Groundbreaking Make-Up Artist, Dorothy Ponedel

For the last few years Kelly Kitchens Wickersham who manages the ‘Going to TCMFF’ FB page has arranged terrific speakers and presentations the night before the TCM Classic Film Festival starts.  In 2015 we got a special visit from Cora Sue Collins and this year Meredith Ponedel presented, both thanks to Woolsey Ackerman who knows Cora Sue and Meredith and assisted with the presentations.  While I was familiar with Cora Sue Collins’ name I had never heard of Meredith Ponedel other than on Kelly’s FB page.  I also knew little about her presentation except that it had some connection to Judy Garland.

WELL!  I stood front and center as Meredith told the story of her aunt, Dorothy Ponedel known to most during the golden age as Dottie or “Dot.”  Dottie Ponedel was a pioneering make-up artist who many Hollywood stars in the early 1930s started calling a close friend.  As Meredith recounted how Dot came to Hollywood, how she started her acting career and later transitioned to make-up I was mesmerized.  But the gist of the presentation centered around Judy Garland with whom Dot had a long professional association and close friendship.

Dottie with Judy on June 9, 1950 as Judy celebrated her birthday.
Dottie with Judy in 1950 as Judy celebrated her birthday.

A native of Chicago, Dottie Ponedel moved to Los Angeles in 1920 due to weather-related health issues.  It took her no time at all to be cast as an extra in the movies.  She appeared in several other movies in more substantial roles throughout the 1920s.  It was during the filming of Lloyd Corrigan’s Follow Thru (1930) at Paramount that Dottie’s career changed by a stroke of luck.  Follow Thru stars Buddy Rogers and Nancy Carroll and out of the blue Dottie was asked to do Carroll’s make-up.  Nancy loved Dottie’s work so much that she did everything in her power to ensure only Dottie did it from that moment forward.

Word spread quickly about Dottie Ponedel’s make-up skills and before long such stars as Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur, Barbara Stanwyck, Helen Hayes, Paulette Goddard, Clara Bow and Joan Blondell were exclusive clients and friends.  More importantly at the behest of Dietrich, West and some of the others Dorothy Ponedel became the first woman admitted into the make-up union.  That’s not to say, however, that the male-dominated union accepted Dot with open arms or that members were happy she was there at all.  On February 23, 1942 Dot was forced to send a letter to the Make-Up Artists Local Union 706 to ask that she be allowed to keep her job, which the membership protested simply because she was a woman.  In the following video Meredith reads her aunt’s letter:

It was the day after the TCM Film Festival concluded that Meredith Ponedel met Annmarie Gatti and me for an extensive interview about her aunt and her father, Bernard Ponedel who was also a make-up artist.  Bernard worked on such films as The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and with superstars like Frank Sinatra.  The video of the letter included above was taped separately because we all felt it should be highlighted and it’s presented here today for the first time.   The actual interview was conducted by Annmarie, who owns and manages Classic Movie Hub and was released in three parts on our YouTube show, “Classic Movies & More.”   I’m including all three parts here for your enjoyment.  The stories Meredith tells are unique, highly entertaining and offer a personal perspective on the people and a time we love.  I’ve no doubt you’ll enjoy the entire series in tribute to groundbreaker, Dorothy Ponedel.

I must extend a huge thanks to Meredith who sent me the following picture of Dot, which I also used as the post’s featured image.  This was one of Dot’s favorites.

FullSizeRender (1)

This post is a contribution to “The Groundbreakers” topic that’s part of The Classic Movie History Project, which I am honored to co-cost with Fritzi of Movies Silently and Ruth of Silver Screenings.  Be sure to stay tuned through August 10th as The Classic Movie History Project continues.  For the complete roster take a look at the announcement post here.


13 thoughts

  1. What a fascinating story and thanks for those rare photos and the interview links. Imagine having to make a case to be admitted to a union because you are female. This lady deserves a book!

  2. I don’t think there’s ever been a more pleasant and interesting way to spend a Sunday morning on the internet. The imagination takes flight at Dot’s incredible talent, career and her undaunted perseverance in the face of obstacles and illness. Meredith was a true treat in Annmarie’s interview.

    1. I agree with all you say, Paddy. Even though I was sitting right there as Meredith recounted the stories I’ve watched the videos several times. Just fascinating stuff and Dot was an inspiration.

  3. LOVE that photo of Dot!

    Also loved the interview. Annmarie has a wonderful interviewing style. And what terrific stories! You’ve done an important thing here, preserving these stories.

  4. What a great essay. Makeup artists don’t get enough attention unless they do spectacular things, like Jack Pierce with the Universal monsters. I always watch credits for the name Westmore, having a read a book by one member of the family many years ago.

  5. Thanks for posting this! I’ve met Meredith several times, but hadn’t heard most of these stories – and they deserve to be heard, so I’ll be posting this on my Facebook page.

  6. Enjoyable reading, and I have to say that there must have been a reason for Miss Ponedel’s loyal clients and success but… sorry… whenever I see a photo of Judy Garland with a strange uneven hairline and a bloated lower lip, I know it was Dottie’s handiwork. Minority though I may be, I think these tricks of the trade didn’t improve Judy’s looks.

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