I remember seeing an interview of an actor who had appeared in Perry Mason, the television show that ran from 1957 to 1966, and he said that the men all wore green make-up, apparently to give their faces the right shade of gray when rendered in black and white. Obviously, this gave the set a certain surreal aspect.

I was wondering, was this purely a television phenomenon, or was a practice in that time period for movie actors in black and white films to wear green makeup as well?


1 Answer 1


Was this purely a television phenomenon

Apparently, yes.

This was due to the way lower resolution of TV cameras compared to movie film...

Commercial television came to America during the 1940s and 1950s but, as in Europe, there were test transmissions in the 1930s. These early tests demonstrated that conventional make-up techniques were not suitable for televison. Make-up that looked good in real life, or worked well in film, looked terrible on black-and-white television shot with the Image Iconoscope camera tubes. Used for broadcasting in the United States until 1946, these cameras had lower line standards and produced a picture with lower definition than those used after the war. Along with the low definition the way these camera tubes registered colour in shades of gray was also a problem and using make-up to compensate for these issues resulted in some rather bizarre looking faces.

Green Replaces Red in Make-up for Television Green lipstick and rouge replace the customary red in make-up designed for actresses appearing in television broadcasts. The television camera, it is explained, does not record the red coloring in the human complexion, leaving the transmitted image flat and unnatural. When green is substituted, however, the lips and cheeks of a performer appear in accurate relation of tones with other facial features as the image is projected on the screen of the receiver.

(Modern Mechanics)


  • 4
    Just want to point out that is it not the resolution but rather the second bit: the tubes have a "bluer color bias" than the human eye, and are actually sensitive into IR and UV ranges without filters. Human vision is basically a composite of varying spectral sensitivities with peaks and noticeable valleys, but these tubes will respond more evenly to some wavelengths we are less sensitive to. Since they are converted to voltages rendered as brightness instead of color, the color bias is not obvious.
    – Yorik
    Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 18:30

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