On this episode of All Things Marilyn, our very special guest is internationally acclaimed make-up artist Erin Parsons.
Erin is one of the industry’s most sought-after makeup artists, doing makeup for the world’s most famous fashion models, including @gigihadid, @bellahadid, @kendalljenner, @gisele, @adrianalima and @emilydidonato. Erin and her work have been featured in Chaos, Harper’s Bazaar, Purple, and V Magazine, along with the American, British, Italian and Japanese editions of Vogue. Her clients include Schiaparelli, Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger, Ermanno Scervino Zara, and Calvin Klein. Parsons keyed Jean-Paul Gaultier's final runway show in Paris in 2019, and she was also celebrated as a beauty trailblazer with her inclusion on the British Fashion Council’s New Wave: Creatives 2019 list, which acknowledges the most innovative and inspiring young creative talent from around the world.
Of course, we talk all things Marilyn.
Follow Erin Online! @erinparsonsmakeup on IG and TikTok. See her portfolio at www.erinparsons.com.
ATM Podcast: @allthingsmarilynpodcast
Artwork by @marilynmexico
Soundtrack by @silver_technicolor
Scott: Hey everyone, thanks for tuning in to another episode of All Things Marilyn. My name is Scott Fortner, Marilyn Monroe historian, collector, and owner of the Marilyn Monroe Collection.
Elisa: I'm Elisa Jordan. I'm the founder of LA Woman Tours, and I am also a Marilyn historian.
Scott: We are super excited today because we have with us celebrity makeup artist with 1.2 million followers on TikTok and nearly half a million on Instagram. the one, the only Erin Parsons. Welcome Erin to the show.
Erin: Wow! That sounds I feel like a big deal when you say it like that.
Scott: You are a big deal.
Elisa: You are a big deal. I'm a fan girl. I've been excited about you being here.
Scott: When we first started talking about the podcast, I said, “Oh, let's get Erin Parsons on the show.”
Erin: Yeah. If you wanna talk makeup, you wanna talk Marilyn? Yeah. I'm your girl. I'm loving your guys' podcast. It's so good. And it fuels my Marilyn obsession. And to hear like people that really know facts, the stuff that you guys know, it blows my mind. And it's so enjoyable to listen to.
Elisa: It's called being a nerd.
Elisa: That's all it is.
Scott: What you're saying as a result of a combined 40-plus years of research and writing about Marilyn and just really now being able to share it via the podcast. Erin, for our listeners who might not be familiar with you, why don't you talk a bit about what you do, your work, your clients and your accomplishments.
Erin: I'm a makeup artist. I started in retail. I worked in retail for like 10 years. I moved to New York when I was 28 and I started assisting the legendary Pat McGrath makeup artist. I met Gigi Hadid, who became a really good friend and she really helped my career, and we started working together all the time. Around 2017, I signed with Maybelline as their global makeup artist. Since that moment I have basically done every commercial, every ad you've seen in a magazine. And, you know, anything that basically had to do with Maybelline I had worked on it. And now, of course, my assistants are taking over some of the stuff so I don't have to do everything, but I still do all the ads and the commercials. Then Covid hit and I started doing my own makeup and just sharing my vintage love and my obsession with makeup and with old Hollywood stars and what they would wear. Crazily enough, TikTok and Instagram blew up from that. Finding that people enjoyed that content just fueled me. I could do that all day, every day and to be. I don't work as much as I used to as a makeup artist because I'm really enjoying this content creation life.
Some other people I've worked with I'll just throw out some names, name drop to make them sound cool. We said Gigi, we got Bella, Kendall Jenner, Giselle, Adriana Lima. My very good friend Emily DiDonato. I've worked with so many amazing people and a lot of them are my friends and they support me in this whole content creation because Gigi, Bella, like followed me on TikTok and like they, yeah, fully supportive. It's really fun.
Scott: Yeah. And they're huge names. And didn't you do her makeup for the 2022 Met Gala?
Erin: Yeah, I've done Gigi's makeup quite a few Met Galas. One of my favorites I have two, but my first favorite is the white eyelashes, the feather white eyelashes. That had a pretty big viral moment. The second one that I really loved was the blue eyeshadow. Actually, nobody can see me, but this is like what I'm wearing right now.
Scott: We can.
Elisa: It looks great. For those of you who can't see it looks amazing.
Erin: I'm gonna reveal my new hair color on my TikTok soon so they'll be able to see what this looks like. But yeah, it's just a nod to old Hollywood and that's sort of that little pop of color with the beautiful eyeliner and she looked amazing. And I think blue eyeshadows trending now, possibly because of that.
Scott: There you go. You're a trend setter. Your work has been seen in CHAOS, Harper's Bazaar, V Magazine, the American, British, Italian, and Japanese editions of Vogue. And you've worked with Calvin Klein, you've worked with Reebok and Tommy Hilfiger, and you did Jean Paul Gaultier's final runway show.
Erin: Yeah, it was amazing.
Scott: So you're incredibly accomplished. What's really cool is for those of us who are just really on the fringes of that world and just looking in, it's like you're just one degree of separation. It's amazing and great to have you on the show. So thanks for being part of it.
Elisa: Yeah, and for hardcore makeup nerds, the fact that you worked with Pat McGrath is incredible. So, for those of you who aren't hardcore makeup nerds, Pat McGrath is a big name in makeup artistry. You learned from the very best.
Erin: Yeah, I would say Pat is probably I think the number one makeup artist in the world if we're looking at fashion celebrity and just her span of work. And I was her first assistant for seven years. So I got to create a lot of looks actually things that are like, on her packaging and like there I was a part of all of that. And I'm really proud of it. I have to say, it's strange because hearing everything you say, you guys make me feel so good. And it was a dream of mine moving to New York. I lived in a basement, ate ketchup soup, I had nothing. I had no money. To survive in New York is tough enough. I do feel I made it. I finally found that success.
And one thing I relate to Marilyn is I think towards the end, she's like, “I found fame. I've had it. What's next?” And I sort of felt that way now with makeup. Okay, I've had those covers and I've had these amazing moments with a muse like Gigi, who I just love doing her makeup and Bella and, all these girls and I don't know—now I'm exploring another territory. Exciting. Yeah.
Scott: Mm, Okay. You're not gonna share with us?
Erin: Oh, I can tell you. I'm trying to have a TV show. I would like to do a show on makeup history and go to explore in China and learn about Chinese opera and ancient makeup, or just travel the world. Every culture has a different style and I wanna know about all of it and I want to bring that to masses. So we're working on things and we'll see what happens.
Elisa: I'm in.
Scott: That is really exciting.
Elisa: You already have a viewer.
Erin: That's the thing. If my audience says anything, it's Hey, I think maybe this show is needed. We don't really have anything like it.
Scott: So Erin, I love the story of how we met because I think it was something that was meant to be. I got an email from you out of the blue, didn't even know who you were, and basically proposing working together on a project that you were doing with Emily, where you were recreating the Happy Birthday, Mr. President look, and you gave me a date that actually happened to be a date that I was going to be in New York. The chances of that are really incredible considering I'm in California and I was coming back to New York. It was 2019 or was it 2018?
Erin: Yeah. Gosh, I don't even remember. I have to look at Emily's video if people wanna know the reference. Emily DiDonato YouTube when I transformed her to Marilyn, Scott is in that episode and that's how we met. And I was so nervous when I messaged you and then we called and I was like, oh, so nervous talk to you cuz for one, you had all these Marilyn things like, oh my God. He like, has Marilyn's like stuff, and also just because just, you're so professional and you're so knowledgeable and the blog was so great. So yeah, I was really nervous to reach out to you, but it worked out. And not only were you gonna be there then, but you were also doing a Marilyn exhibition, so you were bringing herself as it was.
Scott: Yeah, it was just one of those things that was meant to be, and that doesn't always happen. But I think what it's resulted in me meeting somebody that's kind of one of my favorite people, and let me tell you why, because you are an example of what it means to follow your passion and good things happen.
Whenever I experience you, you have the most amazing, positive energy that just infiltrates the room and you can see how excited you are and you get other people excited. I enjoy so much spending time with you and just having you in my life. And so I really think that that happened for a reason. And I hope you recognize how much joy you bring to others.
Erin: Oh God, that is so sweet. I love when we get to talk because I don't know anybody else that I can geek out about Marilyn to. And all my life I loved Marilyn, but I didn't have anybody who loved her like I did. And you know, I have to say, I know that we all connect with her in some way, but for me, seeing someone who came from such a hard childhood and knowing what I came from, it showed me that if with work, with hard work and determination, anyone can be successful and she really proves it and she went so far beyond successful. This is a legend until the end of times. But yeah. I'm so happy I met you Scott, and honestly, like even you asking me to do this, you know I'm so lazy. I do TikTok and Instagram and all this stuff. I say no to a lot of things cuz I'm so lazy. But when you ask me this I was like, let’s do it. I can't wait.
Scott: Well, As I mentioned before we got started, I have a lot of friends that are totally fangirling out just at the mere prospect that you're coming onto the podcast, and Elisa actually reached out to quite a few people and saying, “Erin Parsons is coming on the show. What do you, what do you think we should ask?”
Erin: did they give you questions?
Elisa: I had a bunch of questions written out and then they were saying, “Oh, these look good.” So they were approved.
Scott: The name of our podcast is All Things Marilyn, so tell us about Marilyn's influence in your life and your work and what your connection with her is.
Erin: I know I saw her when I was like six. I don't know why I really remember being like six years old. Because what do we remember about that time in our life? But her face, her being changed the course of my life. As a child, I didn't have a great childhood. It was actually pretty horrible. And my escape became these old movies, and I would see Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow, and Josephine Baker, and I would watch Turner Classic Movies, like just a little kid, little couch potato, watching all these movies.
And of course, Marilyn was my favorite. I just recognized that putting this makeup on and creating this character, because I started to quickly learn Norma Jeane into Marilyn, finding all these little documentaries on VHS and that was as I got older. And I started to understand that makeup and beauty and the glamour and all that could create this character that you could become, which is what I do all the time. And I do it on the people I work with. And with her, she created a signature so you don't even need a face—a red lip, a beauty mark and blonde hair and you go, Oh, I have Marilyn. And I love that Marlene Dietrich and the, thin eyebrows. I started to just become completely enveloped in this glamorous world.
My escape then became, of course, Marilyn. Anything Marilyn, I could find. I collected all the books and VHS, if anything, and makeup and I couldn't afford really to buy certain things. So I, Oh my God, I'm gonna something really bad. I was like a little thief. I would steal red lipstick from the store.
Elisa: It's okay. The statute of limitations is up so you can talk about it.
Erin: I told Maybelline this. I was like, I stole Great Lash from the store. And I'm like, Now here I am, doing the commercials for Great Lash. Like how sick is that?
Scott: And did they go, “Oh, that was you?”
Erin: Yeah, it’s so embarrassing. But anyway, I, yeah, I was like, not trying to be like a klepto, I just really wanted red lipstick so I could look like Marilyn Monroe and no one was gonna buy it from me.
So yeah, I took it and I started playing with my makeup, when I was very young and I know I wasn't doing a great job, but it looking at her like, okay. I said I wasn't doing a great job because one time I showed my mom my eyebrows and I was like, “What do you think?” And she was like, “They looked like Groucho Marks.”
And I did not know what Groucho Marks was, but you know what that means.
Erin: I had two squares on my eyebrows. But anyway, through these icons and through Marilyn, I started to learn how to do makeup. Cause I would just try to look like them. And that brought me to here. I still try to.
Scott: Talking about movies and how you really got started with Marilyn, how did movies influence the makeup industry and makeup trends in general, I mean?
Erin: I think what it did, what it helped do is to create stars. Because if you think of someone like Theda Bara, even just looking at Theda Bara, I don't know if I look at her and go “Wow, is she something.” She was beautiful, but when she did her take on Cleopatra, put the black kohl all around the eyes, it became iconic.
I think the Cupid bow lip for Clara Bow definitely helped make her an “IT” girl. And it became this trend where everybody else would follow that even though she actually just had pretty small lips. I know that there was Max Factor doing this thing where he would do the thumb and creating this mouth.
But I think a lot of it comes from a sort of icon of the moment. And I even said in an interview recently, I was like, I think Bella Hadid is one of the reasons why we have thin eyebrows. So I think it's coming back, I should say, that thin eyebrows are coming back. I think what it is that we needed the makeup in the movies so that people could see the faces of the character when you go back to silent films.
Putting the dark around the eyes and whatever, just because of the way that the lighting and the fuzziness. But I think what it did ultimately is create these icons so you could really change the way you looked and become something otherworldly that people would want to look like. Cause the normal people weren't wearing makeup like that walking down the street.
Elisa: Well, makeup was in its infancy during the early years, wasn't it?
Erin: I mean, you know, makeup has been around since ancient times. I would say when film came through, the 1910s maybe? Makeup was really shunned. Makeup was frowned upon. If you were a society woman, you wouldn't be caught wearing rouge around that time. Now as we go into the 1920s, of course, the young generation of the flappers red lipstick was rebellious, smoking, cutting off your hair, bobbing it, so I think we saw that shift from like the Victorian to Edwardian era to the jazz era. I think that's when we start seeing makeup really become popular, especially heavy makeup, which was awesome.
Elisa: I was wondering if you could go into early movie makeup.
Erin: When you have the early movie makeup, it was still basically stage and theater makeup so it was mostly grease paints. So what would happen is the reason, say the Cupid's bow lip was created supposedly, like I was mentioning before, Max Factor would take his thumb and he would.one dot on the top, lip on the left, one on the right, turn his thumb over and dot onto the bottom lip.
And then he would just blend that out with a lip brush. And the reason for this to not go all the way to the lip line to make it so small was because grease paint under hot lights would melt. Your mouth would just run and you would have lipstick all over your face. So they had to create these ways of making the grease paint work in film and that's why you see so many really small mouths during the silent era. But Max Factor is one of the first that started to develop Hollywood makeup and I think only until recently, we don't really hear about Max Factor anymore, but probably up until even the seventies it was a real leader in makeup. And there's some Max Factor things that were in Marilyn's kit that we touch on later.
Scott: That is true.
Elisa: Keeping along that same theme, how did makeup become integral to movies and glamour in general?
Erin: Again, it was this sort of need to be able to see the actors, in that really heavy lighting. If you ever go, you have a lot of like foundation or whatever on, and you're in front of a bunch of lights and you look at your phone and you become a ghost and you just have two nostrils. That happens to me if I put too powder on. I think that was what was happening to them under those hot lights. If you look at Valentino, I mean he's in full drag. So I think it started with that. But when the public starts to go, “Oh I want eyebrows like so and so,” then you, understand that.
That, that's become greater than just being in the movies. Now you have a public image. So I think that's how makeup in general became integral. Now I find it integral in people's lives because it's a form of art. Or it's just a form of adding a bit of, open up the eyes, brighten up the eyes, add a little color to the cheeks.
I think it was a learning process for everyone. I think Max Factor was and the Westmores were a huge reason why we have the looks that we look at today in Old Hollywood glam.
Elisa: So when Marilyn was growing up in the thirties and forties, we reach high glam, high Old Hollywood glam we'd call it now. How have you seen it evolve over the decades? Because we've had a lot of trends and it all goes back to making yourself look and feel beautiful. But those standards have changed. Can you give us some insight or just some of your favorite looks maybe.
Erin: Ooh, my favorite looks! I would say okay, I love the jazz age because they went in. I love that eyebrows were getting shaved off and drawn downwards. So there's this little sad little Pierrot clown sort of look. And I think when I look at that particular makeup, Clara Bow, Josephine Baker, Bebe Daniels, they nail it when it comes to the big clumpy lashes and everything. Going into the thirties, you have Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich with those thin, beautiful eyebrows. And I think that, Oh, that was so magical actually. I heard Marlene Dietrich used to braid her hair, pull it all back, and then she would put the wig on top. So she never had a facelift, but she would lift her face up like that. So when you see Marlene Dietrich, I'm going on and on, but when she's singing on stage and she's almost 60 I think. And she looked supposedly it wasn't facelift, it was all her hair braided and a wig on top. And I'm gonna try this.
Scott: Yeah, I was just gonna say, I'm gonna grow my hair out and try that.
Erin: It's so messed up because the way I found this, I was looking for Westmore stuff on newspapers.com and it was an article by one of the Westmores that totally exposed what Marlena Dietrich did. I was shocked.
Scott: Wow. What year was that?
Erin: It must have been in the sixties because, cuz I think that was when she was on stage. I'll have to find it and show you,
Elisa: late fifties, sixties when she was doing her cabaret act.
Erin: Yeah, cabaret act and that, if anything, that brings me back to Marilyn. I have a really hard time staying focused on one question.
Elisa: It's all good info.
Erin: Okay. But it does bring me back to Marilyn cuz I think what was so great about her look and it, I keep looking at a picture ever over here and it's such a high definition, amazing picture, but it's, I think she got a lot of the techniques that she did in her movements, her hair, her makeup from all these different stars, and then combined them together to create this iconic look.
And I can see the Garbo eye. Of course, we have the Jean Harlow platinum hair, you know, the certain way she lined her lips. That could have been the makeup artist too. But yeah, I see a lot of other people in her.
Scott: Marilyn clearly enjoyed makeup and she collaborated with Whitey Snyder on her look, and he said himself that she was very talented when it came to makeup in her own right. And you just said, you think that Marilyn took inspiration from a lot of these other celebrities. What do you think your thoughts are on her talents and her ability to do her own makeup?
Erin: I recently listened to My Story. She was talking about how when she started wearing the sweater and that changed everything that she had started to apply lipstick and the reaction that she got from the boys around her and how finally people were paying attention to her.
Cause as an orphan, she had never gotten that sort of attention. She understood the power of makeup from such an early age, and I think that's why she became so good at it cuz she knew that it was important. She was stunning. She didn't need it. But it's important to the character and to be that sort of otherworldly over-the-top glamour that people want to create.
That's a good thing, too. If you can make something that people want to create. If you can be a Halloween costume, you've made it, your look has made it. Yeah, I feel like she really understood the power, especially of a red lipstick. And you see when she's young, she has this beautiful, gorgeous, glowing skin. It doesn't look like she has any makeup on. And she's very fresh and hardly anything on the eyes and just the lipstick. One thing I love about seeing Norma Jeane's lipstick to where Marilyn's lipstick, it really changed a lot through the decades. So like forties, Norma Jeane, Marilyn, she'd really overdraw that top part.
So when she smiled, the lip became really close to the nose. And then you start noticing, she starts to under draw the Cupid's bow in the fifties. Maybe Whitey did that, I don't know. But she goes under the lip and she starts to put the lip down, as we know that move and I think maybe, she could look at those pictures of her and see, oh, maybe she did, I don't know this for sure, but could see that where it's like a symmetry thing, so a little more space there might give more to the mouth.
Adding more of a heart shape versus the overdrawn—that can sometimes cheapen a look even though I overdraw the hell outta my lips. I don't care. It can sometimes cheap look. And then we go into sixties Marilyn, and now the mouth is almost her natural mouth. She's not overdrawing so much. The colors have changed. I love seeing the evolution of her makeup.
Scott: You know, that's a really interesting observation. Some, cinematographers, directors have actually said in the past about Marilyn that when they were setting up a photo shoot or a scene, she would actually say to them, “Are you sure that's the best place for that camera? Are you sure that that's the best place for that light? Might you wanna move that over there just a little bit?” And she was right. And it just goes to show how in tune she was with what you described. “Maybe I just need to make a little adjustment in my makeup here or there.” Same thing in being set up for a photo shoot or for a scene for one of her films. She knew what she was doing.
Erin: That's interesting. I didn't know that she would do this stuff because when I work with certain supermodels, like the super models like Naomi and Linda and all those ones back in the day stuff like that. And some of the young girls don't always, but they do. And when you work with real stars, Marlene Dietrich supposedly did this with direct light.
So that tells me even more about Marilyn, that she really understood the whole look and she understood when she looked the best. Wow. Very cool.
Elisa: When she's transitioning from modeling to acting, we see a slow evolution and then all of a sudden in Niagara, she's Marilyn. So she and Whitey, I'm sure it was a team effort, hit on something. And I've always wondered, and I don't know if you have an opinion on this as a makeup artist, but they hit on it and they stopped experimenting. They knew this is it, this is the look. And how do you know as a makeup artist this is it?
Erin: First off, those two combined—what a perfect recipe. Somehow Whitey understood. There's certain makeup artists that don't work well on certain models. Whereas another makeup artist just gets it. They get it, it works. And that can work in many different ways.
I guess I could say it like that, like maybe one person's good on Gigi, but they don't get Bella. I don't know. I've just seen that happen, so I think that they really got each other. And I think when you start in the beginning with anybody's face as a makeup artist, you learn their face, you learn what looks good, you try things, you put things on, you do what you know at first, and then you start to see them on screen. I don't know when Whitey first started working with her, but it is interesting to see her as Nell in Don't Bother to Knock. And she really looks stunning and she's almost there, but obviously she's not a glamorous thing. So I think that they probably, by him just seeing her face more and more, you start to understand, Oh, this works better.
You just get better every time. It's practicing anything. So I think that they started to just get better together, and that happens, too. When you start to become a star, you start working with better people. So she's got a great makeup artist, a great hair stylist, an amazing, stylist or dress designer. So that kind of stuff happens. And then her learning what looks good on
Elisa: It was her very first screen test that she was assigned Whitey.
Erin: Oh my gosh, what? And that screen test was the John Huston …?
Elisa: No, it was before that. It was 1946. It was her first contract at 20th Century Fox. They didn't keep her, so she went on to six months at Columbia and that's when she made Ladies of the Chorus, so that would not have been Whitey. But here's the thing, this is just a fun fact because we both like beauty Columbia was the home of Rita Hayworth, and I know you like Rita too, because I saw your video on her.
And a woman by the name of Helen Hunt was Rita's hairdresser. And Rita had one of the most iconic hairstyles, not just in the forties, but in all of Hollywood. Helen Hunt was styling Marilyn's hair for her six months at Columbia. So she had this long Rita Hayworth hair, and it looked amazing on her, but that wasn't the look she stayed with.
And then a few years later she goes to MGM and that's where she makes The Asphalt Jungle. And Sydney, I can never pronounce his last name …
Scott: Guilaroff …
Elisa: I can't pronounce it Sydney, wherever you are in heaven. I apologize, I can't pronounce your name, but he is the one who convinced her to cut her hair. And so that was a big step. And then she went back to 20th Century Fox and she went back to Whitey and the Fox hairdressers. So this is way more information than anyone needs to know, but I get excited.
Scott: Well, another interesting element is who was Marilyn's first screen test with?
Elisa: I don't remember.
Scott: Robert Wagner.
Erin: Guess why I know that for some weird reason I keep watching all these old Larry King interviews and actually I have an idea for a show for you guys. You need to take some of these celebrities and debunk Mickey Rooney claiming that he named Marilyn. Cause those episodes with Tony Curtis are so funny They are crazy.
But I have to tell Elisa, that is so interesting. And that's the kind of stuff I live for I have Sydney’s book. I never ended up reading it. I read only the parts about Marilyn, but I gotta read the whole thing. But knowing that Whitey started with Marilyn, see now I have to look back and you think about Ladies of the Chorus and that hair was stunning.
Elisa: Oh, I love that hair on her.
Erin: Yeah, I did too. But it was Rita's hair.
Elisa: It was Rita's
Scott: It was very period.
Erin: And I also think maybe she made some tweaks to her face a little bit and then of course maybe the short hair came, if she started bleaching it so much, she probably did have to cut it a bit shorter cuz it does break off.
Anyway, I don't know if that had some form of it with Sydney or if he does really take credit to say that he told her to cut it. I don't know. But obviously yeah, she finally came into what was her iconic look. But the crazy thing is that it wasn't the only iconic look she had cuz the sixties was totally iconic and it was a totally different look than the fifties. And I love seeing those changes,
Elisa: Something's Got to Give Marilyn as one of my favorite Marilyns.
Erin: So good. And, of course, the Happy Birthday that hair Kenneth …
Scott: Yeah. Kenneth Battelle
Erin: Kenneth Battelle, yeah. I love Marilyn's sixties transition, but you really see her going through it because in 58, 59, 60, it's a little bit like we're not sure where we're at. Let's Make Love to me, and not that it wasn't her best look, It just, there was this transition from the fifties into the sixties that no one had gotten yet. And then all of a sudden, I think too, another thing is Kenneth, I think that made a huge difference because he just got that bouffant hair. He just got it.
Scott: Yeah, he did everybody's hair.
Elisa: I really wanted to ask this question of you because I've always loved and appreciated Whitey's relationship with Marilyn. They weren't just client and makeup artist. They were very close friends. And even I, who am not a movie star, am very close to my hairdresser and her sister does my eyebrows. I've been going to them for 20 years, and a bond really does form. I imagine it's the same for you, especially when you are responsible, at least in part, for someone who earns a living off their looks. They really have to trust and depend on you. And I was wondering if you could give us insight into that relationship between someone like Marilyn or in an updated world, Bella or Gigi, and their glam squad.
Erin: You're so close to this person, you're literally five inches from their face. One, you have to have great energy with them because they have to now go on and perform so they have to start in a good spot. So I think part of the reason, maybe I've had a good career so far. I try not to come in with my personal problems.
It's about the person in my chair. It's about me making them look and feel good and about rooting them on when they're on camera. As a makeup artist, you give a lot to the person that you're working with. And I'm sure Whitey gave a lot for Marilyn because the truth is, while these people, the celebrities, they can become your friends and really close.
You can know them for years and a lot of things, maybe most of the public does not know you're that close with them. When you become almost like family, you can take the brunt of a lot of things, too. You can pick up their negative energy when they're feeling bad, when they're feeling insecure, and I'm sure Marilyn dealt with that.
I have a feeling that Whitey probably went through a lot with her, but they clearly loved each other. You can see it in the photos—holding hands, carrying her, hugging, leaning on each other. You can see that there was a real relationship there that he was of support for her. He was also such a great makeup artist.
So you don't just have people on your team because they're great people. He had talent and that's another reason why he stuck around. But it's pretty clear that him and his wife who worked with her really did care about her deeply as a human being. But the celebrities can be difficult.
Let's be honest. And I've heard you, Scott, say that someone had told you Marilyn wasn't always nice. And that is true with anybody you work with all the time. There's times when you have to deal with the real situation in that moment, and it can be hard to be honest.
Scott: We're all human. We're not perfect and I think that's a thing that I find so interesting. So many people don't wanna hear or accept anything negative about Marilyn. They've placed her on this pedestal. I just think we have to remember she was a real person. She had good days and bad days, and she's just like all of us, you know, just another person.
Erin: I wanted to touch on this because when I was young, she was a fantasy. She still is a fantasy goddess, out of this world dream character. And then I started to work with celebrities and then I went, “Oh, I know who Marilyn is now. I know because I work with some Marilyns in the world, no one’s on Marilyn's level, let's be honest.
Scott: Yeah, She was human. And definitely her and Whitey were very close. Of course, Marilyn gifted Whitey the money clip where she inscribed “Whitey dear, While I'm still warm.” Interesting tidbit that a lot of people may not know is he was the makeup artist for a very popular show in the seventies, Little House on the Prairie, and I know Melissa Gilbert, who was Laura Ingalls and Allison Ingram, who was Nellie Oleson.
And they both tell stories of Whitey on the set, showing them Marilyn's money clip that she gifted him, and him telling stories about Marilyn and doing her makeup when they were young girls acting on Little House on the Prairie.
Elisa: He kept it. He carried it with him.
Erin: I want to now talk to them and be like, “What did he tell you?”
Elisa: I know! Well, Alison has a book and there's a little bit in there. But most of the book is about her. Of course, it's her book, but she mentions that in there.
Scott: Erin, if somebody wanted to recreate or have a look inspired by Marilyn, what are some of the things that you would suggest to them?
Erin: I think there's two different ways that you can approach this. One, you can do real Marilyn, and then you would go more natural. Even when I have turned Emily DiDonato into Marilyn, I even went too far. It is so hard to not go too far when you're doing Marilyn. I would almost go more natural than you think.
And then the other option is go completely over the top, go full drag, go like a Amanda, Lepore-type of Marilyn, And then you create the caricature so people can really know. Oh yeah, that's definitely, she's playing Marilyn Monroe and then I also think you have to get your decades right, because you can't do fifties hair with sixties makeup or vice versa.
Scott: I'm not sure people would think of that because Marilyn did have that very unique look from the 1960s where she started doing her eyes differently and of course her hair was different. You don't wanna blend the looks.
Erin: Yeah. And it's even when I did the Happy Birthday Mr. President look, I did a red lip and I think she did wear a red lip. It wasn't like a super strong, intense red, but it was hard to tell because you don't have a lot of pictures from the night. But also that was sixties Marilyn, so I got it wrong.
Elisa: I'm glad you brought this up because sometimes Marilyn doesn't always wear red. She wears like a fuchsia color sometimes, and then later it gets almost like a peachy pink and sometimes it is bright pink. And I was wondering if you could go into the different Marilyn looks and how to create different Marilyns and what those looks represent about her.
What I mean by that is she wasn't always vampy. People tend to think of her as high glam, and that's not always the case.
Erin: As far as her lip color, and. I have done something where I showed one of her lipsticks, it was Bachelor's Carnation from Revlon, and it is a super fuchsia red and I really think it looks exactly like Niagara, that lip color and in how to marry a millionaire, that lip color when she's in the purple dress, That particular scene, it's the sort of fuchsia red and somebody else stitched my video on TikTok and did the dupe that I did, and all the comments were like, “Nuh-uh, Marilyn wore red. Marilyn only wore red lipstick.” And I was like, nope. She didn't only wear red. And two, you think one person in their entire lifetime is gonna use the same tube of lipstick forever. Come on. So Marilyn's look. Yeah, it definitely changed. Like she did have the true red. I see a ton of orange red. I think a lot of it depends on the movie. So I see the orange red in Bus Stop. I can see it in some HD pictures. There's a really great book, the Marilyn Monroe: Metamorphosis.
Elisa: That’s a great one.
Scott: Yeah. David Wills.
Erin: Oh, the pictures are so good in here. I love that knew the author's name. It was like yeah. No big deal. Didn't even have to look it up. You crack me up. It's amazing.
Scott: I actually helped him a little bit on the book. He would reach out and say, “Well, what do you think of this? Or what do you think of that?” And he is a perfectionist to the nth degree. That book is one of the best Marilyn books.
Erin: This book is perfection, and I have used this book as references for when I am doing Marilyn's makeup because I can see it so clearly here. For instance, well, we're just talking about the lipstick colors. You can see all the different lipstick colors she wore throughout her lifetime. And by the end, by the 1960s there was this color called Subtle that was sold at auction, and it was a very soft, peachy sort of orange. There's this intense orange color. Oh God. Now I'm getting into something that I've been researching. There was a product Max Factor LS 22 that was sold in her makeup case. I have been searching for this lipstick and I was like I'll never find this.
Cause what is this? What is LS 22? This is clearly not a real lipstick that was sold. Right here in front of me is the color LS 22. And there's this, we were talking about George Masters, there's this makeup artist that knew George. Anyway, he had this makeup artist was selling all of these products from another makeup artist named Ben.
Sorry, there’s all these people coming together. I was asking, “Do you have any old Max Factor lipsticks?” And he goes, “I have these two testers that were given to the makeup artist in maybe 1958.” And Max Factor would give out these lipstick testers to get feedback and then see if the celebrities liked it, maybe the celebrities would promote it.
Then they could come out with the lipstick and give it a proper name. And I'm gonna open up this lipstick. Nobody can see me out there, but the crazy thing about this lipstick is that it's orange.
Scott: That’s orange.
Elisa: That’s orange.
So I was like, wait, no, this can't possibly be the color that she wore. Here's the thing—in your favorite, Something's Got to Give, your favorite look of Marilyn, she is wearing an orange lipstick there in 1959, there's super high definite initiative pictures I sent to you, Scott, to ask you about it. She's wearing an intensely orange picture and those pictures are so high def you can see the little blue eyeshadow she has on her eyes, which was an old Elizabeth Arden product that's in Ripley's box. Now, LS 22 also—my wonderful friend, Darian Darling who lives in LA and she calls Marilyn “Goddess.” So we're always like, “Say good word to the goddess.” And, she's amazing. She's gorgeous and blonde. So anyway, Darian and I said, “Can you just go over to Ripley's and see if you can see the lipstick?” And she went in and the security guard that was there was flirting with her, and the security guard showed her pictures of the lipstick open, and the lipstick is orange.
I mean it to me, I thought it was orange red. But then, I took the picture of the lipstick she showed me, and I compared it to this and they look alike, so I'm thinking that all this time I've been searching for the holy grail of red lipsticks and it's an orange lipstick.
And I'm gonna talk about this on my TikTok, but my mind is still a bit blown and I'm not sure I'm ready to accept it yet. But we shall see. And then I also gotta try this on, which I haven't done yet, but I will.
Elisa: I have a couple thoughts. One, when Besame did the Marilyn kit last year was it I think, the 1960s Marilyn shade was very orange and Scott helped on that, too. But also, when you're dealing with Technicolor, sometimes they would put a different color on her and it would register different in front of the Technicolor cameras.
So if you look at her on The Seven Year Itch, it'll look red orange in the movie, but if you look at the photographs of her it's more orange. And that's why, again, if you look at the dress, it's the same with the clothing. So that's why they would do these hair, makeup, and clothing or wardrobe tests.
So the white dress in The Seven Year Itch, it is actually like a cream color. So that's another thing that we factor in, is the pictures that you see of her might be that color because it's going to photograph different in front of a Technicolor camera. So that adds another layer of complication when you're trying to recreate her look.
Scott: So good with that, she's saying.
Erin: That Besame orange, I actually love that look for my sixties looks, but I don't think it's actually the Marilyn color. But how can you really match that color without the lipstick? Like we, we have to find who bought that look. But let me read you something cuz what you just said was amazing. And if you look in that book, I was talking about, Metamorphosis.
Whitey has a wonderful entire page talking about Marilyn's look. And thanks to that I've learned how to do the Marilyn look, understanding the peak above the eye. But when he talks about the lipstick, he said, “Lipstick, we used various colors. As the industry changed, we got down to normal colors. At first, we had a hell of a time with Cinemascope.” Like you said. “No reds photographed anything but auburn. We had to go light pink.” So Marilyn was wearing light pink in some of those films and it was looking that bright red. That is wild to me and I would love to know what to use.
Why can't we get our hands on Whitey's kit?
Where's his children? Where is his stuff? I wanna find it.
Elisa: I have been asking that same thing, and they once reached out to Scott too.
Scott: Yeah. His daughter, Cheryl, actually reached out to me many, many years ago, and she had all of her father's photographs of Marilyn and different types of things. She said she was looking to sell, and I suggested that she go to Julian's. I don't think that there was any makeup left from her father.
Erin: He was working in eighties.
Elisa: But what I wanna know is if I could talk to his kids, I just wanna know how did he get his start in the movie industry? Why makeup? Where did he train? What else did he do in his career? How did he get so good at it? Because you have makeup artists and then you have makeup artists. I wanna know all of that. How did he develop his techniques?
Erin: Yeah, that's a thing. We got the book from Sydney, so we get, some hairstyle background from, but we don't really have much of Whitey, so we just have these little pieces here and there throughout books or a few interviews here and there and, oh, I just cling onto every word. And also, he, to say this too, he was a straight male. So how did he get into makeup? Cuz it isn't, was it? Oh actually, you know what, a lot of straight males did makeup back then. All the Westmores were.
Elisa: Well, yeah, and they had not quite a monopoly, but pretty close to a monopoly on the makeup industry to the point that it was hard to break in. And Sydney, the guy whose name I can't pronounce, he was—he says—a straight male. He said he had an affair with Marilyn. I don't buy that for a second because everyone says that, but I think it was just a male-dominated industry.
Erin: This is definitely a factor because Dottie Ponedel, who was Judy Garland's makeup artist, and Marlene Dietrich, in her book, she talks about how these male makeup artists would push her out. They did not want her in the union, and so they would actually write letters to get her out. How insane.
And also, she was so good that all the stars wanted to work with her. So that's probably why they really didn't like her. Yeah, you had the Westmores, you had Ben Nye. And wasn't there a thing with Whitey, too, where I think Ben Nye had gotten the credit on Seven Year Itch and there was a letter from Marilyn to him or from him to Marilyn.
“Oh, don't worry about the credit.” And inside that same letter, it was something about Tony Curtis. He was working with Tony Curtis. Do you know the one I'm talking about?
Erin: You guys, look on Julian's auctions and you type in Whitey Snyder. You'll find that letter from him to Marilyn. And it was, yeah, it's pretty fascinating because, like you see that they're friends. He must not have gotten the credit for that on screen, for The Seven Year Itch, but he definitely did her makeup cuz there's pictures to prove it and Ben Nye got credit. So I think that kind of bothered him.
Elisa: What probably happened—what I'm guessing—cuz they did this with wardrobe, they would have a head wardrobe person and then the people working below that person would do the designs, but the lead person would get the credit, which is why, and I love Edith Head, but she got credit for a lot of movies she didn't work on.
Erin: As you know I was an assistant. (laughs)
Elisa: Yeah, you know.
Erin: I certainly do.
Elisa: One of the things that I love about makeup is it feels like there's a really transformative or even empowering effect that it can have on those who wear it. And I was wondering what you thought about that and what you've seen when you're working or when you were learning on yourself, or just basically how makeup works when you put it on someone. Because it's more than just eyeshadow and blush and lipstick.
Erin: Yeah, it is very interesting to see someone in your chair who you can tell they're not feeling their best. Like I mentioned, insecurity. We all go through it. They look in the mirror and they're like, Ugh. And then you put the makeup on and they see the final image and they come to life and suddenly you can see they're feeling themselves and that's such an amazing feeling, too.
If they don't have that feeling, you didn't do your job right. So, I think that the transformative quality when even when it just comes to beauty makeup, it can transform you just that you feel good. My favorite makeup, transformative-wise, is when you go completely artistic. I always talk about creating characters and the reason why for myself, I started doing TikTok videos as well because I get to now live the fantasy myself because all these years I've made everyone else around me beautiful while I was in sweatpants and a hat and losing myself. And one day I was just like, ugh, like it was covid actually. And I got to sit and play with my own makeup and it made me love makeup again. There were no time constraints. There was no one telling me, “Oh, it has to match with this outfit, or it's for this product we're selling.”
It was just me going, You know what? I wanna put blue all over and I'm gonna do it! And that transformative quality of taking the art of makeup and using it to escape and using it as a form of therapy and also to create that transformation, so it's about your fantasy at that moment. That is why I love makeup so much.
And now of course I could just do that. I used to always just do it for myself, but now I get to share it with people so I can transform in front of people and only show my best angles and it's exciting. And I get to talk with people about makeup. With makeup, it’s just everything.
Elisa: It's so much fun. And even with Marilyn, who was beautiful without makeup, she looks completely different with it. On to the point that people will say, “Oh, she had a ton of plastic surgery.” No, she didn't. She had a little tweak here and there, the tip of her nose, she had some cartilage on her nose. But that's makeup, that's the power of makeup.
Erin: The chin.
Elisa: She had a chin implant.
Erin: I think she did. Yeah. And here's things I love about that, because even Bella just admitted that when she was 14, she had a nose job. Marilyn was already beautiful. You can take these little tweaks and make yourself, it's, it just takes it that closer to whatever that symmetry level they …
Scott: Yeah, that's the thing with Marilyn.
Erin: Yeah. She knew how to use makeup to contour her nose, to contour the cheekbones. So I don't think it was like plastic surgery and suddently she was Marilyn Monroe. It takes a lot more than that.
Elisa: No, and like we were talking about earlier, like the way she would change the way she held her mouth or the lip shape that you can change with makeup and the eye shape and it's just incredible. I remember many years ago seeing an interview with Kevin Aucoin and he was a little boy and he talked about how one day his sister put on an orange lipstick. And just the look of that alone completely transformed her. And in that moment, that's when he fell in love with makeup because he saw the transformative power of it.
Erin: Just going back to what you said, when Marilyn would transform, it wasn't just the makeup. When she would put the makeup on, she became Marilyn.
Erin: So she would do those gestures, maybe you were gonna say that, Scott.
Scott: Yeah. Well, What I was gonna say really was, I think the amazing thing about Marilyn is she had the perfect canvas. She was perfectly symmetrical. That's what I think defines beauty is when you're perfectly symmetrical. Your eyes are perfectly level, your ears are level. All of these things. She had that great canvas and really it was applying makeup, and you just had this amazing result, which is the masterpiece.
Elisa: Going back to the canvas, she took good care of her skin. She was ahead of her time, taking care of her skin. So for folks out there listening to this, take good care of your skin.
Erin: I just wanna say something else too, and this is, I don't want this to come off as some facetious thing, but there's things about Marilyn that there's a reason why some people can't quite they could capture the look with the makeup and the hair and the whatever, but not … One, I, again, I don't mean to sound bad, she had a really big head. So I think it made this sort of like infantile to her. So this big head and this cute little body, she became like a baby doll. And she also had very wide apart eyes and I think someone mentioned it was like somebody maybe that, that had seen her after she had passed and like it was this woman's pose.
It was like, oh my gosh, her eyes are so far apart. Again, this is not a bad thing. This photographs beautifully. All the actress I've worked with have big heads, so the big head is a big factor. And I have a peanut head and I wish I had a big head so I could be like Marilyn. But also, the fact that the eyes are so wide apart, they could do so much with her face and it photograph beautiful from every angle. So these are two physical elements that you cannot create with makeup.
Elisa: No. And they say that actors and actresses a lot of times need big heads or big faces because they have to, you have to see them basically.
Erin: The body looks small. It makes the waist look tiny. So Marilyn, she was tiny anyway, but imagine I'm get anyway, so a lot of actress like that. And also, you're in a scene partner with … the men are short with big heads, too. So I've seen, I know it's not a bad thing. It's a great thing. So if any people out there have a big head, you're freaking lucky.
I find that though, some of the questions you were asking me, I felt do I keep driving it back to Marilyn. But I guess I'm so excited cause you'll ask me like broad range questions and then I just immediately think of Marilyn as I'm like explaining …
Elisa: But that's the point of this show is we wanna know not just about makeup, but makeup is so integral to how people perceive Marilyn. When you think of Marilyn, you think of eyelashes, beauty mark, red lipstick, and then the platinum hair.
Scott: Lips. Yep.
Elisa: Eyes, lips, and beauty mark and you know who it is.
Elisa: There aren't many people you can do that with.
Erin: I would just say If anybody's really interested in Marilyn's makeup you can watch my TikTok, because I got a lot of stuff on there for one, but there's a few books. The Christie's auction or you can even just go, I think, onto Christie's website and you can see her makeup case.
Of course, Ripley's has her makeup case now, although all the things that are in the box in this picture are not in Ripley's case, I would like to know more about that. I might have the answer. And anyway, so all of her products are listed. If you wanna find out some things that Whitey had talked about with Marilyn, about how he did her makeup, The Metamorphosis Marilyn Monroe book.
Elisa: David Wills.
Erin: There's another book called Falling from Marilyn. And then the first, it's on page nine, page 10, she talks a little bit about how she does her makeup there. And that was when she did Niagara. So it's just, if you really like to obsess like I am, then those are some ways to find it. But I have lots of Marilyn content coming and the LS 22 is coming. So yeah, I think that's …
Scott: Good stuff. Good stuff. So, Erin, share with our listeners where they can see you online and how they can follow you on your journey.
Erin: If you wanna follow me on TikTok or Instagram, it's @erinparsonsmakeup Don't forget the S. Everyone calls me Parson. It's Parsons. Okay, so Erin Parsons makeup, or if you wanna look at my portfolio, you can look up erinparsons.com. That will take you to my agency's website and you can see all the cool stuff I've done over the years and I think that's it.
Scott: Your videos are just entertaining and fun and just really enjoyable. Erin, thank you so much for taking time outta your very busy schedule. It sounds like you've got really big things coming. We really, really appreciate it.
Erin: Thank you. Oh my God, you guys are awesome. So much fun.
Scott: Thanks everyone for tuning in. We'd love to hear your feedback, thoughts, comments, ideas and suggestions. For future episodes, you can email Elisa and me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will see you next time for All Things Marilyn.