Saturday, June 8, 2013


When Jack Pierce died in 1968, few in the movie industry seemed to take note of his passing.  As Frank Taylor wrote in the LOS ANGELES TIMES, only 24 mourners attended his funeral.  But a small cadre of Pierce’s fans led, of course, by Forrest J. Ackerman worked valiantly to keep alive the memory of his magnificent makeup achievements.  Today, Jack Pierce is a revered figure among horror film fans as the creative genius behind the iconic Universal Studios monsters of the 1930s and 1940s.  The Cinema Makeup School in Los Angeles honored him on May 30 with the dedication of the Jack Pierce Memorial Gallery for Makeup and Character Arts.

The Gallery is a sight to behold!  In a beautifully appointed room just off the entrance to the school office, are some amazing examples of work by teachers and alumni from the Cinema Makeup School.  Two of Joel Harlow’s mermaids from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN occupy a platform in the center of the gallery.    Two masks created by contestants in SyFy television’s FACE OFF makeup show are there, as well as a beautiful sculpture of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, standing about three feet tall.  A sample of Lee Joyner’s makeup for the Jack Pierce character in the Pierce tribute stage play is featured.

The highlights of the gallery for me were two pieces by Brent Armstrong.  The first is a stunning head and shoulders likeness of Karloff as the Mummy, with one of his wrappings supporting him on a column with hieroglyphics printed on the sides.  The second is a fantastic bust of Jack Pierce, with images of his various creations engraved in the sides of the sculpture.  The bust’s stand slowly rotates so the viewer may see all the monstrous faces adorning the work.  It is a truly wonderful piece of art.  If you are in the Los Angeles area, a visit to the school’s gallery is well worth your time.

Brent Armstrong's The Mummy sculpt.

Jack Pierce bust by Brent Armstrong.

Positive cast of Jack Pierce that makeup appliances were pulled from for the Scott Essman-produced film tribute to Pierce.
The dedication ceremony featured an excellent overview of Mr. Pierce’s career by Scott Essman, author of the commemorative magazine JACK PIERCE: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTERS and the producer of the stage play about the makeup artist.  The presentation took place in an expansive classroom, with large-screen television monitors placed around the room to show photos from the various movies of Pierce’s career.  The remaining wall space is taken up by large mirrors, and the images of werewolves, mummies, and man-made monsters could be seen from all angles.

The audience consisted primarily of young makeup students who have travelled from across the country—if not the globe—to learn the art of makeup, hairstyling, and fashion design in the heart of the entertainment industry.  It was clear that not all of the twenty-somethings in the group had heard of Boris Karloff or jack Pierce, but they definitely were familiar with their characters.   The students paid close attention as Essman described the painstaking, time-consuming process of turning Karloff into the Mummy.  After stating that the mummy makeup took about eight hours to apply, Scott posed the question to the prospective filmmakers, “If your actor has a 9:00 a.m. call time, when would you have to start applying his makeup?”  Eyes widened and jaws dropped as they mentally calculated the answer!  Mr. Essman spent a fair amount of time on Frankenstein’s monster and the wolf-man, as well as the mummy, but picked up the pace for the later stages of Pierce’s career.  Upon the conclusion of the presentation, Scott was swarmed by students asking for his autograph.

Scott Essman signing autographs.
The gallery is open to the public free of charge during school hours, 8:30 to 5:30, Monday through Friday.  Nate Cohn, a member of the school’s administration, told me that the Gallery’s exhibits will be rotated on a regular basis, so people will be able to see multiple examples of masks, makeup, and art from the school’s students, teachers, and alumni.  The Cinema Makeup School is located at 3780 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, next to the Wiltern Theater.  It is a stately older building with an elevator lobby that hearkens back to earlier times, the type of building one sees too infrequently in Los Angeles.  The school offers a comprehensive course of study in makeup (beauty as well as special effects) for TV, movies, and photography; hair styling; fashion design; maquette sculptures, and other aspects of cinema art.  Check out its WEB SITE for more photos and further information

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