Reviews | Can we ever repay her? Rose Barondess made everyone more beautiful.


If you’ve ever been on TV – and in Washington, that’s everyone – then you’ve been on “makeup.” If you were very lucky, you landed in the chair of an artist named Rose Procopio Barondess.

Rose, as she is known to all, has been reinventing the faces of celebrities and infamous people for over 40 years. From Mikhail Gorbachev to Betty White and Presidents Bill Clinton to Donald Trump, Rose has painted them all and was often among the most in-demand makeup artists because, old hands knew, she would transform them from every angle.

Mind you, there are a lot of wonderful and talented makeup artists in the TV news racket. But Rose is special. Ask Clinton, who signed one of the capes she used to protect clients’ clothes: “Rose – the best gift this side of plastic surgery.” Henry Kissinger wrote, “You did your best. Former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers genuflected: “I bow at your feet.

Her cape with these and other notable signatories, along with Rose’s fully-equipped makeup bag, will be history on Monday when Rose donates them to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. The museum asked Rose to leave her large toolbox intact, including all of her many stamps, paints, powders, brushes and other supplies. “I never imagined,” Rose told me, “that my makeup would become a historical artifact.” Years ago, it was Tim Russert’s idea that she donate it.

She’s not completely retiring — she still has “special” clients, both private and in the anchor chair. But the pandemic, during which she lost her father, put her professional life into perspective. Now seemed like a good time to part ways with her professional memories.

DC-born Rose got into the business early on, doing makeup for herself and her sisters. She started modeling at 19 but preferred to be backstage rather than in front of a camera. “I had more control over makeup,” she recalls, “and I was better at it than modeling.”

Working primarily with network and cable television — composing Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, Russert, and Chris Matthews, to name a few — she has also traveled the world with talent. During the 1996 presidential race between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, she worked with both campaigns and lined up both candidates.

I have known Rose since my first appearance as a guest on a Sunday show about 15 years ago. Within minutes, she could turn my barely moisturized face into something people would be willing to tolerate in their living room for a few minutes.

For the uninitiated, makeup is essential on camera, not so much to make you look your best – although that’s a bonus – but to make you look alive. Even before the curse of high definition television, studio lighting was so dire that even the best human faces are rendered flat and lifeless without strategic contouring or highlighting.

Let’s be honest; it is dangerous work. You would literally have to go up against celebrities and demanding personalities, several times an hour, day after day. It’s also a strangely intimate job, and that doesn’t make it any easier. As she worked, Rose would laser focus on every pore of your face — which takes some getting used to — and kept her thoughts strictly to herself. But then, I doubt that Michelangelo was talkative in turning a communal ceiling into a Sistine Chapel.

And the people she paints? They don’t necessarily exude empathy. Rose says she came up with ‘breathtakingly handsome’ John F. Kennedy Jr. for Russert’s ‘Meet the Press’ and was told by the show’s producers not to talk to him, not to watch him , not to make eye contact, not to photograph him or ask for an autograph. Rose didn’t say a word until Kennedy asked her about her cape and asked if he could sign it as well. She turned to Russert and asked if he could autograph it. “Of course he can!” Russet shouted. Rose remembers Kennedy, “He was the nicest person in the world.”

Others were often otherwise – either jumpy and nervous or demanding and condescending. The best makeup artists try to make everyone feel comfortable, no matter what the schedule. Rose was a master at this. “I recognized that I’m the last person people see before they go on set, and I try to keep that in mind. Being calm helps them become calmer.

Makeup artists are also great listeners. The makeup room is where people let their hair down, literally and figuratively, and say things they would never say anywhere else. Pre-show jitters probably reinforce this effect. Even some of the most seasoned veterans are still shaken up before the curtain goes up. Live television offers myriad opportunities to say something silly, which you can be sure will be remembered and replayed by the Schadenfreude crowd.

The working assumption is that what you say in the makeup stays in the makeup – and regular guests often mistake artists for their therapists. It made me look forward to his flat memoir, already in the works with the working title, “All Made Up.”

Relax, Washington. Most people who have sat in Rose’s chair need not worry. Above all, we should be grateful, because few of us will ever look as good as we did when she took her cape off around our necks and said, “Okay, you’re set.”

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