Karloff to Universal: Give Make-Up Master Jack Pierce a Star!

Jack Pierce applies the classic Wolf Man makeup.As noted by Steve, below, it’s quite apparent that Jack Pierce should have a star on the walk of fame, and it should be as close to Boris Karloff’s star as possible. I’m also sure Universal will be happy to spend the $5,000 or so that is needed to make this happen, once they realize that Jack Pierce created the make-up for both Henry Hull in THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON, as well as Lon Chaney’s make-up for THE WOLF MAN. The sad fact is, probably nobody at Universal even knows who Jack Pierce is these days… but I’m sure once someone like Rick Baker says to them, “You know, when THE WOLF MAN opens, why don’t we give the man who created the first THE WOLF MAN make-up for Universal, Jack Pierce, a star on Hollywood Blvd” then it may actually happen! Especially, if it can be tied in with the opening of Universal’s new WOLF MAN movie!

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that if Boris Karloff, one of the original founders of the Screen Actors Guild, were still around, he would certainly be asking Universal to put up the small amount of money needed to honor his good friend Jack Pierce, and asking them to give Mr. Pierce a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

Here are some of Boris Karloff’s own comments about the masterful make-ups Jack Pierce created for him, from the long interview Karloff did for Canadian radio:

Q: Wasn’t there one called The House of Frankenstein that you did?

BORIS KARLOFF: Oh, that was made some years later (in 1944), and in that one I think I played Dr. Frankenstein himself. (Karloff actually played Dr. Niemann, a deranged disciple of Dr. Frankenstein).

Q: The Scientist who created the the monster?

BORIS KARLOFF: Yes, I’ve done that twice for my sins (the second time in Frankenstein-1970). But I only played the monster three times.

Q: Who played the monster in House of Frankenstein?

BORIS KARLOFF: Glenn Strange, and in the meantime it had been played by both Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr.

Q: Lon Chaney Jr. the son of…

BORIS KARLOFF: Of the great Lon Chaney!

Q: Lon Chaney was also a monster man.

BORIS KARLOFF: Well I wouldn’t say “monster man,” but he was a brilliant make-up artist, and a very, very fine actor. A wonderful man, the father. He did all his own make-up.

Q: Really? He was a master of make-up?

BORIS KARLOFF: Yes, when he was alive, on top, or on deck. That was before the days of the great make-up departments they have now, and the actor had to do his own make-up and Lon Chaney designed and executed all his own make-ups. He was a magnificent actor who I met once while I was still doing bit parts. One day, we were talking about the picture business and my chances for getting somewhere in it, and he said to me, “if you’re going to act, you’re going to act. Even if you have to starve, never give up. The secret of success in Hollywood lies in being different than anyone else. Find something no one else can or will do, and they’ll begin to take notice of you.” Well, I think it’s a dead certainty I wouldn’t be where I am now if Lon Chaney had lived and played in Frankenstein. There will only be one Lon Chaney, because he understood so well the souls of afflicted people. He told me how he had suffered because his mother and father were deaf-mutes. None of us can do what Chaney did, because none of us feel just as he did.

Q: In Frankenstein you had a tremendous amount of make-up on your face. Was that a mask or was it all make-up?

BORIS KARLOFF: No, it was make-up, and it took about four hours to put it on. It was a terrible job.

Q: Did you help design any of the make-up, as Lon Chaney did?

Jack Pierce applies the monster make-up to Boris Karloff for FRANKENSTEIN.BORIS KARLOFF: No, you see, the camera is so exacting that they have experts who do it now, and it saves them a lot of time and money. It’s an economic thing. All my make-up was done by Jack Pierce, who was a brilliant make-up man. He took a long time to work it out. He stalled them for two weeks while he worked it all out. Then, when we were in the last stages of getting it down to what it would be, I said, “lets see if we can do something about the eyes, because as I said before, my eyes seemed too normal and alive for a thing that had only just been put together and born. So we played around and we put some putty on my eyelids, so that the lids were the same, and that was it.

Q: How many days were you on the set, having to put this on?

BORIS KARLOFF: Well, on the film, I think I worked every day on the film, and the film took about eight weeks to make, and I remember there was one awful occasion, when I got into the make-up shop at half-past three in the morning, to be ready to go out on location and we went out in the hot sun. We were out on the edge of the lake for the scene with the little girl, the scene you were just talking about and then we went back to the studio in the evening to have some supper, and then we went back to the backlot and worked all night until five in the morning. I had it on for over twenty-five hours. It was a long pull. THE MUMMY was another awful make-up job. For the sequence where the dead mummy comes to life, it was between eight and nine hours to get ready for it. You really had to get to the studio the day before. Thank God that sequence only took about a week to shoot!

Q: Were the lights then as strong as the klieg lights are now?

BORIS KARLOFF: They were different kind of lights they were carbon lights. They were dreadful! They were really dreadful. Toasted your eyes. In Frankenstein, during the laboratory scenes, I was never as nervous as when I lay half naked, strapped to the operating table. Above me I could see the special effects men shaking the white-hot scissor-like carbons that simulated the lightning. I prayed very hard that no one got butterfingers.

Q: For the body part of you they made you a bit taller, didn’t they?

BORIS KARLOFF: Yes, I had enormous lifts on, and enormous body pads and the boots weighed about sixteen pounds apiece. All told, the whole outfit weighed about forty to forty-five pounds.

Q: So that helped give you this lurching movement.

BORIS KARLOFF: It helped me to lose twenty pounds or so, because we were doing it in August, at the height of the summer, and it was really savagely hard work.

Q: So as you lost weight, you had to put more padding on?

BORIS KARLOFF: Yes (laughter). More or less.

Q: Now the heavy boots were also to increase your height.

BORIS KARLOFF: Yes. Enormous lifts, you see and you shoot with a low camera. You always shoot up, at an angle. That also adds to your height. There are all sorts of tricks.

Q: Did you find yourself getting a lot of fan letters after you did Frankenstein?

BORIS KARLOFF: Oh, yes. You always do. You get fan letters. They’re usually asking for photographs, “I saw your film, would you please send me a photograph.” But the interesting thing about that, and the rewarding thing about that film to me, outside of everything it has done for me and has meant to me, was the effect that it had on youngsters. They all could see right through the make-up and see the tragedy of this poor figure, and expressed great compassion for him. I shall always feel rewarded for that.

About the Author

Lawrence French

LAWRENCE FRENCH celebrated his 20th anniversary as a contributor to Cinefantastique Magazine with his cover story on the making of THE RETURN OF THE KING. As Cinefantastique’s longtime San Francisco correspondent, he has written numerous stories about Pixar and Lucasfilm, and interviewed such genre stalwarts as Vincent Price, Tim Burton, Ray Harryhausen, John Lasseter, Phil Tippett and Ray Bradbury. He is also the editor of the highly regarded website on Orson Welles, Wellesnet.com. His book as editor of Richard Matheson’s Edgar Allan Poe scripts for THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM was published by Gauntlet Press in 2007, with a second volume on TALES OF TERROR and THE RAVEN due out in the future. For Cinefantastique Online, he currently writes the regular column Supernal Dreams.

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