Saturday, February 25, 2012

Legend & Inspiration: Jack P. Pierce

I want to start a new series to tell you guys about artists I find legendary and inspiring.  I want you guys to understand that not only am I a weird little girl, but I'm a weird little girl with even weirder shoes to fill.  I want to start off with one of the most amazing and earliest artists in horror films that refused to work any way but his own:  Jack P. Pierce.

image borrowed from; I hosted it though!

Who is Jack P. Pierce?  He was born on May 5, 1889 in Greece.  He immigrated to the states and attempted to start a baseball career. Unfortunately (and terribly fortunately), he failed at that, and started working as a jack of trades of sorts for the new motion picture industry in the 1910s (his first credited work being as an actor in 1915 on Misjudged).

He worked for many years in makeup as an uncredited crew member, even during production of the infamous Dracula, starring Bela Legosi (who refused to allow Pierce to do his makeup on the grounds that he had always done it himself).  He was made the head of what is now known as Universal Studios' makeup department around 1928 (Dracula was produced and released  in 1930 and 1931 respectively).  Carl Laemmle, Jr loved Dracula so much that he demanded an immediate followup with yet another horror novel classic: Frankenstein.

Frankenstein starred Borlis Karloff as the creature, who was much more willing to let Pierce do his makeups (as shown above).  In fact, there are many iconic images of Pierce transforming Karloff into the creature.  Again, Frankenstein was a huge hit and Laemmle wanted more horror classics visited (and visited they were).  Over the next two decades, such films as White Zombie (not Universal), the Mummy, extensions of the tales of Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy, Tower of London, Werewolf of London, Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera, and so many, many more in between (IMDB lists around 120 films between 1931 and 1951; however Phantom of the Opera was Pierce's last Universal Studios film).

He lead the way for many years at Universal Studios with his own style and technique.  He was insanely stubborn in his dislike for latex appliances, and preferred cotton and collodion.  He finally gave in to pre-made appliances for the first time in the Wolf Man.  However Pierce's stubbornness to drop the "out of kit" technique and it's associated costs, coupled with the dislike around Universal Studio for him ended his career with the studio.  In 1946, Universal Studios dropped Pierce.  He worked freelance until 1964, his last credited works being on the television show Mister Ed.

Jack P. Pierced died July 19, 1968 in Hollywood, California.  He is still revered as a huge driving force behind special effects makeup.  Sadly, he died in obscurity like many posthumously legendary icons of the past.

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