Saturday, April 18, 2015

A-Z Challenge 2015: P is for Jack Pierce!

As a little kid, I was introduced to the Universal Studios Monster Movies thanks to a horror host named Seymour - out of Los Angeles but nationally syndicated and playing for me on Saturday nights on Channel 30 out of St. Louis, Missouri, which we could pick up over in Southern Illinois where I lived. He played a lot of what's now called the "Shock Theater" package - a collection of Universal Studios' monster movies from 1931 through 1958 or so.

Frankenstein (1931): Boris Karloff

Jack Pierce and Boris Karloff - hard at work.

I didn't know it at the time - but those cool looking monsters in the earliest of the Universal movies were all the brainchild of a makeup artist named Jack Pierce.

The Mummy (1932): Boris Karloff is all wrapped up in his work.

Later he gets unwrapped and pretends to be a living human - but look at that face!

Karloff and Pierce - together again.

Pierce was a genius - using materials now considered quaint and old fashioned to create his creatures. Cheesecloth, wax, yak hair - all found their way into his makeups at different times. He worked slowly and took great pains to get everything just the way he wanted - which did not endear him to the money men in the Universal offices who wanted the pictures made as quickly as possible.

The Wolf Man (1941): Lon Chaney Jr. 

The Universal execs weren't the only ones who thought Pierce took too long with his makeups - he and
Lon Chaney Jr famously clashed often over the extensive time Chaney had to be in Pierce's chair for several
different characters and movies.

Jack Pierce was a fixture at Universal Studios throughout the 1930's and into the 1940's. His final monster makeup for the studio was on Claude Rains as the title character in  Phantom of the Opera in 1943. After World War II, Universal merged with International Pictures to become Universal International - the studio cleaned house and replaced most department heads, including Jack Pierce.

The Phantom unmasked: Claude Rains

Pierce and Rains.

Pierce continued working, mostly on low budget independent films - and finished out his career as makeup department head for the TV series Mr. Ed from 1961-1964. Jack Pierce died in relative obscurity in 1968 at the age of 79. Thankfully, his work has been preserved on film, and in the last few years his artistry has started to be recognized - he received a posthumous lifetime achievement award from the makeup union and he might be receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the near future. I hope he gets it - he certainly deserves it.

Taking a break from all the monsters.

Check out some Jack Pierce work any chance you get!

Until next post - mere hours from now - you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. I love those old monster movies, yet I had no idea the creature effects were made by the same guy. What a fantastic job!

    1. He was well and truly a genius. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  2. Great post; I'd have been the same as yourself, not being aware of the man until much later after those initial viewings... like many innovators, he was sadly overlooked in his lifetime. Few make up artists get the chance to create any really 'iconic' images, but Pierce made so many. Here's hoping he gets that star!

    1. Fingers are crossed. He really did do superstar work designing the monsters - and handled straight makeups just as well. What an incredible talent.

  3. Replies
    1. Yes indeed! Thanks for coming by and commenting!