TORONTO – To many in the Canadian film and TV industry, makeup artist Geralyn Wraith was like a beloved member of the family, a close friend and a psychologist.
The Saskatoon native, who died Friday, helped craft the look of major characters on shows including “The Kids in the Hall” and “Kim’s Convenience” and forged strong bonds with on-air talent through a compassionate demeanour that made them open up to her in the makeup chair.
While she worked to change what people looked like on the outside, she also got to the heart of who they were on the inside.
“She held a lot of stories, because a lot of people confided in her,” actress-producer Jennifer Podemski, who worked with Wraith for 20 years, said Monday in a phone interview as news of her death spread through social media.
“If you’re on a long-term show, the person you see every day at least to have a long-term conversation with is primarily your makeup artist and you have their undivided attention.
“You don’t always click with everybody, but from my knowledge and my team that I bring together, Geri was always someone who you wanted on your team because she made everybody feel special.”
“Kim’s Convenience” star Jean Yoon, who worked with Wraith for the first two seasons of the CBC comedy, said she had “a big heart.”
“You could tell her anything and she would get where you were coming from,” Yoon said.
“At the top of the day, every actor is anxious and wondering about the day ahead and reviewing their lines and you’re pretty open emotionally, because that’s the one place you’re safe. Any hair and makeup room she was in was a safe place to be.”
Yoon said Wraith died Friday morning in hospital in Toronto. She was 63.
Podemski said she had battled breast cancer some time ago and recently learned it had metastasized into her liver.
Yoon, who saw Wraith in hospital last Thursday night, said the cancer had progressed in her liver “really fast.”
Wraith had also been reeling from the recent sudden death of her sister Roberta Wraith, who suffered a heart attack, said Yoon and Podemski.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Wraith was born into a military family, of Irish/Ojibwa descent, and grew up in various cities in Canada.
She did the makeup and prosthetics for dozens of wide-ranging projects, many of them at the CBC, where she started working in 1975.
“Geri was very sensitive to the needs of the actors and was very collaborative with them and encouraging of them to push their boundaries, thus making very interesting and successful characters,” said costume designer Alex Kavanagh, who worked with Wraith on the 2010 miniseries “The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town.”
In the ’80s, Wraith co-created the look of all “The Kids in the Hall” characters, including Mark McKinney’s the Chicken Lady and Scott Thompson’s Buddy Cole.
“Not only was she a brilliant artist she was the calm centre of the show whose talent and kindness were unparalleled,” Thompson tweeted Sunday.
“She was also one of my dearest friends and I miss her tremendously. I love you Geri.”
CBC News Network reporter Jeannie Lee said Wraith’s makeup skills were once used in a Toronto police sting operation. In a photograph that was part of the effort to catch a criminal, she made an actor appear as if he’d been shot dead.
“I think the instant connection that everyone talks about with Geri is because she lived a lot, she suffered but she learned from it,” said Lee, who worked with Wraith.
“She was always very empathetic and you really got this spirituality from her, this philosophical way she had of being able to feel with you and feel for you.”
Filmmaker Deepa Mehta posted on Twitter that Wraith was “sensitive, warm, adventurous and utterly compassionate.”
Wraith also taught at the College of Makeup Art & Design and Podemski said she was a mentor to many, including young Indigenous women.
“I suppose because she was an Indigenous woman working in this industry, we had a lot in common from that perspective in terms of feeling somewhat isolated and not often seeing our community reflected in the industry that we worked in,” Podemski said.
“But she was always working in the mainstream and I thought that was really awesome.”
Lee said a memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday at Hope United Church in Toronto.
Wraith is survived by her son, Kiviuq Wraith-Akpaliapik, her sister Celia Aberhart, and her brother Michael Wraith.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Scott Thompson played the Chicken Lady.