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Pierce, Jack P

Entry updated 4 April 2017. Tagged: Film, People.

(1889-1968) Greek-born Cinema make-up effects pioneer who emigrated to the USA at around the turn of the twentieth century. He went into film work in the 1910s, moving from one position to another: assistant cameraman, stuntman, even acting itself at Fox Studios in the 1920s before beginning to create make-up effects. Pierce was hired by Universal Studios in 1928 as head of their make-up department. From 1930 to 1947, he created some of the most memorable Monster make-up designs seen in the US cinema, starting with uncredited work on the horror classic Dracula (1931) which launched Bela Lugosi's career as a horror film star. It was his famous make-up for Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (1932) which truly set Pierce on his legendary career. He went on to create classic, if often gruelling and time-consuming in application, make-up for such films as The Mummy (1932) and its sequels, The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939) – the last including the deformed neck of Bela Lugosi's Ygor, a man who has survived being hanged. One of his most iconic works was the make-up for Lon Chaney Jr in The Wolf Man (1941), which Chaney detested because of its long application and removal process. This influenced the design of Werewolf make-up for many decades. Pierce also tackled a version of The Phantom of the Opera (1943), starring Claude Rains, based on Gaston Leroux's novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra (23 September 1909-8 January 1910 Le Gaulois; 1910; trans 1911). Reportedly, the original Phantom face design was modified considerably by order of the studio as being too hideous for wartime audiences.

In 1947 Universal Pictures merged with International Pictures, and many department heads were replaced, including Pierce. Despite his numerous contributions to cinema, Pierce was relegated to working on low-budget films and Television series for the final twenty years of his life. One example is Beyond the Time Barrier (1960; vt The War of 1995), for which he designed the appearance of Post-Holocaust Mutants. His last work was as make-up department head for the talking-horse fantasy television programme Mr Ed (1959-1964) from 1961 to its conclusion in 1964. He died virtually forgotten, but his efforts have since been recognized by many modern make-up effects artists as the pioneering innovations they were. Even today his designs for the Frankenstein Monster, the Mummy, and the Wolfman continue to appear as popular Halloween masks. Pierce contributed to over fifty sf, horror and fantasy films and television series during his career. [GSt]

see also: Giant from the Unknown.

Jack P Pierce [born Janus Piccoulas]

born Valdetsyou, Greece: 5 May 1889

died Hollywood, California: 19 July 1968


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