The Make-up Artists of Universal Studios

By Michael Corvin


    They are just some of the men who turned a small startup movie production company into a horror
movie empire that it is today. They are the men who created some of the world’s best-known monsters
with nothing more than sheer imagination and talent. They are the men who created the Universal
Monsters lineup.

    He was Lon Chaney, maybe the greatest make-up artist of all time. The
things he did to turn himself into creatures and crazy characters was nothing
less than amazing. For this was a time long before molds and foam latex
would come into being.  It was a time when an artist used everything and any-
thing he could find to use as part of his make-up kit. For Chaney’s characters,
he didn’t make false teeth out of rubber but real human teeth cut and shaped
in the style he needed for any one role. With no use of rubber prosthetics of
any kind for his Phantom of the Opera creation, he used not only real teeth by
a thin strip of fish skin to glue to the end of his nose and pull it back until be
glued the other end to his face giving him the appearance of a man with a
skulled and hollowed face. The effect although really crude, worked so well
that even after more than ninety three years later.  It is his Phantom that is the
most known even after endless remakes the world over.

    It was not only Chaney’s gift for grease paint and simple everyday objects
that become part of his make-up repertoire, but it was the painful and often
body manipulations that he underwent in the name of his craft. For the film
The Unknown, Chaney played a sideshow freak who had no arms and so
had to do everything with his feet. Without the use of any today's CGI effect’s,
Chaney used just his feet and toes to write, feed himself and comb his hair.  
You name it, he did with only his feet. For another role where he played a man
with only half legs that were missing from the knees down. For this effect, he
tied very tightly his legs back behind his back and walked around on only his
knees. An amazing effect but one that gave the actor back pain afterward for
the rest of his life. Today such a limb removal would be done in a computer
after shooting is complete to remove the limb digitally.

    In all, Lon Chaney shot, starred and did his own make-up for more
than one hundred and fifty seven movies and is considered one of the
greatest make-up artists who ever lived. Sadly out of those one hundred
and fifty seven films, only fifty seven are still exist as a hundred of them
were sadly lost to time. However among his very best and most well-
known are The Hunch Back of Norte Dame, London After Midnight and
his crowning jewel, The Phantom of The Opera. Lon died before talking
films really got their start and was cast to star in the horror classic from
Universal in Dracula, but passed away before the film could be made.
Although we never really got to hear his voice on screen, his long eight-
een year film career is still talked about even today, one hundred and
sixteen years after it started.  

    Enter the talkies and artist Jack Pierce, who would change the face of
horror films forever. Jack Pierce was the man who single-handedly chang-
ed not only the look, style, and manner of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein mon-
ster, but created some of Universals most famous creature creations. The
look of the Frankenstein Monster become so iconic that when we think of
the character, it is his creation that we all think of. The tall thin build, the flat
head, the scars and neck bolts are all creations of Jack Pierce. Before
that 1931 horror classic, no one really knew what the creature looked like
other than the 1910 Edition film and its make-up is not as riveting or stands
out as something of a genius.

    For his role in creating the universal Frankenstein Monster, Jack use
what was called a buildup, meaning that he used a cotton-like material
called collodion to build up the flat headpiece on actor Boris Karloff. Used
as a surgical dressing originally, Jack used its form-fitting features to
sculpt the headdress to Karloff's face and head to create the iconic look
of the Monster that we know all so well. To create a ghostly like complexion
upon the Monsters skin, he used a green grease paint that when shot on
black and white made the creature look pale.  One would think that Jack’s
work on the Frankenstein Monster would be his greatest achievement …..
and maybe it was not by far his only amazing make-up job.

    Jack’s work on The Mummy was nothing less than spectacular as he
again turned actor Boris Karoff into another highly iconic creature that to
this day has been mimicked ever since but never ever equaled. Here again,
the actor had to sit through hours of long makeup session to be transform-
ed into the three thousand year old mummy. The work and time paid off in
the end even though the creature is sadly not seen for very long in the orig-
inal 1932 movie. However, in later films, Jack’s Mummy really shined in The
Mummy’s Hand and other films following the Karloff classic.

    For the 1941 horror movie classic The Wolf Man, actor Lon Chaney
Jr. was turned into one of cinema's greatest horror monsters of all time.
For hours, the actor sat and had a little handheld strands of yak hair glued
to his face to create the look of the Wolf Man. It was a make-up design that
was first created for the 1935 movie The Werewolf of London, but was
scrapped at the time but reused for The Wolf Man movie years later. The
look of the creature is so iconic that nearly every werewolf film to follow use
the same basic style of Pierce’s design until it was replaced on the set of
both The Howling and American Werewolf in London. However, for forty
years worth of werewolf film history from The Wolf Man 1941 to The
Howling 1981, an actor would sit through hours in the make-up chair and
undergo the transformation from man to beast.

    The ingenious use of time-lapse photography to turn a man into that of
a wolf was to the creation of Jack Pierce, who would add a little fur at a
time then shoot it and then stop the camera again. Add a little more fur,
shoot and stop again. After doing this endless times and over hours of
camera stop and go, the effect made it seem that hair was growing on
Chaney’s face turning him into a monster. He first used this camera trick
on the Werewolf of Lond0n in 1935 with actor Henry Hull and carried over the idea onto the set of The Wolf
Man.

    Jack Pierce would go on to use his skills on the Universal Monsters and to this day when we think of
Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy and The Wolf Man it is his creations we are thinking about. Sadly as
newer make-up materials and techniques become available in the industry, Jack found his way of doing
build-ups a thing of the past. Universal Studios wanted a faster turnaround times with their actors sitting in
the make-up chair and spend more time filming the movie. By the time that the classic comedy Abbott &
Costello Meet Frankenstein was being made in 1948, Jack has pulled off his own monster creations for a
young artist willing to use the latest new thing in make-up design…..latex.

    After Jack Pierce was removed from working on the Monsters that he
created on the set of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, a new artist
stepped in to take over. He was Bud Westmore and it was he who replac-
ed Jack as Universal's head make-up artist. Although he had to use the
same basic designs even then so famously done by Pierce, he did so
with the newer materials that were now becoming the norm in special
effects make-up design. Although still in its early years, latex made it much
faster to apply a mold crafted piece to the actors face then the much slower
build up effects that Pierce used in the years before.

    Where on the set of Frankenstein, Jack would have taken hours to use
his collodion build up on Karoff and later actor Glen Strange for House of
Frankenstein and House of Dracula, it took far less time for Westmore to
place a pre-molded headpiece onto Glen Strange’s head and then just
glue down the edges and paint. The same was said to Chaney’s Wolf Man for Abbott & Costello who
Westmore shortened the make-up time by hours by using a rubber nose snout and working in hair about it.

    Bud Westmore would go on to replace Jack Pierce as Universal's head make-up man going on to
produce other work for the studio in the years that followed. Westmore came not alone in this profession
for he was in the company of other family members who came before and after him. They would become
known as the Westmore Dynasty and would take Hollywood by storm. Their reign would start with father
George Westmore and continue on down to Michael Westmore who would go on to create all of the aliens
on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    As Universal's new golden child, Westmore worked on such films as the follow-up horror comedy
Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, It Came From Outer Space, Spartacus and a host of other
horror and non-horror productions. Being that he was the head of Universal’s Make-Up department, he
may or may not have been credited with all the work that came his way……or was thought to have come
his way. For years and years it was always implied that he was the designer for the Gill-Man suit for the
1954 classic and the last of the Universal Monsters…..however, he was not.

    A young lady named Milicent Patrick really was the designer of
the now super famous Gill-man for the movie Creature From the
Black Lagoon. However, since Westmore was the head of the
studio, it was common practice in those days to give all credited to
the head artist and everyone else was lost in the dust. In fact,
Westmore reportedly was fired by Westmore who said that “A
woman should not be credited for her work on a creature costume”

    Yeah……I know, sad right, and yet she was the one who not
only created one of the most iconic creatures in all of cinematic
history, but the Creature was the last of the Universal line of Classic
Monsters. But Miss Milicent did get her day for she is known as the
very first female animator working for the Walt Disney Company.
Among her work as a make-up artist for film and creature costume
designer for the film Creature From The Black Lagoon, Patrick was
also an actress, artist and was also the woman behind the design of
the mutant design in the movie This Island Earth. But it was her Gill-
man that will always stand out in the minds of horror fans. In the
1950’s there were some…..well not so great looking monsters star-
ring in films and among movies like It Conquered The World or The
She Creature with really bad creature designs, it was the Gill-man
who not only looked real……even by todays make-up effects standards, but has endured for over sixty
years.

    They were the men and woman who gave the world some of the best horror movie monsters ever seen
and us horror fans know them well.
Making Monsters:
Spotlight on Hollywood's
Makeup Artists