Monster Magic Maker: Jack Pierce

DATELINE: Unsung Creative Force!

jack with lon jr Wolf Man Credit!

What a delicious untold story!  A Greek immigrant boy comes to Hollywood and his creative juices give us the most famous monster makeup creatures of 20th century movies. Check out Jack Pierce: Maker of Monsters.

Like all the people who came to Hollywood in its infancy, they were self-made and their artistic sense was equally applied to their own lives. Jack Pierce did it all—from stunts, to camera operator, to director, but found his niche in applying makeup to the stars.

When Lon Chaney bailed on playing Dracula, Jack was thwarted by Bela Lugosi who had his own ideas. However, it was on Frankenstein that he grew into legend, spending months researching how the creature should look. It led to a plethora of famous monsters: The Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Bride of Frankenstein, but he was head of Universal and worked on making beautiful women more stunning.

The Mummy makeup took 8 hours to apply and another hour to remove. If Karloff was uncomplaining, no wonder a friendship between them developed.

Pierce’s makeup effects often terrified the naïve audiences of the 1930s. He was Universal Studio’s master: responsible for all the horrors up to 1947. When they were about to gather all the monsters for a comedy, Abbot and Costello meet, Jack was fired, but his makeup style was maintained.

Later, a myth grew around Frankenstein that James Whale, director, created the face: not true. Karloff always gave credit to his friend, Pierce. You can thank the movie and book Gods and Monsters for the misinfo.

Always an actor at heart, Jack wore a lab coat in the makeup room, which certainly intimidated Elsa Lanchester, who was the Bride of the monster. She recalled it thirty years later in less than happy terms. Jack did Lon Chaney, Jr., as Wolf Man, Dracula, and Frankenstein, over the years. That too was not a good relationship.

If they needed a star to age from 30 to 80, Jack Pierce could make it happen for a generation. One of his last makeup jobs was for Mr. Ed, the talking horse, hired by his friend from Universal, Arthur Lubin.

When Jack died in 1969, almost no one from the movie world came to his funeral. Fascinating bio of a nearly forgotten figure of film history.

 

 

 

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Gods & Monsters: 20 Years Later?

 DATELINE:   Fraser, Olyphant, or Caviezel?

Whale & Monster

As part of our continuing shock at how many years have passed since certain minor classic films have been around, we were stunned to note that it is nearly that long since Ian McKellan played the director of Frankenstein, in 1957, before his suicide.

James Whale was gay, and the Bill Condon film is based on novelized account of his last days in 1957 and is titled Gods and Monsters. Partly owing to John Hurt playing a literary critic stalking a teen heart-throb in Love and Death on Long Island the year before, we had McKellan with a sunset crush on his gardener.

How true is it all?  At least we were not treated to one of those disclaimers, “Based on a true story.”

Whale had long since left the Hollywood sound stage, partly owing to box office poison. He had made some literate and funny horror films that stand the test of time: Frankenstein and Bride thereof.

With his mind slipping away from a stroke or some form of Alzheimer’s Disease, he puts his attention on Brendan Fraser, a most handsome young yardman with a flat top hairdo that is just too preciously reminiscent of the Monster designed by Whale in 1931.

Fraser, at the time, was part of a trio of actors who could have been interchangeable in the role: Timothy Olyphant and Jim Caviezel were the other two. All the same age and style.

McKellan is, as always, brilliant and plays off Lynn Redgrave as his unattractive housekeeper. He puts the moves on the unwilling Fraser, but it is all subterfuge to force the homophobic former Marine into killing him and putting him out of his misery.

A coda to the sensitive, episodic incidents in Whale’s final days, is perhaps the weakest link in the movie as Condon had no idea how to end it, that is otherwise a powerful biographical movie.