Warning: This story contains spoilers for Hollywood, now streaming on Netflix.
Ryan Murphy's Hollywood is sexy and aspirational, a revisionist history played out by beautiful people in beautiful clothes speaking in beautiful (and, as Holland Taylor's incisive studio executive Ellen Kincaid reveals, completely fabricated) Mid-Atlantic accents. But the series wastes no time in establishing the fact that life in post-World War II Tinseltown isn't all glitzy galas and dream dinner guests: It's an industry rife with racism, nepotism, homophobia, sexual abuse, and crushed dreams scattered like ashes at the foot of the Hollywood sign.
So how do you create something so visually arresting without losing sight of its dark, seedy underbelly? For Michelle Ceglia, hair department head, and Eryn Krueger Mekash, makeup department head and producer for the show, finding that balance meant staying true to the reality of the era — rather than the glossy, retrofitted version of events we often see played out in 21st-century movies and TV.
"It's very bittersweet," Mekash says, of the contrast between silver-screen glamour and the decidedly less attractive inner workings of the industry, both of which are depicted in Hollywood in equal measure. "The subject matter [shows] how badly people were treated, the behind-the-scenes things they had to cover up." For the most part, the seven-episode series is a work of fiction, but the stories it tells are plausible for the time period: a silent-movie actress (played to perfection by Patti LuPone) forced to give up her career after being labeled too "Jew-y" for talkies; a young Black, gay screenwriter who does sex work to stay afloat financially.
As writers went for realism in the storylines, Ceglia and Mekash focused on the same for the visuals. "We were sticklers for authentic pictures from that time period," Ceglia says. They looked to vintage yearbooks and family photos, rather than stylized pin-up images, for inspiration when bringing characters like aspiring actress Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) to life. "It was a glamorous time period. It was post-war, it was optimistic, it was the 'lipstick era.' It was all about looking really polished every day," Mekash says.
On the subject of lipstick, all the '40s-era red lip colours you see in the show are as close to the real deal as possible without pulling a chalky tube out of a museum display case: Mekash swears by Bésame Cosmetics, a makeup line by cosmetic historian Gabriela Hernandez that specializes in reproducing vintage products and pigments. "There were only three or four reds you could use in that time period, and that's what we did," she says. "There's a brighter red, a deeper red, and then a dark red. We wanted it to be very authentic."
Recreating the hair looks didn't just mean pin curls and roller sets — and wigs, which Ceglia says nearly every cast member was wearing. Her team also had the task of perfecting an easily overlooked detail: true-to-time period hair colour, decades before balayage and babylights came to be. "There was a lot of painting people's hair to get to those very natural tones with a lot of solid colours," Ceglia says.
With more than 40 makeup and hair people behind the scenes, and as many as 350 background extras on any given day, Ceglia and Mekash had their work cut out for them to recreate such a specific place in time on such a grand scale (and that's not even to mention the prosthetics, which Jim Parsons and Jake Picking wore as Henry Willson and Rock Hudson, respectively).
"It was crazy," Mekash says. "But it's so fun and rewarding, and everyone loves to make it all come true. You have the glamorous ladies like Patti LuPone, and Laura [Harrier] and Samara [Weaving, who plays Claire], and they're just such beautiful women walking around with these amazing clothes on. It's transformative, and you really have to stand back and look at it all — and the cars, too."
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