I am fascinated by amber that contains a trapped primordial insect inside. One moment it is minding its own business on a tree, the next, it is captured in a rolling drop of sticky sap. A millenia later we can hold this same moment in time as fossilized amber in our hands.
For me, my family’s old photos are just like drops of amber that forever capture their subjects in the midst of living life – vital, involved and then snap! They are caught in one dimension thereafter.
These two photos embody my feelings about these photos – here, my grandmother Mitzi and the legendary Jack Dawn, the head of MGM’s make-up studio who created the make-up for hundreds of films, spend a morning together, most likely to promote the upcoming MGM movie The Good Earth (1937).
For several years, Jack Dawn researched a synthetic plastic called Vinylite, which even patented. He used his invention to transform the mainly white cast of The Good Earth into Chinese peasants (not the controversy then that this would be today), and later to create the fantastical characters in The Wizard of Oz, including the wicked witch, the flying monkeys, the Tin Man and Lion. These two fantastic photos show the transformation – before and after, and Dawn’s brilliance as he turns Mitzi, a young Jewish girl, into a rather glamorous Chinese farmer.
I imagine this session in the chair in the MGM make-up department would have been great fun, punctuated by absolute stillness while the Vinylite resin sets. Then the application of coats of make-up, pinning the elaborate wig in place, and Mitzi buttoning up the Chinese wardrobe, etc. There would have been laughter, discussion, the photographer snapping away. And now, 70+ years later, I am writing about it in my blog – a moment captured millions of moments away.
Sadly, there was no Oscar for make-up during Jack Dawn’s time and he died in 1961, five years after retiring. He was buried with an unmarked grave in Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.
The Good Earth original novel:
The Good Earth (Oprah’s Book Club)
The Wizard of Oz:
The Wizard of Oz (Two-Disc 70th Anniversary Edition)
Copyright Alicia Mayer 2012.