Daughter Dearest

Harry Thomas‘ name has graced the credits of so many classic bad films, it’s easy to dismiss him as a hack. As make-up artist employed on such memorable offerings as Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda, Plan 9 from Outer Space  or Richard Cunha’s She-Demons, Thomas has provided us with many a make-up that would bear the brunt of many a film writer’s ire.

However, one needs to contextualize here. Sure, he’s no Jack Pierce (Universal’s legendary head of make-up who gave us the iconic looks for  Lugosi’s Dracula, Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster or Chaney’s Wofman) but he was Jack Pierce’s assistant – and he knew what he was doing.

Thomas’ true enemy was the budgets he was working with and the often clueless egos of the hack directors he was working for.

Case in point: Ed Wood. In his twilight years, as Thomas reminisced about his long and accomplished career in magazines like Filmfax and documentaries like The Haunted World of Ed Wood, he would relate some pretty outrageous tales about Ed’s view of “realism”: Much of the guffaws directed at “Daniel Davies” (Ed, acting under a pseudonym) during his onscreen time in Glen or Glenda is attributable to his godawful failure at appearing feminine under that cheap wig. Thomas explains that he had devised a wig and make-up to make him look more passable but that Ed insisted on apearing as he did in the street in the name of being honest and pulling no punches.

Another one concerns Plan 9’s aliens. Again, Thomas had designed something that would give the invaders a different appearance but Ed nixed it claiming he was making a message film and did not want to cheapen it with bug eyed or silver faced aliens. Somehow, I can’t help but think this translates as “I can’t afford this.”

It was on the set of Richard Cunha’s promethean epic Frankenstein’s Daughter that Harry had to show himself the most resourceful when confronted with a major challenge.

The film’s title is a tad confusing. It refers not to the female progeny of the infamous cadaver-as-human-kit doctor. In fact, the Frankenstein in this film is the son of Victor, Oliver. So who’s the daughter then?

Thomas was given a couple of looks to work on. One was for a young teenage girl whose features are grossly distorted as the result of Ollie’s nightcaps. (What purpose that serves? It creates a female teenage monster in a nightshirt that roams the neighbourhood making girls scream- do you really need a better motivation?). As she pops up in the film’s opening minutes and ends up with the film’s title superimposed on her oatmeal covered puss, one might be inclined that she is the titular monster- she is not.

The second monster Thomas had to create is the film’s ultimate creature:  A big Karloffian lumbering brute. The role was given to Harry Wilson (a character actor with acromegaly) and no indication was given to Thomas that Wilson would be playing a female creature.  In the film, the doctor believes his father’s mistake was in creating a male monster and that a female one would be instinctively subservient.

It’s obvious the doctor hasn’t dated much.

And so it was that Harry Thomas unveiled his monsterpiece of out-of-control growth hormones and spirit glue on set only to be informed at that moment the big burly creature was the wrong gender. They had to shoot NOW, so there was no time to start from scratch and certainly no money.

This is where Thomas showed his true genius.

He pulled out some lipstick and liberally smothered it on Harry Wilson’s mouth.

Problem solved.

Let Max Factor bring out the woman in you.

Here’s the full feature for you to play at your next Avon party.

Pain Level: 7/10

Quality of Pain: You’ll be fine as long as you don’t think. Then it’s just going to be like a nagging migraine.

Painjoyment: High

How did Karloff's face end up on this Mexican lobby card?

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About The Cinémasochist

I'd rather just talk about "bad" movies. View all posts by The Cinémasochist

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