Dick Smith, the most influential make-up effects artist since Jack Pierce, has died at the age of 92. After spending 14 years as NBC’s make-up director (the position didn’t exist before Smith’s tenure), he made the jump to film with Little Big Man, a job that required him to turn a then 33-year-old Dustin Hoffman into a 121-year-old Civil War vet. From 1972 on, his career is an embarrassment of riches. The Godfather, The Exorcist, The Godfather: Part II, The Stepford Wives, Taxi Driver, Marathon Man, The Sentinel, The Deer Hunter, Altered States, Scanners, Nighthawks, Ghost Story and The Hunger. All of those films were done within a remarkable 11-year span, leading up to his Academy Award winning work on Amadeus in 1984.
Smith’s contributions to the art of film are staggering. When he wasn’t terrifying audiences with spinning heads and projectile vomit, his effects became invisible and all the more terrifying because of it. Without him, Vito Corleone’s assassination of Fannuci doesn’t have the same haltingly realistic edge that transforms the moment into a real piece of opera. Without him, Travis Bickle doesn’t have a mowhawk. Without him, Scanners doesn’t have an ending.
Smith’s last credited work was on 1999’s remake of The House on Haunted Hill, 15 years ago. He is sorely missed.