- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2001

Rhonda Jenkins has applied foundation, blush and powder to just about every imaginable Washington politician but one time in particular made her nervous.

It was when Sen. Ted Kennedy sat in her makeup chair.

"He's so popular. Everyone knows him," says the Fox News Channel makeup artist. "But he's got a very red face. He said to me, 'My wife knows this face better than anyone, and if it doesn't look right she's going to know.' "

Miss Jenkins felt the pressure was on, though she thinks the Massachusetts Democrat was joking.

A picture of the senator before the cameras now hangs in the Fox News greenroom, where guests wait before going on air. Sen. Kennedy's image is just one of many guest photos lining the wall.

Miss Jenkins, 39, who has worked as a free-lance makeup artist for Fox News since its 1996 launch, has become accustomed to making the faces of senators, Washington dignitaries and news correspondents presentable for TV.

"They come to rely on us being there," she says. "If they have a bad day, they come in with the comfort of knowing they are going to look their very best."

Guests are ushered to her work room to be painted, powdered and brushed next to a huge mirror covering one wall with bright lights lining its edges. Without makeup, the bright TV lights reveal every blemish and can wash out a guest's face.

Everyone from Shirley Temple to Alec Baldwin to Jonathan Winters who goes on air needs some cosmetics, says Lois Cassano, a makeup artist for the PBS program "News Hour With Jim Lehrer."

"The makeup chair is a great equalizer. It doesn't matter what your name is or what your position in life is, you need help," she says. "Let's face it, what person doesn't want to look their best on camera?"

A call comes in for Miss Jenkins that Fox correspondent David Shuster is going on the air and is a "no-face," meaning he has on no makeup. She grabs her basket of cosmetics and heads over to the studio.

It takes her less than 30 seconds to sponge on foundation, brush his face with powder, straighten his tie and take the lint off his sleeve.

"He doesn't take very long to do," she explains. "He's got good skin."

Miss Jenkins' most difficult assignment occurred last year: A guest arrived directly from the gym with wet hair and without a bit of makeup on her face.

The makeup artist had 2* minutes to get the guest looking perfect.

Miss Jenkins who is also a licensed hairstylist dried only the top layer of her hair and worked quickly with the makeup. The frustrating thing, Miss Jenkins recalls, was that the lady wanted "the works," a flawless face and styled hair before she went on air. She didn't get that, but in just a short time she was transformed into looking presentable.

"When she went on air, you never would have known," the artist claims.

Usually, Miss Jenkins would like to have 15 to 20 minutes to beautify a female guest. She likes to have at least 10 minutes for men. Thus Jeffrey Birbaum, Washington bureau chief for Fortune magazine, arrives early enough to get his face ready.

"All that Rhonda insists on is that I bring my face," he jokes.

"I see him quite often and his wife knows," Miss Jenkins retorts as she puts a red-and-white striped gown around him and starts with foundation.

His makeup is complete in five minutes, and after his interview, he comes straight back to the makeup room to wash his face.

A few men resist Miss Jenkins' cosmetic prepping for the camera. Peter Lurie, deputy director for Public Citizen's Health Research Group, wants no part of the makeup regimen when he visits Fox News to talk about "mad cow" disease.

"Do you want some powder to get ready for TV?" Miss Jenkins says.

"No," he replies.

"It would just be some light powder."

"No, thanks."

Afterward, she whispers in the hall, "If he'd have really needed it, I would have pushed a little harder." Most of Mr. Lurie's face is covered by his full beard and glasses.

There is only so much persuading artists like Miss Jenkins can do if a guest absolutely refuses to wear makeup.

"It's definitely, totally up to the guest," Miss Jenkins says. "If they are adamant about it, we won't force them."

As many as 100,000 makeup artists work free lance in the United States, estimates Eva Marie Denst, CEO of Makeup Mania Inc., a company that sells professional cosmetics. She estimates that nearly 250,000 makeup artists work in the fashion industry. They are a diverse group, with many specialties including making up brides, celebrities, political pundits or stage actors.

"It's a very specialized market," Mrs. Denst says.

Fox News has only one makeup artist working from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then another one in from 2 to 10 p.m. During big news times, like Election Day, more of them are on call.

Before entering her current occupation, Miss Jenkins was a freelance production coordinator. After receiving an invoice for a makeup artist's services, she says, she began thinking about her lifelong love of beautification through cosmetics. She recalls thinking: "I'm in the wrong profession."

She had a friend getting ready to produce a photo shoot for Time-Life publications, and she asked if she could do the makeup for the models.

She has been working as a makeup artist ever since.

"Makeup has always been a gift," she says. "I've been doing it since I was 6 years old."

However, the worst part of her job is being in front of a mirror all day. "It becomes addictive," Miss Jenkins says. "It's probably the biggest drawback of being a makeup artist. That's why I don't stay in the room when we don't have guests."

Sometimes Fox News Channel employees will stop by with an urgent makeup need.

"Rhonda is the one we all come to for our little beauty emergencies," says Mary Claire Burick, operations manager at Fox News, whose recent beauty emergency was dry skin around her nose.

But not all the makeup artists at Fox News have time to watch their subjects on TV or help out the bookers. Mary Ellen Tasillo, who usually works the afternoon and night shift, says she is busy the entire time she works.

"Your whole day goes by and you never really knew what happened," she says. "Then you have to go home and watch the news."

Miss Cassano never knows what famous face she will make up next.

"One of the biggest thrills has been making up people that I grew up watching," she says. "As an adult I got an opportunity to make up Captain Kangaroo.

"There's nothing more rewarding than having people look in the mirror and smile and say, 'Oh thank you.' "

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