If There's Ever An Oscar for Supporting Bridgework, Dr. Henry Dwork Is a Shoo-in
Except for Bruce the shark, Dwork has redone most of Hollywood’s big jaws
When Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro really want to sink their teeth into a role, they go straight to Henry Dwork for help. No, Dwork is not a hot new drama coach. He’s a Manhattan dentist.
Although Dwork has never been listed in the credits, his dental effects have been featured in The Godfather (Parts I and II), The Exorcist, Marathon Man and The Deer Hunter, among other biggies. He began turning tame teeth into ferocious fangs and otherwise making over movie stars’ mouths in 1949 when a patient, make up artist Vincent Kehoe, mentioned he was having trouble making John Carradine look ghoulish for a horror film. A few hours later Carradine was in the dentist’s chair.
He later gave Richard Burton a fiendish set of choppers for the 1960 TV version of The Tempest, prepared a bridge that reshaped Patty Duke As-tin’s mouth for Me Natalie and in 1971 received an offer to work on The Godfather. He didn’t refuse. Brando tested for his role of Don Corleone with cotton and tissue paper stuffed in his jowls to appear older. To maintain the effect during filming, Dwork constructed gum-colored acrylic “plumpers,” which were wired to Brando’s bottom molars. Dwork billed Paramount only $750 for the work, in spite of his plumper-in-cheek claim that “it was probably the most important dental service since George Washington’s teeth.”
A year later Dwork was hired to, as he puts it, “dentally depict the demonic transformation” of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. “All my professional career had been spent creating dental charm and beauty,” notes the 57-year-old dentist. “Here I was presented with the antithesis.” To evoke the devil in Miss Blair, Dwork gave her teeth a look of moldy decay and added fangs, while a make-up artist crafted a foam-rubber serpent tongue that attached to the real thing. Dwork, who has often proudly documented his histrionic dentistry in medical journals, wrote in Dental Survey that he “knew there was something weird about this movie when a set of ‘monster teeth’ jumped off a laboratory bench and vanished.”
Dwork’s toughest assignment, he says, was Marathon Man. Dustin Hoffman was to undergo the scenarist’s idea of ultimate torture when his teeth were drilled—sans anesthetic—by Laurence Olivier, playing a sadistic escaped Nazi. Dwork’s job was to give the scene a realistic look without permanently ruining Hoffman’s smile. (“He’s a dedicated actor,” laughs Dwork, “but dedication ends at a point.”) The dentist made “Hollywood bridges”—sets of six teeth each, pre-and post-torture. They fitted over Hoffman’s real teeth (which Dwork calls “healthy but not that attractive”) while still allowing him to talk. This time the tab came to $8,000.
Dwork’s non-showbiz practice is, ironically, devoted principally to esthetic dentistry. He’s writing a book on the dentist’s role as a sort of plastic surgeon. “I feel like a sculptor at times,” he asserts, and his office is on Fifth Avenue, 11 blocks south of the Museum of Modern Art.
As a child in Manhattan, Henry built model airplanes (“I always got them right the first time”) and worked in his pharmacist father’s lab. (His mother, Anna Cohen, painted landscapes.) He graduated from New York University’s College of Dentistry at 21 and has practiced in New York ever since, except for a two-year naval tour in the Norfolk area during the Korean war.
Henry and his wife, Joyce, have three children and live in surburban New Jersey, where they golf and play tennis. Dwork sees few movies, and his favorite stars are still Ava Gardner and Clark Gable. He finds celebrity patients no more bothersome than civilians, though James Caan, whom he treated for both The Godfather and the forthcoming Hide in Plain Sight, likes to “jump up and gag around.”
During New York location shooting on Marathon Man, however, Hoffman swept into the office one day for an emergency refitting. Dwork was completely booked. “I called my wife and asked her what I should do,” he recalls. “She said, ‘It’s easy; don’t take care of him, right?’ ” Wrong. Dwork squeezed Hoffman in; his other patients may have been delayed, but at least they weren’t keeping Lord Olivier waiting.