Friday, February 21, 2014

HOWARD CARTER AND THE MUMMY'S CURSE

Jack Pierce adds the finishing touches to his re-creation of a 3,000 year-old mummy, played by Boris Karloff in Universal Pictures' THE MUMMY (1932).

Ninety-one years ago, on 16 February 1923, archaeologist Howard Carter entered a sealed tomb in Thebes and discovered what was not only the most amazing find in Egyptology, but in the entire field of archaeology as well.

Carter had unearthed the resting place of non other than fabled boy-King Tutankhamen. The sarcophagus wherein lay the King was fashioned from solid gold! A huge treasure trove was found inside the burial chamber that included more gold, jewelry and other precious metals. It was the find of the century,

But it seemed there was a price to pay for the defilement of the ancient laws that guarded the dead in their rock-hewn burial crypts called pyramids. Not long after the discovery of Tutankhamen and the subsequent removal of his mummified body and the possessions meant for his afterlife, mysterious deaths seemed to surround some of the people that had entered unbidden, into the tomb. History has since proven that these deaths were more coincidence than curse, but nevertheless the thought remained that somehow bad luck had befallen Howard Carter and his crew. It was this so-called curse that fueled the headlines of papers across the world for a time. Still, it was not enough for the continued plunder of Egypt's noble and glorious past that continues to this day.

Ten years later, Hollywood picked up on the "mummy's curse" and capitalized on it, producing a film that expounded on an amplified "what if" idea that there was something truly otherworldly and supernatural surrounding the ancient tombs. Universal Pictures brought to life Im-ho-tep, the living mummy, who lusted after his long-lost love and whose soul resided in the body of a modern day woman. Thus was born the legacy of a series of films starring some of horror's classic stars, including Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr.

Making these men into 3,000-year old mummies was the work of Jack P. Pierce, then head of the Universal Pictures makeup department. He employed cotton and collodion, as well as yards of gauze and fuller's earth to create amazing recreations of the Egyptian walking dead.

Universal enjoyed the popularity and box office receipts from the franchise, but without the discovery by an intrepid archaeologist named Howard Carter years earlier, there would be no Ardath Bey and no Kharis. Another example of art imitating life . . . or is it death?

In this article from FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #92 (Nov. 1974), Jack Pierce is acknowledged as the genius behind the makeup. Although Pierce always deferred his work to the ability of the actors under the makeup, they still would have been far less convincing in the hands of lesser talent.

In this photo, Jack is seen giving Lon Chaney Jr. the "brush off". Jack was meticulous in his work and the application of complicated makeups like these took hours.

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