Sunday, June 23, 2013
EARLY MOVIE MAKEUP RUBBER APPLIANCES
Heralded in the March 1938 issue of POPULAR SCIENCE as a "new development for make-up on stage and screen", a rubber plastic material by DuPont was utilized in the making of molded pieces to be applied for character makeup. The unnamed material had already been used in 1930's industry to make such varied products as gas pump hose, printing rollers, and protective covering for electric cables, when an actor by the name of Lucien Littlefield came up with the idea to form the rubber material into different shapes on plaster face casts and to then apply them to the face for the desired special effect.
Lucien Littlefield (1895 - 1960) was an actor that played roles both in the silent and sound eras, including appearing in a number of TV shows as a character actor (including an eccentric inventor in an episode in The Adventures of Superman). He is most noted for his role as "The Doctor" in the 1927 silent film THE CAT AND THE CANARY. He played another eccentric professor/inventor with Laurel and Hardy in DIRTY WORK. He also appeared as Gaston beside Rudolph Valentino in THE SHEIK (1921).
As a character actor, Littlefield no doubt was looking for ways to avoid, as the article describes, "the painful skin-stretching, padding, and other uncomfortable expedients of the type used by the late Lon Chaney when he made himself up for his character parts." The article goes on to show in detail the steps he employed to produce his rubber makeup pieces, beginning with the plaster cast of his face to the application of the finished molded part with the addition of grease paint and hair.
It is unclear exactly what product is being described in the article. It is alternately characterized by "plastic", "rubber", and "plastic rubber". DuPont invented neoprene in 1930 and marketed it in 1931 as DuPrene. It has been used for everything from waders, to drum pads, training knives and swords, and laptop sleeves. It is also cited for its flexibility and strength. However, in Step 5 of the article, the caption states that "artificial latex" is poured into the cotton-lined mold.
It is cited in the article that this process was invented by Littlefield himself, so it is likely that his technique was expanded upon by other makeup artists after the information became available. While other synthetic and polymerized materials are available and more popular for use by today's makeup and special effects artists, latex rubber is still around for low-cost makeup effects and mask-making.
It is ironic to note that Littlefield discovered and employed this process as early as 1938, when the article was published. It probably wasn't very long after that it was utilized across the industry. Could this have been the beginning of the end for makeup legend Jack Pierce, who insisted on his method of "building up" makeup instead of using formed appliances, and in effect, eventually putting himself out of a job?