Lillian Brown

Lillian Brown

1914-2020

DJ Name: DJ Lil’ Lip Gloss be Poppin’

Presidential debates can make or break elections. Going up on stage and looking like you’ve got it all together can make you look better in the public eye — just ask Richard Nixon. Since John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon sparred on the stage 60 years ago for the first-ever televised debate, a lot has changed as candidates take verbal jabs at one another and give their all for a chance to take on the title of Commander-in-Chief. But one thing has stayed the same: With the exception of Hillary Clinton in 2016, every major presidential contender has been a man. But even though all the cameras are pointed at the dudes in the room, remember that behind every successful man is a strong woman. And in this case, for decades, that strong woman was Lillian Brown. 

Lillian is a lil’ underappreciated, but her role in presidential debates and the political realm should not be overlooked: For over five decades, Lillian powdered the noses and filled in the eye bags of numerous presidential candidates and other prominent figures. And while she dipped her brush in foundation and also painted first ladies’ faces, she liked to shuffle up this playlist and whistle along to her favorite motivational tunes: 

Lillian was not born a cosmetologist, nor was she born among influential cityslicker politicians. Rather, she was born in 1914 as World War I dawned, upon a farm in Huntsville, Ohio. As a kid, Lil was often found outside on the farm mixing different forms of dirts, sands and crushed leaves to test how they blended best in order to get that poreless look. She also discovered the perfect rock for people to use to wake up their skin every morning. Like, better than a jade roller. The girl knew her stuff from an early age. OK, not really. At all. We told you she wasn’t born a cosmetologist lol.

So brushing that off and moving on, Lillian’s father James was a farmer-turned-insurance agent and her mother, Nellie, was a schoolteacher. The sixth of seven siblings, Lillian went on to receive a teaching certificate from Bowling Green State University before putting her skills to use teaching elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse in her hometown alongside her own mother. But her one-room schoolhouse days eventually came to an end and she relocated to a multi-room school building in Arlington, Va., which is just a short swim across the Potomac River away from our nation’s capital. 

In Arlington in the 1950s, Lillian diverged from her curriculum and instead picked up a video camera, or whatever the equivalent of that was in 1953. She started volunteering for Arlington public schools, creating educational programs through a new medium that was just starting to gain traction. But, like most Americans at the time, Lillian knew just a lil’ about producing and shooting video footage, so she fiddled around and made a video about mansions in Virginia and another showing which churches you could find a U.S. president worshipping at. Next thing you know, she’s creating CGI explosions and animated anthropomorphic pigs. OK, maybe not. But she did begin to carve out a niche for herself producing content for kiddos, and also became the host of a children’s TV program called “Do You Wonder?” As for us, we often wonder which flavor of bagel we shall consume on any given day. 

Anyway, her show shared studio space with CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” and the CBS top dogs began to take note of Lillian’s guests and how they always had a smidge of makeup on, even the dudes. CBS realized they, too, could have some pretty dudes on set if they capitalized on this whole makeup thing, so they asked Lillian if she could also put makeup on the faces on “Face the Nation,” too. She agreed, and they paid her $19 per show. The very first face she worked on for “Face the Nation” was Sam Rayburn, who was currently serving as Speaker of the House. 

Though Lillian didn’t know much about gussying people up for the silver screen, she learned what she needed to know by looking through the camera lens and examining what changes could be made to make TV guests appear more dapper. For example, with Sam Rayburn, she understood that if she put some powder on his bald dome, the top of his head wouldn’t glisten in the studio lights and blind his viewers. Sam the Speaker was opposed to makeup at first. He wanted his audience to think maybe he’s born with it, and not maybe it’s ~ Maybelline ~. Nevertheless, Lilly’s savviness with a brush didn’t let her clients down and they were all *not* shining on national television as they made their remarks. 

As she honed her skills, she continued to work with “Face the Nation,” as well as other CBS programs. It wasn’t long before Dwight D. Eisenhower and a young, little-known senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy came to her for touch-ups. If no one else, JFK understood the importance of makeup and looking presentable on stage. His pretty boy rock drove Lillian crazy. Literally. She said it herself, “he drove us crazy.” However, Lil and John worked well together because they both understood the importance of putting your best face forward (let’s just say, there would be no sweatpants on the bottom and blouses on the top for their Zoom meetings, that’s for sure). 

Lillian told JFK that he should use a makeup compact (AKA powder) on his face before his first televised debate with Richard Nixon because he needed to look so fresh, so clean. Nixon didn’t get this advice and it showed. While she wasn’t with JFK, she was with First Lady Jackie (yet another strong woman). Most popularly, Lillian made Jackie all pretty for her White House Tour in 1962. Can we take a moment for that glow?! And those brows. That lip, too. Rumor actually has it that Jackie bestowed Lillian her DJ Name of DJ Lil’ Lip Gloss be Poppin’. 

The gal was good. And everybody in Washington knew it. Among the others who Lillian dolled up are, funnily enough, Richie Nixon. She helped his presidential opponent look fine as a dime, and he realized he needed her help to look decent during a problematic time in his presidency — or, really, at the end of his presidency. It was the night he was going to face the nation (not on “Face the Nation”), but just on national television, all of it, and resign from the presidency. The man was in tears. And he needed the help of Lillian to brush off his haters (wrinkles, red cheeks, swollen eyes). Lil recalled, “He was in bad shape. We had six minutes to air, and I thought, ‘What can I do for this man?’” Because he was a sad boi, she started cracking jokes. Turns out Lillian was a jill of all trades and had jokes. The two of them were cracking up as she powdered him up on his way to step down from his position of power. 

As her career continued, Lillian came eye to eye with many more of our public-facing people, like Walter Cronkite, Ronald Reagan and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And many presidents in the White House called her, beeped her, when they wanted to reach her for a quick touch-up. Lillian was trusted with the brush because, as she said, “Unlike high-fashion makeup artists who want to make a person look as glamorous as possible, my goal is to make people look exactly like themselves.” She’d arrive on set or in the Oval Office with her Mary Poppins bag of magical powers stuffed with paint, hats, new outfits and all the eyeshadow palettes (made by Jacqueline Cochran). Jk, except maybe not. She had a simple satchel that included only the face necessities like foundation, powder, concealer and Kleenex to dab (*dabs*). Just in case, she also always made sure to have a black tie in her bag, swag. 

Lillian wasn’t a stranger to the spotlight either, though. While the go-to glam person, she was also the Director of Radio and Television in the GWU public relations office. She worked there from 1956 to 1966, then accepted the same position at American University from 1966 to 1976. And in 1976, she made her way down Wisconsin Ave to a neighboring DC school, Georgetown University, and began hosting a radio show called the “Forum,” which interviewed Georgetown professors and experts live. It was broadcast on NPR, Texas Radio Network and Armed Forces Radio. Sometimes over 2 million people listened a week and her show was eventually translated into 39 languages by Voice of America. 

She was a voice of America as well as a behind-the-scenes bad b*tch who kept the many other voices of America and faces of our nation looking good, feeling good. Her broadcast work was appreciated as she won many awards including a few Emmys from the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and a Golden Mike award as an Outstanding Woman in Radio and Television (side note: Genie Chance, fellow shuffler, also won a Golden Mike). OK, back to Lilly: she continued her career at Georgetown and became a professor of a course titled Speaking to Be Understood: English as a First or Second Language. She also published some books, most successfully, Your Public Best: The Complete Guide To Making Successful Public Appearances In The Meeting Room, On The Platform, And On TV

Lillian eventually retired from Georgetown in 2009. She was 95 years old. She lived for 9 more years, and recently passed away on September 13, 2020 at the age of 106. Blending must have been some good cardio because Lillian lived a long, fruitful life helping many a man and woman cover their shine so they could shine on television. Not all (s)heroes wear capes. Some carry a makeup bag full of Kleenex, bronzer, foundation, blush and powder and teach people the importance of putting your best self (read: face) forward.

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