From Forest Hills to Hollywood (or Houston)
by Michael Perlman
Feb 21, 2018 | 2887 views | 2 2 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Karen and Hal Wixon on the Set of "A woman of Independence."
Karen and Hal Wixon on the Set of "A woman of Independence."
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Karen Wixon with Gregory Peck
Karen Wixon with Gregory Peck
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Karen Wixon with Stevie Wonder
Karen Wixon with Stevie Wonder
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"Girls in the Windows" by Ormond Gigli
"Girls in the Windows" by Ormond Gigli
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Karen Wixon and Hal Wixon met during a fire drill while attending JHS 157 before graduating from Forest Hills High School in 1958 and 1957, respectively. Years later, they reunited and got married in Houston in 1994.

Hal became known for his career as a film, television, and stage actor, whereas Karen made a name for herself as makeup artist for film and television.

Hal is founder and director of The Gulf Coast Film & Video Festival, a three-day event with origins in Houston that today has an international presence. The festival will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary.

“There are many excellent films that are not being seen, so our goal is to promote independent filmmakers and screenwriters,” Hal said. “We want people to recognize that film is a form of art, just like any other, and it is thrilling to have them enter their films.”

Past attendees include Cheryl Tiegs, Marsha Mason, Armand Assante, Jasmin Guy, and Loretta Swit, some of which have been presented with lifetime achievement awards. One year, the Consulate General of Spain attended and accepted the Best Foreign Film award.

“One year, we were excited to bring in public broadcasting celebrity and Emmy Award winner Ernie Manouse as host and emcee,” Hal added.

He is proud that the festival has served as a stepping stone for many artists.

“Over the years we had many young filmmakers and directors go on to having their films distributed,” Hal said. “Matthew Marshall has gone on to make films in Canada and Shaun Petitt began working for Fox.”

Hal has had acting roles in approximately 25 films, including “Arlington Road,” “Sidekicks,” “The Waterfront” and “Cultivating Charlie.” He is inspired by Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, and Humphrey Bogart.

“On a few instances, I have been thrown off the top of some very tall buildings,” he said, reminiscing about his work as a stunt double.

Hal was raised in garden apartments near 140th Street in Kew Gardens Hills, and Karen lived not far away at 108-28 63rd Road in Forest Hills.

“I lived on a block with people that worked on the Sid Caesar Show and public television,” she said. “I became a dog sitter for all of them, including Jack Kelly and Howard Morris.”

Karen, who also trained as an ice skater, started her career in fashion advertising.

“I went skating at Rockefeller Center and watched a professional makeup artist on the set of ‘Separate Tables’ with Deborah Kerr and Rita Hayworth,” she said. “At home, I thought ‘I could do that.’ A friend taught me what he knew, and kept saying he didn’t have to charge since there was no way to get a job without relatives in the union.

“I would have all my makeup packed and ready by the front door, as if I had a job, and even cooked enough meals for my family so that I could be out for days at a time,” she added. “I would go into my backyard and hang up makeup sponges in my trees.”

One day, she received a call from an agent who stumbled upon her number in her file.

Karen has worked with Sid Caesar, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Rodney Dangerfield. Her talents also proved beneficial for the Grammy Awards, Saturday Night Live, and The Regis Philbin Show.

Their careers came together on the set of “A Woman of Independent Means” starring Sally Field, where Hal acted and Karen did makeup.

Although Karen is technically retired, she still serves as a location scout for films in the Houston area and continues to assist her husband with The Gulf Coast Film & Video Festival.

“Our careers have taught us that you can do anything,” she said. “My goals are to teach the younger and possibly insecure people of today, that they have a gift and should use it.”

Karen was also in “Girls in the Windows,” a famous photograph from 1960 featuring 43 girls posing in formal attire in the windowless row of brownstones on East 58th Street that was being readied for demolition. Wearing a purple dress, she appears on the third floor, fourth from the right.

“I am very happy to have worked with an icon like Ormond Gigli, a top photographer in New York and for Life and Time magazine,” she said. “And I am so glad that I didn't fall out of the window, as the ledges were shaky.”
Comments
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Liza D.
|
March 13, 2018
Wonderful profile of my beloved and talented Aunt Karen and her Hal. So glad to read it!
Orin Kennedy
|
March 13, 2018
aka Danny Fuchs FHHS class of 57

Wonderful couple. Got to visit with them at their Film Festival where my life story doc won Best of Festival. Great to we are still in contact after so many years!