm still in touch with her.
With my little stack of Polaroids, I went to the different modeling agencies and said I was a new makeup artist, and can you set me up with some photographers who're looking for pictures, and new models who're looking for pictures, where we would all work for free, but get pictures for our portfolios. So that was great, to be able to test with new models and photographers, and that's how I got my portfolio together.
So, while you were taking the course, and then while you were making some contacts and meeting this mentor and practicing, were you still waiting tables, or were you starting to make money at this point…?
I was still waiting tables. I knew I had to do that a little bit longer in order to get my portfolio together. And actually, Kim gave me my first editorial job, for Self magazine… they were doing a shoot at this woman's house in Nantucket, so I did her makeup for the shoot. After that, I got a job doing the MTV awards. That was through a hairdresser I met through one of the waitresses that I was working with. He just said, I think you can do it. He got a whole team together for the MTV awards, and we did it. One of my first men I ever did makeup on was Sting. (laughs)
It was wild. It was at Radio City Music Hall, and just to be in Radio City, in the dressing room where the Rockettes used to dress… I can remember when we were all waiting, we had our stations set up, and the elevator door opened and everybody came off the elevator that I'd ever loved musically. (laughs) Everyone from Sting to Chrissie Hynde…and It was like, oh my god, I'm in it now. (laughs)
So, I want to back up for a second. When you first were doing the course at Parson's, what did you like about it? What about being a makeup artist made you want to go in that direction?
Well, I had always been aware of models on the street in New York, and they always looked… like, they were usually coming from a job, or going to a job, but even though they had makeup on, they always looked really natural. And I loved that. I wanted to know how to do that. That was when Bobbi Brown was selling ten lipsticks and three powders in the back of Glamour magazine, you know? (laughs) You'd send away for them. They were all very natural-looking lipsticks that you couldn't find in a store, then. So I wanted to be able to do that, and to be able to make somebody look so beautifully natural. To me, that was a lot more difficult than playing to the eight-millionth-row in the theater, when you had to wear huge eyelashes and contour every aspect of your face in order for it to show up.
So I focused on beauty makeup. I loved it. I really didn't have any interest in special effects makeup or any of that. I was interested in just doing a natural look. I realized that that was much harder to do than the theatrical makeup.
I can imagine.
I loved working with the colors that were all earth tones, and natural colors. Browns and grays.
You had to learn how…different colors look natural on different skin tones, on different people, under different light, right?
It took a long time for me to get to where I felt like I really knew how to do that. I was constantly striving to get better at it. But it was funny, because I was testing a lot in New York, you know, with new models, and then at that time, which was in 1983 or 84, I decided I really wanted to move to LA. I knew I needed to be in a city, but I wanted something that was more…like, where I am now, in the Valley, is much more like where I grew up. It's sort of suburban LA. And I just loved the weather here, and so I wanted to focus on going to LA.
Had you stopped singing and acting at the point? Were you just focusing on makeup?
I was gradually getting out of the singing and acting. It was not an easy segue-- I felt like, "how can I give all this up that I worked so hard for?" With singing and acting….but…I'd lost that drive to be a performer. I felt like I had to either choose one or the other-- because I'm not good at multitasking. (laughs) I decided that I wanted to focus on makeup, and coming out here to California. So in '86 I finally came out here, with a different guy that I was then dating, and engaged to, actually. We did a number of house-sits, all over LA and I decided to see if I could get with a makeup artist agency. So I chose a small agency and that was great, because… he just had me assisting other makeup artists. I got to learn more while I was working with them.
What kind of makeup were you doing? Makeup for movies, or…?
Commercials, music videos, still shoots-- but mostly commercials. At some point, he also said to me, "You know, you're going to have to do hair too." And I just said, "what?" (laughs) I didn't do hair. But he gave me hair setters, and brushes, and all this stuff, and he said "here-- you can do it." (laughs)
But-- hair is a whole different thing!
I know! The makeup artist that I assisted also did hair, and he showed me...he really became my mentor out here with everything. It was amazing what he taught me. Everything from how to behave on a set to how to hold certain curling irons-- just every little thing. What you should wear to this kind of job, when you should go in and do your job-- he was great.
Wow. So…did you learn how to do hair?
Yes. I style hair for everything I do now-- weddings and everything.
I'm fascinated by this story because it's a whole world that most of us have no access to. Creating any kind of commercial or video or movie… you said he taught you how to behave on the set…how DOES one behave?
Well, he emphasized that you have to anticipate what the person you're assisting needs, and also what needs to be done as far as powdering…how you should first ask the assistant director if you should go in… that kind of thing. So you're constantly anticipating what has to be done. It was really the best way for me to learn. He would teach me little tricks. And he was very kind, too, which really helped.
Was it stressful?
Yeah, but it was great. I learn best by watching someone else and that's what he let me do. I got to observe the way he would talk to the actors, and joke with them…our makeup room was the most lively room on the set, you know? That's where everybody wanted to be because it was the most fun. And we also would deal with wigs and hairpieces, and things like that, so somebody would always come in and try one on when they shouldn't…(laughs) …it was fun. It was a really fun time to be doing that kind of thing. The commercial world is different now, too, than it was fifteen or twenty years ago.
What's changed? How is it different?
Well, it felt like it changed around the time of the dot-com era, when everyone was advertising on all these different websites like ETrade and Cnet, and all of a sudden all the directors wanted to go from doing commercials to doing movies. I worked with a lot of directors who started out in commercials and now do movies, like David Fincher and Michael Salomon, so all of a sudden it became really intense. They wanted everything yesterday, and they wanted it done in ten minutes. Hair, makeup, and nails. You know? It was all very quick, and there was a lot of ego on the set then, too. So that's when I started moving away from commercials and decided that I'd always loved makeup, and I'd always loved doing brides and weddings.
So…I think when September 11th happened, it felt like I had to just change my priorities. Like, I've got to do what I want to do, and what pleases me…I just had to be happy, you know?
Exactly! It did that for everyone, I think, to greater and lesser degrees. You did commercial work and music videos and stuff for how long?
For about fifteen years. I've been doing weddings now since about 2001. That was a whole thing of getting a website… because my agency didn't want to do weddings at all. So I broke off and started doing weddings, and I really liked it.
You only do weddings now?
I also do headshots, and I've been doing these jobs for the YouTube Initiative-- YouTube now has a channel called The Tasting Room, I think it is. It's all these little segments every week on different chefs around town. There's seven questions that they ask in the kitchen-- they ask the same questions and they all approach it differently. It's really great. So I'm doing that, and special events…But mostly I do weddings.
The tagline for my business is, "the most beautiful version of you." When I talk to a bride-to-be about the look she wants to go for….we start out by doing a trial run where she gets to try different looks, a couple weeks or a couple months before the wedding. I take pictures of her after we try each look, and then I print them for her right there. And she can take the pictures home with her and decide the look that she wants to go with, and if she wants to work with me. But also, she gets to see how her makeup reads for the camera-- because they don't realize, even if you never wear makeup on a regular basis, that you have to have some on to look good on camera. Your pictures are your memory of the day. And you're wearing white, usually, and that has a tendency to wash everybody out. I tell her to come with a camisole or a tank top that's the same color as her dress, and bring whatever she needs as far as…if she's going to be wearing a veil, or whatever. I shoot her from all different angles. I'm not a photographer, but I figure if she'll look good in my pictures, she'll look good with a professional. (laughs) And if she's not used to wearing, say, lashes…I use individual false lashes just to give her a little bit of a lift. They feel real; you don't even know that you have them on.
So: everything is geared toward making her feel comfortable, and like herself…but on the best day of her life.
That sounds so good.
I always want to convey to them that if we get it all down at the trial run, then we have nothing to worry about the day-of. That's the last thing you want to have to think about the day of your wedding. I shouldn't have to be worried about what look I'm going for or how my hair's not going to work in the veil... So I try to give her an idea of what all will be happening with her look. I give her a little touch-up kit that has blotting papers, the lipstick I use, a lip-brush, and some bobby pins, and I also talk with the maid of honor; make sure that she's attending to the bride, you know? They have a tendency to forget that, especially in this town. Everybody's like, "oh, it's my time to be on the red carpet." (laughs) It's like, wake up ladies. You're attending to a bride! But you know, I do it in a subtle way. I try to cover everything. I bring straws, in case they're all drinking something and they don't want to mess up their lips…I try to anticipate everything. I learned that.
Clearly there's a LOT that you've learned over the years, that only you would know…
It's been fun! And this finally makes sense to me, you know? I feel like I've learned everything…and I always just wanted to make the women pretty, and make the men handsome. So it feels like this really works. When I have them over to my house, for the trial run-- I try to always do it here, unless it's really inconvenient for them. I set out tea and cookies and fruit, and we talk about what they want. I don't like them to feel like they're getting a bum rush-- "sit down, we'll talk about your look…" I try to ease them into it. (laughs) Because also, they're coming to a stranger's house, and they're at their most vulnerable-- with no makeup on, and they have to say what they want. I tell them, "you can bring a friend if you want, if you feel better with a friend, or your mom, whoever, and we'll just have a party." (laughs).
Do you ever just consult with people or do makeup for them for other special events?
Yes, I also do special events. I've done people who are going to the Oscars or the Emmy's. A lot of it is similar; just what they're wearing is different, and…they're going to be in a lot of different kinds of light. And so we try to check them outside, and check them inside, and make sure they're looking good in all the different lights-- that's a lot of fun too.
Well, clearly you have a particular talent that seems so valuable. Because let's face it, we're all being photographed a lot more now than we used to be--it used to just be special occasions; someone would haul out the camera. And it's a little hard to take sometimes, especially if you're not comfortable with your look.
You know, it's so true for a lot of women that I work with. They say, "I don't wear makeup on a regular basis." So we go really easy, and we just work from there-- I show her. We do a before picture, and an after, and then a very-much-after-that picture…so she can see how different colors will affect the picture. And she can choose whatever she wants…and I just make her feel totally comfortable.
Right. So is working with people on their every-day make up something you'd like to pursue with your business? Or are there other ways you want to expand?
Oh yes, I love working with somebody on their everyday look. I think that's a great thing for people to learn. And the next thing I want to do is convert our garage into a makeup studio, so that people are showing up to an actual studio. But yeah, I'd love to do more of that…for people that are just going to a party that night, or whatever, and they want to look better than they usually look.
I feel so lucky because I'm so close to being where what I want to be, and there's just a little bit more work. I pretty much do a wedding a weekend right now, and I would like a little bit more work; maybe two weddings a weekend and do a trial run or two during the week. But I also love working in my yard and my house, and that's really where I get a lot of comfort, as far as…instead of meditation, I work in my garden.
I saw some pictures of your garden and your house, and it was just beautiful.
And we have an actual vegetable garden now, and can have a salad from that every night.
That's so satisfying, isn't it? How did you learn gardening?
Well, we learned by killing. (laughs) We killed a looooot of stuff. (laughs). One thing about California is that you pretty much can't go wrong with the weather, for gardening. The only thing is that we live in the Valley, which is always about twenty degrees hotter than the rest of the town...I've tried to make an English garden in the desert, basically. I love it. It's something that I picked up because I wanted everything to look nice, and I didn't realize how much I was going to enjoy it.
So if we can just get my studio made, that would be great. It'll happen. I just have to ease into it.
(Interviewed on 09/09/2012)