Nick Maley discusses veteran MFX make-up artist Dick Smith. ......Ergo

The Dick Smith Connection


Dick Smith has been an inspiration to more make-up artists than anyone I know. He trained Rick Baker as a teenager and openly shared his time and knowledge with anyone who asked for his advice. You can access his biography here.

I first became a fan when I saw LITTLE BIG MAN in the early 1970's. His incredible work on Dustin Hoffman blew me away. I don't know if I was enamored or just shocked but I knew that Special Make-up was what I wanted to do.

I was already a make-up professional with several years experience of assisting other make-up artists with their movies. I had done YOUNG WINSTON with Stuart Freeborn who was also renowned for his effects work but he hadn't asked me to do any effects oriented pictures at that time. Well the enthusiasm that Dick inspired drove me to read and experiment with Make-up Effects and those experiments won me a few jobs assisting on effects movies. Then I stated supervising small effects movies, later even wrote one. All this time I kept abreast of Dick's work and as always it was an inspiration. Every now and then I would talk to someone who had met Dick and they would tell me what a great guy he was and how I should write to him.... he wouldn't mind. But somehow I couldn't. I've seen how fans can pester people. I didn't want him to think of me that way.

While I was doing THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME with Anthony Hopkins, Ridley Scott's brother, Tony Scott, called me to talk about doing the Make-up effects for a David Bowie vampire movie called THE HUNGER. Tony went on to make a big name for himself with movies such as TOP GUN, DAYS OF THUNDER and CRIMSON TIDE but at that time he was not well known. I was quite interested in the movie and he said he would call again....but never did. It didn't matter because as I finished HUNCHBACK I was asked to design the Make-up Effects for KRULL a 40 million dollar fantasy film.

I soon discovered why Tony didn't call back when I learned that Dick Smith was coming to England to make THE HUNGER.

KRULL was a very demanding picture. I had little time to think about visiting Dick who was working in another studio across town. Nick Dudman who I knew well from EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was assisting Dick. I could have easily "dropped by", but again I didn't want to be a bother to him. I thought that one day we might meet when I was a little better known and he could find more to say to me than a simple "hello." KRULL was a long picture and the main unit shoot for THE HUNGER ended befor we did. Towards the end of our shoot, Nick Dudman came to help me for a couple of weeks. By the time he finished telling me about his experiences on THE HUNGER I felt like I knew Dick although we had never met. When I finally saw the movie I was glad I hadn't done it........ He did a much better job than I could have done.

In 1983 I was designing and directing the Make-up and Creature Effects for LIFEFORCE an everyday story about soul sucking vampires from outer space. Don't laugh. They spent 24 million dollars on this epic horror flic. One of my assistants was a Canadian make-up artist called Barbera. While we were talking she told me that she knew Dick. I was beginning to feel like everyone knew him but me. I wondered how he ever got time to work with so many people clamoring to meet him and in a way that sustained me. The work we were doing on LIFEFORCE was pretty spectacular and I felt the time was coming when I could contact Dick and he might have some idea of who I was. When Barbara told me that she had just phoned him one day, pretty much the way she had phoned me and he had invited her over to his house. I felt a pang of jellousy and I thought to myself..... "I have enough experience now to be able to hold a meaningful conversation with the great man." I decided that when the opportunity next arrose I would seek him out.

I had a big crew on LIFEFORCE and everyone knew of my extreme admiration for Dick Smith. It was one of those movies that spawned practical jokes as you will see if you check out "The sweet smell of Success". So when Bob Keen said to me that Dick Smith was on the phone asking to speak to me I gave him a cynical smile. I took the phone not knowing what to expect and was stunned to find myself talking to...... Dick Smith. I don't know to this day if what I said made any sense. I was shocked that he even knew who I was. When he told me he was calling from New York just to tell me how much he admired my work I was speachless. When the conversation was finished I had to sit down for a while. I was so glad that I had never called him because that one phone call from the make-up professional I most respected in all the world was worth more to me than 100 international awards presented by less knowledgable mortals.

When we finally met in 1985 he hugged me like a long lost son. His enthusiasm and humility touched me deaply and it was a source of great pride to have him describe me as his esteemed colleague. I would have settled for just being a friend.


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