Saturday, October 24, 2015


Ten years after he was released from Universal (the official notice states that he "resigned"), Pierce was still working, albeit with a little less inspiration for creating the memorable characters that marked his triumphant earlier years. In GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN he had the job of creating the visage of Vargas, the Diablo Giant, titular character of the film released by Astor Pictures in March, 1958.

Produced by Screencraft Enterprises and directed by Richard Cunha, GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN was lensed in Big Bear Lake and the San Bernardino mountains of California. It was Cunha's first directorial role and he managed to make an adventurous and thrilling monster movie on the reported $55,000 budget. It appears from photographs of the "Monster of Devil's Crag" that Pierce was still mining his go-to makeup materials, cotton, collodion and Fuller's Earth.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


A Film by Strephon Taylor
A November Fire Recording
DVD (Region 1)
82 min.
Written, Directed and Edited by Strephon Taylor
Associate Producer: Heather Taylor
Narrated by Ernie Fosselius
Additional Narration by Nikki Blakk
Music: Hobgoblin

There can be no overestimating the influence that Jack P. Pierce has had on the iconography of horror cinema. His name belongs on or near the top of any A-list of great movie makeup artists that have been spawned (and spurned as Pierce once was) by Hollywood from the Golden Age until present day. In the 1920’s Lon Chaney had his Quasimodo, his Phantom of the Opera and his piranha-toothed London vampire, but Pierce dominated all others in the 1930’s with his visually stunning creations of the Frankenstein monster, Morgan the Butler, Murder Legendre, The Mummy, the Werewolf of London, The Bride of Frankenstein and the Luciferian Hjalmar Poelzig. His arc of genius reached its zenith in the early 1940’s with his makeup on -- ironically -- Chaney’s son for THE WOLF MAN. When asked by an interviewer which of the Universal characters he was responsible for creating during his 20-plus years as Universal’s head of makeup, he replied: “All of them”.

Strephon Taylor’s new documentary, JACK PIERCE, THE MAKER OF MONSTERS, is both a tribute and a testament to Pierce’s enduring legacy. Produced in much the same fashion as his other genre documentaries (UNCLE FORRY’S ACKERMANSIONSTHE COMPLETE BOB WILKINS CREATURE FEATURES), this film combines both stills and live action clips to chart the trajectory of Jack Pierce’s career, from his early days odd-jobbing it as a projectionist, actor and stunt-man, to his first opportunities for recognition as a makeup artist with his phenomenal work on THE MONKEY TALKS and THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, to his full-time directorship at the helm of Universal Pictures’ makeup department. After that, they say, is history and Pierce provided plenty of it through the years, providing a multitude of characters for the Universal monster machine that remains viable and marketable to this day.

Much of the material that is presented (in the “Kevin Burns” style of screen transitions) is from promotional stills and images from Jack Pierce’s personal scrapbook. Included are film clips, a voice over reading some of Pierce’s printed interviews, and an audio recording of Pierce discussing his work with TV man Wayne Thomas. The narration by Ernie Fosselius is well done and well recorded. The music by Hobgoblin has its moments, but I found it a bit intrusive on occasion. I also missed seeing some live commentaries by the historians, Scott Essman, Doug Norwine and Larry W. Underwood (a.k.a. Dr Gangrene). My review copy did not contain the DVD extra interview with composer Hans J. Salter so I cannot comment on it.

JACK PIERCE, THE MAKER OF MONSTERS shows a lot of dedication and love for the subject and, as a result, belongs in any horror fan’s DVD cabinet. It is both entertaining to watch and to own as a pop culture artifact from a day when horror films were still young.

Here is the press release from November Fire Recordings that gives additional information on this film:

“In today’s cinematic world of digital effects, telling what is real from what was created in a computer is impossible. But there was a time when Hollywood relied on nothing more than an artist’s ability to create a boogie man with grease paint, cotton, glue, hair, and a few simple materials to draw people into the theater to be chilled and thrilled. When we think back to these talents of the silver screen most people think of “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” Lon Chaney. But Universal Studios had its very own Phantom creating the world’s most memorable creatures lurking in its substages. His amazing ability to create makeups that can still stand toe-to-toe with today’s multimillion dollar effects is worth a closer look. Jack Pierce was the man who brought us Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, The Wolfman, Bride of Frankenstein, and countless other monsters that have stood the test of time. Drawn from recorded interviews, historical footage, hundreds of photos including Jack Pierce’s personal scrap book, and news clippings we meet “The Maker of Monsters,” Jack P. Pierce. Join his journey from Greece to the budding film industry in Los Angeles in the early 1900s to his rising star as a freelance film hand, eventually becoming the head of Universal’s makeup department and creating the monsters that we all grew up with and still love. This 82-minute documentary covers his entire career and life including the surprising hand Pierce had in American Olympics history. Plus, all the classic monsters your heart can stand!

Visit the NOVEMBER FIRE webpage for more information on the release of this DVD.

Friday, June 26, 2015


A promotional still taken by Universal staff photographer Jack Freulich for THE MUMMY (1932) shows director Karl Freund giving a last minute shine to Im-ho-tep's mystical scarab ring. Hidden by a lighting fixture is Jack Pierce tending details to Karloff's makeup of collodion and Fuller's earth. Scattered around the feet of Pierce are numerous cigarette butts, an indication of how long Karloff had been sitting there.

Pierce would later win a well-deserved 1932 makeup award from the HOLLYWOOD FILMOGRAPH for his efforts.

PHOTO: Heritage Auctions

The reverse of the still showing Jack Freulich's credit.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Jack's 126th birthday was yesterday, May 5. His birth year was 1889.

Friday, March 13, 2015


Described as a "master monster cosmetician" in this photo quiz, Pierce is pictured with his makeup brush in action with Glenn Strange in the chair. Note the use of his off hand to steady his line.

The image is from Charlton Publications' Horror Monsters Fall 1964 issue (Volume 3 Number 9).

For those of you trying the quiz, a helpful hint: The Pierce answer is not "B".

Monday, February 16, 2015


The few monster magazines from the early era that contained anything other than photographs of Jack Pierce usually included only the most superficial of biographical information. One exception, found in the most unlikeliest of sources, was in Charlton Publications' For Monsters Only #5 (Sep. 1967). The article, entitled "The Man Behind the Monsters: The Story of Jack Pierce" and written by Richard Bojarski, cites numerous nuggets of interesting points about Jack's early days before he became more well known as the head of Universal's make up department.

Readers may recognize the author's name. Richard "Bojar" Bojarski, who wrote popular filmographies of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and, as well as this article in For Monsters Only, a contributor to Castle of Frankenstein magazine.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Jane Wyatt as Dinny in James Whales' One More River, with freshly-plucked eyebrows.

I read with great amusement a quote in Gregory William Mank's latest book, The Very Witching Time of Night (McFarland, 2014). It appears in the essay regarding James Whales' project that was filmed between BY CANDLELIGHT and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN entitled, ONE MORE RIVER (released 6 August1934). It stars Colin Clive as a cruel and perverse husband who comes to reclaim his wife (Diana Wynyard) after she tries to leave the physically and emotionally abusive relationship. In the film, Whale, known for his camera movement, used a similar shot to effectively introduce Colin Clive as the villain much like he did with Boris Karloff as the monster in FRANKENSTEIN. The film was considered controversial because of its themes of rape, brutality, and adultery, and, as a result, was heavily censored by Joseph Breen's newly-blessed Motion Picture Production Code.

The quote is by newcomer Jane Wyatt, who played Dinny in the film. She remembered her first meeting with Jack Pierce like this:

"I went into makeup at Universal for the first time, and the makeup man was little Jack Pierce, who was quite celebrated (which I didn't know at the time)...and he started pulling out all my eyebrows! I cried out 'Stop! Stop! I don't want you to pull out all my eyebrows!' He said, 'Listen, little girl; I have made up the greatest. Don't you tell Jack Pierce what to do. Look!' And he waved his arm toward all the pictures he had up on the wall. Well, they were not glamour pictures, they were Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi and I don't know who else [laughs]! He was a wonderful little guy and I got to be very, very fond of him."

Now, statements such as these are not unique among actors and actresses who worked under the hot makeup lights and skilled hands of Jack Pierce, then head of makeup at Universal Pictures. By 1934 Pierce had cemented his respect in makeup mastery in the eyes of many. He still had a number of years to go where he would continue his friendly relationship with Boris Karloff and create many more memorable monster makeups, including one of his best, Lon Chaney's Wolf Man. Nevertheless, more than one actor, including Chaney and Elsa Lanchester, were perturbed at Pierce's perceived intolerance for anything other than what he wanted. It could have been just a case of "his way or the highway".

Janey Wyatt and Frank Lawton in One More River.

In this particular case, however, and in Jack's defense, it was Miss Wyatt's very first film (she went on years later to play the dutiful housewife in FATHER KNOWS BEST), as well as her first experience in the makeup chair of a notable Hollywood professional. And, as the head of the department he was no doubt adhering to a hectic shooting schedule to produce the expected results from studio executives. After all, no matter how long it took to complete all the necessary makeups prior to a shot, there was always the expectation of coming in under budget and on schedule. As a result, this left precious little time to stroke egos and negotiate the application of makeup with a persnickety actor. Pierce was a consummate professional who took extreme pride in his work, and rightly so judging from his respect in the industry. Consequently, if he wanted to pluck the eyebrows off a brand new, 23-year old starlet fresh from Schwab's ice cream counter, he darn well would!

Still, there were instances where an experienced, veteran actor considered "cranky" behavior exhibited from the "little man". While his physical stature cannot be disputed (he stood about 5' 5" and weighed about 140 lbs.), the degree of "crankiness" could be considered subjective according to the whims of an egotistical actor who thought it beneath them to undergo such indignities as having crepe hair pasted on their photogenic countenance -- to which I would say, didn't they know what they were signing up for? In any case, actors would have to put up with Pierce and learn to like, even "adore" least when they were in his chair.

[Screen caps source: World of Cinema website]