Born in 1922 in Larchmont, New York, Smith began his career in 1945 as the first staff makeup man at NBC. Until his official debut in feature films in 1962, Smith applied makeup on a host of television series, including two remarkable visages in episodes of the anthology series WAY OUT (“Soft Focus,” “False Face”).
Pioneering the use of foam latex for intricate, richly detailed designs, Smith’s work was perhaps most stunning (and best known) in William Friedkin’s 1973 classic The Exorcist. Smith also considered it his most accomplished work, and in a 2007 Washington Post profile, his former assistant and now FX legend Rick Baker helps illustrate why:
” ‘The Exorcist’ was really a turning point for makeup special effects,” Baker says. “Dick showed that makeup wasn’t just about making people look scary or old, but had many applications. He figured out a way to make the welts swell up on Linda’s stomach, to make her head spin around, and he created the vomit scenes.”
Of course, Smith’s filmography and influence extends farther than just The Exorcist. In 1965, Smith penned the essential DICK SMITH’S DO-IT-YOURSELF MONSTER MAKE-UP HANDBOOK and his entire career is an index of fantastic, otherworldly work including the likes of Dark Shadows, Little Big Man, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Burnt Offerings, Altered States, The Fury, Ghost Story and Amadeus, for which he won an Oscar in 1984. Smith’s second Oscar came in 2011, when the technician of horror received an Academy Honorary Award for “for his unparalleled mastery of texture, shade, form and illusion.”