Until burn survivor Wendy (not her real name) met makeup artist Maurice Stein a decade ago, she dreaded leaving her house. Before a gas stove explosion almost burned her alive in 1987, she had been a 23-year-old cocktail waitress with long, blonde hair and blue eyes, and generated plenty of attention from the opposite sex.
However, the fire from the explosion incinerated her hands, nose, ears and eyelids and left her face an unrecognizable mask of colors and scars. When the hospital nurses allowed her to look in the mirror, "I screamed and cried," she said. "I looked like a monster."
When she finally left the hospital nine months later, people stared at her when she ventured out, and cosmetics didn't help. Her old Clinique foundation slipped off the scars and thicker makeup looked waxy.
"I was desperate to find someone to help me," Wendy said.
Enter Stein of Cinema Secrets, now 71, who has made it his mission to help burn survivors and cancer patients since retiring from studio work in 1985. When Wendy visited him 10 years ago, he whisked her to the dressing table in his personal office, shut the door and mixed shades of his unique Cinema Secrets foundation to create a naturalistic look. He showed her how to apply the light, but highly pigmented, makeup in a stippling motion, to pencil in eyebrows and a cupid's bow over her asymmetrical lips.
Because she was on disability, he gave her the makeup gratis. And Stein's lesson -- which usually costs $75 an hour -- was also free, as it is to all people with facial disfigurements.
"I looked so much better, I finally had the confidence to go out and face the world," Wendy said. "I didn't need to hide anymore."
Sitting in the same windowless office on a recent afternoon, regal, silver-haired Stein called such work "the most rewarding part of my entire career." Strong words for an artist whose work has included creating oozing wounds for the film, "M*A*S*H"; fashioning Barbra Streisand's look in "Funny Girl"; turning Roddy McDowall into a chimpanzee in "Planet of the Apes," and earning his own star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame. Celebrities such as Charlize Theron pull up in limousines to sit at the very table where Wendy's life dramatically changed .
Although Stein officially retired 20 years ago, he said he founded Cinema Secrets "as a little hole in the wall," where he could troubleshoot for actors and makeup artists. Instead, the Burbank storefront grew into a full-service beauty salon, a makeup school, beauty supply store, costume shop and special effects and prosthetics studio run by Stein; his wife, Barbara, and their three children. Its makeup line retails in 1,800 stores and is used by actors on approximately 30 TV shows and in upcoming films, such as "The Poseidon Adventure."
Stein's dedication to charity work emerged during an interview in his rambling, cheerful store. Alongside lipstick in more colors than Crayolas, cases displayed wigs that impoverished chemotherapy patients receive for free. Not far from a Halloween mask of Ronald Reagan -- whom Stein powdered, along with Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford -- were Cinema Secrets foundations in 55 shades, the skin tone range from Caucasian to African.
The artist took time out to work on 47-year-old Gigi DeLeon, whose face was discolored by rosacea. "It's like the redness totally disappeared," she marveled, as Stein brushed excess sealing powder off her face.
While Barbara Stein handles the cancer makeup, making sallow skin appear dewy, Stein attends to burn survivors.
"For some, he's been a lifesaver," said Amy Acton of the Phoenix Society, a national burn survivors organization that will host its annual World Burn Congress in Baltimore Aug. 23-28.
"Because our society is so looks-oriented, the psychological challenges are often greater than the physical ones for burn survivors," said James Floros, chairman of the board of the National Federation of Burn Foundations. "People feel because they're disfigured, they're lesser human beings, which is why makeup artists like Maurice are so important."
Renown image consultant Barbara Kammerer Quayle, who has worked closely with Stein, knows about such feelings firsthand. After her face was seriously burned in a car accident 26 years ago, "the man I was involved with left the relationship, and I thought, nobody's going to love me, or want to hug and kiss me, let alone make love to me," she said.
After much counseling and self-work, Quayle -- who is now married -- founded a "sort of finishing school for burn survivors," which teaches how to apply Stein's makeup. When she sets up her makeshift salon at the upcoming World Burn Congress, the four dressing tables will be piled with multiple shades of Cinema Secrets.
Quayle said she likes the product because it's sheer, natural looking, waterproof, heatproof and covers the entire face all day. "And Maurice never turns anyone away for lack of [funds]," she added. "It's part of his giving back to the world, helping people who have no place else to go."
The work is meaningful to Stein, in part, because of the anti-Semitism he faced as one of three Jews at Rosemead High in the 1940s. The son of a police officer, Stein excelled at sports and used his fists to fend off slurs and physical assaults.
At 16, he attended an interfaith camp, where he learned that "individuals are always taken at face value. You look at them and make an instant decision about whether you want to associate with them or not. Since then, I've always felt empathy for people who aren't perceived as 'perfect.'"
After a short stint as a boxer and two years in the Army during the Korean War, Stein followed a girlfriend into beauty school and eventually opened his own hair salon in San Marino in the 1950s. In 1962, a Hollywood client convinced him to work on a war movie at Columbia Pictures, where he was promptly steered to the makeup room.
"In those days, women did hair, and men did makeup," he said. "So they put me between two guys, and I kept looking back and forth, mimicking what they did."
Stein went on to work on more than 200 films and television shows, including "Bewitched," the original "Star Trek" and "The Flying Nun." Yet it was after he retired that he faced one of his biggest challenges: troubleshooting on the 1980s series, "The Golden Girls."
Making actress Estelle Getty look 25 years older took three-and-a-half hours, and the makeup was so painful to remove that "Estelle was learning how to cuss," Stein recalled. He figured out how to quickly and painlessly fabricate her wrinkles by using layers of Cinema Secrets, which he was in the midst of developing. Getty became his onscreen guinea pig.
Stein had originally intended the foundation to be a user-friendly product for actors, but found a more philanthropic use, when he discovered it also covered scars, tattoos, birthmarks and facial deformities. Soon calls began coming from physicians.
"I'd take over where the medical community left off," he said. "I couldn't get rid of scars, but I could eliminate the discoloration associated with them."
Stein began training doctors and staff to apply his makeup at major burn and cancer centers, such as Johns Hopkins and the City of Hope. He traveled the world, visiting patients like a scarred 9-year-old Norwegian boy who needed makeup to return to school.
If clients were too ill to leave home, Stein requested photos; spoke with them by phone, then mailed out several shades with which they could experiment.
If he does not have the capability to help someone in need, he finds someone who does. He prevailed upon the Veterans Administration Hospital in Westwood, for example, to fashion Wendy a silicon nose (the usual price: $8,000). When he bought her a belly button tattoo for her 40th birthday (the fire had burned hers off), she requested butterfly wings on either side.
"It was like a metaphor for what she had been through," Stein said. "Doing this kind of work is my major enjoyment in life."
Visit Cinema Secrets online at www.cinemasecrets.com.