In June 1996, film makeup artist Bobbie Weiner got a call that would change her life. “Can you make extras look dead and frozen?” the voice asked. Director James Cameron was shooting a movie about the doomed Titanic, and he needed to transform 75 actors into blue-lipped, icicle-dripping corpses bobbing in the ocean (actually a massive water tank in Rosarito, Mexico). The bodies had to look real and stay that way during five-hour stretches of filming. Word was that Weiner had created some impressive horror-flick monsters.
“I did not want to go to Mexico,” says Weiner, who at the time had a steady gig in San Diego doing makeup for the TV show Renegade. Plus, “Cameron had a terrible reputation—as a screamer, a driven human being. But then I thought about having ‘James Cameron’ on my résumé.”
Weiner signed on, and every day for the next five weeks she rose at 4 am and drove an hour across the border to join eight other makeup artists on the Titanic set in Rosarito. Cameron told her the looks had to last or else he’d make her go into the water to touch up the makeup. “I thought, They’re not hoisting me into that tub!” She quickly discovered that if she applied three layers and pressed superfine setting powder into each one, the makeup would stay in place. “I was on top of the world,” she says. “It was amazing to work for a director who knows what he wants.”
The Titanic gig did more for Weiner than just sharpen her résumé. It also set her on the path toward building a multimillion-dollar makeup empire. Now, 15 years later, Bobbie Weiner Enterprises produces makeup lines for theater, films, funeral parlors and costume shops. She also publishes horror-themed comic books and sells novelty food items. But the company’s biggest earner is her camouflage face paint for hunters and the military (the defense forces of the United States, Israel, Spain, Chile, Australia and New Zealand all use her products). “If I sold the business today, the U.S. government contracts alone would be worth about $15 million,” she says.
Until Titanic came along, Weiner was scraping together a living. After three marriages, she thought she’d finally gotten it right when she married a doctor in 1983: “He was my greatest love.” They were married for nine years, until he left her for a 19-year-old, she says. “I am not a great picker when it comes to husbands.” After the divorce, she learned to live without her sprawling Bel Air home, Porsche convertible, country club membership and two-bedroom yacht. “I felt as if I’d been shot,” she says. “I dropped 30 pounds. I was so traumatized, I lost my voice. All my friends left but one. At that social level, no one is interested in you unless you’ve got the package: the car, the mansion, the man, the money.”
Although she had enough cash to live modestly for a year, she worried because she had no marketable skills, just an abundance of energy and a flair for connecting with people. One day, at the hair salon for what she feared would be her last highlights appointment (“too expensive”), she shared her crisis with the stylists. “I don’t know what to do, where to begin,” she admitted.
“Go to makeup school!” one of them suggested. Weiner protested that putting eyeshadow on wealthy ladies at a department store cosmetics counter was her idea of hell. “Oh my God, no!” said the stylist, a former soap opera actor. “Do makeup for TV and films. With your personality, you’d be great.” Weiner had zero interest in makeup but thought working on films beat folding sweaters at the local Gap.
Two weeks later, she began a three-month course at Joe Blasco Makeup School. “It was very humbling to start over at 46,” she says. “At first I turned all my models into Tammy Faye Bakker look-alikes. But I knew I had to make a living, so I stuck it out.” Part of the curriculum entailed learning how to create fake corpses and wounds, so she visited funeral homes and hospital ERs to observe the real thing. “For my graduation exam, I had to give the model a beard, burns and bullet holes, and I had to ‘break’ his nose,” she says. When she was finished, the model was so disturbed by what he saw in the mirror that he threw up. “My teacher said I’d created the most amazing burns and bullet holes he’d ever seen,” says Weiner.
Three days after graduating, she got her first film gig assisting makeup artists on the horror flick Pumpkinhead II, soon to become a cult classic. The crew quickly discovered her talent for rendering realistic, gory details and affectionately nicknamed her Bloody Mary. The pay was $100 for the entire three weeks of filming, but she didn’t care; the crew’s respect was priceless. “With that, I no longer craved my old life as the doctor’s wife,” she says.
Weiner built her connections and found steady work doing makeup for commercials, music videos and TV shows. Then came the Titanic gig in Mexico. Midway through it, one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s stunt doubles approached Weiner and asked whether she had any blue and gold makeup for him to wear to a San Diego Chargers football game. “I had only a few colors on me that day, just what I needed to do dead people. I had blue for their lips. I have no idea why I had the gold,” she says. She handed him two paintpots. The next day, the stuntman went up to her and said, “We were on TV, and everyone wanted to know where we got the face paint.” Listening to his raves, she realized that catering to rabid sports fans could be lucrative. I could be the anti–Estée Lauder, she thought.
Back in San Diego after her Titanic gig ended, Weiner set about launching Bobbie Weiner Enterprises. She pitched UCLA’s campus-store buyer, showing off a photo of a young man whose face she’d painted blue and gold. The school immediately placed an order for 144 kits, priced at $1.75 apiece (for a profit of $1.15 each). Three weeks later, after touting her wares at a college trade show, she had 6,624 orders.
Although Titanic wasn’t premiering for another year, word about the film spread, and producers at a San Diego morning-news show invited her to show off her skills by making the anchors look like frozen corpses. That led to a call from the PX manager at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot: Could she make camouflage makeup? The stuff sold on the base stained clothing and caused acne. “Give me a couple of weeks,” Weiner said.
She got to work, experimenting with substitutes for castor oil, which she suspected was the root of the Marines’ problems. One morning Weiner headed to the La Jolla beach at 4 am and persuaded some surfers to test her paints. “They were in the water for hours. The damn stuff never came off,” she says.
Weiner headed back to the depot with her new secret-formula pots of khaki, olive and black camouflage paint. “The manager gave the paint to some soldiers to wear while training,” she says. “A half hour later, he returned and said that it smelled like perfume. He told me, ‘Get the stink out, and I’ll make you a rich lady.’ ” She instructed her lab to drop the fragrance from her recipe. When she returned with stink-free samples, the manager placed an order for 2,000 kits. Her next step was a booth at the Defense Logistics Agency trade show, which showcases companies that provide U.S. military forces with supplies. Under a sign advertising bobbie weiner’s camouflage face paint, she decorated visitors’ faces with jungle colors, and when buyers asked to speak to “Bob,” thinking she was the owner’s assistant, she set them straight. Soon, orders started coming in.
Titanicsailed into theaters December 19, 1997. “After it came out, I’d say, ‘I did the dead people for James Cameron,’ and, whoa, everyone wanted to talk to me,” Weiner says. The instant cachet helped boost her sales. Two years later, she came up with a spin-off idea. While she painted visitors’ faces at a Halloween convention, a reporter asked who made the best Halloween makeup. In a burst of inspiration, she replied, “I do. It’s called Bloody Mary.”
With her novelty makeup line launched, it only made sense for her to also produce fake blood, fangs and a slew of other vampire-related accessories aimed at the burgeoning goth teen market. She no longer worked on horror flicks but still enjoyed the challenge of creating realistic monsters. A bonus: She could sell the “blood” to the U.S. government for disaster drills and to film studios for special effects. “Gore is a year-round business,” she says.
Bobbie Weiner Enterprises’ sales hit the $1 million mark in 2007, and today annual sales exceed $3 million. Weiner lives outside Fort Worth, Texas, where she runs her business from a 3,000-square-foot warehouse decorated with Halloween convention freebies, like shrunken plastic skulls and little rubber duckies with devil’s horns. She dresses in T-shirts, jeans and a cowboy hat, and the only trace of her former luxurious Hollywood lifestyle is a fondness for designer shoes (“I’ve been poor and rich—and rich is better”). She’d rather work than play tennis, and travels 26 weeks a year, speaking at conventions or visiting the 252 contract workers who make and package her wares in a California facility. She likes to spend weekends experimenting with products and colors. “I was pouring fake blood all morning,” she said recently.
Among her proudest achievements, she says, are the awards she’s received from the Department of Defense for her camouflage paint. She still personally attends military and hunting trade shows, touting her wares at a 10-foot-long booth beneath two American flags. “But these days,” she says with a smile, “when the military comes calling, they don’t look for a guy named Bob. They ask for me.”
Michele Meyer contributes toTravel + Leisure and Real Simple.