by Scott Kearnan // photographs by Brad Mintz
As a professional makeup artist, David Nicholas paints with a full palette. Whether he’s preparing celebrities for a camera close-up, making over wealthy private clients, or instructing students at his cosmetic training studio in Rowley, Nicholas knows how to create drama and elegance using every color in the rainbow. But when he’s looking for the epitome of glamour, he turns to a world of black and white.
“I grew up loving old films,” says Nicholas, whose father was an actor and mother a devoted movie buff. Nicholas was raised in the projects of North Cambridge—but his imagination lived in the Golden Age of Hollywood, which offered a window into a world that always seemed beautiful and pristine. “I loved that façade of perfection,” says Nicholas. And he loved the idea of transformation, too. He was fascinated by the stories of screen sirens like Marilyn Monroe: pretty girls who became gorgeous demigoddesses at the hands of a masterful makeup artist. A passion for his craft was born.
And though beauty trends come and go, Nicholas’s appreciation for classic film is timeless. Hence, his extensive collection of precious Hollywood memorabilia, museum-worthy artifacts that have belonged to history’s brightest stars: Marilyn, Bette, Judy, Lucille, and many other women (mostly) for whom only one name is necessary. Each tells a story about its past—and present—owner. Roll credits.
(Images in order) An autographed album cover from Donna Summer, one of Nicholas’s favorite singers. (“She was my Beyonce,” he says.) Nicholas’s husband and DNI co-president, David Miranowicz, is a professional model. Here he shows the transformative effect of magic by paying tribute to the silver screen’s most famous monster, Dracula. A wig worn by “Grey’s Anatomy” actress Ellen Pompeo in a DNI print advertisement. Nicholas’s collection includes plenty of movie posters—many autographed—of his favorite films. He has a collection of about 4,000 titles, mostly classics, in his home.
Nicholas finds his treasures through many methods. Most come from high-end auction houses and estate sales. Others are acquired by chance. (He discovered Mae West’s jewelry while shopping at Twentieth Century Ltd., a boutique on Beacon Hill.) Others he’s found through online sales, like these shoes that belonged to fleet-footed dance legend Ginger Rogers. Stars often left pieces behind with wardrobe stylists and personal staff, who then sold them off to highest bidders. For instance, he also has a small bottle of Lucille Ball’s Egyptian henna, the dye the actress used to maintain her trademark red tresses. After Ball’s death, says Nicholas, her nurse divided the remaining henna supply into small vials and sold them to put a granddaughter through college.
SHAPE OF A STARLET
Does that silhouette look familiar? Gone With the Wind star Vivien Leigh posed for these Pinaud perfume bottles made in the shape of her character, Scarlett O’Hara. They were used as promotional items for the movie. “Nowadays, you get a Happy Meal!” laughs Nicholas. Behind the bottles is a wall of signatures from famous faces the makeup artist has worked with— everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to the late Dick Clark.
A living icon, Cher has a special place in Nicholas’s heart—and collection. The legendary performer wore this elaborate headdress, seen here with an autographed auction book, during her famously long-running concert “Living Proof: The Farewell Tour.” The style-shifting singer also encapsulates one characteristic that Nicholas wishes we still celebrated: individuality. He says his industry imposes too-strict standards of idealized beauty, prioritizing youth, thinness, and, frequently, whiteness. But to Nicholas, real beauty comes in every age, size, and color. “In earlier days, every star had her individual look,” says Nicholas. Unique beauty was considered an asset, not a liability. “Now, everyone wants one look. They all want the same thing at any given moment. If you don’t have the ‘in’ look, you’re ‘out.’ But back then no one was ‘out,’ because they all had individuality.”
THE EYES HAVE IT
(In order) The first major addition to Nicholas’s collection, found via a Christie’s auction, was an array of Bette Davis’s personal belongings, including these eyeglasses that once adorned her big, batting (and famously immortalized in song) peepers. He also bought her travel makeup bags, filled with the expected accoutrement—pill cases, powder compacts, some stray hairs—and slightly more surprising, a now-empty bottle of holy water with a ring of bright red lipstick around its neck. “She was either thirsty or desperate,” chuckles Nicholas, who coincidentally did makeup for Davis’s ex-husband and All About Eve costar Gary Merrill as in-house makeup artist at the former Boston talk show “People Are Talking.”
IN THE PAGES OF HISTORY
This glamorous collection is worth a pretty penny. Among the most valuable items is Marilyn Monroe’s personal shooting script for Some Like it Hot, filled with her notes and elaborately folded pages, which Nicholas (pictured above) scooped up at a Christie’s auction for $20,000. (Coincidentally, Nicholas once provided makeup for Monroe’s original costar, Tony Curtis, when he toured a stage musical based on the film.) Nicholas says that today the script is worth about twice that much. But, he says, his memorabilia isn’t about making money; it’s about retaining real relics of his industry’s history. “We feel we need to preserve, protect, and respect it,” he says.