Beauty in the Age of Covid

Have you ever marveled at the slick look of broadcast journalists on the screen? More than being blessed with great bone structure, expressive eyes and chiseled features, becoming polished requires a bit of movie magic from behind the scenes. Great lighting and good genetics are a plus, but of all of the tricks of the trade, it is talented makeup artists, like NYC-based Jill Harth, who render on-screen bliss and perfection. 

Google makeup artist Jill Harth and the first item to appear is a New York Times story about her encounters with Donald Trump. Jill Harth’s experience with Trump is among the litany of sexual assault allegations raised against the former President. Harth prefers not to dwell on Trump. She’ll save those anecdotes for her memoir. Instead, what we have here is Jill Harth’s amazing journey into the world of beauty. 

There is not a direct or easy path to become a world-class makeup artist. There is little formal training, and nothing can prepare an aspirant for the rigors of working under deadline pressure to create glowing faces that withstand the unforgiving scrutiny of high definition TV. Harth developed her expertise through an amalgam of many years of working hands-on in venues, ranging from high-profile beauty contests to the posh Upper East Side cosmetics mecca and world renown drugstore Zitomer. Harth notes, “that at Zitomer it was not uncommon for a woman to drop $550 for a deluxe brand of moisturizer.” 

 “Zitomer is where I started to work with a lot of celebrities,” Harth said. “Michele Pfeiffer, Dennis Quaid, Diana Ross, Carol Burnette, Mary Tyler Moore.” There were many celebrities who frequently swarmed competitively for attention at the makeup counters to buy from an array of high-end, exclusive brands. Working as a makeup artist at Zitomer gave Harth immediate intimate insight into the beauty spending habits of the rich, famous and merely fabulous. (Her many tête-à-tête celebrity encounters is more fodder for her memoirs.) 

Setting aside glitz and glamour, Jill Harth grew up in a modest home, in the predominantly white working-class enclave of Massapequa Park on the south shore of Long Island. A self-described real girly-girl, Harth went to Barbizon Modeling School. After a year-and-a-half-long course, she graduated at thirteen. 

Her family had a cabin in the Catskills. “I spent a year up there in the country,” she said. Harth learned to study people’s faces. “I used to study movie stars faces. I wanted to be around that. I used my imagination to give them a makeover. I also wanted to be a movie star.”  She started concocting home remedies to make her skin look good. She also walked a lot in the woods, where it was quiet, remote. She reflected on the palettes of  light and color inherent in the natural beauty of her surroundings. “That is where I really started getting interested in formulating my own makeup.”

Artistic and sensitive, Harth kept to herself at school, but she also had a flair for fashion and a head for business. She found herself immersed in studying lifestyle (beauty, design, fashion), deconstructing how people lived and, more importantly, how she could make a living. She wanted to model. One day she played hooky from school, hopped on the train into the city, and went to the Ford Modeling Agency. She made it through the front door but was told she wasn’t tall enough. Undaunted, she modeled in fashion shows, casting her aspirations toward making the scene at Studio 54, surreptitiously mastering the art of posing. 

“I like to pose. I like the whole scene with photography. I used to study art books. Francesco Scavullo—a book of portraits, his makeover book, with before and after shots. I studied that book and still know the words by heart. I saw the power of makeup and how it took someone plain and ordinary and made the transformation to sultry, stunning beauty.”

At school she volunteered to be the makeup artist for school plays. She kept the tools of her trade in an orange fishing tackle box. She made up one actress to look like Cleopatra—her first masterpiece. Then she got a job at a Gyro joint on Long Island called Parthenon, where she met her husband. “It was not love at first sight,” she is quick to point out.  Definitely not glam, she was forced to wear a hairnet and couldn’t wait to get home to wash away the grease that had seeped into her pores. Still, she kept at it for eight months. There was one small perk: her boss, George Houraney, owned a national magazine. 

The National Motor Sports Annual covered all aspects of car racing. Harth started accompanying George Houraney to the races to sell the magazine at the racing stands. Her intention was to make enough money to go back to college, but she also wanted to continue to pursue modeling. She spent most of her time traveling with Houraney to racetracks across the country. She didn’t get into modeling right away. Those opportunities came later.  

The magazine had a pullout calendar, strictly automotive. One major sponsor, the men’s cologne English Leather, bought advertising in the magazine. By this time Harth was doing more than selling magazines and now she sold display advertising and coordinated the publication’s printing. She was in the meeting with Houraney and the top brass of English Leather when the calendar girl contest was born. Adding beauty and glamour, albeit cheesecake, to the pullout calendar grew to become a full-fledged beauty contest.  

Harth’s role kept expanding from 1979 to 1998. “The American Dream Calendar Girl was our baby. I’m very proud of my work. It almost feels like a lifetime ago. That part of my life was being a model. A role model to these girls, and I had to learn on the job. Those were my glamorous years.”

The contest that began with 50 contestants evolved to have thousands of contestants each year. Over time it attracted billionaire sponsors. Contest events staged in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Bahamas and Hollywood became a major attraction for the high rollers. Harth managed most of the logistics and essentially became the producer of the event. 

George Houraney and Jill Harth now evolved far beyond the magazine business to become co-producers of  American Dream Enterprise. Together both professionally and as a couple, Houraney and Harth did not get married until 1995 at Disney World in Florida. Harth recalls it being super cold, the coldest day on record in Orlando. After being together for so long, there were various reasons to get married. Harth cites the number one reason was because of Trump, “because of the amount of unrest he brought to my life.”  

The backstory of Trump’s involvement with Houraney and Harth (from 1992 to 1998) has been fodder for the media. Trump had directed them to organize a calendar contest at the Trump Castle in Atlantic City. The event became known as the Donald J Trump American Dream Festival. The full-scale production encompassed a calendar girl competition. international custom car event, a music competition with original music, a comedy event. and entertainment spanning over four or five days. Houraney and Harth would later accuse Trump of sexually harassing Harth in what erupted into a media maelstrom. Shortly thereafter, both her career and her marriage came to a tumultuous end. 

After Harth’s divorce from Houraney, she lived close to the ocean in Jupiter, Florida. She spent a year in Clearwater recovering from a bout of what turned out to be an autoimmune disease brought on by stress. Returning to New York, she ran into Trump again. (Another chapter for her memoirs.) Harth remained on decent terms with him but lived on Long Island. After years of turmoil moving into Manhattan was too much. By that time, Trump had moved on with Melania. Harth was counting on getting a job with the Miss Universe Pageant. Trump had always promised her a job with the Miss Universe Pageant, but it ended, a no-go. “I was counting on that job,” she said. 

Getting a management position at Clinique at Bloomingdale’s in Huntington, Long Island was a breeze. “In retrospect it was a damn good job, but I found it disheartening,” she said. “It was all about sales. And I was into the artistic aspect of the business.” From that job, though, she learned where cosmetics are made and the intricacies of how the cosmetics industry works. Soon the wheels were cranking—she wanted to do her own thing. She went from job to job, doing makeup in salons. She says the hardest salon she ever worked in was Hewlett—the five towns on Long Island that had a tough, demanding clientele. “I knew if I could make them happy that I was good. It toughened me up.”

Next came the job with Zitomer. Venus, a friend, who worked with Harth in a salon, suddenly said one day, “Jill, why are you selling their makeup and making them rich. Do it yourself!” Harth had an epiphany. She knew she needed to have her own business. She bet on herself and took a risk. In honor of her mother she named her business Beauty and Grace, Inc. “My mother is still a beauty to me. She was my first muse. She was my best friend growing up.”

Jill Harth has created a line of beauty products for both men and women. As could only be expected, all of her products are cruelty-free and hypo-allergenic yet made from the highest quality ingredients that are available. Her products can be bought through her website: http://www.jillharth.com. She is also available for online consultation to offer you top-notch aesthetic guidance.  Harth’s keen intuition for assessing complexion and skin tone has brought her the respect of some high-profile media personalities. 

Among her clients are Erin F. Moriarity, an American Reporter who is known for her work on 48 Hours (1988), CBS News Sunday Morning (1979) and CBS This Morning (1992); Maureen Maher, an American television news reporter and correspondent, known primarily as one of the hosts of the CBS program 48 Hours; and Prue Lewarne, an international news anchor, who has served as an anchor for CNN International. 

The Covid pandemic has put a damper on Harth’s business. Her career was in a renaissance. She was working with the top people at CBS: the producers and also Seth Doane from 60 minutes. The journalists from 48 hours. She felt really fulfilled to be involved with these shows. She had seen these shows for years. She felt all of the learning that she had amassed through the years had come to fruition. “As a makeup artist, you have to be fast. Quick, thorough. Consistent. You also have to learn not to get too close.” 

Even though Harth’s work is indeed up close and personal, her clients are very focused on their work and aren’t always in the mood for aimless chit-chat. It’s not just about talented makeup artistry; Harth felt as though she was chosen because of the relationships she has established. “I know how to work with men and women who are in front of the camera. You have to be a certain type of person and I am that type of person. There is also a certain amount of  discretion, of knowing what not to say.” 

Harth was at CBS on March 11, 2020, the very last day before the shutdown. Everything has changed. Only the very top people have their own personal makeup artists, or they are doing it themselves. Harth sent her clients gift kits so they can do it themselves. Prior to Covid, Harth had a well-rounded repertoire of clients: fashion shows, photo shoots, editorial makeup, and even brides. Now, like so many others in the beauty industry, she is in a holding pattern, watching and waiting to see what’s next.  There are always beauty consultations via zoom and online product sales. Harth plans to make more videos in 2021.

These days, Jill Harth lives in a co-op in Oakland Gardens in Bayside, Queens. Until recently she had been taking care of her mom who was in hospice and required around the clock care.  Harth is grateful that she could  be with her Mom during the final phase of her life and not separated like so many families who have lost loved ones to Covid. Grace, age 92, passed away this past January. About her mother, Harth said, “It has been an honor to take care of her in her final moments and a heartbreak at the same time.”

Harth has learned to slow down and take care of herself too. She has endured a lifetime of what she defines as sticktoitiveness—meaning she has always gone the distance and exerted the ultimate in perseverance. She has learned to fend for herself and to weed out the people who might be fleeting or fairweather friends. “I’m a caretaker, a giver,” she says. “In this world, looks do matter. People are judged every day based on what you look like. When you do things to make yourself look good, you feel good. I like to help people do the things they need to do to feel good about themselves. I still love making people look beautiful. Helping people choose their skin care line and makeup is personal, and it means a lot to me.” 

###

 

 

Category: 

Patricia Vaccarino

Patricia Vaccarino is an accomplished writer who has written award-winning film scripts, press materials, articles, essays, speeches, web content, marketing collateral, and eight books.


Comments Join The Discussion