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William J. Tuttle; Master of Makeup To MGM's Stars

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 3, 2007

William J. Tuttle, 95, who as head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios' makeup department enhanced the looks of some of Hollywood's most beautiful people and helped design the creepy, human-devouring Morlocks in "The Time Machine," died July 27 at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif. No cause of death was reported.

Mr. Tuttle's career encompassed more than 300 films as well as the transition from black and white to Technicolor, a development he called "murder" because the intense light needed for the process could melt layers of makeup. As a young man, he worked on the early Technicolor classic "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) with Judy Garland.

He was MGM's makeup chief from 1950 to 1970. For his work on "7 Faces of Dr. Lao" (1964), starring Tony Randall as a cunning Chinese medicine show impresario with many identities, he was the first in his profession to win an Academy Award. An Oscar category recognizing makeup skill did not begin on a regular basis until 1981.

He became known as King of the Duplicators for his way of making a wax facial mask of practically everyone at the studio. Once he had the impression of a face, he would easily develop character makeup that transformed, for example, Hurd Hatfield from a handsome young man into an aging degenerate in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945).

Mr. Tuttle spent 15 years as assistant to the head of MGM's makeup department during the heyday of the studio system. Plucking, dabbing, swabbing, he fiddled with the faces of MGM's biggest stars, including Katharine Hepburn, Greer Garson, Jeanette MacDonald, June Allyson and Donna Reed, to whom he was briefly married in the early 1940s.

Reed, then an unknown starlet, said at the time: "The first day I went to the studio, they sent me to the makeup department and a makeup man named Bill Tuttle looked me over. He shook his head, mumbled something about what will they dig up next, and then went to work on me. He changed my eyebrows, shaded my chin and made my mouth bigger. He made me very mad.

"Then he looked at me again and said, 'Now you'll do. Except you should change something else.' When I asked him what, he said, 'Your name. It should be Mrs. William Tuttle.' "

While head of MGM's makeup staff, Mr. Tuttle applied his considerable talents on dozens of films a year. They ranged wildly across genres, including "Julius Caesar" (1953), "The Teahouse of the August Moon" (1956) and "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962), with Marlon Brando as, respectively, a Roman leader, an Asian servant and an 18th-century British seaman.

There was also "Jailhouse Rock" (1957) with Elvis Presley; "North by Northwest" (1959) with Cary Grant; and the all-star western "How the West Was Won" (1962).

For the popular 1960 movie version of H.G. Wells's "The Time Machine," Mr. Tuttle's trip to the monkey house at the San Diego Zoo provided inspiration for creating the fur of the underground-dwelling Morlocks. He also put tiny light bulbs in facial masks to create the spooky electric-eye effect.

"7 Faces of Dr. Lao," directed by George Pal, was Mr. Tuttle's tour de force of makeup artistry. According to an account in "The Films of George Pal" by Gail Morgan Hickman, Mr. Tuttle made watercolors of the seven characters inhabited by Tony Randall and a plaster cast of Randall's head. The cast became the mold from which he created the heads of the distinctive characters.

"He then went to work on me," Randall said in the book. "He shaved my head and eyebrows. Socially, it was a disaster. The effect gave me an unborn look. But professionally it was a masterstroke. All of my preconceived notions on how I would play the characters vanished.

"As soon as Tuttle applied his makeup magic, I felt myself actually become these strange people," Randall said. "I had green plastic lenses for the Medusa, blue for the Apollonius of Tyana, and old Merlin had the faded-washed-out light blue. . . . Every makeup would take about two hours to put on, and on some days, I'd be in three different makeups."

William Julian Tuttle was born April 13, 1912, in Jacksonville, Fla. He was 15 when his father deserted the family, and he was forced to use his skill as a violinist to support his mother and younger brother, Thomas, who also became a Hollywood makeup artist.

William Tuttle won musical jobs in burlesque houses and for a while fronted his own dance band. In Southern California by the early 1930s and in need of work, he became a makeup apprentice, first at 20th Century Pictures and then at MGM. Jack Dawn, one of the most respected makeup artists in the business, became his mentor.

Mr. Tuttle left MGM after businessman Kirk Kerkorian bought the studio and began dismantling it. He continued a long freelance makeup career -- working on such features as Mel Brooks's "Young Frankenstein" (1974) and the drama of aging adulterers in "Same Time, Next Year" (1978) -- and created his own makeup line, Custom Color Cosmetics.

He also received an Emmy nomination for his makeup work on the CBS special "Babe" (1975), about golfer Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias. Years earlier, while at MGM, he had also worked on episodes of "The Twilight Zone."

His marriage to Reed ended in divorce. His second wife, Marie Kopicki Tuttle, died in 1961.

Survivors include his wife of 40 years, Anita Aros of Pacific Palisades; and a daughter, Teresa, from his second marriage. A son, John, from his second marriage predeceased him.

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