Jack Pierce — Speeding Father Time (1937) 🇺🇸

Jack Pierce (Universal Studios Make-Up Artist) | www.vintoz.com

December 29, 2021

Jack Pierce, make-up artist for Universal Studios, can age a character twenty years in three hours by the use of expertly-applied make-up. Here’s how he does it.

Noted for his creations of monsters and ghostly characters. Jack Pierce has now added another laurel to his growing list of make-up successes: the illusion of extreme age!

We met Mr. Pierce in his spotless little make-up department at the studio, which looks like a combined operating room and scientific laboratory. The great make-up chairs are built exactly like barber-shop chairs with swivels and head-rests so that the face of the actor or actress is held rigidly still for the application of grease-paint, paint brushes stand in fan-like formation ready for use and bottles and jars of compounded colors for make-up are arranged neatly in rows. It is in this room where Edward Arnold entered every morning, a man in the prime of life; to totter out three hours later an ancient and broken old man of eighty with faltering step and shaking hands.

“When I make a character up for extreme age,” said Jack Pierce, “I ask for his co-operation or it is impossible to get the effect of reality. With Edward Arnold, in order to get his shoulders to give the right droop for the final scenes in Sutter’s Gold I had a harness made which pulled his body forward and dropped his shoulders down. It is useless to make up a face to look old and not change the posture, the hands and, of course, the facial expression. It takes the actor’s willing efforts to produce the correct effect.”

Jack Pierce does not leave make-up just at the mere greasepaint stage. He adds scientific knowledge and a goodly amount of character analysis to his creations.

“A person changes from youth to age first in the eyes, then in the mouth, then in the drooping of the muscles of the face. It is comparatively easy to make up a face so that it is beautiful and attractive. It is not so easy to create furrows and lines so that they seem to belong on a face that is completely devoid of lines or ageing expressions. Nevertheless I venture to say that no matter how young and beautiful a person may be, I can make him or her look old and even act old after three hour’s coaching and makeup application.”

It sounded like a terrible threat to us!

A short time ago the way actors were aged for the screen was by a generous powdering of the hair and face coupled with a free use of the grease-pencil for lines and furrows and — voila! — age!

The bright eyes and erect carriage of the actor or actress belied the powdered hair and made the effect one of farce rather than tragedy.

It’s very different now. With Jack Pierce the creation of age for screening purposes is an art and he takes his work earnestly and with serious purpose.

“The eyes of a very old person are smaller than those of a younger one,” he told us. “I make up the eyes so that they give that effect. The mouth of an old person breaks into a thin line and sinks in under the nose. I get this expression with careful shading and sometimes add a mouthpiece inside the actor’s mouth to distort his speech so that it sounds reedy and thin as that of a person ancient of days. In the face of a powerful character such as that of old John Sutter, I kept the lines of strength in his face and added those of age which gave the effect of a fine and vital person yet retained the illusion of his extreme age.”

“Look at his hands,” said Mr. Pierce, pointing to the picture. “It is one of my pet theories that hands should be made up as carefully as faces. For the old hands of John Sutter I worked to get the veined and puffy look that the hands of the very old assume. If it is the hand of one who has worked hard all his life, the make-up would be entirely different from that of the hand of one who had led a life of ease and luxury. John Sutter had worked with his hands; therefore I tried to make them look like that. In the case of Irene Dunne in Show Boat, I tried to get the opposite effect; the hands of a beautiful woman who was artistic and successful yet who was gradually succumbing to the effects of age. It was a delicate task to get the right appearance.”

Jack Pierce uses small plaster models when he attempts first to create a ghastly or weird character such as the famous “Frankenstein.”

“I studied books of surgery,” said Mr. Pierce, when we referred to “Frankenstein.” “I spent hours talking to doctors and internes and even went to the hospital for pictures of operations and technical advice concerning the aftereffects of different kinds of scars, before I attempted to make up Karloff for the role. As a result, I don’t believe that a doctor in the world could find fault with the appearance of that monster. The clips, scars and operative structure of the Frankenstein monster were perfectly correct so far as surgery and medicine were concerned. As to the plausibility of such a creature, I leave that to the story and the limits of the public’s credulity.”

Mr. Pierce is working on another monster right now. A monster that will probably frighten everybody as delightfully as did Frankenstein. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is scheduled for production some time during the year by Universal and Mr. Pierce is sketching some shudderingly grotesque heads as a preliminary to his make-up work on the picture. As yet the player of the “Hunchback” is not set (transcriber's note: Charles Laughton got the role, of course), but whoever he may be, Jack Pierce will fix him up so that he will produce many a shiver and thrill when he appears on the screen.

It is these clever men equipped with grease-pencil, wig and foundation paint who produce for audiences the very essence of illusion. It is by their artistic skill that the illusion is retained glamorously and by their scientific knowledge that it is factually and basically correct.

Jack Pierce, Make-Up Artist | www.vintoz.com

Left: The first mask of the Frankenstein monster. Mr. Pierce uses this model to “lay-out” his plans for the application of Karloff’s make-up.

Right: Here is a finished product. Edward Arnold at eighty-two, made up for his part in “Sutter’s Gold.

In the picture it is plainly illustrated that Mr. Pierce’s efforts were undoubtedly worth while. Edward Arnold grows truly old before your eyes.

Jack Pierce, Make-Up Artist | www.vintoz.com

Source: Motion Picture Studio Insider, January 1937