Jack Pierce (May 5, 1889 in Greece – July 19, 1968), born Janus Piccoulas, 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.After immigrating to the United States from 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 make-up. The small-statured Pierce was never a "leading man" type, and he put his performing career aside to specialize in make-ups on other performers. This all happened for Pierce in the year of 1915 when he was hired to work on crews for the studio's productions. It was on the 1926 set of "The Monkey Talks" , Jack Pierce began creating the makeup 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 the rictus-grin face of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, , two silent Universal pictures that audiences were astonished with. 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 make-ups, opened a niche for Pierce and Universal, Chaney's films provided audiences with the deformed monstrous faces that Pierce and the audiences so clearly enjoyed. Universal's first talkie horror film, Dracula (1931 film) , eschewed elaborate horror make-up. Pierce designed a special color greasepaint for Bela Lugosi for his vampire character, but apparently the actor insisted in applying his own make-up. 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 preminiary design (from contemporary newspaper accounts and a recollection of the screen test by actor Edward Van Sloan) was similar to the Paul Wegener 1920 German film of The Golem. This is not surprising, since studio head Carl Laemmle, Jr. and director Robert Florey were both familiar with German Expressionist films. 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 vivify the monster. 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.
The entre film community benefited by Pierce's contributions. Other studios were quick to jump on the monster bandwagon but could not capture the same equivalent horrific appearances as Jack's at Universal. Pierce's reputation is as someone who was frequently bad-tempered, or at least extremely stern, but his relationship with Karloff was a good one. They cooperated on the design of the make-up, with Karloff removing a dental plate to create an indentation on one side of the Monster's face. He also endured four hours of make-up under Pierce's hand each day, during which time his head was built up with cotton collodion and gum, and green greasepaint, (designed to look pale on black and white film) was applied to his face and hands. The finished product was universally acclaimed, and has since become the commonly accepted visual representation of Mary Shelley's creation. The Mummy
, produced the following year, combines the plot of Dracula
with the make-up tricks of Frankenstein
, to turn Karloff into an incredibly aged and wrinkled Egyptian
prince. Again, Pierce and Karloff's collaboration was critically acclaimed, as well as impressing audiences. Interestingly, that same year Pierce designed the Satanic make-up for Lugosi in White Zombie,
although this was an independent film, rather than a Universal production.
Universal Studios Monster Maker
Pierce went on to create make-up for several "Frankenstein" sequels (The Bride of Frankenstein
(1935), Son of Frankenstein
(1939), Henry Hull's subtly terrifying visage in Werewolf of London
(1935), and Lon Chaney, Jr.
in The Wolf Man
(1941), which itself was originally designed for Hull in the 1935 film. This last make-up was extremely elaborate, and pioneered a technique whereby pieces of moulded rubber (now known as "applications") covered in yak fur were glued to the actor's face. As new methods emerged during this period, however, Pierce's slow painstaking approach drew criticism from the studio and actors. Newer techniques could create equivalent effects in less time, and without causing as much pain to actors in the genre roles. This happened even though he was the head of Universal Studios make-up department for 9 years. At Universal, it was known that Jack let anyone aware that he was late for work. Jack would scold if you were tardy and explained how unprofessional for being so when they were required to sit in his make-up chair. It is as well known that Lon Chaney, Jr. was watched carefully for not messing up Jack's things in the make-up department. If so, then this would be reported to the head of Universal. The younger Chaney was let go from the studio for his behavior, but not before he got the chance to play the demanding role of the revived mummy in three of the four franchised films in the 1940s.The Mummy's Tomb
, The Mummy's Ghost
, and finally The Mummy's Curse
. Tom Tyler
was the first to take on the role after Pierce and Karloff's first successful effort in 1932. In these films, Pierce worked on Chaney Jr. with heavy make-up that hid the actor's face and body, so that he was unrecognizable in the bandaged role. The studio had devised a way to shoot around the amount of time that got Chaney into the complete mummy role. Chaney would wear a rubber mask only, for long shots, since it took eight hours for the entire body to be disguised in cloth. For other appearances Chaney would have only certain parts of his body wrapped up. These mummy film ancedotes were documented in the 1996 Ted Newsom
documentary 100 Years of Horror, and included in an Arts & Entertainment Chaney Jr. documentary which can be seen on You Tube
. Pierce's work continued in the 1940s, as Pierce crafted an original burn make-up for the 1943 Claude Rains
version of The Phantom of the Opera,
also a hairy female anthropoid in a series of three mad doctor films, two of which were Jungle Woman
(1944) and The Jungle Captive (1945). The make-up designed for Burnu Acquanetta
for Jungle Woman was the final Universal monster Jack created. More assorted character make-ups continued but the remaining bulk of his duties at Universal, however, consisted of less exotic tasks, like glamour make-ups. It was when the studio changed hands in 1945, Pierce was sadly fired after nearly two decades, replaced by the youngest son of the Westmore family, Bud Westmore
. Thereafter, other artists took over at Universal, often recreating Pierce's original designs for sequels, such as the 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
. Jack eventually was hired for television and low budget features throughout the 1950s and '60s, only occasionally getting a chance to create memorable visages. His last continuous job was chief make-up man on the series Mr. Ed
, largely through the courtesy of the show's director, Arthur Lubin
, who had directed Phantom of the Opera.
Pierce died in obscurity in 1968. Since then, his reputation has grown, with a generation of make-up artists like Rick Baker
and Tom Savini
citing him as a pioneer, and magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland
publishing articles on his work. Recent DVD
releases of the classic Universal horror movies have also included bonus footage of Pierce at work, and discussion of his techniques and importance.
Pierce and Karloff Reunite
It should be noted that on November 20, 1957, Ralph Edwards
got Jack Pierce reunited with a smiling Boris karloff on the celebrity biography program This is Your Life
. On that night's program, Jack unveiled some memories working together with Karloff on the Universal film lot. Karloff was the special guest of the night, Boris was plesantly surprised to see Jack Pierce once again.
Jack Pierce's enduring work at Universal has become a huge influence to many in the entertainment field, and his designed characters are seen everywhere in today's pop culture, from marketing campaigns to weekly television programs. Jack Pierce was an innovater in the world of screen entertainment and material design.
Jack's sculpting on the various actors never received any noticeable contemporary awards, even though many people in the industry believed (and continue to) that without Pierce there would have been no memorable monsters.
for make-up were given out beginning in 1964, ignoring Jack all together before he passed on. Finally, in 2003, Pierce was recognised with a lifetime achievement award from the Hollywood Make-up Artist and Hair Stylist Guild
. In 2008, there is a strong desire to give Pierce a Hollywood Boulevard
star for his popular lasting triumphs. Pierce undeniably created screen icons to last beyond a lifetime.