Ben Nye Makeup Hits Milestone 50 Years

by Michael Eddy

Started in 1967, The Ben Nye Makeup company was founded by the renowned makeup artist Ben Nye, Sr. who had worked in Hollywood for over 30 years on over 500 feature films. Nye was well-known for his iconic style of realism and significant achievements in makeup for film; including creating makeup for Asian, Latino, and African American actors. After starting out as an apprentice in the mid-1930s, he worked on Gone With the Wind in 1938 and mixed colors for actress Butterfly McQueen. Around 1957, 20-years after that film, there was still only basic, generic foundations available, so he started to make his own makeup for people of color, filling a niche that he felt was not being served for these actors.

Today Ben Nye is still family-owned, now being run by his youngest son Dana Nye, who started working with his father in 1970. Ben Nye Makeup is today known the world over for exceptional quality and is a resource for professional makeup artists of stage and screen. Working closely with their clients, Ben Nye has responded to artists’ needs and changing styles of the time by developing an ever-expanding line of makeup products that address them all, including the need for high definition makeup about a decade ago. 

Under Dana Nye’s leadership they have introduced over 900 new products over the years. He also worked as a professional makeup artist for 20 years as well as at the company. “I got to practice the craft and that gave me a perspective throughout my whole career,” notes Nye. “It helped me manage makeup design and formulation.”

In addition to their film work, the Ben Nye company started right away in expanding the lines of colors and effects that they produced to help theater artists solve their challenges. “My dad started creating companion colors like mellow yellow, which is a red cover up; mellow orange for the blue discoloration underneath the eyes,” says Nye. “We started taking advantage of opportunities for what he’d been so skillful in designing. We had a core of effect colors that he figured theater artists needed; such things as beard stipple, some bruise colors like maroon. We’ve continued to create amazing effects colors going back to colors that my dad created for artists He had a creative eye that he was able to translate into color formulation and texture, too. We built on those handful of colors into maybe 40 to 50 colors.”

The company has made many adjustments over the years to serve their clients. “We made a transition to a modern facility in 1990, and at that time, we built our facility out so that we had adequate space for manufacturing, we built a design lab, and we hired a full-time chemist and chemist/color designer,” explains Nye. “That gave us a chance to be more resourceful and more consistent.”

They also then added a new aspect of production—powder products. “We made our cream products, makeup liquids like Stage Glow, and the new department was for our powder products. With the chemist, we made pancake in house and our eye blush colors. By doing this it made us agile, and more responsive to professionals and educators.” 

The expansion into makeup kits was big for the Ben Nye company and helped fuel its growth. “Over the years we’ve had several incarnations of our creme kits and then once we began making our own pancake, which we call Color Cake, we then made pancake kits and then professional artist kits,” explains Nye. “The personal student kit was another achievement for the educational arts. What sets our products apart are the colors that we’ve created in both the crème form and the Color Cake pancake form that are from original formulations.”

The company moved again, around 2007 to increase space and resources in response to their continually increasing market demand. Today, 55 people work in the company’s three manufacturing departments as well as shipping, sales, and administration. “We have a very seasoned staff and we fully support our theatrical retailers,” says Nye. “A critical aspect to our growth has been our teams’ ability to communicate with artists and we always listen to their needs. I learnt from my Dad that the art of listening to the artist and educator is critical to helping those people achieve success in their craft. We are proud that makeup artists have come to rely on us as having the world’s most comprehensive, professional color and product lines.”

What would Ben Nye, Sr. think of the company today? “I think that he’d be very proud of what we’ve achieved,” his son answers. “He told me that if I stuck with the business long enough, we would have worldwide recognition. I haven’t forgotten him saying that. And like my dad, I look forward to coming to work every day because there’s something new every day.” Well, we certainly all look forward to the next 50-years of innovative creativity from Ben Nye.