Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dottie Ponedel –A pioneer with a brush!

The work of Dorothy Ponedel, Judy Garland, Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944
I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.
Georgia O'Keeffe

Happy Wednesday,
Dorothy Ponedel
I hope this finds you all having a great day. As I embark on my blog today, I am listening to Howard Keel and Judy Garland in the soundtrack of Annie Get Your Gun.
What a shame that she was too ill to finish that picture.She was too exhausted. She was one of the major casualties of this dream FACTORY.
The studio really was a factory with various units devoted to certain types of films. The most famous of those units was the Freed Unit, named for producer Arthur Freed, a fellow South Carolinian! They had the best of every area to ensure the highest quality. Even if a film was not the best, it was!
In today's world in which films are geared at the lowest common
denominator, it is always nice to look back from where to look back from where we came from.
I'm concerned about where about where we are and where we are. Once again, I think about Miley Cyrus' performance on Sunday Night's VMA Award. There are some who think it was just a performance and that is nothing to concern ourselves with. I ask 'Why shouldn't everyone hold themselves up to a higher standard?'
When seen in person and on stage, I desire to look my best and conduct myself in a fashion that is not only respectable to myself but to others. Shocking people has been done.

Dorothy Ponodel and Bob Custer in a silent western
Why not try and elevate ourselves? That's MY my work and in my actions.
Now, back to MGM! We all know the stars, but most don't know the people behind them. One such person was one of the greatest make-up artists to come out of the golden age of Hollywood and the movies, Dorothy Ponodel.
The idea for this blog came from my dear friend, Ellen Easton, who happens to be Dorothy's cousin.
A little history of Dorothy before my guest blogger, Ellen Easton, tells her story.
Dorothy (Dottie) Ponedel went to Los Angeles from Chicago in 1920 and quickly found herself cast as an extra in silent movies.
She progressed to dancing roles and sidekick roles throught the 1920's. By a turn of fate, she started her makeup career in 1930 with "Follow Thru" starring Nancy Carroll and Jack Haley. She quickly rose to the top, becoming the very first woman admitted into the makeup union at the specific behest of stars such as Marlene Dietrich and Mae West, both of whom were good friends and loyal clients of Dot's. Dot was kept very busy working with such stars as the aforementioned Dietrich and West as well as Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur, Barbara Stanwyck, Helen Hayes, Paulette Goddard, Lillian Roth, Clara Blow, Joan Blondell and many others.
Judy Garland as Marilyn Miller in Till the Clouds Roll By
In 1940 she left Paramount to go to MGM at the request of Jack Dawn. While there, she was introduced to a young Judy Garland and asked to see "what you can do with her". The rest, as they say, is history. Dot and Judy quickly became close friends and Dot worked exclusively with Judy throughout her MGM career and beyond. Dot contracted Multiple Sclerosis after returning from Judy's triumphant concert at the London Palladium in 1951 and had to retire from makeup. Her friends, however, stayed loyal. Dot died in 1981.

Enjoy Dottie's Story!

Clara Bow

Dottie Ponedel –A pioneer with a brush!
By Ellen Easton © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Who could ever have imagined that a Chicago gal born in 1898 would become the architect of modern makeup, change the face of Hollywood and aid women’s rights in the work place?
Dorothy, ‘Dottie’, Ponedel on the cusp of the roaring twenties, in 1920,arrives in Hollywood, California with nothing more than a plucky, no nonsense personality and a sense of humor to spare and is quickly discovered by Central Casting for her exotic looks, landing as an extra in silent movies and soon progressing to dancing and side kick roles, as well as being Mable Normand’s stand in. During this time Marion Davies becomes a life long friend.

1927, Dot goes under contract at the Paramount Studio all the
Mae West
while observing and dabbling in how the makeup is created for film. When Nancy Carroll demands Dot to create her makeup for the 1930 film Follow Thru with Jack Haley, who would go on to play the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, and a career was born.
It was not long before Dot was working not only at Paramount but also at the Fox, Republic, Universal and other studios originating THE ‘faces’ of Mae West, Carole Lombard and Marlene Dietrich. Now known as the woman
who fashioned the glamour girl look of the arched, pencil thin eyebrow and hollow-high cheek bones, scores of others beat a path to Dot’s chair, including Joan Blondell, Claudette Colbert, Jean Arthur, Barbara Stanwyck, Helen Hayes, Paulette Goddard, Lillian Roth and the “it girl”
Clara Blow, amongst others.

Carole Lombard
With a pioneer’s spirit, Dot, doing the same work as the men, applies in 1937 to Studio Makeup Artists IATSE local 706 with support by Mae West and Marlene Dietrich. Dot’s application is denied but she is given a special permit to continue her work along side the male union members.

The omnipotent gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in 1939 introduces her readers to several guest columnists who will publish for her while she is on vacation. One is her good friend Dot: “Dot Ponedel, Paramount make-up
expert. She lifts your face without the aid of surgery.”

Marlene Dietrich
At last, in April of 1942, with relentless perseverance fighting off the male union members roadblocks to stop her and after threats by Dietrich, West and Blondell to boycott their movie sets, Dot is accepted into make up artist Local 706 as the sole female member.
As late as the early 1960s the Union
bylaws hold that “applicants to the Make up Artist Craft must be male.”

Joan Blondell states.”Paramount's Dottie Ponedel, the first woman in
the Makeup Artists guild, plucked Dietrich's eyebrows into single elevated lines, which became the signature look of the 1930s. Shading under her cheekbones accented them until they were hollow enough to appear so on their own. A white stroke under her eyes made them appear bigger. A silver one down her nose diminished its curve.
Dietrich passed this trick on to the Westmores, who used it frequently and, when eye shadow was still greasepaint smudges, she showed Ern Westmore how to make it from match soot and baby oil and apply it in the gradual upward motions still used today.”
 1943 not only brings on the winds of war but the winds of change are now blowing into Dottie’s life, for this is the year
Judy Garland
that Judy Garland and Dot meet, forging not only a professional relationship to last for the rest of Judy’s MGM film career but a personal friendship that would last until Judy’s untimely passing.

Dot and Judy’s films include: Meet Me in St. Louis, Ziegfeld Follies, The Clock, The Harvey Girls, Till the Clouds Roll By, Easter Parade, Words and Music, In The Good

Old Summertime, Summer Stock.

The story below can best describe the chemistry these two extraordinary women shared with one another as told by Dot’s niece Meredith Ponedel.
 Dot and Judy’s friendship quickly blossomed after they both discovered they each had similar ways of viewing the world.
Judy Garland and Fanny Brice - Why? Because!, Everybody Sing
One of the stories Dot loved to tell me was of the time that Fanny Brice didn’t show up for her call time on a set and Judy decided to find out why.
She took Dot with her. (Dot always
said she hadn’t wanted to go, “it’s not right to leave the set when you’re not supposed to!”, but discovered that Judy didn’t always take “no” for an answer). They found Fanny at her Beverly Hills home – in the kitchen with a butcher cutting up an entire cow!! Seems that Fanny, worrying about food shortages during the war, decided to make sure her kids wouldn’t starve!
 She had arranged for a butcher to come from some meat supply store in downtown Los Angeles and bring an entire cow carcass with him!
Dot said that both she and Judy were speechless upon first viewing this scene. There they were, Dot would say, in Fanny’s kitchen, with this dead cow hanging from hooks the butcher had placed in her ceiling. Newspapers and rags all over the floor and counters and sinks and blood everywhere!
Meanwhile, the butcher was happily hacking away and Fanny was busy bustling around, filling her freezer with freshly butchered meat! Dot said
that she had been doing a pretty good job of keeping a straight face until she glanced over and
Fanny Brice
Judy who, she said, “wasn’t even going to try to hold thisin”. She and Judy caught each other’s eye and just started to roar with laughter! Dot told me it was at that point that that she knew she had discovered a kindred spirit.

Although now under exclusive contract with Judy Garland at MGM, as a special favor to Arthur Freed, Dot agrees to work without screen credit for Ginger Rogers in her return to the screen with dancing partner Fred Astaire in the 1949 Barkley’s of Broadway and again for Freed’s 1952 Singing in the Rain.
There was not a movie star from the golden days of Hollywood’s most dazzling era that did not pass through Dottie’s magical hands. The next time you glam up in front of the mirror give a toast to thank Dot for her tenacity to not let anything stop her success in breaking through the glass ceiling.

Thank you Ellen Easton for the gifts you have given to the world and will continue to give! (Thanks for adding so much to my blog today!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    

               My next blog will be... Celebrating Daniel Nardicio: An Impresario for OUR Generation!

“When it comes to the history of Jerry Herman’s brilliant production, beyond the 5000 plus performances of my own, even I turn to Richard Skipper when I have questions about the remarkable ladies who followed me in the role that the world fell in love with over 50 years ago.”-Carol Channing

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Richard Skipper,                            

This Blog is dedicated to ALL Dottie Ponedel and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with her on ANY Level! 

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  1. Thank you Richard for introducing Dottie Ponedel to a new generation. Dot would be thrilled if she knew the trail she blazed came to pass for the women in her industry. You shined a light a truly wonderful artist. With gratitude, Ellen Easton

  2. Love the photo of Judy Garland and Fanny Brice.

  3. I love to see Dottie's story anywhere. Her legacy is essential, and I'm thrilled that it is easier to find details about her life than it was just a few short years ago.

    I find it intriguing, perhaps a bit disturbing, that Ellen Easton doesn't credit in any way the work I published in 2011 (and shred with Easton in December 2012) on Dottie's story -- published in the International Judy Garland Club publication Celebration, or work I wrote and published on line as part of a play being developed (never completed) inspired by Ponedel's life (info can be found here:

    The full citation to that lengthy article (with much more detailed information included ... "Steketee, Martha Wade (January 2011). “Dorothy Ponedel (1898-1979): “She Performs Miracles of Surgery with Grease Paint Instead of a Knife”, Judy Garland: A Celebration (Issue 2 Winter 2011). London: The International Judy Garland Club., pp 16-25.

    The title and beginning of that early 2011 article reads:

    Dorothy Ponedel (1898 – 1979)
    “She performs miracles of surgery with grease paint instead of a knife.”

    by Martha Wade Steketee

    “Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open.” Meredith Ponedel recalls her aunt Dottie giving her this sage bit of personal and professional advice when Meredith was five or six, the first time Meredith visited a set with her father. We can discern in these words some homespun truths: keep your own council, be true to your word, respect your friends and their secrets, and pay attention to the details around you. Keep secrets but don’t be afraid to let people know you know what you know. Our Dot from the American Midwest -- a self-made professional make up artist and great friend to many -- lived by these rules."

    Again -- great that Dottie's story is getting out there. We all should be responsible journalists on the way to that achieving that goal.