Out of all the career possibilities in the beauty world, seldom few venture to funerary services. Preparing a loved one for their funeral is both an art and a science, but it’s definitely not the topic of conversation other than on Six Feet Under. Hollywood Forever, a landmark cemetery smack dab in the capital of the movie industry, plays house to some of the most famous stars of the silver screen. Visitors flock year-round to pay their respects to celebrities like Victor Fleming, Rudolph Valentino, and Douglas Fairbanks. They come to see their loved ones and to participate in festivals and concerts hosted on the vast property. Needless to say, it’s a different work environment. For morticians, makeup has a deeper meaning—it’s a part of honoring the memory and identity of a loved one.
We spoke to Hollywood Forever mortician Steve Murillo about his career, what it’s like working at a funeral home, and what the work of a mortician means to him.
B: How did you get into the industry?
I was pursuing my music career in New York when things fell into place. I started mortuary science training and ended with a three year apprenticeship. I was always curious about what happens to a person once they pass on. As a kid I remember attending my grandfather’s funeral and being in awe. He looked like he was asleep. I stared at him and was amazed at how peaceful he looked. If someone says that, it means the mortician did a good job. I’ve also always been interested in science and anatomy, so it just made sense.
B: What is it like working as a mortician?
It’s an honored profession. I’m never in direct contact with a decedent’s loved ones so I’m not very emotionally involved, but I take my work very seriously. All of the people I care for have a lot of meaning to me, as they are someone’s loved one. Their families are hurting and they’re under my watch—I do my best to take care of them to my fullest capabilities.
B: What kind of products do you use on decedents that are different from living skin?
Some products are the same but we also have a variety of mortuary cosmetics that come in a wide array of colors and consistencies. I prefer mortician’s cosmetics to beauty cosmetics you can find in department stores because I get a better feel of my technique with them. One product that I use frequently for restoration is lip wax. It’s a product formulated to work on shallow wound and superficial lesions. It generally covers up what needs to be covered up and creates a smooth surface to even out skin.
B: How long does the process take from start to finish?
It really depends on the situation. For example, the work I would need to do on an elderly lady in her 90’s with a light complexion is mostly facial feature building. That would normally take about an hour. You want to take your time and dedicate all of yourself to each person, but at the same time it’s very busy. The best I can do is go with what the family wants.
B: When someone passes away, what happens to their skin undertone and elasticity?
A person’s skin undertone completely changes, as there is no blood circulation. It’s very cool to the touch and in general shrinks back. It’s a long process involving the embalmer, but it really depends on the manner of death and the condition of the body. Environmental factors also cause a person to decompose more rapidly, so that’s another factor to consider.
B: Have you seen many industry changes throughout the years?
I’ve been working as a mortician for over 18 years and I’ve traveled around the country doing my job. You experience many different things depending on the culture you are around. Hairstyles are not as elaborate, and more frequently we get requests to make loved ones look natural and less made up. In the east coast, they are very traditional with horns, pallbearers, carrying caskets, flags on Hearses, and formal suits and ties. Here in California funerals are much more relaxed and casual—you even see people wearing shorts and sandals to the cemetery.
B: What is it like working at Hollywood Forever?
Hollywood Forever is a beautiful cemetery with an abundance of history and charm. I’ve worked here for over six years and it’s a great environment with added rock concerts and cultural events. Working here has led to interesting experiences. Since Paramount Studios is right down the street, we’ve been contacted to be a part of several shows. I’ve been asked to be a technical advisor for four shows including Six Feet Under and Nip/Tuck. Some shows I have worked on have been very ‘Hollywood’ at times. They would inaccurately depict situations to make them more dramatic even though it technically shouldn’t be done that way. Though it was frustrating at times, it was an amazing experience to be a part of. I’m honored to say that I work in such a great environment unlike any other cemetery I’ve ever been to before.