Day 12 – Tribute to Jack Pierce

Crap – I’m really behind on this countdown huh? I should have known not to make a 31 day committment, I have trouble returning library books on time! I do have a good reason, but I’d rather not bore you with it – sufice it to say there was a terrifying blood pressure cuff at some point that would automatically squeeze my arm so tightly that I offered to confess to whatever crimes I was being charged with if they would just let me out of the thing!  So, forgive my lateness as I put up several blog posts all at once to catch up!

First, a tribute to one of my early idols – Hollywood makeup artist Jack Pierce.

Read this article from 1933 Modern Mechanix here – it’s so fascinating!

This is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article on Jack Pierce

Jack Pierce was a Hollywood make-up artist most famous for creating the iconic make-up worn by Boris Karloff in Universal Studios’ 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

It was on the 1926 set of “The Monkey Talks” , Jack Pierce began creating the makeup for actor Jacques Lernier who was playing a simian with the ability to communicate. The head of Universal, Carl Laemmle was won over with the creative outcome. Next came the rictus-grin face of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, two silent Universal pictures that audiences were astonished with. Pierce was then immediately hired full-time by the newly established Universal Pictures motion picture studio. The 1930 death of Lon Chaney, who throughout the 1920s had made a name for himself by creating grotesque and often painful horror make-ups, opened a niche for Pierce and Universal, Chaney’s films provided audiences with the deformed monstrous faces that Pierce and the audiences so clearly enjoyed.

The most significant creation during Pierce’s time at the studio was clearly Frankenstein.

Pierce came up with a design that was horrific as well as logical in the context of the story. So, where Henry Frankenstein has accessed the brain cavity, there is a scar and a seal, and the now famous “bolts” on the neck are actually electrodes; carriers for the electricity used to vivify the monster

Pierce went on to create make-up for several “Frankenstein” sequels (The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), Henry Hull’s subtly terrifying visage in Werewolf of London (1935), and Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man (1941), which itself was originally designed for Hull in the 1935 film. This last make-up was extremely elaborate, and pioneered a technique whereby pieces of molded rubber (now known as “applications”) covered in yak fur were glued to the actor’s face.

Pierce died in obscurity in 1968. Since then, his reputation has grown, with a generation of make-up artists like Rick Baker and Tom Savini citing him as a pioneer, and magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland publishing articles on his work. Recent DVD releases of the classic Universal horror movies have also included bonus footage of Pierce at work, and discussion of his techniques and importance.

Jack Pierce’s enduring work at Universal has become a huge influence to many in the entertainment field, and his designed characters are seen everywhere in today’s pop culture, from marketing campaigns to weekly television programs. Jack Pierce was an innovator in the world of screen entertainment and material design. Jack’s sculpting on the various actors never received any noticeable contemporary awards, even though many people in the industry believed (and continue to) that without Pierce there would have been no memorable monsters. The Oscars for make-up were given out beginning in 1964, ignoring Jack all together before he passed on. Finally, in 2003, Pierce was recognized with a lifetime achievement award from the Hollywood Make-up Artist and Hair Stylist Guild. In 2008, there is a strong desire to give Pierce a Hollywood Boulevard star for his popular lasting triumphs. Pierce undeniably created screen icons to last beyond a lifetime.