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Jack Pierce

Jack-Pierce_bannerJack Pierce (born Janus Piccoula; May 5, 1889 – July 19, 1968) 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, along with various other classic monster make-ups for Universal Studios.

frankenstein_jack-pierce_themanbehindthemonstersAfter immigrating to the United States from his native Greece as a teenager, Pierce tried his hand at several careers, including a stint as an amateur baseball player. In the opportunist twenties, Pierce embarked on a series of jobs in cinema—cinema manager, stuntman, actor, even assistant director—which would eventually lead to his mastery of in the field of makeup. In 1915 he was hired to work on crews for the studio’s productions. On the 1926 set of The Monkey Talks, Jack Pierce created the make-up 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 Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, also a silent Universal picture. 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 makeups, opened a niche for Pierce and Universal, Chaney’s films provided audiences with the deformed, monstrous faces that Pierce and moviegoers so clearly enjoyed.

jack-pierce_boris-karloff_frankensteinUniversal’s first talkie horror film, Dracula, eschewed elaborate horror make-up. Pierce designed a special color greasepaint for Bela Lugosi for his vampire character, but apparently the actor insisted on applying his own makeup. For all film appearances of the character thereafter, Pierce instituted a different look entirely, recasting Dracula as a man with greying hair and a moustache. The most significant creation during Pierce’s time at the studio was clearly Frankenstein, originally begun with Lugosi in the role of the Monster. The preliminary design was apparently similar to the Paul Wegener 1920 German film of The Golem. When James Whale replaced Florey as director, the concept was radically changed. Pierce came up with a design which 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 revive the stitched-up corpse. How much input director James Whale had into the initial concept remains controversial. Universal loaned out Pierce for the Lugosi film White Zombie. They also loaned out some of the Dracula sets for the troublesome filming. Lugosi had collaborated with Pierce on the look of his devilish character in the film.

frankenstein_boris-karloff_jack-piercePierce’s make-up can be seen in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Mummy (1932), Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolf Man (1941), and their various sequels associated with the characters. He also helped comedian Bud Abbott augment his thinning hairline with a widow’s peak toupee in his early films with Lou Costello. Pierce’s final credit is as makeup artist for the TV show Mister Ed from 1961 to 1964. He died in 1968 from uremia.

Jack Pierce’s enduring work at Universal has become a huge influence to many in the entertainment field, including make-up artists Rick Baker and Tom Savini. Jack Pierce was an innovator in the world of screen entertainment and material design. Pierce understandably felt he never got the recognition he deserved and died a bitter man. Finally, in 2003, Pierce was recognized with a lifetime achievement award from the Hollywood Make-up Artist and Hair Stylist Guild.

jack-pierce_wolf-man_lon-chaney-jrIn recent years, there is a strong desire to give Pierce a Hollywood Boulevard star for his popular lasting triumphs that have been preserved for decades on the movies he worked on. Pierce undeniably created screen icons to last beyond his lifetime. His contributions still continue to attract droves of attention to his astonishingly memorable, entirely original designs.

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