Whitey Snyder and His Injudicious Introduction

Make-up artists are essential to Hollywood’s movie stars, both male and female. A skilled and experienced application of make-up possesses transformative powers that can only be called a special form of magic. Several make-up artists achieved a legendary status that almost rivaled the stars on whom the artists applied make-up. Allan “Whitey” Snyder is a case in point. James Glaeg wrote a brief but informative book, Casting Norma Jeane: A Starlet is Transformed Into Marilyn Monroe, a part of which memorialized Marilyn’s initial encounter with Whitey. Make-up artist and future movie star met for the first time in mid-July of 1946, immediately before her initial Fox screen test.

After Marilyn arrived at the studio early that morning, Ben Lyon, Fox’s casting director who has also been credited with helping her develop the nom de guere, Marilyn Monroe, led her, still calling herself Norma Jeane at that time, to a make-up room where she met Whitey. Much to his surprise and bemusement, Norma began to apply her own make-up from a case she had with her. She knew, he realized, as he watched the deftness and skill of her application, how to apply her make-up for still photography; but she did not know what Whitey knew and understood: make-up techniques capable of working wonders in still photography were apt to be totally wrong for pictures that moved. Particularly if those pictures moved in Technicolor (Glaeg 8). With her make-up finally applied, Whitey escorted Norma to a sound stage where an Academy Award winning cinematographer, Leon Shamroy, patiently awaited.

Shamroy wanted to know what the hell was on Norma’s face, wanted to know if Whitey had created that mess. To Whitey’s amazement and satisfaction, Norma confessed that she had applied her own make-up, a confession which signaled to Whitey that Norma Jeane was a honest young lady with courage and integrity.

Back in the make-up chair, Whitey removed and then correctly reapplied Norma’s make-up, after which she returned to the sound stage, performed as directed and thereafter received her initial six month contract with Fox Studios. Norma became Marilyn Monroe and Allan “Whitey” Snyder became Marilyn’s personal make-up artist. They enjoyed a professional relationship and a friendship that endured sixteen years, the length of Marilyn’s cinematic career. And in the end, Whitey applied make-up to Marilyn’s face in preparation for her entombment, as she had requested, a request that itself is an interesting story.

The preceding offers a prelude to this: I have not forgotten that Whitey Snyder putatively wrote but most certainly allowed the attachment of his name to the foreword of Robert Slatzer’s 1974 publication, The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe; and in so doing, Whitey endorsed Slatzer’s book, an issue that can only be described as niggling.

The first question that flashed in my head was why? Why would Whitey Snyder do that? But eventually that unanswerable question became the more sensible how? A more precise question then formed, one I might have exclaimed upon seeing the thrilling reds and purples, the blues and aquamarines of a friend’s nasty black eye or the same gradient of hues encircling the pale display of a tight knot on a friend’s forehead. How the hell did that happen? Even after a moderate amount of research, I did not uncover a definitive answer to the question of how; but I can relate a series of events connected thereto.

Apparently beginning in the late nineteen-nineties, Peggy Wilkins maintained a website and blog, Peggy Wilkins Home Page, dedicated to both Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe. An article which appeared on the website Chicago Reader in February of 2010 confirmed that Peggy was then, and still is I am sure, one of Marilyn’s many lifelong fans, not to mention a lifelong fan of the magazine which featured Marilyn on its initial cover and featured her inside as its first “Sweetheart of the Month.”

On Peggy’s website, she maintained a listing of fans as a resource for those fans who might want to contact other fans of The One and Only; and a name that appeared on Peggy’s list was Claudio Masenza, an Italian television director. Peggy contacted Masenza and a brief correspondence ensued, one about Whitey Snyder’s foreword to Slatzer’s book. Masenza informed Peggy that he had interviewed Slatzer during the closing months in 1980 during the research phase of a made-for-television documentary about Marilyn’s closing months. Masenza’s research included interviewing several of the persons invariably associated with Marilyn’s death. Masenza interviewed Marilyn’s purported second husband. Even though Slatzer cooperated with Masenza completely, the television documentarian admitted that he still did not find Slatzer convincing or believable.

Not long after his interview with Marilyn’s alleged weekend husband, Masenza met and interviewed Whitey Snyder; and, as you might expect, Masenza asked Marilyn’s make-up artist just how well he knew Robert Slatzer. The response Masenza received was both a revelation and a shock: Whitey did not know Marilyn’s weekend husband at all. In fact, Whitey testified that he was even unaware of Slatzer’s existence on Planet Earth until 1974, when Slatzer appeared and tendered the request regarding his book’s foreword. According to Masenza, Whitey admitted to receiving monetary compensation from Slatzer, a fact that I find peculiar and revealing: why did Slatzer feel a need to pay Whitey? Masenza opined: perhaps Whitey Snyder simply attached his signature to what Slatzer had already composed, signed a Slatzer composition for a monetary consideration. Masenza also asserted a belief that Marilyn’s close friend, Ralph Roberts, was initially approached by Slatzer; but Ralph refused involvement. Neither Masenza’s opinion nor his stated belief about Ralph Roberts could be confirmed.

I could present a sentence by sentence, quotation by quotation analysis of the foreword in Slatzer’s literary effort; but I really do not perceive a point to doing that. In my opinion, the existence of the foreword attributed to Whitney Snyder is a niggling issue, as previously stated, but nonetheless insignificant. The salient point is this: if Whitey did not know Robert Slatzer even existed until 1974, twelve years after Marilyn’s death, then Whitey did not write the foreword as it appeared in Slatzer’s book, not unless Whitey was himself an incorrigible fantasist, a genteel way of calling him an incorrigible liar. I have never encountered such an assessment of Whitey Snyder.

Marilyn’s make-up artist invariably gave to his fellow human beings the benefit of a doubt, he admitted to Masenza; and since Whitey did not know all of Marilyn’s friends, he simply accepted as fact what Slatzer asserted: he and Marilyn had been extremely dear friends since 1946. Whitey Snyder was apparently a trusting fellow; a few realistic persons might even label him naïve. I assert that he inadvertently became just another dupe in the group of dupes created by the miserably fraudulent and self-serving Robert F. Slatzer.

Will Fowler Briefly