Sunday, November 17, 2019
The photo above of Karloff in a test makeup by Jack Pierce for FRANKENSTEIN was most likely a promo still that was distributed by Universal after the film was released. Below is a colorized photo of Pierce beginning his ministrations and on his way to a makeup masterpiece.
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
This article, written by Don Sheppard, appeared in the third issue of Fantastic Monsters of the Films (1962), wherein Jack Pierce's technique for the monster in Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein is revealed. Even early on, film monster magazine editors were acknowledging Pierce's craft.
The article actually focuses on Boris Karloff, who tells of the hours sitting in the makeup chair while Pierce made him into the monster. Karloff emphasizes the discomfort that he went through to endure the iconic transformations.
Monday, September 2, 2019
Even the great monster magazine editor Forrest J Ackerman missed a chance on crediting Jack Pierce. Here is shown a page from a photo feature from Famous Monsters of Filmland #23 (June 1963) that includes a still from Giant From the Unknown. It's possible FJA ran out of space to add Pierce's name, but with the magazine's emphasis at the time on monster makeups, it's still surprising that he didn't add Pierce in the pun.
Monday, July 1, 2019
In this LIFE magazine special edition that was published last year, Jack gets a full page recognition as the creator of the monster's makeup. He is shown with his assistant, Otto Lederer. Interesting that he was also named as the "designer" of Dracula.
Sunday, April 14, 2019
This highly-anticipated 2-disc Blu-ray edition of Universal's silent classic, The Man Who Laughs is due in June from Flicker Alley.
The film showcases the next major makeup by Jack Pierce after his masterful work on Jacques Lerner for The Monkey Talks (1927).
The remastered 4K version of this film is sure to delight fans of vintage silent films, as well as the work of the legendary Jack Pierce.
From the distributor:
Flicker Alley, in partnership with Universal Pictures, are proud to present Universal Pictures new 4K restoration of the 1928 silent classic, The Man Who Laughs, accompanied by a newly recorded orchestral score by the Berklee School of Music. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the story centers on the extraordinary adventures of Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt), whose wide and mirthless grin inspired DC Comics legendary Batman villain, the Joker. Veidt's character has become well known to most cinephiles. Orphaned as a child, Gwynplaine is punished by the king for his father s transgressions, by having face carved into a hideous grin. Disfigured and alone, Gwynplaine rescues a blind girl Dea (Mary Philbin), and both end up starring in a sideshow where they fall in love.
Because she cannot see, Dea does not know about her lover s tormented grin.
Masterfully directed by Paul Leni, The Man Who Laughs marks Leni s penultimate work. Having grown up in Germany during the era of Expressionism, Leni embraces haunting characters, twisted sets, harsh angles, and deep shadows. Heralded as one of the best American silents emulating German Expressionism, The Man Who Laughs presents Leni at his creative directorial peak. Originally released silent, the film was enough of a hit for Universal in 1928 that the studio released it with a synched musical score using the Movietone sound-on-film process, presented here as a secondary audio track.
Part of Universal Pictures ongoing silent restoration initiative, The Man Who Laughs honors the studio's rich film history that has spanned more than a century. The primary source element for this restoration was a 35mm composite fine grain from the Universal Pictures vault, created in 1954 from the nitrate original camera negative. NBCUniversal's restoration team was able to stabilize and deflicker the film as well as repair scratches, warps, and dirt. The 4K digital restoration was completed by NBCUniversal StudioPost.
BONUS MATERIALS INCLUDE:
- Paul Leni and The Man Who Laughs: A visual essay by film historian and author, John Soister, on Leni s work at Universal during this period.
- Celebrating Universal s Masterpiece: A new booklet essay written by renowned film historian and author, Kevin Brownlow.
- Notes On the New Score: A short essay by composer Sonia Coronado of the Berklee School of Music on their new score for The Man Who Laughs.
- Optional Secondary Audio Track: In addition to the new Berklee School of Music score, the film s original 1928 Movietone score presented here as a secondary audio track.
- Rare Image Gallery: A slide show presentation of vintage marketing materials, trade ads, memorabilia, and more from The Man Who Laughs, courtesy of the Reel Heroes of Film.
Saturday, March 23, 2019
Now playing on Netflix is the documentary entitled, "The Strange Life of Dr. Frankenstein". Released in conjunction with the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelly's novel, numerous scenes depict the screen versions of her story.
French author and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière comments of the original Frankenstein monster's makeup (as seen in the screen caps below). Unfortunately, Jack Pierce is not credited with creating the "mask" that Carrière so passionately describes. All one has to do is scroll through the countless movies that Pierce participated in and received the same lack of screen credit. It wouldn't be until a decade later when his name appeared in THE WOLF MAN, the first screen credit he received for his many monster creations.
Monday, February 11, 2019
This article appeared last year in the New York Post during the heavy coverage of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelly's original novel.
The article is nicely researched and cites some obscure references to Pierce. Let's hope that the "makeup whiz" continues to be remembered.
How this makeup whiz created the most recognizable monster of all time
By Raquel Laneri April 11, 2018 | 9:59pm |
When Universal’s horror classic “Frankenstein” opened at the Mayfair Theater on Dec. 4, 1931, curious New Yorkers swarmed the Times Square cinema to experience what promised to be the scariest movie ever filmed.
They weren’t disappointed. One critic said that the premiere “aroused so much excitement” that many audience members “laughed to cover their true feelings” of horror and revulsion. One young woman reported that she was afraid to go into her attic for months after seeing the film; she was convinced that Frankenstein’s monster, played by a larger-than-life Boris Karloff, was hiding up there.
“She was 18 years old when the movie came out — she wasn’t a kid — so even adults were really shocked and thrown for a loop by this movie,” said Hollywood historian Gregory Mank, who has written multiple books on classic horror films.
While the story — based on the 19th-century novel by Mary Shelley about a scientist who tries to create a human but ends up fabricating a monster — was spooky enough, Mank said it was the makeup that really made the picture.
“It was so extraordinary and so incredibly realistic,” he told The Post of the monster’s ghoulish face and flat-topped head, a collaboration among Karloff, director James Whale and makeup whiz Jack Pierce.
Since Shelley’s book contained little detail about the creature’s looks, Pierce could let his imagination run wild, and he spent months researching and experimenting with the monster’s appearance.
The combination of face paint and crude DIY prosthetics that he came up with took at least four hours to apply and two hours to take off after a long day of filming. But it was worth it: “The makeup is what really made the film,” said Mank.
Frankenstein turns 200 this year. And since the book’s initial publication in 1818, it has inspired hundreds of plays and more than 75 movies. Yet, despite countless reimaginings, it’s the 1931 version of the monster — with the lumbering gait, exaggerated forehead, squared-off head and electric bolts sticking out of his neck — that continues to haunt pop culture, inspiring Halloween costumes, toys and parodies to this day.
“That image of the 1931 monster is so strong that ever since then, nobody can really have a crack at Frankenstein without taking some account of that image,” Christopher Frayling, author of “Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years” (Reel Art Press), told The Post.
“It’s a globally recognized brand. It’s like Dracula has to wear a cloak, Sherlock Holmes has to wear a deerstalker [cap] . . . and Frankenstein has to look like Boris Karloff.”
“Frankenstein” was already popular before Universal Studios decided to adapt it as part of a new stable of cheap horror flicks in the early 1930s. While Shelley’s novel initially was considered an amoral flop, by 1826, there were no fewer than 15 theatrical versions of “Frankenstein” competing on the stage throughout England and France.
In 1910, Thomas Edison’s film company made a “Frankenstein” movie, one of the first narrative films, and certainly the first narrative genre film, ever produced. The idea of the creature as a grunting, horrific-looking monster actually stems from these early interpretations of Shelley’s story.
In the book — as in the subsequent retellings — Frankenstein the scientist constructs his creation out of parts of dead human beings. But in Shelley’s original, said Frayling, “Frankenstein says he selected the body parts with great care. . . . [The creature] has got beautiful black hair and lustrous teeth, and it sounds like he’s a bodybuilder or something — there’s just something strange about his eyes that scare people.”
Such a nuanced account wouldn’t work on the stage or screen, however. So from the very first play version, in 1823, the creature is “not just rather repulsive-looking but completely inarticulate, whereas in the book, once he gets the hang of talking, he can’t stop,” said Frayling.
Universal wanted something special for its version of “Frankenstein.” The studio had been struggling, having lost $2.2 million in 1930, when it decided to pivot to horror flicks, which were fast and cheap to produce.
That year it hired makeup artist Pierce, a Greek immigrant who had made a name for himself transforming actors into apes and fantastical beings for small-budget studios. And while Pierce’s work was stymied on Universal’s first horror outing, “Dracula” — its notoriously vain star, Bela Lugosi, refused to let the makeup man do him up as an ugly, hobbled Nosferatu — the studio promised he could have free rein on its next picture, “Frankenstein.”
“Pierce was just thrilled because here was a chance to really let his imagination and skill really go wild,” Mank said.
In a 1967 interview with the fan mag For Monsters Only, Pierce said he spent some three months researching “anatomy, surgery, medicine, criminology, ancient and modern burial costumes and electrodynamics” before doing any sketches for the film. Since Frankenstein wasn’t an actual surgeon, Pierce decided that the fictional scientist would opt for the easiest way to insert a brain into a corpse’s head.
“He was apt to cut the top of the skull straight across like a pot lid, hinge it, pop the brain in and then clamp it tight,” Pierce told the magazine. “That’s why I made the monster’s head square and flat like a shoebox and added that big scar across the forehead with the metal clamps to hold it together.”
He came up with the bolts at the neck because Frankenstein was supposed to use electricity to bring the monster to life. He also shortened Karloff’s jackets and made his extremities look long and swollen after reading that this would happen to the bodies of criminals bound and buried alive in ancient Egypt.
“[Pierce] felt that would be, as he said, ‘a nice touch’ for the monster, since [in the film] he was supposed to be made from corpses of these executed people,” Mank said.
“He kind of put it all together very scientifically. He was sort of the real Dr. Frankenstein here.”
Karloff and Whale went back and forth with sketches and models before settling on the basic outline of the monster, but once Pierce and Karloff began experimenting in the makeup chair, the creature really started to come to life. It was Karloff’s idea to make his eyelids thick and heavy — he thought his face looked too lively. He also suggested the monster’s sunken-cheek look.
By removing his dental bridge, Karloff made his face look asymmetrical and undeniably creepy.
“I think part of the reason that Frankenstein’s monster works so well is because of Boris Karloff,” makeup artist Rick Baker — famous for his work on “An American Werewolf in London” and the recent “Planet of the Apes” movies — told The Post.
Not only did Karloff’s eyes and nuanced acting bring a sensitivity and identifiable quality to the monster, making him a sympathetic figure, but, said Baker, “His face is just perfect.”
Pierce said it took four hours to build Karloff’s look from scratch every morning before filming, using a crude combination of cotton and spirit gum — the only adhesive available at the time — for his prosthetics and a mixture of makeup that produced a greenish tinge that would film as ghostly white. Karloff would then sit for an extra two hours at the end of the day as Pierce took everything off with acetone.
“It was time-consuming and difficult for Karloff and Pierce,” said Baker. “But for me and all the fans around the world, it was worth it.”
“Frankenstein” ended up being a bigger hit than even “Dracula,” grossing $12 million, far exceeding its paltry $250,000 budget. Karloff reprised his role in 1935’s “Bride of Frankenstein” and 1939’s “Son of Frankenstein.” Even after Karloff retired from the role, Universal continued churning out Frankenstein flicks, with Pierce copying his original makeup for Lon Chaney Jr. and others.
Other studios didn’t have that luxury: Universal had a copyright on Pierce’s makeup — specifically the flat-topped head, high forehead, green makeup and the bolts at the neck — and audiences just weren’t buying a Frankenstein’s monster that didn’t look like the iconic 1931 version.
The filmmakers who tried, failed. In 1957’s bad B-movie “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein,” the comically deranged, Toxic Avenger-looking creature is made from the bodies of teens who have died in car crashes. Britain’s Hammer Films made a more serious bid that same year, launching a series of Frankenstein films starring Christopher Lee as the monster, which were a disaster.
“[Lee’s monster] was just this really nasty-looking mess,” said Mank of the new creature’s scar-ridden face. “And then Hammer kept changing the appearance of the monster . . . and they just never could get it to click.” That is, until they cut a deal with Universal about halfway through the series to allow them to adapt the 1931 icon for their own purposes.
Even acclaimed director Kenneth Branagh and Oscar winner Robert De Niro failed with their 1994 attempt. And then there was 2015’s ghastly (and not in a good way) “Victor Frankenstein,” a forgettable slog starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe.
Meanwhile, the 1931 Frankenstein endures. Universal drew on the monster’s popularity again with the 1960s TV spoof “The Munsters” — a satire on the all-American family with a cuddly patriarch who bears a strong resemblance to Karloff’s Frankenstein. And Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy “Young Frankenstein” remains such a classic because it evoked the lumbering, high-foreheaded Universal property without explicitly infringing on any copyright laws — it’s currently on stage in London. And there are countless Frankenstein toys and masks produced every year.
“Frankenstein has moved from literature to serious horror movie and into the general cultural bloodstream,” Frayling said. “You start seeing him on children’s television and cereal boxes and toys and all the rest of it. He’s moved into a different realm altogether.”
While studios don’t share figures beyond box-office revenues, Mank said that with all the money Universal makes from merchandising the copyrighted Frankenstein monster image, as well as the money from Blu-ray releases and leasing the old films to TV, “it must add up to a huge amount of revenue.”
And though “Frankenstein” the story is timeless — with its anxieties relating to science and man playing God — Baker said that the reason why Frankenstein will forever remain horror’s most enduring monster is because of Pierce and Karloff’s collaboration.
“It’s at the top; it’s the pinnacle,” Baker said. “My hope with my career was that someday I would create something as iconic as the Frankenstein’s monster, but nobody has.”