Earlier today it was revealed that George A. Romero was going to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And of course it goes without saying that the star is well deserved as George was integral to not only creating the modern zombie, but being a fantastic horror movie director.
However, when I see all these headlines about how “It’s about time” and how the star is “long deserved” I can’t help but to think about a Hollywood legend who has gone long overlooked and is in dire need of recognition: Jack Pierce.
Now if you’re saying “Who is Jack Pierce?” That’s perfectly okay. He’s not as famous as George A. Romero and he’s definitely not a recent name. In fact, if you wanted to appreciate the work of Jack Pierce you’d have to travel all the way back to the magical year of 1931. The year that the Universal cinematic classic “Frankenstein” was released.
A lot of talented people were involved in the creation of “Frankenstein,” but the man arguably most responsible for the monster itself was Jack Pierce. Pierce was a makeup effects artist working at Universal in the early ’30s. One of his first projects was actually “Dracula,” but the effects needed on that film were pretty minimal and Bela Lugosi kind of changed things as he went along, so it wasn’t a pure Pierce project. However, that was the first time he touched the Universal Monster universe.
That same year Jack Pierce had the opportunity to work on “Frankenstein.” Working closely with Boris Karloff, Jack Pierce created the now universally iconic image of the Frankenstein’s monster. The bolts on the neck, the stitches on the forehead, the large flat top, etc. These are all signature features that Jack Pierce helped to create for the monster.
Universal must’ve been thrilled with the look of Frankenstein’s monster, because in the following year Jack was still involved with the studio and he helped designed the look of another iconic creature: The Mummy. He helped turn Karloff from a healthy looking individual into a fragile old man. According to a lot of reports, including Karloff himself, the collaboration between Jack Pierce and Boris Karloff was one of mutual respect and the two worked tirelessly together to create two iconic monsters for Universal Pictures.
Just look at them in that reunion. Holy hell, have you ever seen two men that respected and appreciated each other more? It’s a beautiful image.
Unfortunately, Jack Pierce was not an easy man to get along with and his next collaboration would not go as smoothly. In 1941 Jack Pierce would team up with Lon Chaney Jr. to create the the hairy monster known as “The Wolfman.” There are a lot of stories about how the two collided during the film and subsequent sequels, but in the end, Jack’s hair work and monster effects would lead to the creation of another iconic creature.
Along with the core Universal Monster films Jack Pierce helped to create some other infamous figures. Jack had a hand with such films as “The Invisible Man,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” and the proto-Wolfman film the “Werewolf of London.” And he also helped on subsequent sequels like “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman,” “The Mummy’s Curse,” and “House of Dracula” among many others.
Unfortunately, as time progressed, things began to change at Universal and new management inevitably replaced the old guard. Soon Jack Pierce was let go as the head of the Universal Pictures makeup department and an incredible era of monster magic came to a quiet end. Sadly Jack finished his career by working on the television series “Mister Ed.” A bittersweet low point for a man who was once synonymous with some of Universal’s biggest films.
Now, don’t take this as some kind of attack against George A. Romero. He’s certainly deserving of all the recognition he’s received and more. However, he’s definitely not the only horror icon that Hollywood has seemingly glossed over. And he certainly won’t be the last. We can’t expect the big studios to do their part and honor the legacy of those that came before, so as always, it’s up to us horror fans to never forget how this industry was created. It’s up to us to recognize the blood and sacrifice that went into creating our greatest nightmares and our favorite films. It’s up to us to never forget the people that came before and to appreciate the ones still to come.
It’d be nice if one day we had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Jack Pierce, but in the meantime, the best we can do is pass on his legacy to other horror fans and to make sure his name remains inseparable from the monsters he helped to create.