Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I was 13 years old in 1968 when PLANET OF THE APES premiered. While some older, more sophisticated science-fiction fans scoffed at the movie, complaining of a predictable ending or Charlton Heston’s wooden acting, I loved it! To this day, it is one my favorite films.

The images of the film remain vibrant in my brain: the desolation and loneliness the astronauts encounter upon landing, the shock of seeing apes hunting the humans, the markers surrounding the Forbidden Zone. The underlying social commentary of the virtual caste system of the apes, with each type of animal allowed only certain types of jobs seemed so cutting-edge to my teen-aged mind. And the ending blew me away.

And the thing that made it all seem so real is that the apes were characters and individuals, not just actors in monkey suits. The audience could see the actors’ expressions through the heavy make-up. This could not have been done using masks. The man who made the magic was John Chambers. Without his make-up artistry, POTA would have been just a movie with a bunch of guys in monkey suits. The make-up he and his team designed allowed the actors to act, their expressions to show, and the audience to believe. How revolutionary this development was may be difficult to convey to a generation raised on computer effects, but it was huge in its day.

While digging through stacks of old magazines at a used bookstore last week, I happened upon a copy of MAKE-UP ARTIST #5 from 1997 which paid tribute to John Chambers. It contains some moving remembrances of him written by such make-up stars as Michael Westmore, Rick Baker, Dick Smith, Matthew Mungle, Tom Burman, and Mike McCracken. They tell a tale of a man who was more than just a pioneer in his field, but also an excellent mentor and great friend. He was also a humanitarian who got his start building prosthetics for veterans. The tributes in the magazine are accompanied by some great behind-the-scenes photos, some of which are reprinted here. For us Lovecraft fans, John Goodwin wrote an excellent two page story on the creation by Chambers and sculptor Chris Mueller of a monster for the “Pickman’s Model” episode of NIGHT GALLERY.

In addition to the Chambers articles, MUA 5 has some other excellent material. A back-stage look at the Academy Award contest for the year has a wonderful color photo of Ron Perlman from ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. In an interview, Matthew Mungle details the secrets of age make-up, with some great photos of James Woods being made-up for GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI.

It is interesting to me to see how MAKE-UP ARTIST has evolved. I had never read the magazine until the issue featuring THE WATCHMEN film. John has written about several recent issues during his first year (congratulations, my friend!) of the MMW blog. The John Chambers issue (#5) is thinner than the more recent incarnations—fifty pages plus covers, but it is packed with great information and insights. And no wonder, as Editor Michael Key states in the “Editor’s Notes”, the magazine is written and compiled by working make-up artists, not professional writers. It is a labor of love. That love for the craft and each other truly shows through in the Chambers tributes.

Guest post by: DOUG

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