Bandy was one of three sons born to a Southern Railway worker in Birmingham. Even as a boy, he preferred sewing, music, painting and movie magazines to sports and hunting. His family moved to Tennessee and he graduated from high school in Harriman. He returned to Birmingham and spent two years at Birmingham-Southern College before dropping out to model for department stores. He later earned a degree in education at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in Cookeville. He taught English in Tennessee and Maryland, and painted portraits on the side. He married, but separated from his wife shortly after visiting New York City with her for the first time in 1965. He fell in love with the city, quit his job, and moved there to reinvent himself.
He changed his name and enrolled at Christine Valmy's makeup school. Within a few months, he was heading the salon there. He had plastic surgery and worked as a makeup teacher at a modeling school. In 1969 he was hired as makeup director for Charles of the Ritz, leaving that job in 1971 to head the make-up department for the Broadway production of "No, No, Nanette" before becoming an independent "face designer". He and fellow artist Maury Hopson made a splash by completely transforming Watergate whistle-blower Martha Beall Mitchell's face for a photo-session with frequent collaborator Francesco Scavullo. He authored a bestselling makeup manual entitled Designing Your Face, published in 1977, and followed by Styling Your Face in 1981.
Considered the "greatest makeup artist in the world" by Vogue fashion editor Polly Allen Mellen, Bandy was in high demand and worked with hundreds of celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Raquel Welch, Catherine Deneuve, Lauren Hutton, Farrah Fawcett, Barbra Streisand, Gloria Vanderbilt, Lee Radziwill, Cher, Sigourney Weaver, Nancy Reagan and Cheryl Tiegs. He worked closely with photographers such as Scavullo, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Horst, Hiro and Victor Skrebneski. He also appeared as himself in Margeaux Hemingway's Lipstick.
In the early 1980s, Bandy contracted AIDS from his partner, writer and antique dealer Michael Gardine. He hid his illness as best he could, shunning doctors in favor of naturopathic treatments. Gardine died in 1985. When Bandy showed up for an August 1986 photo shoot with Scavullo, he was too ill to work and his agent convinced him to check into Cornell Medical Center. He died there a week later of AIDS-related pneumonia.
His ashes were scattered near Gardine's in a forest near their vacation home in Key West, Florida. At Bandy's request, his cause of death was identified as AIDS in his published obituary, which was then uncommon. He has been credited with helping bring the issue to wider attention through that gesture.
- Rowes, Barbara (May 1, 1978) "If It Launched a Thousand Ships, the Face Was Probably Done by Makeup Genius Way Bandy" People. Vol. 9, No. 17
- Polman, Dick (November 15, 1986) "Remembering Way Bandy: Friends recall the makeup artist, who died of AIDS." Philadelphia Inquirer