>>See below for archive videos of Silvera.
Updated Sept. 3, 2013
Karl Silvera, a longtime member of Local 706 and creator of the iconic Herman Munster make-up in The Munsters, died Aug. 21 due to complications from a series of injuries. He was 93.
According to longtime friend and fellow make-up artist Michael F. Blake, Silvera began his career at RKO in 1943 and moved to Paramount in 1946. Prior to joining Local 706 in 1943, he was a member of Local 44 as a prop man. He went on to serve two terms on the Local 706 Executive Board and worked on such films as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina and Houseboat.
It was while working on The Munsters that Silvera connected with many up-and-coming make-up artists. In Issue 102 of Make-Up Artist magazine, John Goodwin wrote about meeting Silvera on the set of The Munsters’ Revenge and discussing the early days of the make-up union and studios in general. (See Issue 102 for more on their discussion and on Silvera’s appearance at a recent Sunset Boulevard screening.)
During the film screening, Silvera had this to say about mentoring make-up artists: “I never have regretted telling anybody anything about make-up if they wanted to learn. And trying to show them. And over the years, I didn’t miss I think one week in all the years that I was doing make-up, that I didn’t have a job. And it primarily was because of people that were doing the hiring were a lot of the people that I had helped on the way up. So I can only say anybody who is a make-up artist, or whatever profession you’re in, don’t be afraid to show others how to do it, because in the long run, you’re gonna make it all back.” [See the second video below.]
In the tribute below, originally posted Aug. 21 on Facebook, Blake remembers his mentor and friend.
I was 8 years old and playing a small part in an episode of The Munsters [in 1965]. I got to sit next to Herman (the great Fred Gwynne) and before cameras rolled, a man came up to Fred with a brush. Fred made funny faces at the guy and the guy pretended to get mad and make funny faces also. I was a perfect audience for the two. The guy with the brush was Karl.
In 1980, 15 years after my acting on the show, I was part of the make-up team (there were five of us) for the reunion show, [The] Munster’s Revenge. The first day of filming, I watched Karl apply Fred’s make-up. It was like watching Fred Astaire dance. At one point Karl handed me a Marks-a-Lot and said, “Put the stitch marks on Fred’s wrists.”
“Huh?” I replied, never at a loss for a witty reply.
Karl gave me the order. I got to put on the stitch marks on Fred’s wrists! I was now part of TV make-up history.
OK, I need to back up …
I officially met Karl in July of 1980 when I stopped by the make-up department at Warner Bros. studio. I was bitching to the secretary that all of Hollywood was against me and my friend who failed our make-up exams. Everyone but me was to blame.
Karl, who was acting as department head while Ben Lane was on vacation, came out. “What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked.
“Bring a model. You’re gonna learn make-up.” With that he walked back into the office.
For the next two weeks, myself and Craig Smith, who also failed the test, learned more about make-up from Karl. From 9 in the morning until 6 at night, we practiced, practiced, practiced, under Karl’s watchful eye. He never belittled us if we did something wrong. “OK,” he’d say calmly, “Try it again.”
A year later he spoke up for me, Craig and Joe Hailey to be moved up into journeyman status in our union. One make-up artist asked why and Karl laid it out plain and simple. We were voted in unanimously.
After Karl retired in 1986-87, I lost track of him. Life moves on. Happily, this year we got back in touch. They were showing Sunset Boulevard at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and I was asked to come and speak about my dad working on the film. I asked if they talked to Karl and was told he’d be coming.
I arranged a limo for him and his wife to bring them. Karl was stunned when he saw his name on the marquee (I had nothing to do with that. The folks showing the film did that gesture.)
Karl had no idea he was going to be part of a Q&A with me. He thought he’d just wave if they’d introduce him. I have to say, it was beyond magical. I got to publicly state that there were three people who were responsible for my career as a make-up artist and thanked Karl for his help and friendship. He and I were having such a great time talking about the film that they had to flick the lights on and off to get us to shut up. [See the videos below.]
At the end of the Q&A, he got a rousing standing ovation. Several make-up people came up after the film to introduce themselves, most of them starting their career after he retired. Then folks who just came to see the movie stopped by to shake his hand and tell him how much they loved his work on The Munsters and other films.
When he was getting into the limo, he told me that he had no idea he’d hear people acknowledge his work all these years later. He started to cry, and me being Irish, the floodgates opened. The evening was—for all who were there—magical. For Karl, he said it was the best night of his life.
I got to interview him in early June about his work on Shane. I stayed for six hours, just talking with him and his wife.
A couple of weeks later, Karl fell and broke his hip. I saw him in the hospital and then he went through rehab, came home and was doing well. A few weeks ago he fell and broke his femur. Last week they sent him home with in-home hospice care.
We said our goodbyes and told him I’d come see him next weekend. There was a moment where we just held hands and looked at each other. No words were needed. We both knew what each of us meant to each other.
This afternoon, Karl quietly slipped away. I miss him greatly. I am comforted that he and I had a great time together on Sunday.
Before I said goodbye to Karl, he motioned me to come closer to him and reminded me about a certain step/secret needed to make a certain make-up work right. One last time my mentor was teaching me.
And that is who Karl Silvera was.
Silvera is survived by his wife, Judy, as well as two sons and grandchildren. A memorial will be hosted at Local 706 (828 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, Calif.) from 12 to 2 p.m. on Sept. 21, and the union will posthumously award the Local 706 Gold Card and International Gold Card for 50 years of service to the union. RSVP by calling 818-295-3933, extension 0, or email [email protected].
This video interview was conducted by Jason Barnett, for the documentary Charlie Gemora: Genius Monkeyman.
These videos are from the Alex Theatre screening of Sunset Boulevard.