Jack P Pierce

Makeup artist, Actor, Stuntman
When one mentions Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man and the Mummy, one almost always thinks of the movie monsters from the 1930s and 40s, thanks to Halloween costumes, repeated showings of the classic horror ... Read more »
Born: 05/04/1889 in Greece

Filmography

Wardrobe, Hair & Makeup (34)

Beauty and the Beast 1961 (Movie)

(Makeup)

Beyond the Time Barrier 1959 (Movie)

(Makeup)

Jungle Captive 1944 (Movie)

(Makeup)

Jungle Woman 1944 (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Phantom of the Opera 1942 (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Wolf Man 1940 (Movie)

(Makeup)

Bride of Frankenstein 1934 (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Invisible Man 1932 (Movie)

(Makeup)

Dracula 1931 (Movie)

(Makeup)

Frankenstein 1931 (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Mummy 1931 (Movie)

(Makeup)

Black Angel (Movie)

(Makeup)

Cobra Woman (Movie)

(Makeup)

Diamond Jim (Movie)

(Makeup)

Dressed to Kill (Movie)

(Makeup)

House of Frankenstein (Movie)

(Makeup)

House of Horrors (Movie)

(Makeup)

Love Before Breakfast (Movie)

(Makeup)

Magnificent Doll (Movie)

(Makeup)

Night Key (Movie)

(Makeup)

Pursuit to Algiers (Movie)

(Makeup)

Son of Frankenstein (Movie)

(Makeup)

Terror by Night (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Big Cat (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Black Book (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Brain from Planet Arous (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Invisible Ray (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Killers (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Mummy's Curse (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Mummy's Ghost (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Road Back (Movie)

(Makeup)

The Runaround (Movie)

(Makeup)

Biography

When one mentions Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man and the Mummy, one almost always thinks of the movie monsters from the 1930s and 40s, thanks to Halloween costumes, repeated showings of the classic horror films and countless usage of the images (everything from cartoons to greeting cards). What few may be aware of, however, is that all are the work of one man, pioneering makeup artist Jack P Pierce.

Born Janus Piccoulas in Greece in 1889, Pierce was the son of a goatherd and reputedly used to amuse his family by creating effects with natural materials; he supposedly returned home one day sprouting goat horns while another time came with his face covered with hair. By the turn of the century, the family had emigrated to the USA settling first in New York then Chicago. In an effort to fit in, Janus Piccoulas became Jack Pierce, purportedly to the consternation of his family. By the time the family moved to California, Pierce broke with his family and its traditions. Once settled in Los Angeles, he decided to try his hand in the fledgling film industry, working first as a projectionist and later as a stuntman. Within two years, he had been promoted to actor, often cast as a villain, despite his height (he was 5'5"). Pierce began to design his own makeup for these characters in an effort to detract from his shortness. For a ten year period (1915-25), he worked as an actor, director and early makeup artist for Vitagraph, Lasky's Famous Players and Universal.

When Raoul Walsh encountered problems on the now lost "The Monkey Talks" (1926), Pierce stepped in to design detailed, virtually realistic makeup for actor Jacques Lernier who was portraying the speaking simian. Impressed with Pierce's work, Carl Laemle hired him full-time at Universal. One of his first efforts was the makeup concept for Conrad Veidt's "The Man Who Laughs" (1928).

With the advent of the horror film in the 30s, Pierce rose to greatness. In 1931, he not only created the design for Bela Lugosi's "Dracula" but also Boris Karloff's creature in "Frankenstein". For the former, Pierce had to work around Lugosi who reportedly wanted to create his own look for the character. Nevertheless, the makeup man persisted and by narrowing the actor's eyes and using blue-grey greasepaint formed the now-popular image of the Count. Pierce faced greater challenges with the Creature for "Frankenstein". While most have rightfully credited Karloff's acting and James Whale's inspired direction, it was Pierce's concept of a flat-topped, heavy-lidded character that has been imitated in numerous sequels, remakes and related spin-offs. He first applied a rubber skullpiece with straight, jet black hair streaked with green. Then, Pierce created the high forehead with cotton and spirit gum, applied a specially designed putty around the eyes, added the scars and topped it off with grey-green greasepaint. The finishing touches included black lipstick and black makeup on the Creature's fingertips and nails. The costume, black garments, black coat, thick-soled boots, completed the transition.

Pierce went on to fashion even more intricate makeup effects for the wrappings for "The Mummy" (1932). The material was treated with flames and acid to age it properly. It was then dipped in collodion and stretched over Boris Karloff; once dry and wrinkled, Pierce would apply Fuller's Earth to give the appropriate arid look. That same year, Pierce began to test concepts for a proposed filming of "The Wolfman", but the film was never made. In 1935, he returned to the idea for "Werewolf of London" but Henry Hull who was cast in the title role objected to the design as it totally obscured his features. Pierce agreed to make concessions, but still formed an effective look with a widow's peak, arched eyebrows and fangs. He also reunited with Whale for the superior "Bride of Frankenstein", revisiting his design for The Monster and creating a new effect for Elsa Lancaster's distaff version.

In 1936, Pierce was appointed as head of the Universal makeup department, but ironically, the studio began to move away from the horror films at which he excelled. He asked to be loaned to Columbia to work on the makeup for Sam Jaffe's High Lama in Frank Capra's "Lost Horizon" (1937) but was refused; reportedly that remained the most disappointing moment in his career. When the horror genre was re-invigorated in the late 30s, Pierce remained busy. For "Son of Frankenstein" (1938), he fashioned a new character, Ygor (played by Lugosi). Enduring up to four hour sessions, the actor was transformed with the application of yak hair, a rubber neck brace, a disheveled wig and crooked false teeth. Over the next several years, Pierce remained busy on such efforts as "Tower of London" (1939), "The Mummy's Hand" (1940) and "The Invisible Man Returns" (also 1940). In 1941, he worked on "The Wolf Man" starring Lon Chaney Jr. While not as complicated as his designs for "Frankenstein", "The Wolf Man" makeup was just as detailed, consisting of an artificial nose, individually applied yak hairs on the head, face and neck that was later singed and claws for hands and feet.

Throughout the 40s, Pierce handled the makeup for sequel after sequel (i.e., "The Ghost of Frankenstein" 1942; "House of Dracula" 1945). He even occasionally created new characters, including a female werewolf for "Captive Wild Woman" (1943) and an Ape Woman for both "Jungle Woman" (1944) and "The Jungle Captive" (1945). Pierce also created the fleetingly seen acid-scarred face of Claude Rains' "The Phantom of the Opera" (1943). By the end of the decade, though, Universal was under new management which chose to drop its focus from B-movies to more prestige items. Pierce was dropped from its payroll in 1947 in favor of Bud Westmore, who was younger, quicker and used cheaper, more modern methods.

Despite continuing to work in film in low-budget horror genre like "I Bury the Living" (1958) and "The Devil's Hand" (1961), his era had effectively passed. He also found occasional opportunities on the small screen ("You Are There", "Mr. Ed"). Pierce's death in 1968 was hardly marked; few turned out at his funeral, but his legacy of movie monsters and creatures lives on and has also served as an inspiration for a generation of contemporary practitioners such as Rick Baker, Stan Winston and Rob Bottin.

Relationships

Blanche Craven

Wife

Milestones

1962

Last film makeup credit, "Beauty and the Beast"

1947

Released from Universal

1942

Created the look for Claude Rains' "The Phantom of the Opera"

1940

Designed "The Wolf Man"

1936

Appointed head of Universal Studios makeup department

1932

Created the makeup designs for "The Mummy"

1931

Designed makeup for both "Dracula" and "Frankenstein"

1928

Won acclaim for his makeup designs for Conrad Veidt for "The Man Who Laughs"

1926

Hired by Raoul Walsh to design makeup for "The Monkey Talks" (film no longer extant)

1915

Acted in, directed and designed makeup for silent films produced for Vitagraph, Lasky's Famous Players, Inspiration Pictures and Universal

Found work as a projectionist

Family emigrated to USA shortly after 1900 and settled in Chicago, IL

Born and raised in Greece

Family moved to San Francisco then to L.A. after the 1906 earthquake

Became a stuntman

Changed name to Jack P Pierce; upsetting his family

Pierce moved away from his family and seemingly rejected his Greek heritage

Worked on the TV series "Mr. Ed"

Began working in TV in the early 1950s on shows like "You Are There" and "Fireside Theatre"

Put under contract by Carl Laemmle at Universal

Bonus Trivia

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"The sole reason for any makeup, and particularly a character makeup, is not to proclaim the skill of the artist or the actor, but to help tell the story. Therefore, makeup must not be obviously 'makeuppy.' This in turn demands that it be supervised by a qualified artist, for the actor, no matter how skilled he may be in the technical detail of applying his makeup, rarely has the right perspective to judge the makeup without bias." --Jack P Pierce

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