Rubber monsters
June 18, 2006 10:51 PM   Subscribe

If you know monster makeup, you already know the name Jack Pierce, who created the makeup for Frankenstein's monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, and many others. But Pierce's career with Universal Studios, for whom he created these masterpieces, came to a sudden, and unexpected, end when, in 1945, he and his entire staff were fired.

The trouble? Pierce's methods were time-consuming and painstaking, involving, among other things, building up his creatures features with cotton and collodion, a process that took many hours. Universal had fallen on hard times, with mergers, sales of its catalogue, and the loss of its 1,500-screen theater chain bringing the bean counters to the fore. They wanted to cut back on Universal's grand-spending ways, and out with the bathwater went the baby. The sorts of makeup men the bean-counters like were George and Gordon Bau, two brothers from Minnesota who had worked at Rubbercraft and brought with them a knowledge of how to make reusable appliances from cheap, lightweight foam latex. Their major accomplishment was House of Wax (1953) and they revolutionized the industry (Dick Smith's work in Little Big Man would be unthinkable without it, as would the entire career of Rick Baker. Best still, it's now possible to buy monstrous and gruesome rubber appliances right off the shelf.
posted by Astro Zombie (27 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
fantastic post. thanks for opening a window on this history.
posted by jann at 11:37 PM on June 18, 2006

Have just gone through the varuous links in some depth - a really fascinating story. Great post, thanks.
posted by greycap at 2:19 AM on June 19, 2006

Collodion is applied to small aseptic wounds, to small-pox pustules, and occasionally to the end of the urethra in boys in
order to prevent nocturnal incontinence.

No way did that stop bedwetting. How humiliating.

Great post, Astro Zombie.
posted by maryh at 2:26 AM on June 19, 2006

Great post Astro Zombie. Seems a real shame that this post, with well thought out links supporting an interesting story I knew almost nothing about, gets three replies, whilst some idiot self linking single link fpp gets over 150. *sigh* such is life, I suppose.
posted by ciderwoman at 3:44 AM on June 19, 2006

That is, now deleted idiot self linking single link fpp, for those who got here late.
posted by ciderwoman at 3:45 AM on June 19, 2006

You're my hero, Astro Zombie. This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to read MeFi again.
posted by MrBaliHai at 4:01 AM on June 19, 2006

fantastic post.
posted by nola at 4:17 AM on June 19, 2006

Deeply awesome post. Astro Zombie. Thank you for sharing!
posted by headspace at 5:15 AM on June 19, 2006

Very good post. I've always wondered how they did special effects makeup prior to latex foam.
posted by loquacious at 5:39 AM on June 19, 2006

Wow, he took 8 hours to do the makeup for the Mummy.... EIGHT HOURS of JUST MAKEUP. Only after sitting in the chair for a full day could the actor actually start working.

That's real dedication, on both the part of the makeup artist and the actor.

Thanks, AZ, this is a classic post.
posted by Malor at 5:57 AM on June 19, 2006

Thanks, great post. I got an appreciation for Jack Pierce from reading my older brother's Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines back in the 1970's.
posted by marxchivist at 6:21 AM on June 19, 2006

Wow, he took 8 hours to do the makeup for the Mummy

Well, that's a day's work, so it's not so amazing for Pierce. The surprise is that any actor sat still for (or slept through most of, probably) that much work. But Karloff was hot at the time and looking for the next big monster success, so he probably figured it was worth it, and maybe contractually he had no choice anyway. "You want to cover me in fuller's earth for 16 hours a day? OK. When do I start?"

Best still, it's now possible to buy monstrous and gruesome rubber appliances right off the shelf.

That's a link I'm not clicking at work.
posted by pracowity at 6:26 AM on June 19, 2006

Actually, Karloff was not keen on the Mummy makeup, and successfully petitioned the actor's guild so that he would spend elss makeup time in the chair. He could barely breathe in the Mummy makeup -- he was basically breathing through his eyeholes. Pierce made the successive Frankenstein makeup processes faster, although it was still tricky for Karloff. He was a gardener, and, on at least one occassion, rushed home in full monster makeup to water his rose bushes.

Leaving the set in makeup can be dangerous, by the way. There is a possibly apocryphal story about a man dying in a car crash after swerving off a road upon seeing a truck filled with giant monkeys. The monkeys, of course, were extras on there way to film Planet of the Apes. And I have heard more than one story about an actor injuring himself on a set and being rushed to a hospital, where they procede to attempt to treat his makeup rather than his actual, and comparatively minor, injury.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:30 AM on June 19, 2006

good job AZ
posted by edgeways at 8:31 AM on June 19, 2006

Astro Zombie, isn't there a similar story about James Arness leaving the set of the The Thing From Another World in full makeup? I seem to remember something about him sitting in the passenger seat of a convertible and scaring the living hell out of some poor woman who pulled up next to him.
posted by brundlefly at 9:03 AM on June 19, 2006

That story rings a bell. Hey -- James Arness is another Minnesota native!

I remember reading an interview with University of Minnesota alum Ron Perlman while he was making Hellboy. The makeup was so time consuming he had simply gone across to a nearby bar in full Hellboy drag to wait for the reporter, who found him playing pool. Nobody in the LA bar seemed especially surprised to have a giant red demon playing pool with them.

The secret subtext of this FPP is Minnesota.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:39 AM on June 19, 2006

I normally prefer Astro Zombie 3's work, but this surpasses most of his work. Nice one, AZ!
posted by graventy at 12:03 PM on June 19, 2006

Hmm... I wonder if I can fit more "work"s into that sentence.
posted by graventy at 12:03 PM on June 19, 2006

Ron Perlman's special effects makeup (more pix here) in Hellboy was applied by Jake Garber of Cinovation Studios, which was founded by Rick Baker.

Baker (bio) has worked on more films and won more awards than any other Hollywood makeup artist: his first job was as an assistant to old pro Dick Smith.

Baker's work has been written up frequently in Cinefex, arguably the SFX industry's premier trade magazine (see also MakeUp Artist.)
posted by cenoxo at 12:07 PM on June 19, 2006

GarOOOR awrRRoo.
posted by Astro Zombie 3 at 12:16 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, for Christ's sakes. Saying his name is just inviting him to comment.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:17 PM on June 19, 2006

Hey. Jake Garber is from Minnesota.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:32 PM on June 19, 2006

Although I enjoy Minnesota, I would prefer it if the secret subtext was sex.
posted by graventy at 1:24 PM on June 19, 2006

Uh...not with this particular FPP. But, in general.
posted by graventy at 1:25 PM on June 19, 2006

When I say Minnesota, you shouldknow that I'm talking about sex.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:38 PM on June 19, 2006

Speaking of time in makeup: there was a (to my 16 year-old brain) utterly hilarious episode of Amazing Stories back in the day about a guy playing a Mummy character in a horror movie being shot in the swamps of Mississippi (m-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i...). He gets a call on the set that his wife has gone into labour, and he decides he can't wait to have the makeup removed, so he steals a vehicle and attempts to drive across rural Mississippi in full mummy costume, with his mouth sealed by bandages.
Much hilarity ensues as he's chased all the way to the hospital by an ever-increasing mob of "locals" who think he's a real mummy.
Punchline delivered at the hospital (by, I believe, Brion James), "Awww...the Mummy's a daddy..."
Damn, I wish that episode was on DVD...
posted by I, Credulous at 4:04 PM on June 20, 2006

I'm a makeup artist for a large charity haunted house, and always keen to read up on the masters. It's amazing how much easier makeup is these days.
posted by obol at 3:53 PM on June 21, 2006

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