“I was a cosmetologist. I owned a salon and thought I was being hired to do hair. In those days, women did hair and men did makeup. I had no idea until I was handed my equipment, a Max Factor Pan-Cake and sea sponge.”
Stein, now an Academy Award-winning makeup artist with over 40 years of experience in the industry, did not get his start in a classroom. He got his start on that set, on that day, with little knowledge of what he was meant to do. So he watched. He copied.
“I was in the middle with two other guys on either side of me, and there was an actor in front of me,” Stein said. “I started on his back so he would not see that I did not know what I was doing. I loaded up the sponge and makeup dripped all over my arm, so I realized I had to squeeze the water out. Then I watched the other two artists and just copied them until suddenly I was doing makeup.”
Soon, he came back every day. That first job turned into another and then another, until Stein was a full-fledged industry makeup artist. And that is where he soon earned a reputation as “the fixer.” Never content with the tools of the trade, Stein always looked for ways to improve his day-to-day life on the set. It was the 1970s and cross-contamination was becoming a major issue in the entertainment industry. Various techniques were tried, including scooping the makeup out with a spatula and placing it on tile or plastic palettes, but each had their own negative impacts.
“Tile broke if you dropped it,” he said. “Glass was very expensive when you beveled the edges so you did not cut your hands. Plastic was best of the three, because it was lightweight, but after mixing colors a few times, you would get the colors mixed in and it was hard to clean because of the grooves caused from the spatula mixing colors on the palette. That is when I thought about using my old army signal mirror.”
He began to use that mirror as a palette and gave others away to fellow makeup artists. Soon the demand grew, both for his palette and the metal spatulas he had specially made. So he started to produce them in larger quantities – the first of many items Stein now manufactures in the makeup industry.
“I never bothered to think about patenting anything, whether it was patentable or not. I figured whatever I created I wanted everybody to be able to use,” Stein said. “It was just me. I did not want to restrict anybody else from copying it. I was not in the retail market, so if there was somebody else in another part of the world who saw it and wanted to copy it, I thought that would be great. On a financial basis, I can see where I would have made a lot of money, but altruistically I have not had a bad life at all. It is nice when people come up and say, ‘I love using the tools you created.’”
Stein’s career continued to flourish. Still young, he transitioned well from his background as a cosmetologist to an entertainment industry makeup artist. His big break, though, came during a simple lunch meeting at the house of his mentor – John Chambers.
“When I first heard the idea for ‘Planet of the Apes,’ I laughed,” Stein jokes. “I did laugh. What am I going to do with monkeys?” he said. But Stein heard Chambers out and as he learned more about the project and the various effects Stein would have an opportunity to create, the idea grabbed his attention.
“By the time I left there I realized [Chambers] was such an icon in the industry that when he says he would like you to be on his team, that is an honor. It is something special. And because I had only started half a dozen years before that, I was still early in my career.”
Stein was not just hired for the project, though; he was asked to join a group of about six artists who would be responsible for teaching small groups of artists to mass reproduce the ape effects on numerous actors. “I loved it. I loved it because I looked at the individuals I was teaching and watched how they were grasping things I did when I taught myself the first day of my career,” Stein said.
That is why, while “Planet of the Apes” is known as one of Stein’s biggest film credits, in his mind, it is also his first teaching job – a job he still cherishes to this day. Stein continues to hold makeup classes and seminars both at his company headquarters in Burbank, Calif. and around the world. While he loves teaching aspiring artists tips and tricks, it is the lessons that he has been able to provide in the medical community that truly touches his heart. For years, Stein has worked closely with the medical community – using his makeup to help burn survivors, cancer patients, and charities.
“I have had patients flown here from the East Coast and from the south with whom I have worked,” Stein said. “I have gone as far away as Norway to meet with a family with a 9-year-old son burned in a fire. He would not go back to school because his face was so red. I met with the family and the boy and showed him the ‘stuff.’ (He called it the stuff.) I told him that it would make the bright pink and red go away for the day. I taught him how to use it and when I got done he looked in the mirror and started laughing and said, ‘Now I can go to school.’” For all of Stein’s industry accomplishments, he still looks back with great fondness on that boy and many like him.
“It was above and beyond the type of makeup that I was trained to do. It was my way of giving back. What I started doing was that anytime I gave a lecture or taught a class in some part of the world, I would see if there was a hospital or burn center where I would go free of charge and conduct an educational class for them,” Stein said.
“I got more pleasure and gratification out of doing that than any big makeup job I ever did,” he added. “The makeup for movies and TV were to entertain people. The makeup for this type of person with skin discoloration was a big physical and emotional help in their life.”
These types of makeup jobs helped Stein realize there was a place in the market for a longer lasting, fuller coverage foundation – so “the fixer” went to work.
“It was like magic,” Stein said of the foundation he created. “I was able to create a foundation that would go on thinner than most liquids and cover two to three times better and stay on all day like a second skin.” By this time Stein had decided to retire from the industry and instead, put his attention into a new venture – his Cinema Secrets retail store. “It was not that I wanted to go into retail as much as I realized that many of my jobs were taking me away from home and my family for long periods of time,” Stein said. “I was working longer hours and I was not getting younger.”
So, with his wife Barbara, in February 1985, he opened the store. His two sons, Michael and Danny, and daughter, Debra, soon joined the team.
“Everybody warned me about a family business,” Stein joked. “All I kept thinking was ‘Gosh, now I get to see my family every day, after sometimes not seeing them for weeks.’ We ended up making it a lot of fun and because we made it fun, it reflected on the business and the customers saw that. To this day I feel that is part of what helped our business grow so much.”
But just because Stein retired, it did not mean that the calls stopped coming. “I went in to do a demo makeup as a consultant and they liked it so much they asked me to do the series. I told them that I could not because I could not in good conscience divide my time with my new company, Cinema Secrets,” Stein said.
Stein showed the team how he could train artists to do the job in half the time. And then he reluctantly agreed to do the makeup for the first episode of the show for which he still did not even know the title. But the offer kept getting better. Stein only needed to come in on Fridays after 2 p.m. and since he had not been taking money out of his new business, the extra money – almost a week’s salary in a shortened day – sounded like a good idea. So Stein decided he would do one season of a new show, “Golden Girls.”
“I thought I would do it for one season,” he said. “One season turned into six years, because the show got more popular every year and they sweetened the pot.”
Now, Stein is officially retired from the industry and instead spends his time focusing on his business and teaching endeavors. He is still passionate about helping those in need and continues to receive piles of thank you letters every week from grateful cancer patients and burn survivors who use his products to improve their lives. His business has grown into an international manufacturer with sales all over the world, but finding Stein is not difficult. The 79-year-old makeup artist can be found three times a week inside his retail store in Burbank, shaking hands with former coworkers and teaching customers the skills he learned over his career.
“One of the reasons I still come into Cinema Secrets at this stage of my life, aside from knowing that my talent has been able to help and still helps people, is that I enjoy seeing people with whom I worked over the last 40 years,” Stein said. “In fact, seldom does a day go by where people, from the biggest stars in the industry to people who worked behind camera and in many areas of film and TV, from grips and electricians to publicists, lawyers and producers, do not come into my office to say hi. Their respect and friendship has lasted all these years.”
Stein continues to live up to his reputation as “the fixer.” Cinema Secrets is in the midst of a rebranding, with new products on display and new packaging for many items, including its signature blue brush cleaner.
He may have started out as a cosmetologist faking his way in makeup, but now – over 50 years later – Stein is an icon in the industry. “We were a special group at a special time,” Stein says of his quick rise. “There was a lot of work. The demand was large, and we were trying to fill that demand and some of the people stood out.”