Man of a thousand alien faces

Karla Hayward
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Michael Westmore has turned paint, powder and prosthetics into a lifelong career, an Academy Award and a universe of wonder

To interview an Oscar winner is a coup for any writer this far from Hollywood. To chat with the man who helped create some of the favourite heroes and detested villains of your childhood is something even sweeter.

Such was this writer's luck when Michael Westmore came to St. John's with his wife Marion. Westmore was the primary makeup supervisor and designer for the "Star Trek" series for 18 years, and oversaw more than 650 episodes, including "The Next Generation," "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager." Responsible for creating some of the most amazing creatures in the universe, he also managed to pick up some 30 Emmy nominations along the way.

To interview an Oscar winner is a coup for any writer this far from Hollywood. To chat with the man who helped create some of the favourite heroes and detested villains of your childhood is something even sweeter.

Such was this writer's luck when Michael Westmore came to St. John's with his wife Marion. Westmore was the primary makeup supervisor and designer for the "Star Trek" series for 18 years, and oversaw more than 650 episodes, including "The Next Generation," "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager." Responsible for creating some of the most amazing creatures in the universe, he also managed to pick up some 30 Emmy nominations along the way.

Newfoundland connection

So, what's he doing in St. John's you ask? Visiting family, of course. Isn't everyone related to at least one Newfoundlander? In Westmore's case, it's by marriage. His wife Marion "hadn't been back here in 50 years." Together, the couple made the journey to see the sights, and visit with Peter and Bonnie Clark - Marion's cousins.

While here, the now-retired Westmore found time to chat with some fans. On one Wednesday night, he thrilled the local Science Fiction Club.

"We met at seven o'clock and we didn't stop talking until midnight," Westmore says with a smile. "We could have kept on going longer, except the restaurant wanted to close." He also headed to NIFCO the next morning for a chat with aspiring and accomplished filmmakers alike.

Enterprising nature

Of course, his status as a science-fiction icon isn't all there is to know about Westmore. How about where he snagged the Oscar, for instance? Well, the gold guy came after his work on the 1985 movie "Mask," starring Cher and Eric Stoltz. And there are more big names in his background too.

"I had a whole career before 'Star Trek.' ... I was with Stallone for eight years; I was with Robert De Niro for several years, Elizabeth Taylor ... Ray Charles and Johnny Mathis ... Neil Simon and Truman Capote."

But then, Westmore says, "A point came in my life where I had to decide what I was going to do. Was I going to do this 'silly little TV show' that was only going to shoot for a year or two, or did I want to stay in the feature business. I was kind of enjoying traveling all over the world, but 'Next Gen' meant staying home. So I talked to my wife Marion and we thought it would be fun to stay home and watch my youngest daughter grow up."

Not that working on "Next Gen" meant he had all the leisure time he might have wished. Days on set often began at 4 a.m. and ended at midnight, he recounts.

Asked about the artistic licence he was given, Westmore said "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry had only one caveat.

"In the beginning, before we ever got started, I was told by Gene that I could do anything I wanted, as long as you could see their eyes and their mouths. He wanted them to be able to blink and react and be able to talk. He thought if you did that, you could retain the humanity of the character. He did not want that done with CG (computer generation). We never got into any CG until the very end. It was all part of Gene's philosophy, and it's what made us different from 'Star Wars.'"

Seeking out new life

Trekkies have been known to figure in the punch line of many an ill-conceived joke, but Westmore has nothing but the highest respect for his fans.

"The people who are into 'Star Trek' are so diverse. I'm talking about doctors, lawyers. ... They come from all walks of life. ... They're just so interested in that world ... that world Gene created."

And there are many lessons to be learned from the show, he believes. Philosophies of tolerance and wrong-righting.

"I was contacted by a reverend who lives down the street from us who wants to do a series of Sunday sermons on Spock's philosophy. He told me he literally watches an episode of 'Star Trek' a night because he gets so much out of it," Westmore muses.

Making it up

If you've ever been on a TV set, you know there's always a need for something that doesn't exist. A makeup or wardrobe director needs to be part artist, part Magnum, P.I. Westmore's "Star Trek" experience proved no different.

"We were constantly having to come up with new things because a script would come out and a writer would have written it in there. We'd go, 'OK, that's what they want, we have to figure out how to do it.' And there wasn't months to figure it out. It was usually no more than a week. ... As you watch the show, there's gimmicks everywhere."

Family matters

How does a man find himself in the makeup business? Westmore hails from a long line of makeup artists.

His grandfather, George Westmore, founded the first studio makeup department way back in 1917. His father and all five of his uncles also worked in the trade.

And, while none of his children have specialized in spirit gum or rubber appliquÉs, they haven't strayed too far. All three are "in the business" in some way or another.

Michael Jr. was a film editor on "Deep Space Nine," and also created many of the electronic items needed for the "Star Trek" series - like Data's blinking light boards and controllers. (Westmore fondly recounts a tale of how his son programmed Borg character LEDs to blink out cast members' names in Morse code.)

His daughter, McKenzie Westmore, plays Sheridan Crane on the soap opera "Passions." She also starred as Robert De Niro's daughter in "Raging Bull," and appeared in "Star Trek Insurrection" and a number of "Star Trek" series episodes.

Westmore's youngest daughter, Michelle, serves as controller of one of the major entertainment management companies.

Boldly going forward

As to just what he plans to do in his retirement, Westmore is certainly not slacking.

"I've been doing a couple of things. I just haven't been going out and actively seeking things to do," he says. Those things include makeup for a stage production of "Mask," called "Mask the Musical," and several films in India. In October, he and his family will receive their own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

Looking back on his "Star Trek" days, he says there are no regrets.

"It was a wonderful 18 years. I can't imagine what could have been better. It was just like having the most ideal job in the world. With the creativity, it was non-stop from episode to episode. If it wasn't creating something new, at least it was different."

Organizations: The Next Generation, Science Fiction Club

Geographic location: Hollywood, St. John's, Newfoundland India

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