Vinnie Loscalzo was the 5-days-a-week makeup man for the daytime afternoon ‘60s-‘70s Dark Shadows. He was tubby, sweet-faced, Italian-American, a gentle soul, a careful worker, good with his hands. Probably in his early 30s when I knew him; his career had started in 1962. He didn’t do the 200-year-old Barnabas makeup; that was the famous Dick Smith, a heavy-hitter specialist even then. But Vinnie did every actor on the show, show after show, day after day.
It’s been said that makeup people gravitate, in personality, toward the maternal. There is an intimacy in what they do, a giving openness, both of workmanship and of spirit. Actors depend on them; they depend on actors. They have to give actors what they want, and they have to be what actors want, whatever that might entail—light and funny and quick, or trusted confidant, or simply silent when the actor doesn’t want chatter. Half the job is dealing with the makeup box; half the job is dealing with the people. If they are any good at all, there is a bond in the room when they work, built on a great deal of trust.
Vinnie was trusted. He worked with all sorts of crazy actors, doing all sorts of crazy makeup, day in and day out, for several years. (For some reason, IMDB says he only worked 28 episodes in 1966. Had that been true, I would never have known him. This is not the first time IMDB has gotten something wrong, as I know from my own experience.) I remember him doing careful work on the fang marks on Barnabas’ victims’ necks. As I remember it, he was also the keeper of the fangs; they were a fancy piece of bridgework kept in a plastic denture box, and when it came time to put them in, it was Vinnie who took them out and set them in Jonathan Frid’s mouth.
Man, did I want fangs like that when I was a kid. They had been specially fitted for Jonathan, which meant that somewhere in New York was a dentist who could do that, and somewhere in that studio someone had a filecard with that dentist’s name and number on it. All of which made an absurd impossibility— me getting real fangs, Dark Shadows fangs— seem somehow slightly less impossible.
The story has elsewhere been told about the time I was hanging out in the studio one day after school, theoretically doing my homework in Mom’s dressing room but actually goofing around while all the actors were on the set, taping. Vinnie had to wait until taping was done to finish his day; if someone needed a touchup he had to be there to administer it. But all the actors were down on the first floor, emoting, and the second floor was quiet. I was chatting with him, and he was bored, and he patted the makeup chair and said “hop on.”
He turned me into a monster. Took about an hour. He used putty to extend my nose, gave me Spock ears, extended my eyebrows and widow’s peak with trimmed hairpieces, aged my face and hands, and then released me into the wild. I walked out into the sunlight, worked my way through the fans that were always outside the studio by the end of the day, and then staggered around Ninth Avenue, terrifying neighborhood schoolchildren. How they could be terrified of a monster wearing glasses I don’t know; I needed the glasses to see their reactions, though no doubt they made me look absolutely goofy. I got home and tried to convince my mother to let me sleep in it, wear it (slightly dented) to school in the morning, but she would have none of it, and it all went down the bathroom sink drain after liberal applications of cold cream. Sadly, we seem not to have had a functioning camera at that moment, and I don’t think there ever were any pictures, though I remember the fans taking some of me that never saw the light of day.
That was Vinnie. Playful, professional, generous in spirit. Nice man.
Gay. Casually, gently so. I know I’m outing him here, but he worked in an environment where such things did not matter, and while he didn’t flaunt it, he never bothered to hide it. It was an accepted part of who he was, along with his humor, his strong work ethic and his not inconsiderable talent.
And then, probably around 1973, he got sick, some rare skin cancer that overtook him quickly, and he died.
Many years later, in the early 1990s, I wrote a novel, The Art of Breaking Glass. (Published by Little Brown; 13 foreign editions, Warner’s did the paperback. Movie optioned but never made.) In researching it, I volunteered in the Psych ER at Bellevue (part of the story takes place there), wore a blue jacket, mopped up various bodily fluids, handed out Tootsie Rolls and talked to anyone who would talk to me. Loved every minute—it was fascinating.
During that period I read everything I could get my hands on about Bellevue. One night I was walking down Broadway, and chanced by a street bookseller who had, on his blanket, a red hardcover nonfiction book called Bellevue by Don Gold, published by Harper and Row in 1975. Fascinating book, a week in the life of Bellevue Hospital, by a man who spent months there researching it, much as I was. Reading it, though, brought me up short. During a profile of the hospital’s pathologist, a difficult-to-treat case of pneumonia in a young man is diagnosed, by lung sample under microscope, as pneumocystis carinii. The pathologist describes it as a mysterious microorganism, not ordinary pneumonia, rare, difficult to treat, fatal.
When I read that, a shiver went down my spine. Carinii later became, along with Kaposi’s sarcoma, the most common symptoms of the AIDS virus. Both had previously been found only in patients with compromised immune systems—in 1975, Carinii would have been associated with immune-compromised infants, while Kaposi’s was considered a disease of the immune-suppressed aged. AIDS was identified in 1981, when it started to appear in gay men in New York and San Francisco. Yet here in this book was a tantalizing possible case of AIDS pre-1981.
And then I thought of Vinnie. Vinnie Loscalzo was a young, active gay man. Vinnie Loscalzo came down with a weird skin cancer. Could Vinnie have had Kaposi’s? Could Vinnie—sweet, funny, happily gay Vinnie, working in an environment where he had no need to hide his fundamental nature—could Vinnie have died of AIDS?
We’ll never know. He died, and that’s terrible enough. But if he died of AIDS in 1973, then he was the earliest case I personally know of. And that’s a fascinating piece of theoretical conjecture, though ultimately nothing more.
But I knew the man. He treated me kindly. He treated everybody on Dark Shadows kindly. And however he died, his work has lasted, and his kindness to me was unforgettable. His life was more important than his death, will forever be more important than his death, and I am proud to take a moment to celebrate him here.