Friday, June 5, 2009

In which Bob suffers Two Indignities

Once in a while, we felt compelled to fool our friends, amaze our enemies, and insert some monster movie fanboyderie into the show.

There was this werewoof movie in the PRC list; the werewoof makeup, as I vaguely recall, was a poor piece of work indeed. But we did have a makeup artist who had signed on to be humiliated on demand on the air, and we had some useless trivia about Jack Pierce that cried out to be used, and we had Learned our Lesson: attacking or implying attacking small persons with tools or cooking implements was verboten, but attacking large persons was okey-dokey.

In those innocent pre-Internet days, if you wanted to clog your own personal bandwidth with useless trivia, you got it the old-fashioned way: from "printed materials". Most of these printed materials came in the form of "magazines", which could be either purchased through the odd "bookstore" or ordered through the "mail". Yes I know, hard to believe, you had to perform a certain amount of "physical effort" to track down these "magazines", you had to actually physically turn pieces of "paper" and "read" every word in order to find the trivial poop you sought, most of the time you would "read" the entire "magazine" "cover" to "cover" and not find the trivial poop you were looking for. Whew! thank gooness those days are gone gone gone never to return along with the drive-in movie theatre and the Polaroid Land camera! We can far more efficiently waste time waiting for the NIC card to find a network in range and the screen to load.

There were a couple of these odd little bookstores that I frequented: one on North Limestone near Transy, the other on South Limestone near UK, indulging my Cinefex/ Cinefantastique/ Film Fan Quarterly or whatever jones (and yes, as a beardless youth I read Famous Monsters and actually had a first print run of Dick Smith's Monster Makeup Handbook, but those are long since returned to midwestern humus). Some of the wunderkinder of 80s effects actually knew the heritage of their crafts, and would occasionally write appreciations of the master craftsmen of the 30s and 40s. In one of these mags Rick Baker wrote a two-page or so article on Jack Pierce, who created the makeups for the original Universal movie monsters. Baker was clearly a fan of Pierce's craftsmanship, from his character analysis to establish a motivation for the makeup design to the use of old-fashioned (by 1950s standards) materials to handcraft the makeup directly on the performer. I'm a big fan of hand tools and painstaking craftsmanship too; and notice that I'm not using a knife-sharpened quill and a piece of lamb's vellum to write this.

It seemed to me that underneath the admiration for the work ethic there were hints of a certain unbecoming misanthropy in Pierce's handling of the Talent, to wit: it seemed to me that Pierce didn't like the Talent very much. Really didn't like the Talent very much. Went out of his way to let the Talent know that he really really really didn't like the Talent very much. I knew a little bit about some of the materials and techniques that Pierce used for his monster makeups, and these were maximally uncomfortable to wear on your body -- as in potentially painfully uncomfortable. In watching one of Pierce's werewolf transitions, it was obvious that the film technique was a series of dissolves, with six or seven progressively more complete makeups dissolving on top of each other in sequence -- A to B, B to C, C to D, etc. -- with holds at each stage that showed the makeup. The first time this was done, the actor was not reset exactly into the same position between takes, so the overlap was not seamless -- probably ooky enough for 1941, but hardly ooky for 1985. And apparently not ooky enough for Pierce, who had a simple solution for the next movie: he nailed the actor's hand down.

I quote Dave Barry: "I am not making this up (copyright 1985, Dave Barry. All rights reserved.)" Pierce apparently used very fine brads and drove these brads through the skin webbing between the actor's fingers, so that the actor couldn't move his hand without ripping the nails through his skin. The actor in question was Lon Chaney Jr., who was big and ornery enough to throw Mr. Pierce through one or two of his makeup mirrors, which might have been a career-limiting move but I'd bet he did it anyway.

Well, such a factoid had to be used on M's MT; and with a werewoof movie on the schedule, that was the perfect opportunity to do so. We thought this was going to be The Bit Everyone Remembered from that week's show. Barb rattled Millie's more-or-less accurate description of Pierce's process while she drove 16d nails "through" Bob's fingers. Barb's a better carpenter than I am, so I had no worries about her accidentally smashing Bob; Bob was less sanguine about the prospect, but we plied him with beer and he was good to go. Bob splayed his fingers, Barb actually nailed next to his finger webbing, and we shot with the minicam so that we could drop it down to the table height and cheat the perspective; the big pedestal cameras would have tilted down onto the setup and given away the gag. I told Bob that he couldn't say anything or move; he had to gradually wilt into a cringe or grimace for each indignity, but it had to be s-l-o-w, the slower the better and funnier; the slowness would sell the gag while Millie yammered obliviously on.

Anyway, after Pierce nailed Chaney's hand down, he then glued the Special Custom Yak Hair on to Chaney's hand. He'd do a little; the cameras would roll; he'd do a little more; the cameras would roll; he'd do a little more; the cameras would roll; et cetera. Now, the thing with applying hair to a live actor -- not a wig or beard (which is called a "ventilated hair piece" in the trade because the hair is sewed on to a fine mesh net, hair by hair, and the net is then attached to the Talent), but applying crepe, human or Special Custom Yak -- is that you can't apply this in clumps: you apply it one hair at a time. Which meant that Herr Chaney sat with his hand nailed down for one whole day of shooting while Herr Pierce applied one -- Special -- Custom -- Yak -- Hair -- at -- a -- time. Gluing, pressing on, teasing out, trimming. I could imagine Chaney boiling, Pierce knowing Chaney was boiling -- and probably smoking a cigarette while he was working. And of course all this stuff -- the glue, the hair, the wardrobe, the finger extensions -- were highly flammable.

So I'm sure Millie was waving her cigarette holder around while she applied her "makeup" to Bob. To illustrate the process, we used a gallon of white glue and we globbed on handfuls of easter egg grass; probly equalled the discomfort of the spirit gum and Special Custom Yak Hair, but it sure took less time. By the time that particular bit was over and Richie had called us clear, nobody could hold the laughter in any more. We couldn't wait to get home and play that bit back; we were sure we had a winner.

Funny, though: when we played it back after we got home, it somehow didn't play as well as we thought it did. It was funny and all, but not the high point of the show. On the other hand, there was some possibilities in a throwaway bit we had tossed off, that involved Millie and a cookie monster puppet that was supposed to be a werewoof.

1 comment:

  1. YAY COOKIE MONSTER PUPPET! I'm racking my brains to remember the werewolf movie, to no avail. There was one that had a WW in Dracula or Frankenstein's castle? Not even a Hammer or Universal movie, just some independent one, like many were back then.

    I've been holding it in but am eager to here LBG's birth, mainly because, having heard your regular voice in a few segments, I am baffled as to how you pulled off that register. A few years ago I could pull off a Monty Python Pepperpot, but an illness destroyed that range of my throat years back and now I am sadly useless at karaoke, alas.