Harry Thomas (Makeup Effects Artist) Profile

Harry Thomas Profile Makeup Effects Artist  (1909–1996)
Harry Thomas Profile Makeup Effects Artist  (1909–1996)

Did you make up the Mole Men for Superman and the Mole-Men (1951)?
Harry Thomas: Oh, I did the whole thing. The producers wanted to use children as the Mole Men at first, but I fought against that. Midgets are easier to work with, and their faces are older and more porous. I brought those midgets into my house and I took the size of their heads. I put bald caps on them and stuffed them with cotton to make ’em look a little larger than their faces. I crossed the eyebrows, and then, to make it a little different, I laid a little tuft of hair down near the mandible — the bone below the ear. Everyone was different they all had this to identify themselves. I wanted to make them look sympathetic not horrible or scary, but lovable little creatures from another part of the planet.

And you later did the Adventures of. Superman TV series?
Thomas: Right. It was very nice work— I enjoyed it. I even did the first episode, Superman On Earth, and I made the parents progressively older while the kid grew up to be the Mighty Man of Steel.

What was George Reeves like to work with?
Thomas: George was very pleasant; he sort of kept to himself, and wasn’t a glib person. He had a sensitive personality. We got along very well; he told me that he was a night club singer at one time, so I’d go into his dressing room, say “Now, George, I like to sing, too,” and we’d sing a little ditty together. So he was human even if he did come from another planet.


How did your makeup for The Neanderthal Man (1953) evolve?
Thomas: To give it a little authentic touch, I went to the library and looked at several primitive people— the Cro-Magnon, the Neanderthal and a lot of others. I made up Robert Shayne. The Neanderthal Man was laid with cotton, spirit gum and stuff like that, the way Jack Pierce would lay it. After I’d make Shayne up, I’d make a double up, because Bob didn’t do all the running and chasing, or the tiger attack. When he died in bed, I think they reversed the camera; Shayne had all the makeup on, and I took off the pieces so he’d look like he was changing back to normal.


The transformation scenes in that film are interestingly done and rather effective.
Thomas: They could have spent more time, and photographed it a little better than they did, but everything is pressured on these low-budget pictures. Sometimes they’d say, “We’ve got to get this thing done today” and they’d start cutting pages out of the scripts. And this hurt me, because I figured that someday the makeup was going to sell these pictures it wasn’t the hackneyed stories or the poor acting, it was the makeup.

You also made the servant girl up as a Neanderthal Woman for a series of still photographs seen in the film.
Thomas: The girl was very lovely; her eyebrows were fascinating, very heavy, as I recall. I left ’em that way; sunk her eyes; did the teeth, and all that sort of thing. She changed, but not as much as Shayne did. Now, the minute we started that picture, it was makeup, makeup, makeup, all the way to the end. The Neanderthal Man worked a lot— it didn’t just pop up once in a while to scare you. This thing they played to the hilt.

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What can you tell us about the saber tooth tiger sequences seen in that film?
Thomas: The tiger was very playful, just a big cat, like you’d have for a house pet. It weighed four or five hundred pounds a beautiful animal but it wouldn’t get ferocious. I made the tiger’s trainer up as the monster for the scene where the tiger jumped the Neanderthal Man. The cat wanted to lick his face and purr. In those days, I don’t think they had the Humane Society or the restrictions they have today, so they took a stick and poked the tiger from the back so he could look furious, but they never accomplished that.


What about the design of the alien eyes in Killers from Space (1954) ?
Thomas: The director wanted the space aliens to have large, protruding eyes. An optical shop said that it would cost at least $900 to make eight pairs of glass eyes for the movie. The producer rejected the cost right away, and then someone suggested using ping pong balls. I decided that I would not use ping pong balls for this. They’re much too thin and they don’t have or the depth that I need for the sclera of the eye. I spent that night and most of the next morning wondering how I’d make realistic eyes for these aliens. I was almost completely discouraged when I went to get something to drink from the refrigerator and there was my answer- a white plastic egg tray. The plastic tray had the perfect shiny, almost translucent appearance that I was looking for. I sliced the bottoms of the tray off with a heated screwdriver, leaving me with half-spheres of plastic.

I pierced the center of each one with the heated screwdriver, so the actors could see. Then, I painted Irises on them, and drew in some red blood vessels. Again, it was a hurry up thing what I wanted to do was punch the plastic eyes through cotton or lens paper, then seal the sides so it would look like they came out of the eyes themselves. They wouldn’t give me that time, nor time to shade the sides of the eyes to give it some dimension and feeling. For the main alien did you notice his eyes move? What I did was put another pair of eyes over the first pair and pull them back and forth with strings. That was my own idea; I just couldn’t see the picture without animation. I wanted to see those eyes move, and when it worked, that made my heart feel real good because then the audience believed it.


Did you contribute to the walking tree in From Hell It Came (1957) ?
Thomas: No, the tree was made, all I did was spray it. I don’t know who made that tree; it could have been Paul Blaisdell. Whoever made it did a beautiful job. What I contributed to that film was the radiation burns on the natives. I used some egg seal that stretched the skin, Bosco chocolate for dried blood, and so on.


Tell us a little about making up Sally Todd for The Unearthly (1957).
Thomas: That was very simple. It took me about half an hour to do that. I put hair gel all over her face, then I took Egyptian cotton, wrinkled it up and put it over the gel. Next, I took some liquid makeup, dipped a brush in it and made highlights and shadow. . And after she finished the scene, just peel it off and her face is in good shape. You gotta consider that with some people, they can sue you, see? But I never used anything that was deleterious – I’d always test it on myself first.

Certainly the best-remembered part of The Unearthly is the closing scene where the two policemen find the cell full of monsters in the basement.
Thomas: I had all these things at home— rubber pieces, parts of hair, eyes, pieces of leftover makeups from other pictures. I grabbed whatever I could, and stuck it on these people. Tor Johnson’s son Carl was in there he was the biggest, tallest fellow, and he had rubber on one side of his face, pulling it down., I just threw it together if they had given me more time, I’d have done a lot better, really.


What’s especially disappointed is that all these monsters are seen for only a few seconds in the film.
Thomas: They should have stayed on a few of them. I worked on them , one by one, putting at least 15 or 20 minutes into each, which is a lot of time when you’re working on a budget and under strain. But I did all right. They looked good.


How did you become involved with Voodoo Woman (1957) ?
Thomas: There was a man by the name of Les Cook, that I first answered to; he was supposed to produce the picture for American International. He had a different title for the picture, and I suggested Voodoo Woman; it was far better than the title he originally had, which I’ve forgotten. I told Les that Voodoo Woman would look a little better on the marquee, and it might attract people to the box office. Les and I sat around and talked about the movie they didn’t have a script yet, Les used to tell me what the story would be like, and Les said, “I want you on this picture.” Well, he never did it; whatever happened to the poor guy, I don’t know, I never heard from him again. I made the skull-head, and laid the hair on it. When I took it over to Sam Arkoff, he liked it, and we made a deal right there. I asked Arkoff, “Now, what have you got for the body?” I suggested at that time that they should put a scary, Inner Sanctum shroud on it, and make the hands up, sort of skeletal. Then, they could put a bit under the mouth so that whoever was in the mask could bear down on the bit and the mouth would open. And leave the eyes free to animate. Arkoff said, “Oh, we’ve got something already made up.” I had never seen it; I was never on the set. All I did was make the head and bring it to Arkoff. I was very surprised when I later saw pictures of it, with this hideous costume they had used in another movie (The She-Creature). They had every opportunity not to put my name on the credits if they didn’t like my mask; every opportunity not to use the mask they could have gotten something that would have been more befitting to that horrible suit, which looked like a butcher who had meat cleavings all over his gown.

Some of the people who eventually worked on Voodoo Woman charged that your mask did not become their monster suit.
Thomas: I believe that petty jealousy is the only vice that gives no pleasure. I think that’s what it was. They didn’t do the head.

The Bride and the Beast (1958)

What do you remember about The Bride and the Beast (1958)
Thomas: For The Bride and The Beast, I laid some hair on the gorilla suit; a fellow by the name of Ray Corrigan was inside it. All I did was fix the eyes a little bit and spray the suit, which was already made. Ed Wood wrote that picture, but I never saw Ed on that set at all.

My World Dies Screaming (1958)

And My World Dies Screaming (1958) a.k.a Terror in the Haunted House?
Thomas: I remember putting ax prints on people, and making some heads. You know, I’ve never seen that picture, and I would like to. There was some subliminal stuff in that, that I worked on, also. I just can’t remember that picture!


Director Richard Cunha said that he would have liked to have hired Jack Pierce for Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958), but he was unavailable.
Thomas: They would have never given Jack Pierce time to do that. Jack used to take an awfully long time to do something, but he’d do it really well. He wouldn’t slop things together like that, and he wouldn’t have worked as cheaply as I did. You know, I worked fast on those things, to get ’em out. I didn’t get 4 or 5 hours, I’d get 4 or 5 minutes’. I did all the makeup there wasn’t anybody else.

Universal treated Pierce rather shabbily during his last days at the studio. Was he ever bitter about that?
Thomas: Yes, he was kind of bitter. Jack had a miraculous way of doing these horror make ups with Egyptian cotton, spirit gum, collodion, lens papers very similar to the way I work. I believe his pride was hurt, and I don’t know whether or not he resented the work. People who do nice work, or think they do, like to get some kind of appreciation. That’s all we need, we human animals. Being independently working most of the time, I would get a little bit more for myself than I would if I worked under a department head. There was a couple of hundred dollars difference per day.


What about Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958) ?
Thomas: You know, a lot of times you get blamed for something that you tried hard to change, and nothing happened. I made up Harry Wilson as the Monster; I stretched cotton, used liquid plastic to make it stiff, painted over with liquid makeup and put it on him, partially with spirit gum. I didn’t think he was Frankenstein’s Daughter, I was only taking orders from the producer and the director. For some odd reasons, these producers never gave me scripts; the thing cost $2.00, I think, and that could have bought a reel of film. When the scene started and the little man who played Donald Murphy’s assistant said, “Look at that she’s alive!,” I blew a gasket! I thought that Frankenstein’s Daughter was Sandra Knight, ‘cuz I worked on her first. I wanted to change it right then and there .

So you would have liked to have done a new makeup on Wilson and then refilm those first monster scenes?
Thomas: Oh, God, yes. Absolutely. I spoke to Richard Cunha, the director, and I said, ‘They won’t buy this out there! I feel this is, the wrong thing to do.” Really, I’m not to blame for that. Being the producer and director, they could have done something about it then. They could have made the monster an it or a he Frankenstein’s Nephew’. I wanted to make Sally Todd up as the monster, but the producers didn’t think she would look big enough to fight and look menacing. If they had given me the time, I would have made up Sally Todd to play the monster. Or, I could have made this big fellow, Harry Wilson, look like Sally Todd. I could’ve put a wig on, and put organdy over his eyes like Jack Pierce did on Frankenstein.

I made him up, put those damn bandages on him. I didn’t want those damn bandages on him. It has no connection with Frankenstein’s daughter at all. I had an awful weird blonde wig, and I wanted to do Sandra Knight as Frankenstein’s daughter, and I had the eyes drooping down. Beautiful make- up. But that damnable director wouldn’t let me do it. He insisted on this big giant in the bandages. The second stage of Sandra Knight’s make-up, where her eyeballs are bulging out is very effective. She’s coming in from the swimming pool, and Dr. Frank (Donald Murphy) watches her, and I have her lie down, on a bed and look in the mirror. And I wanted the three changes, and the director just wanted to show her with the make-up on. I said, “You can’t do that. The audience wants to see her get that way gradually.” I had to fight for that. He says, “ Alright, let’s do it.” So I say, “Alright, you come in, he watches you, you come over, lie on the bed, your head’s down, you raise your head up, (that’s the third change), then you go to the mirror, you look in, we dolly in with the camera, and frame the face.


Mr. Cunha credited a Paul Stanhope for Harry Wilson’s makeup, and for Donald Murphy’s acid face.

Thomas: Stanhope was never on the set, and there was no other makeup man but me. They couldn’t afford it! They said they were going to throw the acid in Murphy’s face, so just sprinkle a little blood on him and have him raise his hand to cover his face. I said, “Oh, no, no, let’s make him looked burned.” You know, when you get on a low-budget picture, you plead with these people you can see the future of it. So what I did in less than five minutes was, I put hair gel all over Murphy’s face, then took large pieces of lens paper, wrinkled them up and pinched some little holes out, stuck them on him and painted chocolate into the holes, all this time they’re yelling, “Hurry up! Hurry up! What are you doing now?!” I said, “It won’t take a minute, let me do it. It’ll be effective.” And they didn’t even say thank you they didn’t say a damn thing. Now they’ve got the nerve to give the credit to somebody else. If they didn’t like my work on Frankenstein ‘s Daughter, why did they carry me over to Missile to the Moon ? They should have shouldered some of the responsibility and accepted the blame for having a man do that female part. Now, don’t let them blame me for that I was not responsible!

Night of the Ghouls (1959)

One of your more elaborate make ups for Tor were the burns on his face for Night of the Ghouls.
Thomas: All I used was some collodion and some Naturo Plasto undertaker’s wax, used by all the morticians to reconstruct cadavers. I used it quite frequently.

How well did you get to know Tor Johnson?
Thomas: Well, Tor and I were pretty good friends, and I got him a lot of work  whenever I’d get a job, I’d recommend Tor. I got him work in The Unearthly, and I got him other jobs with Wood. Tor was a big Swede he was actually ‘The Swedish ‘Angel,” at one time in wrestling  and a wonderful character. A big, big, big baby! One day Tor said to me, “Harry, I want you to come over to the house. The missus and I are going to have a little snack.” I told him I’d be very glad to. I dared not let him sit in my car, because the seat would break  he weighed about 450 pounds. We went over to his house and he brought out whole barbecued chickens. I said, “Gee, I just want a little piece.” Tor looks at me: “You eat it all! You gotta! It’s just a little snack, before we eat the big meal!” I said, “What big meal?!” Next he brought out all these various cheeses Tor’s father had a farm in Sweden. And he kept bringing on food. So finally the main course was coming, and this I still can’t believe: huge roasts of lamb and big roasts of pork. By the way, the forks and knives were extra big, and the spoon looked like a small shovel. Everything was made special! And when he’d walk across the apartment floor, the boards would sink, and you’d think there was a slight tremor!


Tor said, ‘The little woman’s coming home soon.” I pictured her in my mind as some little dainty, transistorized woman. Then, down the hall, I heard thump, thump, thump, and then a knock at the door. And here’s a big woman not as big as him, but good sized. Very pleasant, very sweet, nice looking woman but big! Thump, thump, thump down the aisle again, the knock at the door, and there was his “baby boy” Carl. These people were huge. The son was as big as Tor was!  Outside, I heard dogs barking. Tor had three German shepherds. I said, “Oh, let ’em in, I wanna pet ’em!” They came bursting through the door, three big, beautiful dogs, and they got under the table. Every chance I got, I’d take a little food off my plate and slip it to these dogs. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here today speaking with you!  Tor was like a great big kewpie doll. After dinner, he took one of the bed sheets and made a diaper out of it for himself, with a huge pin. He said to me he called me “Little Tor” “You don’t mind me being comfortable? You enjoying yourself, Little Tor?” These were such dear people you’ve never seen such a happy family in your life.

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What did you do for The Navy Vs. The Night Monsters ?
Thomas: I made up the radiation burn victim. He was not in the script, and it was a last-minute thing. A fellow by the name of Dick Dixon said to me, “I want this man burned to a crisp and you’ve got a half hour or less. You think you can do it?” I told him, “I know I can do it” there’s always a way to improvise, if you just use your little head. Some men were packing fragile glasses and props in a barrel, and when I walked by it I saw all this excelsior. I took some out, went to a mirror and put it on myself— hair gel, the excelsior, liquid makeup, black pancake for highlight and shadow— and it looked like radiation burns! “I think I’ve got it!” I said to myself, as I smiled in the mirror. You know, this gives me aesthetic pleasure! When I was finished with the actor, by Cod, you’ve never seen anything so effective. They loved it! And, can you imagine, they didn’t hold the camera on him long enough, but they used that one frame to blow up and put on the posters!


One of your more memorable make ups from the 1960’s was seen in She Freak (1967)
Thomas: The actress playing the She Freak was a very pleasant girl, but she didn’t want to be hurt. You get a lot of people who are very sensitive or allergic to makeup. I knew she was worried; when they start asking questions, you sort of back down on the hard chemicals and go with the simpler things. I guaranteed her that everything on her would be edible. I made her up as the She Freak out of kitchen stuff— the eyes were broken eggshells, pierced with a hot icepick, the hair was done with flour, water and food coloring. I took an orange peel, cut it into teeth and let it dehydrate for three or four days until it became solidified like rawhide. I put syrup on her arm. You’ve got to think of these things to use as substitutes. In SHE FREAK, the scene at the end. with the snake in her hand, they wanted to come right straight in… I said, “No, you can’t do that. Look, we’ll shoot her with the good side of her face, we walk in, and as we walk in, we dolly in as she moves, then turns her face around., then we see that horrible side and we hold it.” That’s my idea.

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Did you have a fondness for horror or science-fiction movies before you began your makeup career?
Thomas: Yes. I especially enjoyed the Frankenstein films, and I was very thrilled when I later worked under Jack Pierce. He was a little feisty man that I enjoyed knowing; I respected his genius. I believe that Universal mentioned that he was getting older, and they wanted somebody who would work faster, and do prosthetics; that was their excuse. I don’t think anybody’s ever compared with what he did. Universal was very, very ungrateful in doing this to a man whose pictures all made a lot of money. The makeup artist didn’t get the recognition or the appreciation in those days not like today. I never like to work in a major studio. I did work in a lot of them, you did all the work and you got no credit. The man whose name does get up there on the screen never even came down on the set. It was very interesting, but the pay was low and the department heads never came to view your

Do you have a personal favorite among your many horror make ups?
Thomas: The acid-burn makeup in Frankenstein’s Daughter, because I did that so fast, just minutes. I like that, and I also like the changes in The Neanderthal Man. That was a challenge to me.


Harry Thomas Selected Filmography
1967 She Freak
1966 The Navy vs. the Night Monsters
1965 Space Probe Taurus
1964 Raiders from Beneath the Sea
1964 The Naked Kiss
1963 Terrified
1962 House on Bare Mountain
1959 Night of the Ghouls
1959 Plan 9 from Outer Space
1958 My World Dies Screaming
1958 Frankenstein’s Daughter
1958 Missile to the Moon
1958 Night of the Blood Beast
1957 The Bride and the Beast
1957 From Hell It Came
1957 The Unearthly
1957 Voodoo Woman
1956 Jungle Hell
1954 Killers from Space
1953 Project Moon Base
1953 Cat-Women of the Moon
1953 The Neanderthal Man
1953 Glen or Glenda
1953 Port Sinister

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