July 10, 2012

Foley's Frankenstein

A makeup mishap on the dungeon set — a fallen Frankenstein face — and director James Whale, carefully coiffed and posing with a cigar, calls for Jack Pierce who flies into the scene at full clip, lugging his makeup kit and a hammer. Pierce’s likeness, in profile, is dead on.

This Jack Foley cartoon is undated and there is no record of it being published, but it is believed to be contemporary to the picture, circa 1931 or 1932. Note, at the center of the image, the distinctive Western Electric microphone used on Frankenstein (previous discussed here).

A photograph of the cartoon turned up in Jack Pierce’s scrapbook, sold in 2009 by the Heritage Auctions house. Seen here is a another copy — perhaps the original art? —signed in the lower left corner to Boris Karloff — the dedication too faint to read — by Jack Pierce. The two men were lifelong friends and mutual admirers.

In the late Thirties and into the Forties, Jack Foley (1891-1967) wrote and illustrated humorous articles for Universal-International’s in-house Studio News magazine, but cartooning was just a sideline for him. Moving from his native New York to California in 1914, Foley had broken into films as a jack of all trades, serving as stuntman, location scout, script writer and director — he also moonlighted as playwright and newspaper writer — but he would find his true calling when sound came to motion pictures. 

Early microphones were attuned to actor’s voices and it was Foley who developed a method of adding the necessary ambient sounds to filmed scenes. 

Working on a soundstage, surrounded with props, Foley added the tinkling of china, creaking furniture, slamming doors and all sorts of noise and sound effects to movies. Practicing and perfecting his art over the next 30 years, Foley claimed he walked 5000 miles without going anywhere, simulating footsteps. On his last film, Spartacus (1960), Foley provided the sound of slaves marching in leg chains by jiggling a bunch of keys. His contribution to motion pictures was so important that sound effect stages today are called Foley Stages, and its attendant technicians are Foley Artists and Foley Editors.

The Story of Jack Foley, on Filmsound.org.
The Jack Foley Stage at Universal.

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