It was Hollywood a year ago. Makeup artist Lee Harman heard on his car radio that Anne Bancroft was slated for the Joan Crawford role in "Mommie Dearest." Harman instantly hit on another idea: He thought Faye Dunaway should play Crawford.
"First, I told her boyfriend, Terry O'Neill, that I thought she would be perfect for the role," Harmon recalls. Then he started working on Dunaway as he made her up for "Evita Peron," the two-part television special of last season. "Eventually, I persuaded her -- not knowing what was ahead."
Ahead was intense pressure, endless hours of striving for the near-perfect makeup job. For the screen test alone, it took 7 1/2 hours "without eating" to do the makeup, Harman recalls. "It was the longest I had ever worked on anything. We would measure a picture of Joan Crawford with Q-Tips to get the eyebrows and the distance between the eyes exact. . . . I'm a Virgo -- that's probably why I measured down to the last Q-Tip."
The pressure wore on Harman. He wanted to quit the film several times. "The perfection of it was so difficult, the most difficult thing I ever worked on. It was Hollywood inside Hollywood. People knew what Crawford looked like, so everyone was zeroing in to see what you were doing . . . but Faye told me I couldn't leave. 'You got me into this,' she kept telling me."
Lee Harman, 45, was top scorer on his Los Angeles high school basketball team. He attended Oregon State on a basketball scholarship, was named an All-American and played in post-season all-star games with the likes of Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. "They were a little better, but I wasn't a bad scorer," Harman says. He played professional basketball briefly, but says he "ran out of gas."
But he had poked around movie studios. His father, Glen Harman, was head of landscape and nursery at 20th Century-Fox. Harman worked in some of the unions in the studio: landscape, electrical, special effects. He figured the makeup team had the cushiest job. "A powder puff only weighs two ounces," he says.
He had been working as wardrobe man on the television program "Batman" when he switched over to makeup for the same show, assisting Bruce Hutchinson. Hutchinson did the stars, says Harman. "I got anyone left, like Robin."
But he lost interest in makeup, and everything else, when his 5-month-old daughter died. "I was just lounging around, not wanting to work, not wanting to do anything," he says. It was the late '60s. Then makeup artist Harry Ray asked him to look after Barbra Streisand in "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." Streisand did her own makeup at the time but needed someone to keep handing her items. "I didn't know who Streisand was in those days," confesses Harman, "but I was in a terrible rut and I needed to get myself out of it."
Harman and Streisand hit it off. "We'd play games. I'd carry all kinds of rouges, hairpins . . . and she would try to catch me at something I didn't have. Like Black Jack gum. And like a magician I'd pull it out."
Occasionally she would let Harman help with her makeup. "I'd help if she had circles under her eyes," he says.
Then the hairstylist for "Chinatown" recommended Harman to Faye Dunaway. "Faye has an unusual face. You can do almost anything with it and it will come out okay," he says. "She is very demanding, a perfectionist. She really gets into the makeup and wants to have a say in what you do. It's good, though, because it brings out the best in you. You really work together with her. And she thinks I'm special or something and lets me use what I want."
Harman works in a loose shirt with at least two pockets to stash his Q-Tips, brushes and powder. And always he works with the wooden end of a Q-Tip between his teeth. "It's my eraser," he says. "I make lots of mistakes."
To make sure he got the effect both he and Dunaway wanted for "Mommie Dearest," Harman went to see "Mildred Pierce" and a few other Crawford films.
Crawford's characteristic eyebrows and thin lips became the focus of his work. He and Dunaway would study the stills posted in the Winnebago where Harman worked. "Faye used a magnifying glass. She always uses a magnifying glass, and I always try to hide it from her. Now it's my first rule -- never let an actress or actor look through a magnifying glass . . .
"The spookiest day was when I put on the old-age makeup and they put her in a coffin. I feared it might be in her will that when she died I would have to do it for her for real."
Although he has worked with Jill Clayburgh, Dyan Cannon and Christopher Reeve since "Mommie Dearest," Harman, though he wishes he could, cannot forget Crawford's unsettling life story and the eerie physical image of her that he helped create.
"I wouldn't have her picture on the piano," he says, "but in the piano, maybe."