On the Set with… Karloff and Lugosi: A Halloween Salute

There was something about Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi that was just plain creepy. Neither actor had to “do” anything other than merely show up. Even the occasional non-horror role they landed didn’t change each man’s fundamental ability to send chills down the spines of viewers by saying nothing more threatening than, “Good evening.”

Speaking of which, Bela seems to be inviting us to watch as he applies makeup for DRACULA (1931). He seems cordial enough – but we know better!

Since this is late 1930, it’s worth mentioning that many actors handled their own makeup chores because they had to do it themselves in the theater. During the 1930s, makeup artists began to assist film stars and eventually handled all the tasks:

Bela could even make smoking a cigar look sinister:

Boris Karloff often played roles that required arduous makeup sessions. Here Universal’s makeup wizard Jack Pierce turns Boris into the Frankenstein Monster for the very first time for FRANKENSTEIN (1931):

Filming the world’s first glimpse of Boris as the Monster:

Bela definitely had the romantic edge over Boris. Here Helen Chandler (Mina) seems to respond to the mysterious guest from Transylvania while Edward Van Sloan (Dr. Van Helsing) and David Manners (Jonathan Harker) appear suspicious, or perhaps they’re only jealous:

When mummies are restored to life and want to blend in with other folks, they remove their wrappings. But the passage of 3700 years can cause dry skin. Here Jack Pierce checks to make sure Boris’s parchment-like skin doesn’t come off in THE MUMMY (1932):

Bela seems so charming here – so why do his fellow cast members in DRACULA look terrified? From left to right, Bela, David Manners, Helen Chandler, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan:

Boris did get to do a romantic scene with Zita Johann in THE MUMMY, but it was cut out of the film:

Double the chills – by the mid 1930s Boris and Bela were teamed up in THE BLACK CAT (1934), THE RAVEN (1935), and one of my favorites, the sci-fi yarn, THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936) where they play perfectly respectable scientists – until the murders begin:

It’s difficult to believe these are the same two gents, joined by Basil Rathbone, as they celebrate Boris’s birthday on the set of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939):

Bela finally got to know what it felt like to sit for hours in Jack Pierce’s makeup chair while he is prepared for his role as Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN:

Jack Pierce at long last gets his comeuppance from Bela and Boris in this gag photo. That’s director Rowland V. Lee assisting in the skullduggery:


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m curious – in the shot from “The Mummy”, why did you elect to color that one such a vivid green? It’s certainly striking, but would it be historically accurate? Just curious!

    • Good question. I try to guess the costume designer’s intent. So if a costume is light or medium gray, I assume the color could not be dark blue or red. For that MUMMY still, I used my imagination but if somebody knows historically what would be a more accurate color, I would be willing to change it.

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