Rose Hill’s Blue Hawaii

I hope they’ll do a little photoshop on the photoshoot. I’m not too much in shape! I gained weight over the holidays because I had a bunion operation on my foot. I danced so hard that it caused a bunion from the heels that I dance in, and I had to have an operation and I had a lot of rest and I wasn’t on a diet and that’s why I gained so much weight. Oh yeah, a bunion operation is painful. And it lasts for a long time, and then you have to always be in bed. And you have to walk, like, with a walker, you know, to get to the bathroom, and then you have to be hooked up to this machine so circulation can go through your whole leg, and you have to do that every two hours… that was for the first month.

It’s going to take me a little while to get back into my heels, but I’m ok! I’m scheduled to do this drag queen circuit with the RuPaul entertainers from the RuPaul drag show, Charles and me, as part of the show. That’s in July, I have to get ready for that, and we just had another show where we performed Viva Las Vegas and that was only for three minutes so that didn’t hurt my foot. I was ok.

Did you like us on America’s Got Talent? That was the first time that we had gotten on the stage! I had no idea we were going to be on television. My husband every other year flies down to San Jose for America’s Got Talent. I guess for the past, I don’t know, two years, it was like a tradition where we stay at a hotel next to where the auditions would be, like a convention show down in San Jose, and he’d go to the auditions and come back in an hour or two, you know. So this time…

Because I’ve always taken dance my whole life. I was brought up in Hawaii and I was a hula dancer, and I did ballroom dancing in my later years and also took hip hop classes. I just really love keeping dance in my life. When me and my husband got together for the first time, basically he was singing a karaoke song and I got up and I just started dancing. I think it was Blue Hawaii or something like that. And of course I know all the Hawaiian dances, and I thought, “okay, well, here’s this guy singing a Hawaii Elvis song and looking like Elvis,” and I just danced to the song because I already knew the routine! And, um, everybody just started applauding for us. They stopped drinking and just started watching us. And that’s when we knew we had something.

We just love going to karaoke! We were doing that on a regular basis, where I’d dance and he’d sing, or we’d sing together, or I’d sing by myself– and I always put on a show when I sing. You know, I’m going to be up there like Beyonce when I sing, I’m gonna dance too! We never thought of it as putting a show together. We never thought of it as, “this is something that people will want to watch.”

So went to try out last year for America’s Got Talent, I guess it was in 2016, and I said, “well, you know, I have my costume with me.” I was taking classes at Seduces, they’re pole dancing classes and they learn the exact dances that are in the music videos and then they teach the students. And it’s an all-women place and we dress up in costumes and it’s a lot of fun. So I had my costume in the car, and I said, “why don’t I try out with you?” And we decided yeah, we’re going to try out! Because we love Elvis so much.

My mother tried pushing me out on Elvis’ birthday but didn’t make it. So I was born on January 9th. Elvis’ birthday was on January 8. My mother was in love with Elvis. I remember as a little girl seeing all these cutouts from magazines up on her ceiling. Which was really strange, and it’s not until later on when I got older I figured out why she had them on her ceiling.

So that’s what me and Charles had in common. We got together in 2011. I was separated from my husband at that time. We both had something in common. He had a great loss, he was married for like thirty years and had recently lost his wife, so he was a widower, and I had lost my son. We kind of met in bereavement counseling, and then he had asked me if I would like to meet him at this one bar… what is it called? I’m trying to think of the bar. It’s in Cupertino. I said I wasn’t sure, because you know, in this group counseling thing people are suffering from their loved ones passing– I didn’t know, he may have killed his wife, who knows! I didn’t want to go down there and meet that guy by myself. So I called my friend Jennifer, who met me at the place and– it’ll come to me the name of the place, it’s real famous. Anyway, I met him there and he was showing off and singing to me. So I wanted to show off and show him I knew how to dance!

When me and my husband lost our son, It’s hard being with each other. Reminding. And I needed a break. And I met someone– he seemed like me! He even kinda looks like me. It’s weird. It’s like meeting the male version of myself. Which is highly unusual. I mean, even the way we dress. He dresses like 60’s, like the Bobby Darin, you know, during those days, Elvis, you know, and with the slim leg pants and the tiny necktie and white shirts and great suits, and just dress smashing! He was always doing these street fairs, like the Art and Wine Festival, he’d sing there, and like ice cream socials, and I found it fascinating how he was doing all these things in entertainment. I’d never met a man like that. I live in Silicon Valley. My husband was an engineer. Nothing to do with entertainment.

During my time, I was one of the few makeup artists up here who does film and television and magazine makeup, and I was in demand from everyone up here because I stayed on budget. They didn’t have to ship anyone from Los Angeles to come to my area. I opened up my first school back in the early 80’s, the first and only school in Northern California. It was called the Academy of Cosmetic Arts. The only school that taught makeup for film, television, fashion magazine work.

I was the only girl in my family with two brothers, I was the middle child, but the whole thing is, coming from a very Catholic family, it was crazy. They thought, well, I’m going to get married, this and that, why do I need college, but they didn’t allow me to date! So I never had boyfriends or anything like that. Really, people find it amazing– I’ve always gone out in groups, but never a one-on-one date until I was twenty-one years old! Twenty-one years old when I went on a one on one date.

I was so nervous. He took me to a fancy restaurant. His name was David. The Blue Pheasant. No, the Blue Pheasant– no! The Blue Pheasant is the name of the Karaoke bar where Charles and I first got together. The Velvet Turtle was where David took me. Yeah. That was the fanciest place you could find.

The reason why I know how to do makeup is because since I was really young I was a dancer, right? So we always had to do our makeup. And I was in children’s theater. So my teacher taught me how to do contouring and highlighting and all of that. I was knowing how to do makeup when I was a little, little girl. My parents would have babysitters come over, these teenage girls, and they would do makeup and hair on each other. I think I was born gifted in art. My mother used to get these rag magazines with stars in them, like Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, and she used to try and do her makeup like Elizabeth Taylor. These girls would come over to my house and get my mom’s makeup out and do their makeup. I would help them put on their makeup and they’d get on the phone with each other and they’d say “hey, this little girl over here, she’s only four years old and she knows how to do makeup! Come over!”

I used to practice on my animals, because we lived kind of on a farm, and I put eyeliner and mascara on the cat, on the dog, and we had a cow, and during then false lashes were in, they were more in than mascara. So I remember putting fake lashes on the cow. And then my mom would wonder why she was getting all these infections on her eye and everything. And she thought it was Grandma using her makeup, she blamed Grandma, but no. It was me and my babysitters and me putting makeup on our animals.

In school I was chosen to be on the JC Penney Fashion Board. I was about fifteen years old. You stand on a pedestal and act like you’re a mannequin and change position every thirty seconds. We were assigned to different departments, and I was assigned to the makeup department. I was just like fifteen years old. And then Bonne Bell Cosmetics hired me, and I was going to different malls doing makeup. I was just a teenager. By the time I was eighteen I was represented by an agency doing makeup on models. I was really busy. All these photographers were calling me, and I was trying to go to college at the same time.

Then I got a job with Ujena magazine, and also Swimwear Illustrated, you know, and that took me all over the world. This was before they had photoshop, before you could photoshop the backgrounds in! I went everywhere. Mainly New Mexico a lot, Tahiti, Jamaica, Australia, Africa, Fiji Islands, everywhere, Europe. This was the time when people had budgets to send their whole crew and makeup artists to different parts of the world. And then naturally I just got into doing film work. Warner Brothers hired me to work with John Travolta, Alan Alda, Dustin Hoffman, a lot of these stars work on projects in this area.

Back in the 80’s, I had the one and only school. Yeah, I’m the one who started it. And now California law is that you don’t have to be licensed to open up a makeup school. You don’t need all these licenses. And I got all the licenses. I made sure I was legal so that when I certified people it was real certification. Well, now it’s anyone can do it. They don’t pay five thousand a year for licensing. And the prices that they do classes are really really low. And that’s for right now, in the last ten years. The market of makeup artists are really oversaturated, but I still get really good jobs. But now I do have time to rehearse for performances.

My studio is at my home. In San Francisco I rented a building for my school, and then I moved my school to Santa Fe and I was renting from Santa Fe Repertory Theater, and that went on for years and then I opened up a studio in my home and people were coming just by my name. They had heard of me already from photographers and producers. Everyone wanted to come to my school. I’d have classes maybe three times a night teaching six students each night and it would be an eight-week course where they take one class a week for eight weeks and then I give them certification and then I put them on internships and jobs. Theatrical, fashion, clean makeup for commercial work. That’s what my classes are about. Bridal, ballroom dancing, music videos, drag queen makeup, special effects makeup, you know. Then, like if they wanna further their training, sometimes I’ve referred them to classes in New York or in Los Angeles. And so I made friends with these people because I’ve referred them and then in turn they refer me and it works out perfect that way.

What I’m looking for is someone who can substitute for me on the jobs that I do. So what I teach at my school is to either be an instructor of makeup or they can substitute for me. All these independent films out here, they contact me and they say “Rose, do you have any students who can work on our project?” And I say, “Yeah, sure I have students.” So these people, they get experience when they work, they assist me when I work, and it’s a win-win situation and if they do a good job then they get work from the producers.

There are a lot of people who aren’t informed about what we do and what we offer and I sort of figured that out. My school was expensive at that time. Now it’s like reasonable because of the market. But during that time, oh my gosh, I was making really great money. You know, some really lousy makeup artists, I still get them jobs. They get jobs at the television studios doing powder-downs. The news anchors would already have their makeup on and they just need someone to watch them and adjust their hair, so the lousy ones would do that. But the really good ones, the really good ones are the ones that can do brides. And I’m the most expensive artist for a bride to get and I’m always busy. I live in an expensive area, there’s engineers out here, a lot of Persian community. They wanna outdo each other when it comes to the makeup artist, so if you’re really really good then you can do brides. But when you do a bride, it’s hard.

I did what came naturally. I really never had a mentor or anything, I just kinda just followed on my own. You know, Elspeth, when I knew I had made it is when I was making just as much money as my husband. Because my husband, he was like, up there in software design, he had patents out. You know, back in the 80’s he was making like a hundred fifty thousand. That’s like unheard-of now. My husband was always competitive and always pushing me, I don’t know, not forced me, but just challenging me. That’s the word. Always challenged me and I knew I had made it in the business when I made, oh one year I made more money than he did and when it came to tax day, I was so proud of myself. My parents always said, “well, you know Rose Marie,” my mother would say, “you mean people actually pay you do their makeup? Who does that?” My dad would tell me “You better work! You better get a job.” People don’t get it, they think it’s some man. They think it’s one man who only does makeup in Hollywood. And that’s how most people thought, cause there was no internet, there was nothing. There was only television.

I’ve always been one step ahead, like taking photography classes to learn about lighting. When I go out and do people’s makeup, I bring a Hollywood style makeup mirror with me. It’s a big one with lights around it. I make people feel like they’re in Hollywood and they love it. They love that I bring my own lighting equipment. No one has to worry about me and I know so much about video production and everything.

I’m very much inspired by the stars that my mother used to like. Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Ann Margret, oh my gosh. I love Ann Margret. Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas have always been my favorite shows. My style is kinda between Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra and Priscilla Presley when she married Elvis. I’ve always loved her look. That’s why I wear blue contacts a lot of time and have my hair black. My hair’s grey but I dye it black. I like those looks because they look like dolls that I’ve owned. So, I’m stuck in the 60’s and then my man is stuck in the 60’s too. It’s so weird to meet someone who’s not gay, who’s straight, and who’s exactly like you. The weirdest, weirdest thing. It’s amazing to find someone who loves clothes as much as I do. And dyes his hair black like me and wears makeup! And looks good! Really cares about how you look and he just adores me. He worships me. I mean, it’s weird! You know? That he’s so crazy madly in love with me and just worships me and always calls me baby. “What can I do for you, baby? Can I make you something, baby?” Always sweet. Always nice. Never raises his voice to me. Always such a gentleman. Always. And it’s been since 2011! And he’s still the same way. No change.

I’m a woman that’s a bit of a bitch sometimes and you know, can be mean. I’ve got a little mean streak in me. But also, you know, I think about– I’m diabetic. I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was forty! And now I’m sixty-five, and people who are diabetic, they’re short tempered. That’s part of the diabetes. Because, a lot of times you’re weak, you’re in pain, it just brings you down. You get faint headed if you don’t eat right, it’s hard. You gotta remember to always take your pills or shots. If you don’t take your pills it’ll screw up your whole day. By screwing up, it means that you get nervous and then you get mad and mean and short-tempered. Usually, I’m feeling that way and I go, “Oh gosh, I forgot to take my pills!”

I have good days, I have bad days, but I get a little short-tempered when I have some student who’s not being sanitary. They do things wrong; they’ll use the same brush on someone, or they won’t sharpen their lip pencil, or they have dirty brushes. That’s the worst thing. I’ll say things like, “How can you do that? If you were getting your makeup done, would you like having someone wear a used brush on you? It’s too easy to clean your brush and just dry it out with your hair dryer! The hair dryer’s here! It takes like thirty seconds and it dries in minutes. Just go wash it. Or use alcohol!” You know? And I guess they don’t like the way I talk to them.

I remember a time when– I-don’t-know-who came to interview with me, but I guess she was asking a lot of stupid questions, and it kinda got on my nerves. So I said I had my next appointment coming in and I kinda shooed her out, and she wrote up a horrible review on Yelp saying that I had Daisy Duke shorts on with holes in it, and I had a stripper pole in middle of my the living room, and you can imagine what I teach there because she’s sure it’s not makeup in that kind of atmosphere. It was terrible. Well, she had been there over an hour and the questions she was asking were ridiculous! And with this being like school, Elspeth, it’s kinda up to me who I wanna work with and who I want in my group. If I see a bitch comes in my classroom and I know our chemistry isn’t right, I can never work with her. I try to be polite, but there’s reasons why I don’t accept them to my school. I can always teach a person to be clean and do good makeup, but I can’t teach a person to change their personality to be sweet, you know, and helpful. I can’t teach that. I thought this girl had an attitude as soon as she walked in. It’s like, uh-uh. She scared me! I didn’t like it.

When NBCUniversal put up the original show, we had over three million viewers. There were about fifty thousand positive reviews and two thousand negative reviews. And what am I doing? I’m going to the negative reviews. From saying that– my god– that my “thighs were slapping together when I danced,” to “Charlie looks like a Mexican Trump,” you know, all these different things and I stopped reading it after about a hundred reviews. So I don’t read negative reviews anymore and when my friend said, “oh Rose, I read that negative–” I said, you know, “don’t even talk about it.” I don’t know these people. I don’t even know who they are. They want someone to answer them so they can say more awful stuff. Completely awful stuff. And that I had cake face, and fat face, and “she’s just fat, that’s her problem.” It’s bullying. But if you’re not used to stardom, you don’t know that.

Me and Charlie have sort of a charisma that people remember. They show reruns everywhere. Philippines, India, and even Cee-lo wore a dress like me on stage. He was doing some sort of performance and he had a white fringe dress on. We kind of have sort of a cult that follows us. I can go camping or go to a restaurant even by myself and I have people recognize me. I went on a cruise and so many people recognized me. I wasn’t even with Charlie. Plus after we got on America’s Got Talent, NBC made it possible for us to get a show in Las Vegas. We were appearing in concerts at the Flamingo Hotel and the Donny & Marie Theater and we had our own security guard, and of course we stayed in the penthouse. I had people in front of my house. I had kids wanting my autograph. Old friends who I haven’t seen in a hundred years who I went to elementary school with were trying to contact me and call me. My phone was ringing off the hook. People I hadn’t seen in years were calling me. People who were friends with my parents, who were kids of the friends of my parents, who I don’t even know who they are were calling me and asking me if they can get tickets to the Las Vegas show and it was crazy.

We went on radio shows and were featured in different magazines. They called us the “Kooky Las Vegas-style couple,” the “crazy lounge act,” and they’ll say that we’re a middle aged couple with an Elvis impersonator and Ann Margret-cum-Elvira dance partner. We were interviewed by a lot of different magazines and I didn’t really realize until someone told me to google “Charles and Rose” and I was shocked to see how many things we were in.

It felt like I wasn’t myself. I felt like I’m somebody else. For the Las Vegas show, we had two o’clock rehearsal and then we had an eight o’clock show and a twelve midnight show and it was like no time for fun, for anything. We did what the production company told us. We had security and production company following us the whole time we were in Las Vegas, and then they came out here and also filmed– they did enough footage of us for like a whole reality show. They still own the rights to the filming, and we’re not sure what they’re going to do with it. They filmed us getting married. They set up a wedding for us. We got married at a drive-thru; they gave us a Cadillac.

Obviously everything’s tropical in my home because I was raised in Hawaii and I’m a hula dancer, Tahitian dancer, and I’m part Pacific Islander so that’s gonna come out in me. I like all tropical places. My friend says “Rose, let’s go on that Alaskan cruise.” And it’s like… uh… I don’t think so. I’ll be anywhere that’s warm and tropical. That’s what I like. First of all, the colors have to match and everything that I have on the walls. I didn’t buy it at one place. Every time– now I’m in my sixties. And many times I’ve traveled on cruises and on planes to all these tropical places, I always bring home a souvenir. And it’s something to go on my wall or a plate. Everything all has a meaning to it. It’s becoming a little pack-ratty now. My friends get on these kicks where they want to buy me things to hang up in my house and– well, I like what I buy. Just because they think I’ll like it, I may or may not put it up. But I’m still going to keep it. I remember about twenty years ago or so, maybe a little less than that, I had everyone over for Thanksgiving and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna have a garage sale!” So I put everything out, and I emptied out my garage of stuff and I invited like twenty friends over. They got so upset because everything at the garage sale was things they had given me. Talk about a real quiet Thanksgiving!

I guess when I start buying something, I over-indulge and buy more. I get hooked on it— like from Mexico, I got hooked on buying these glass animal pipes. In my area, these glass animal pipes will sell for anywhere from a hundred dollars on up. But then you go to Mexico and they’re like five bucks. So okay, I’m gonna get the turtle, I’m gonna get the dolphin, I’m gonna get like all three mermaids in different positions, oh my gosh look, they have these little dogs, a little cat. And before I know it, my whole cabinet is filled with this glassware. I’ll do things like that. Or, I got into this thing with mats. Different mats that I’ll get. I started buying mats in Jamaica and then these other mats from Mexico, and then from Hawaii I got the mats and before I knew it I had these mats and everything all around my house. In my kitchen, living room, upstairs in my bedroom, just everywhere. And then I got into this voodoo thing where I started buying all kinds of voodoo dolls. I went to Louisiana, that’s where my mom’s from. My mother’s Cajun French and my father is Filipino Hawaiian Chinese Spanish. My mother has American Indian in her, and I remember my Grandma used to speak French with a southern accent. In the French Quarter I went to one of the voodoo doll places and then I started collecting them from everywhere. And then I started collecting the Harajuku Perfumes. The doll perfume that’s put out by– I think Gwen Stefani. I do a lot of floral arrangements too. They’re silk flowers and I put them together like that.

For clothes, right now I’m hooked on and I’m like, full force. If there was some sort of therapy for people that overshop on clothes that would be me. I have over three hundred pairs of shoes, and I have a whole room that has ten racks of clothing and they’re all filled with clothes for when I’m different weights. Everything I buy, I love. It is so hard to get rid of my fuzzy boots, that are six inch boots and they’re gogo boots and they’re all fur that comes up to the knees, and my glitter boots, and I have shoes that light up. I go on all these cruises and you wear formal every night, so when I’m ready to go on a cruise I pick out formals that I have depending on what size I am and if I need to buy more I’ll go to the store and buy more clothes. Plus, I go to a lot of networking parties, and I don’t want somebody to see me in the same dress.

I have a whole closet dedicated to black clothes from summertime clothes to winter furs. It’s like filled with just all black. And then I have a fur of every single color. They’re all fake fur. And then I have matching shoes. Well, when me and Charlie go out for karaoke or he picks me up for dinner I like to dress up. And he dresses up too! He has just as many clothes as I do, but he has part of his clothes in storage because he can’t fit his clothes in here. So every month he rotates the clothes.

I have all these T-shirts from all the places I’ve been to. It’s really hard to get rid of those, and those fill up a whole big drawer themselves! I have to part with it. I do. It’s something that I’m working on. It’s something I’m really, really, working on and I stress over it. I’m tired of stressing over it so that’s why I find that if can’t do it by myself I’m gonna pay someone minimum wage to come clean.

I mean for real? What brings me the most joy? Laying in bed watching TV. I watch a lot of horror movies and I love watching competition things like The Voice. Dancing with the Stars, cause I’ve done makeup for Dancing with the Stars Live. I like scary movies, and I like singing movies and dance movies and watching old movies of Elvis. Cannibal movies, I’ll watch those, but I really love the special effects. I want to see just how extreme they go. I like sci-fi movies.

My favorite thing to do is relax! That’s why in my backyard I have an outside living room. It has a table, fireplace where people can sit around with their drinks and have a fireplace in the middle. It’s like a whole seating area, a little lounge in there. And a big gazebo in the backyard. And I have a ten-person jacuzzi. I have parties here where I’ve hired a taco cart where these people come and make all kinds of tacos with all kinds of meats and all the fixings and they cook on an outdoor stove. People just line up and order what they want. I like doing things like that. Not all the time, but like once a year. Get together with my makeup artists who took my classes and their husbands and stuff and just relax, sit around and meet each other.  Work friends, photographers, people in the business.

I like doing that and my favorite thing to do is just laying in bed and relaxing. I could say smoking a doobie but I don’t know how kosher that is. I was never able to talk that way on America’s Got Talent, you know. We have to make sure that it’s PG, for kids. Of course I love to travel. I love snorkeling and warm water!

When I was younger I used to think, “sixty three, I’m gonna retire at sixty three, I’m gonna be so old,” and everything. And it’s kind of weird, because I’m not! I don’t feel that. I tell you Elspeth, I really do get a kick hanging out at the senior center once a month. Oh my god, I’m “trouble,” as Elvis said, when I go to the senior center.  I got on that senior bus and on the senior bus you know they have those poles in the middle for if there’s no room. I was dancing on the pole, I told the young guy who was driving the bus, I told him to turn it up on a hip hop station or a pop station and turned the music on loud and I was entertaining all those old people. But they’re all my age!

Oh, another thing is– I’ll never stop shopping in juniors. I’ll never stop shopping in the junior department. I know I wear miniskirts and I’m in my sixties but I don’t care anymore. I pick what I think looks good. And if I think it looks good on me, then it does look good.

I hope that what I said is good! I don’t have one single thing that I tell people. I’ll tell you what I tell men. I always tell men on a regular basis, “If it smells like trout, get the hell out.”  Well Elspeth, I’m a naughty lady. I’m a naughty girl, I say naughty things sometimes, you know? People either get insulted or… uh… you know. Or they think I’m funny!

And that’s about it! I’m living a good life now. I have a new life now! I’m a performer! For some reason, when I’m onstage, I’m able to perform and I don’t know where the heck it comes from. People get a kick out of me when I sing karaoke and I usually have my jokes in there or put my own words in the song, and they get a kick out of it. It’s usually something nasty I’m saying.

Oh, you know, Elspeth, one thing I didn’t mention is all the celebrities makeup I do. If you go to my website, to, you’ll see pictures of me and celebrities. I’ve worked with Darren Criss for Glee, he was also on the Versace, he played Cunanan. Hugh Jackman, many stars I’ve done. I feel like I just had a therapy session. I feel relaxed and happy and motivated to go on to my job today.

Rose Hill in conversation with Elspeth K. Walker

photography Damien Maloney

styling Ashley Munns