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Grand Forks native wins Oscar

GRAND FORKS -- Joel Harlow, a 1986 graduate of Grand Forks Red River High School who started designing ghoulish masks and props as an elementary student in summer arts programs, received an Oscar for makeup at the Academy Awards Sunday.

Harlow and partners Barney Burman and Mindy Hall accepted the award for their work on "Star Trek", which won over make-up artists for the films "Il Divo" and "The Young Victoria".

Dean Opp, longtime director of drama at Red River, remembers well the artist as a young man.

"I've followed his career a little bit because I have really strong images of when we did 'The Hobbit' many years ago, and he just loved doing all the ghoulish makeup for that," Opp said.

Joel Harlow played Mr. Hokaida, a Pro-Sumo Wrester, in the 1984 Red River production of "The Teahouse of the August Moon," and he played "Uncle Ben" in the 1985 production of "Death of a Salesman," according to drama records at the high school.

He was student director and created a key prop in the 1986 production of "The Hobbit."

"He really liked the technical stuff," Opp said. "We were pretty non-sophisticated about the technical stuff then, but he made Smaug the dragon's neck move and his eyes light up. He used a fire extinguisher to make stuff shoot out his nostrils.

"And he would sit in his room all day and make these great looking masks."

Harlow is working on three films scheduled for release next year, leading the prosthetic makeup department for "Green Lantern" and providing makeup for actor Johnny Depp in "The Tourist." He heads the makeup department for "Battle: Los Angeles."

He was key makeup artist on 2009's "Angels and Demons."

Earlier work included makeup and prosthetics for "Charlie Wilson's War," the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, "The Matrix Revolutions," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the 2001 remake of "Planet of the Apes."

A full filmography is at

"He found the perfect niche for himself," Opp said. "He always had that artistic, creative side, and this was a great way for him to develop it. A lot of kids have talent but they don't have the drive and initiative. He does, and he's making a living doing what he loves."

Opp, who started teaching at Red River in 1985, said he actually began working with Harlow when the future artist was in elementary school, in a summer arts program.

"You could tell those kids who are creative right away, and Joel already had that fascination with ghoulish things," he said. "I always figured his house at Halloween must have been one of the best-decorated around."

Harlow's parents, Steve and Irene, live in Nevada. Steve Harlow taught at the University of North Dakota, while Irene Harlow worked as a real estate agent, according to a family friend.

Harlow is the second Grand Forks drama product to win a prestigious national award recently. Todd Grabe, a 1993 graduate of Grand Forks Central High School, shared an Emmy for editing last year for his work on the PBS program DragonflyTV.

Chuck Haga is a reporter at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co., which also owns the Daily Globe.