Collaborators Heather Wisner and Annika Darling

Editor’s note: Updated Feb. 2 to include survivors, along with funeral and donation details.

Dan Striepeke, whose make-up creations helped shape famous films ranging from The Planet of the Apes to Forrest Gump, died Jan. 17. He was 88.

Dan Striepeke circa 2012 | Photo by Deverill Weekes
Dan Striepeke circa 2012 | Photo by Deverill Weekes

The Oscar nominee was an early mainstay of the make-up industry who not only worked with John Chambers on Planet of the Apes but was also Tom Hanks’ make-up artist. 

As a teenager in Santa Rosa, California, Striepeke participated in high school and community theater; he was so inspired by the work of make-up artists Jack Pierce, Jack Dawn and Bob Stepanoff that he sent away for the Max Factor Dramatic Directors Makeup Kit as a high-school sophomore. A long correspondence with make-up artist Ern Westmore led Striepeke to Los Angeles, where he did theatrical and TV make-up, working on newscasters and the Buster Keaton Show at CBS affiliate KTTV.

Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump

After a stint in the Air Force during the Korean War, Striepeke returned to L.A. in 1954 and worked for Douglas Aircraft. He got his union card but didn’t return to make-up artistry until a surge in filmmaking at MGM required extra union make-up artists. There, Striepeke worked for Bill Tuttle and learned character make-up and wigmaking. He went on to work for Warner Bros., NBC (where he met future collaborator John Chambers) and Universal, where in 1958, Ern Westmore’s brother Bud hired Striepeke to run the lab, on a recommendation from fellow artist and inventor George Bau.

“My heart is heavy. Tonight I heard about the passing of one of our giants. One of the last Genius Makeup Men of the Golden Age and beyond.” – Bill Corso

Walter Matthau and Barbra Streisand Hello Dolly

Striepeke worked on some of the best-known films in Hollywood history, including Spartacus, The Magnificent Seven, West Side Story; Hello, Dolly! Annie and Footloose. He served as the personal make-up artist for actor Tom Hanks on several films, including Cast Away, Joe Versus the Volcano, The Green Mile, The Da Vinci Code, The Ladykillers, Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan. He received Oscar nominations for the last two.

Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump

Leonard Engelman fondly recalls his experiences with Striepeke: “I had the pleasure of being a friend of Dan Striepeke. Dan and I worked together on four films: Dead Again; The Bonfire of the Vanities; The Jazz Singer; and Joe Versus the Volcano. On Joe Versus the Volcano we developed a formulation for a very vibrant opaque color product. We sold the product under the name ‘Danlen’.

“When Planet of the Apes was to receive a Special Academy Award, it would have gone to Dan since he was the make-up department head at Fox Studio. Dan insisted no, the Oscar has to go to John Chambers. That right there says who Daniel Striepeke was!”

“What a cool guy with truly amazing stories. Hope he’s having a drink in Valhalla with the great John Chambers now.” – Norman Cabrera

Striepeke also lent his expertise to television shows including Mission: Impossible and Roots. He was nominated for an Emmy for the programs Hallmark Hall of Fame: Beauty and the Beast and Twigs. He was nominated for a Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hairstylist Guild Award for Road to Perdition and won one for Cast Away.

Sally Field age make-up in Forrest Gump

"When Planet of the Apes was to receive a Special Academy Award, it would have gone to Dan since he was the make-up department head at Fox Studio. Dan insisted no, the Oscar has to go to John Chambers. That right there says who Daniel Striepeke was!" - Leonard Engelman

Over a career that spanned nearly 100 films, Striepeke seemed never to tire of professional challenges. In a 1997 interview, he told Make-Up Artist magazine, “If people are content with just an everyday job, they shouldn’t be make-up artists. They’re not make-up artists, they’re mechanics. The thing is, you’ve got to sometimes dare to be bad. Just push yourself to where you get to that point, then regroup and go ahead again.”  

As stated on his official obit site, danstriepeke.com: Dan is survived by his wife, Sherry Sexton, his sons by a previous marriage, Dean and Christopher Striepeke, his brothers, Gilbert and Ed Striepeke and their families as well as so many loved ones whom he considered family.

His funeral was held on Tuesday, January 29, at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills.

The family requested that in lieu of flowers, that people donate in memory of Dan Striepeke to Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute. As “these are the doctors who through their work and dedication, allowed Dan to have a better quality of life during his last 5 years.” 

To donate to Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute click HERE.

Check out Issue 4 to read our cover story on Striepeke from 1996.