February 4, 2005
The Friday Flyer Assistant Editor
Growing up on the back lot of the 20th Century Fox Studios, Lee Harman didn’t give much thought to the glamour and glitz that surrounded him. On land that was formerly the private ranch of western film star Tom Mix, and later developed into modern day Century City, Lee and his two brothers grew up playing on sets for western towns and pirate ships, among others, while his father was in charge of landscaping the studio property at Sunset and Pico and “dressing the sets” with plants he grew onsite in a nursery.
For Lee, fame and glory wasn’t in front of a Hollywood camera, but rather in front of his high school sweetheart and the other fans that watched him play basketball at University High School in Westwood. “Fame” was being selected All City Player of the Year in Los Angeles in 1954 and “glory” was receiving full-ride offers to play basketball at 68 colleges around the country.
Being friends with Coach John Wooden’s son and sharing the dinner table with the UCLA basketball icon’s family several times a week meant a great deal more to Lee than running into the likes of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe at the studio.
Lee chose to play basketball at Oregon State College, where he won numerous awards and led the team to victory in the Far West Classic all three years he played there, and where he was selected All American MVP in 1959. He would later be named to that school’s Sports Hall of Fame.
While he was still in college he married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy, but when he decided to go to Hawaii after college to play ball professionally, he and Dorothy went their separate ways and each married someone else. A few years later, Lee returned to Hollywood to work with his father at 20th Century Fox Studios. He recalls the day he was doing a landscaping job and glanced over the hedge to see a film crew scurrying around Natalie Wood.
“There was only one calm person on the set and when Natalie rushed over and stood at attention in front of him, he pulled out a three-ounce powder puff to dab at her face,” says Lee. “Here I was holding a 500-pound palm tree and there he was holding a three-ounce puff – that’s when I decided I wanted to be a makeup artist.”
He spent time in several unions, including lighting, props and wardrobe, but eventually worked his way into makeup, starting with the Batman television series in 1965. He became well known to many of the guest stars in the series and went on to do the makeup for a number of famous actors and actresses.
“My success came from telling people like it was,” he explains. “They liked my honesty.” One of the advantages he had growing up at the studio was that, in his thinking, movie stars were no different from regular people and his job was no more glamorous than the next. In other words, he wasn’t star-struck. “Working in the movie business was like changing the oil in my car or fixing a flat tire,” he says.
But he also knew there was a great deal of competition, so Lee took his position as makeup artist to the next level by studying lighting and convincing his leading ladies that they should write a clause into their contracts for “lighting approval.”
This gave him the power to light them in the most complimentary ways possible, which garnered enemies among the cameramen but made him famous with demanding clients like Barbra Streisand, Faye Dunaway, Sally Fields and many others. A wall in his Longhorn Drive home holds autographed photos of some of favorite clients–Anne Archer, John Ritter, Chevy Chase, Daryl Hannah, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Antonio Banderas, Sally Fields, Goldie Hawn, Mel Gibson, Jill Clayburgh, Dyan Cannon and more.
A story in the July 1981 issue of “Life” magazine highlights the importance of the makeup artist and mentions Lee Harman by name in discussing the transformation of Faye Dunaway into her role as Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest.”
Having worked with Dunaway on a number of other films, Lee was instrumental in getting her the leading role in that dark story, though he sometimes regretted it – as in the first day he did her makeup and it took nine hours to match her looks to Crawford’s.
The arched eyebrows alone took three hours as Dunaway’s natural eyebrows were shaved and Lee had to draw or “fleck” one eyebrow hair at a time in different colors. He soon got the look down so that her makeup only took four hours at a time instead of nine, but he and the hairdresser dreaded each day they had to work on the bitter character Dunaway played. “Faye and I had a love/hate relationship,” he remarks.
One of his favorite actors to work with because of his incessant good humor was Chevy Chase. Lee found Chevy to be an intelligent and talented actor, even funnier offstage than on. “Chevy gives you a stomach ache just being around him,” Lee muses. He worked on the comedian’s makeup in two of National Lampoon’s “Vacation” movies: “Christmas Vacation” and “Vegas Vacation,” as well as in “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” and “Funny Farm.”
Lee could tell an interesting story about every one of the 85 or so movies and additional TV series in which he worked, but one comes to mind that symbolized the high regard in which he was held by many stars, and came relatively early in his career.
He was in charge of Tony Randall’s makeup in “The Odd Couple” and Randall didn’t like him taking on any other jobs while they were in the middle of a series. But Ethel Merman was coming to LA to film several commercials and she wanted Lee to be her makeup artist. Randall refused Lee’s request to have a week’s leave to work for Merman so the famous singer took matters into her own hands.
One evening while the Odd Couple was being filmed in front of a live audience, Merman’s limousine pulled up next to the Paramount studio and she walked onstage in front of the cast, cameramen and audience to demand that Randall give her Lee Harman for the week. He couldn’t very well turn her down under those circumstances and thus began one of the most delightful weeks of Lee’s career.
In spite of his success, however, Lee wasn’t so caught up in the glitter of Hollywood that he wanted to raise his family there. With his two young sons, he moved back to Corvallis, Oregon, where he knew the moral and social environment was healthier and where he had good friends who would care for the boys when he was working on films. Plus, fishing and golfing held much more appeal for him than city life.
While working as head makeup artist on “The Horse Whisperer” Lee became interested in horses and bought a ranch in Arizona, where he had worked a few years earlier on “Murphy’s Romance.” In the meantime, he ran into his high school sweetheart and first wife, Dorothy and the couple revived the flame of first love by repeating a trip through the Northwest they had taken as sweethearts. They were remarried on November 23, 1999.
Less than a year ago, they moved to Canyon Lake, which Dorothy knew about because of her relatives, Vera and Frank Romo. A single-digit golfer, Lee has had no trouble making himself at home in the Men’s Golf Club, where he joined a group of old-timers known as the “Holy Grail.” He enjoys playing golf two or three times a week and says he is especially appreciative of the friendship and help he has received from Head Pro Dave Lindeman and his assistants, Rich, Sean and Jerry, as well as Chef Joe Scanio at the Country Club.
These days, he is spending a little more time than usual in front of his TV screen, where, as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he must view all the movies that are up for Academy Awards. He hasn’t worked on a movie since his last picture, “Practical Magic” – for which he made up beauties Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing – so he isn’t too familiar with this year’s crop of nominees. He notes, however, that it only take about 10 minutes of watching a movie to get a good idea of what it’s about and how well it’s made.
So, without fanfare, he will participate in an institution for which the rest of the movie-watching world plans parties and waits with baited breath. In the meantime, he’d rather be playing golf.
One more thing – if anyone finds golf balls with handwritten blue initials, “CR,” written on the side, they’re Lee’s. That’s his way of honoring one of his former clients, the late Christopher Reeve.
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