Aug 292012

The next chapter in the history of prosthetics focusses on Hollywood and the movies.  Although not a prosthetics artist I have to mention George Westmore who founded the first make up department in 1917 at Selig Studio, paving the way for all that came later.  He was also the founding father of House of Westmore with his sons Perc, Ern, Monte, Wally, Bud and Frank, who went onto work on major films including Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde in 1931, Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Blade Runner (1982).

In the 1920 film Go and Get It Cecil Holland who is often referred to as “the father of the make up profession” and credited with the title “the first man of a thousand faces” dressed the actor Bull Montana in an Ape suit and applied hair to the eye area that wasn’t covered with the suit, he applied a similar make up to Bull Montana for the 1925 film The Lost World.

One of the greatest make up artists was Lon Chaney Sr, he was an actor of the silent era and using his skill with make up transformed himself into grotesque characters.  In 1923 he used a harness to strap a hump to his body to alter his physique for the role of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he created the twisted face by using false teeth, nose putty on his cheeks and a false eye.  For The Phantom of the Opera Chaney used wire to widen his nostrils and pull his nose back, he completed the horrifying visage by wearing jagged false teeth and clever use of shading to give the impression of a skull-like face.

One the most enduring make up creations was by Jack Pierce.  In 1932 he turned the actor Boris Karloff into Frankenstein’s monster, one theory on how this was achieved is that it was layers of cotton coated in gum and collodion while other theories say that plaster may have been applied to skin coated in Vaseline or that it was cast in several pieces and assembled into the full head.  To create the skin it is believed that Pierce glued fine cheesecloth to Karloff’s face and stippled latex to fill in any gaps and create edges for the pieces, electrodes were spirit gummed to the actors neck and greeny grey greasepaint completed the look.  These methods may seem primitive by todays standards but this make up took four hours to complete and set the standard for years to come.

Jack Pierce was also responsible for another iconic monster – Im-ho-tep in The Mummy 1932.  This was another collaboration with Karloff and the actor endured 11 hours in the make up chair.  This transformation consisted of Pierce wrapping Karloff in 3 layers of cloth bandages that had been slowly charred over a week to give a look of rotting cloth, this was then coated in mud, he coated the face in gum and cotton to create ancient wrinkles and used brown greasepaint to give the illusion of even more depth and for the hair Karloff’s head was coated in greasepaint, after this a layer of clay and fullers earth was applied and set with a dryer.  Jack Pierce was famous for creating his effects “out of the kit” and he studied anatomy for realism.  He later worked with Lon Chaney Jr in 1941 on The Wolfman.

Okay, so maybe these make ups are not “true prosthetics”  but it’s this ingenuity with basic products that helped to forge the industry and artistry as we know it today.

Which of these iconic monster’s is your favourite?

Coming Soon: Animals and Innovation…part 3 of A little prosthetic history


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