During his seven-decade career he dyed a camel, made a wiener dog look like Frankenstein’s monster, turned Dean Jones into a shaggy dog, Jonathan Winters into a pumpkin, gave a tailless dog a prosthetic wagger, aged Burt Lancaster from age 18 to age 80, and glamorized a galaxy of stars including Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, Errol Flynn, and Cary Grant.
Robert J. Schiffer was born on September 4, 1916 in Seattle, Washington, where his father was a prominent businessman. During a stint as a merchant seaman, Bob discovered that the ship’s barber was doing makeup for the guests of the Captain’s Dinner—a costume affair—for five dollars a head.
Having previously painted seascapes, Bob set up his own paint pots and charged half that. His success led him to register for constructive anatomy and portrait painting at the University of Washington, which set him on a course to a career as a makeup artist.
Bob began his professional career in 1932 at age 17, when he did make-up for the Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers. The Last Days of Pompeii led to RKO Studios, where he worked on Becky Sharp, Hollywood’s first three-strip Technicolor film. At RKO, his credits also included most of the classic Astaire/Rogers films. During this time, he earned his reputation as being an expert with ladies’ makeup, creating innovative and stylish looks for Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, Ingrid Bergman, and Rita Hayworth, among others.
During the 1930s, Bob also worked at other studios, including MGM, where he contributed as a makeup artist to such popular motion pictures as Mutiny on the Bounty, The Good Earth, A Night at the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Wizard of Oz.
In 1938, Bob moved over to Columbia, where he worked on all of Rita Hayworth’s notable films as the star’s exclusive makeup artist for nearly 20 years. Of all the male stars that Bob worked with, including Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, and Cary Grant, he had a particularly long association with Burt Lancaster, on such films as Elmer Gantry, The Young Savages, Judgment at Nuremberg, and The Leopard.
Among Bob’s other impressive makeup credits are the films My Fair Lady, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and Camelot.
Arriving at the Walt Disney Studios in 1968, Bob went on to head the makeup department, and contributed to a wide variety of live-action feature films over the next 33 years, including Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Shaggy D.A, Return From Witch Mountain, The Watcher in the Woods, Tron, Something Wicked this Way Comes, and Splash.
Bob retired from Disney in 2001, and passed away on April 26, 2005. Michael Eisner said, “Bob was one of the quiet talents who made Hollywood great. He worked with the legendary stars, who we all know by single names—Astaire, Bogart, Welles, Hepburn, Hayworth, Lancaster, Midler, and Hanks. But, among people behind the cameras, Bob was a legend himself. It was my privilege to work with him throughout my 21 years with the company. He is very much a part of the Disney legacy.”