London “Daily Mail” Weekend Magazine, April 28 2001
REVEALED: for the first time, the extraordinary cast list of movie legends who depended on plastic surgery for their glittering careers.
By Andrew Wilson
With their stunning good looks, ultra-toned bodies and flawless complexions, today’s Hollywood stars flaunt their status as modern-day icons of beauty. But if you look beneath the superficial sheen, you will see subtle signs of the less salubrious side of stardom – Tinseltown’s obsession with plastic surgery. The majority of celebrities would deny it, but thousands of Hollywood’s rich and famous have been sculpted by liposuction, their lines and wrinkles erased by laser treatment and chemical peels. In the process, their flagging careers have been given a well-needed shot of adrenaline. In the nip and tuck capital of the world, appearance is everything.
‘You know the expression, “easy on the eyes”? Well, we are a very visual culture,’ says the actress and writer Carrie Fisher, the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. ‘Out here, the survival of the fittest means you have to be in pretty good shape. We don’t eat our young, we spit out our old.’
Yet, although it is widely accepted that many of today’s celebrities have gone under the knife, it is an astonishing fact that in the past some of the biggest stars – men and women fêted for their supposed natural good looks in a seemingly more romantic age – were used as guinea pigs in the studios’ quest to manufacture the perfect celebrity. According to a revelatory new BBC1 documentary, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Burt Lancaster and Rita Hayworth were just a few of the stars who secretly submitted themselves to the scalpel. Plastic surgery in Hollywood dates back as far as the Twenties. However, some of the earlier operations proved disastrous, leaving patients permanently disfigured. ‘My mother was made to have her ears pinned back and they wanted her to have a nose job,’ says Carrie Fisher. ‘But she refused the nose job because they were really butchering them then.’
Mary Pickford – the silent film star known as ‘America’s sweetheart’ and the wife of Douglas Fairbanks – was left looking almost mummified by an unsophisticated face-lift in the early Thirties. Her skin was stretched so tight across her face that she was left unable to smile, her mouth, according to one commentator, left looking like a ‘little stiff, red-lined orifice in the face of a mummy’. Similarly, Carmen Miranda was another victim of the macabre face-lift technique and was forced to endure a permanent expression of surprise. Funny girl Lucille Ball was so keen on this stretch-and-pull surgery that her eyebrows gradually floated up her forehead and nearly disappeared into her hairline.
‘The early experiments in cosmetic surgery were quite crude,’ says surgeon to the stars Dr. Richard Fleming, 57, who lives in Brentwood, California, with his wife Margaret. ‘Many women were left with a rather windblown look after having a face-lift, while for years surgeons could only do one kind of nose. It used to be the case where you could walk around Hollywood and identify the surgeon by the style of a star’s nose.’
|ACTRESS SUSAN MILLER, who starred in the 1973 Woody Allen film Sleeper, knows from first-hand experience of the ruthlessness of the showbiz world. Throughout the Seventies, the actress eared a fortune from modeling and acting in Starsky And Hutch, Lou Grant and The Love Boat. Yet, as she aged, she noticed that the work started to dry up. ‘I did a shoot recently,’ says Susan, now 54, and living with her partner, Tom, 53, in Malibu, California, ‘and I was shocked. My smile lines and my crow’s feet were meeting.’ Decades after cosmetic surgery first arrived in Hollywood, Susan found herself turning to surgeon Dr Richard Fleming to give her a £17,800 browlift, spreading the cost across her credit cards, and was closely followed throughout by the documentary team. The programme captured just how slick today’s techniques are – and the impact she expects the surgery to have on her career. ‘Whenever I looked in the mirror I saw a tired woman looking back,’ she says. ‘I wanted to do something to increase my sense of well-being. People expect to see youth in this town, and that especially applies to women.’ After discussing with Dr Fleming the scope of the procedure, Susan went under general anaesthetic in the Beverly Hills Institute of Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery, where Dr Fleming cut into Susan’s face along her hairline and worked on the underlying tissue of her face, shortening her forehead. Only 24 hours after the surgery, Susan saw her new face for the first time.|
‘Considering that I had over four and a half hours of surgery, I thought it looked amazing,’ she says. ‘I was on medication to ease the pain, but it still felt quite uncomfortable, a feeling which lasted until the removal of the metal staples, which had been placed in my face to hold it together, on the sixth day after surgery. The bruising, however, was quite minimal. Once the swelling had gone down I could tell I was going to look wonderful.’ The positive reaction she got was astounding. One day while she was visiting the supermarket, one of the check-out assistants complimented her. ‘He didn’t know that I’d had any surgery, but he said out of the blue, “I never noticed how lovely your features were,” she says. ‘It was as if people started to notice me for the first time in years and I’ve been turning heads again. That makes you feel good about yourself. It’s impossible for anybody to tell that I’ve had the browlift done. People say that I look like I’m ten or 15 years younger. My partner likes it a lot. Although I will age from this point onwards, I will still look pretty good for at least the next decade. Now I can look to the future. I hope to be able to do some more modeling and break into commercials. I look better and feel as though it’s given me a second chance.’
|Twenty-first century fox: Susan Miller, shown here as a younger woman, decided to have a face-lift after she noticed that acting work had started to dry up.|
After World War II, cosmetic surgery became more sophisticated as procedures used to restore the scarred faces of soldiers were taken up by doctors keen to explore the relatively new science of aesthetic remodelling. The pioneering techniques proved especially popular in Hollywood, where one’s (unlined) face really was one’s fortune and a generation of stars turned to cosmetic surgery in the belief that it would help propel them into Hollywood’s brightest firmament.
This has never been more apparent than in the case of Marilyn Monroe. In 1949 the young model, desperate to break into the movies, agreed to have an implant inserted in her chin to strengthen her jawline. ‘When she was a little $75 contract player, someone called her a chinless wonder and it threw her,’ said her plastic surgeon, Dr John Pangman, in a recording broadcast for the first time in the BBC1 documentary. He said that when she came in, she told him of her fears that her chin was harming her fragile confidence. Pangman said she told him: ‘The star gets the good lighting. If the camera starts to catch me in profile, I forget the three words they told me to say.’
Witness to the operation was Hollywood surgeon Dr John Williams. ‘Pangman told me she was an up-and-coming actress,’ says Dr Williams about Marilyn, ‘and felt this would help her appearance in photographs. He was using some foam as a little implant and he did this small incision, in the natural crease. It worked very well for her because she photographed beautifully after that, and I realised how simple and important it could be in her facial balance.’
A few days after the secret operation, a movie executive phoned Marilyn and invited her to read for a screen test, but because she had recently undergone surgery she excused herself on the grounds that she had fallen and cut her chin, postponing the audition by a week. But she got the part, and within three years of making that film – the 1950 John Huston classic The Asphalt Jungle – she had become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Eight years later, however, Marilyn started to experience problems with the chin implant and decided to consult another plastic surgeon, Dr Michael Gurdin. After examining her Dr Gurdin discovered that the implant had been slowly reabsorbed into her body, leaving her with a flat-looking chin. The surgeon’s notes, detailing that initial meeting on July 14, 1958 and subsequent consultations, are now held by his colleague, Dr Norman Leaf. ‘I don’t know whether he intended to do another implant at that time,’ says Dr Leaf. ‘Perhaps he did and didn’t write it down here.’
Which of our favourite contemporary household names have had nips and tucks? According to Dr Richard Fleming, Michael Douglas and Sylvester Stallone have both been ‘done’ – Douglas is said to have had a facelift and an eye-job (something the actor denies), while Stallone had the skin around his eyes touched up. ‘The first operation of Stallone’s left him with what we call the ‘hound-dog look’ as it was overdone, but since then he’s had his eyes revised and they do look better,’ says Dr Fleming, who himself had upper and lower eyelid surgery ten years ago. ‘In my opinion Demi Moore has had a nose job – her nose is now more refined, less thick – Faye Dunaway has had a face-lift, and Courteney Cox has had a rhinoplasty to narrow the tip of her nose. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on even the biggest celebrities to maintain their appearance. It’s a very competitive business, so most stars have cosmetic surgery. I’ve been working as a surgeon in Beverly Hills for 25 years and I can say that, without a doubt, more or less every Hollywood celebrity has had something done. The camera can be very unforgiving and so the stars do it to survive. It’s just a fact of life here in Hollywood.’
One of Fleming’s busiest times is the seven weeks leading up to the Oscars. As soon as the nominations are announced at the beginning of the year until the ceremony in March or April his phone never stops ringing, with stars begging him to fit them in for a ‘quickie’ – a spot of liposuction to slim down the stomach or an instant fix of fat augmentation to freshen up the face. ‘But of course it all depends on the raw material,’ says Dr Fleming. ‘For instance, it goes without saying that I’m bound to get a better result after working on Liz Hurley than I would if I were to do Roseanne. As Joan Rivers, who has had her eyes and face done, said: ‘In America the 11th commandment should read, Thou shalt not age – use thy plastic surgeon.” Just because celebrities are pretty, just because they’re handsome, wealthy and successful, that does not mean that they’re secure.’ But some celebrities insist on asking the impossible. In the early 1980s, Lana Turner – by this time in her early 60s – whisked out a photograph of herself in the 1948 film The Three Musketeers and asked her surgeon to take more than 30 years off her face.’She said, “This is what I want to look like,”‘ remembers surgeon Dr Richard Ellenbogen. ‘First I laughed: then I saw she was serious. I said, ‘Yes, Miss Turner, but the greatest plastic surgeon in the world can’t make you look like this again. I can get rid of the little bags under your eyes, I can tighten your face, but this is not possible.”‘
‘She was very unreasonable about what she wanted,’ says Dr Ellenbogen, ‘but, then again, most of the top celebrities are somewhat unreasonable about what they want. They all have a difficult time of aging.’
In June 1962 – only two months before her mysterious death – Marilyn came back to see Dr Gurdin, worried that her nose could be broken. The surgeon was told that she had slipped in the shower, but considering the circumstances surrounding her death, there have been suggestions that she could have been beaten up.
‘It says that she fell about 2 to 3am,’ says Dr Leaf, reading from the star’s medical notes. ‘No nose bleed, no loss of consciousness and mild laceration of the nasal dorsum, the bridge of the nose, and swelling of the right lower lid. He (Dr Gurdin) sent her for some X-rays, which were normal. But given what we know about what was going on in her life, you could have a lot of speculation about did she really fall down or was she hit – who knows?’
With her death at the age of 36, Marilyn did not have to face the prospect of growing old in Hollywood, but Rosemary Ashley Eckersley – the former wife of top Hollywood surgeon Dr Franklin Ashley – remembers her husband performing a face-lift on Rita Hayworth just as the star was starting to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease in the Sixties. ‘My husband told me that even without make-up she was still beautiful,’ says Rosemary. ‘But there are reasons sometimes why people decide to have plastic surgery and I think it’s because their public often demands it. They didn’t really want to see an old Rita Hayworth, and that’s sad.’
It’s not just women, however, who have gone under the knife in the search of lasting good looks – a number of male Hollywood heroes have had clandestine nips and tucks in the name of vanity. Clark Gable had his teeth fixed and his ears pinned back, Burt Lancaster had a face-lift, while Dean Martin underwent a rhinoplasty operation to make his nose straighter and narrower.
‘When I came to Hollywood in 1946, I was really never aware of cosmetic surgery,’ says actress Janet Leigh, star of Psycho. ‘I know when I worked with Dean and Jerry (Lewis), Jerry used to make jokes about Dean’s old nose. And I thought, “Oh, that’s funny,” but it was never talked about. The actors didn’t want their fans and public to think that they had had anything done.’
Tough guy Gary Cooper was another star who tried to keep his surgery a secret. By the time he was filming the 1952 western High Noon, Cooper was beginning to worry about his increasingly lined face and double chin. Five years after the release of High Noon, at the age of 56, Cooper checked himself into a New York hospital for a face-lift under the pseudonym Frank James. The hospital had arranged for him to arrive at five in the morning, when most of the staff were off duty, but Cooper was so nervous that he absent-mindedly signed in under his own name.
‘He was a very elegant man. He had a great sense of aesthetics and the aesthetics of aging drove him nuts,’ says the actor’s daughter, Maria Cooper Janis.
‘He didn’t like having a double chin – he had a term for it, that one probably uses to describe a turkey, and it drove him crazy.’
The hospital denied that Cooper had undergone a face-lift, claiming just to have removed a cyst. ‘The fantasy of Hollywood was that these are perfect, beautiful people who are perfect and beautiful always,’ says Maria. ‘And perfect people don’t go and have plastic surgery, because they’re perfect already.’
The majority of celebrities refuse to talk publicly about the fact that they have been under the surgeon’s knife. The Gabors – Zsa Zsa, Eva and their late mother Jolie – were a family obsessed with maintaining their celebrated looks, yet none of them went on the record about having a few nips and tucks. Jolie was 80 years old and a veteran of two face-lifts when, in the early Eighties, she asked her surgeon Dr Borko Djordjevic of Palm Springs to restore her lost youth.
‘As l was taking her to the surgery to be operated on, she stopped and said, ”Darling. if something happens to me and I die, I want you to finish the surgery. If they bury me I have to look pretty,”‘ says Dr Djordjevic. Four weeks after the surgery, Jolie revealed her new face at a star-studded party – the next day Dr Djordjevic’s phone never stopped ringing with new bookings.
|Few people realised that John Wayne – Hollywood’s ultimate action hero – underwent a series of operations, including a procedure to correct his flabby neck, a face-lift and upper eyelid surgery in order to look better on camera. When he entered his 50s, studio bosses urged him to consider cosmetic surgery to boost his image as a Hollywood hero. After initially refusing – he loathed the toupee thrust upon him by the studio – he finally relented when he entered his 60s, with an operation to remove excess skin from his neck and upper eyelids. The procedure was performed by Dr Franklin Ashley, the surgeon who had operated on Rita Hayworth.|
‘When John Wayne came in for his surgery, I got him ready and he was on the table,’ says Norma Gerber, Ashley’s former nurse. ‘I found his pulse was racing and I had to indicate to Dr Ashley without letting John Wayne know. He said, “Hold on a minute, Duke,” and went out and got him a little injection of Valium because he was so nervous, his hands were sweating. They’re all little children when it comes to surgery.’ In order to keep the operation a secret. on being released from hospital, John Wayne went to stay at the surgeon’s home, where he was spotted by the doctor’s son Frank Ashley. Seeing the star wrapped in bandages, the boy assumed John Wayne had gone blind, and told all his school friends about the star’s misfortune.
‘In those days – I’m talking about maybe 30 years ago – men just didn’t do that,’ says Pilar Wayne Upchurch, the former wife of John Wayne. ‘It wasn’t something that was freely discussed; you had to hide for a couple of weeks.’ Another legend who went under the knife was Frank Sinatra, who had lived with a birth defect for most of his life – a forceps delivery had caused scarring on his neck and resulted in the loss of part of his left earlobe. It wasn’t until he was in his 60s that he resorted to surgery. In order to prolong his singing career, he turned to surgeon Dr Rudi Unterthiner to give him a face-lift and rid him of his unsightly jowls. ‘Since he had the ear problem, I think psychologically it was a good thing to hang a face-lift on,’ says Dr Unterthiner. ‘I did the case in the middle of the night and he was rushed out before dawn. You ‘ve got to remember that he was a man’s man and the first reaction of a man would be, “I really don’t want to call it a face-lift.”’
The success of the operation also prompted Jolie’s two daughters to rush to their surgeons for more touching up. However, when asked by Ruby Wax in 1991 whether she had had cosmetic surgery, Zsa Zsa Gabor, then 71, replied, ‘No, I’ve never had a face-lift.’ She told Terry Wogan that she never thought about her age and put her secret down to the fact that she had a healthy appetite. ‘Maybe I’m not so skinny like most women today,’ she said, ‘because if you’re over 30 and very skinny, you don’t look as young or as healthy.’
Yet the publicity-hungry actress had, according to her surgeon, a number of operations to remove heavy jowling and a saggy neck. ‘Zsa Zsa had no hesitancy about doing things to keep looking as good as she could,’ says Dr John Williams, who was once married to Zsa Zsa’s sister, Eva. ‘But she would never admit she’d had any cosmetic surgery.’
Zsa Zsa’s cover was blown, however. when she was photographed being wheeled out of Dr Williams’ Beverly Hills clinic. The bandages around her face, together with the red-raw skin around her mouth, were all the evidence the tabloids needed to expose the true nature of her surgery. ‘I have no idea to this day how the paparazzi knew about Zsa Zsa coming in,’ says Dr Williams, ‘but she sort of blamed me.’
It is an incident that sums up the taboo that still surrounds plastic surgery in Hollywood today.
1 RHINOPLASTY OR NOSE JOB: £5,100-£6,300. Recovery time: two weeks.