For many decades, actors weren’t just telling tall tales when they referred to the daily make-up process as ‘torture’. Especially in the case of horror films, of course, where elaborate monster make-ups required hours to put on or remove, and often caused great discomfort to the actor in various ways – after all, every single deformation had to be lovingly applied by hand on every single day of shooting.
The name ‘Pierce Chanley’ is, of course, a reference to both Lon Chaney, Sr., as well as Jack Pierce. Lon Chaney was the pioneer of horror make-up, and, as mentioned on Halloween, often subjected himself to considerable hardships and pain in the quest for authentic scariness. Jack Pierce was his successor, of sorts, at Universal and designed most of the great, classic horror make-ups – most importantly for Boris Karloff as Frankenstein and The Mummy, and for Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolfman. Pierce had learned his trade from Chaney, and stuck to his guns to the end – long after the make-up departments at other studios had started to use pre-made foam applications, Pierce continued to build up his make-ups from cotton and collodium bit by bit, day after day. For the more elaborate monsters, applying make-up could take up to eight hours.
So for a role like Frankenstein, for example, Boris Karloff had to sit through hours of make-up being applied, then had a full day of shooting his scenes in uncomfortable make-up under hot studio lights, and at night it even took more than an hour to take it all off again.
Most monster make-ups were extremely tight and hot, and there were cases of actors passing out from that – although that wasn’t limited to horror movies, with actresses also sometimes losing consciousness from tight corsets in 18th or 19th century period pieces. (Good thing they didn’t even try to tighten Tim Curry’s corset in RHPS) Many movie monster suits also severely limited an actor’s mobility, and they often didn’t even allow for sitting down properly during shooting breaks. Vision was also often severly impaired – during the shooting of ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ Ben Chapman (Creature), when carrying off Julia Adams (Kay Lawrence) smashed her head into a cave wall he had not been able to see. Occasionally, there were even problems with the performance of some necessary bodily functions – so actors had to perform in an unbearably hot monster suit while not daring to drink anything.
There’s a reason, however, why I’ve been using the past tense. In recent times CG effects are increasingly standing in for old fashioned make-up – like in the case of Bill Nighy as ‘Davy Jones’, for example:
But it’ll probably still take a considerable amount of time for this technology to trickle down to the poverty row studios. So, in the spirit of past hardships of monster portrayal, Lee was just the natural choice for the role of Gregory. Somehow, it’s always him who ends up with that kind of task. On Thursday, Professor Dr. might finally be ready to draw the obvious conclusion from all his testing. Please vote.