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#Hollywood Flashback: Makeup Artist Dottie Ponedel Gave Stars “the Works”

Dorothy “Dottie” Ponedel left Chicago for Hollywood in 1920 with acting dreams and found some success with small parts in silent Westerns. But it was her talent with a makeup brush that made Ponedel a star — and a close confidante to iconic actresses including Marlene Dietrich, Mae West and Judy Garland.

Ponedel’s gift was for contouring and highlighting — she is credited with creating the screen siren image — and by the early 1930s, her skills earned her a position at Paramount. For 1931’s Dishonored, director Josef von Sternberg instructed Ponedel to give Dietrich “ ‘the works — give everybody something to talk about,’ ” writes Ponedel in her memoir, About Face.

“I did things around the eye, changed her hairline, and made a full, lush mouth. I added a subtle white line down the center of the nose which brought the nose up. … I shaded the face when I wanted to get that hollow look. Then I would take the pillows of my fingers, dip them in my rouge, and go over the skin of the face just where I wanted the pink color to come out.”

The effect was revolutionary: “Every makeup artist in our industry wanted to know what I had done.”

Major stars insisted on Ponedel in their contracts, and she “made quite a niche in the affections of all who come in contact with her,” reported THR in 1934.

But the all-male Make-Up Artists Local 76 objected to Ponedel’s inclusion because she was a woman. It was West and Dietrich who successfully advocated for her, with West saying, “No stranger is going to pat this puss.”

Ponedel met Garland on 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis; the two became best friends and collaborated on 10 more MGM pictures.

Ponedel died in 1979 after a battle with multiple sclerosis.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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