On April 1, 1931 -- just 47 days after the premiere of Dracula -- Bela Lugosi was cast as the Monster in Universal's upcoming production of Frankenstein. Following that, he'd star in Murders in the Rue Morgue. Interestingly, the studio didn't even have the film rights yet (they wouldn't come for a week), and it wouldn't be until late April that a director (George Melford) and scriptwriter (Robert Florey) would be assigned. Melford was quietly moved off the project in May and onto Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Florey took over. Only a five=page story treatment and bits and pieces of a script existed by early June.
It's not clear when makeup artist Jack Pierce came aboard the picture. He had Lugosi did not have a good relationship. Lugosi had insisted on doing his own makeup on the set of Dracula, leaving Pierce frustrated and angry. It's not clear what research Pierce did for Frankenstein, but one surmises that it wasn't much because he feared Lugosi would toss it all out the window and insist on his work makeup design.
Just what sort of makeup design Pierce came up with is not fully known, but there are indications he was hired in May. Only after about 2000 have three images emerged which show what Pierce and Lugosi had in mind. The first was a blank, mask-like effort which reflected the makeup design in the seminal 1920 German silent film The Golem. A newspaper report issued some three weeks later said only Lugosi's chin and eyes were visible, and that he wore 12-inch platfom shoes to make him look taller. (The Monster in the novel is nearly eight feet.) This design appeared to feature electrodes or "clamped horns" on the forehead, and would have been accompanied with a wig that had long hair down the nape the neck. The image showing electrodes at the temples probably came next. Numerous authors tell how Lugosi hated the heavy makeup, and wanted to portray a sensitive, nuanced Monster. The final design featured electrodes at the neck.
We know the neck-electrodes were the final design, because test footage of the creation scene was shot on the Dracula sets (which were still standing) on June 16 and 17 by Florey. It's possible that two different makeup designs were used, one for each day, and it's likely that a long-haired wig was used for both designs. At any rate, a stock player protrayed Dr. Victor Frankenstein, with Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Waldman and Dwight Frye as Igor. Florey's biographer claims that close to 1,000 feet of footage was shot for this test, and one of Lugosi's biographers claims 3,000 feet of footage was shot. But that seems ludicrous. A thousand feet of film is a full reel, or 12 minutes. No scene would have lasted that long! Although Florey said in 1948 that he shot two reels of edited test footage, that seems impossibly long given the state of the script and the need.
The test footage has been lost, unfortunately. But cameraman Paul Ivano said the footage depicted the creation scene. Lugosi had no lines. The big reveal came when Dr. Frankenstein lifts the sheet, and shows Lugosi's face as the actor lies on the slab. Lugosi's performance consisted of his eyes opening, a grunt, and the movement of his fingers as the Monster comes to life.
The test shoot didn't go well. Most people agree that Lugosi ranted and raved during the shoot, declaring he wouldn't be a "scarecrow" or a "grunting, babbling idiot". And yet, he liked the footage he saw and thought he'd given a good performance.
On or about June 25, When Carl Laemmle, Jr. saw the test footage. He laughed out loud at it. On June 29, Whale replaced Florey as the director of Frankenstein. On July 18, Lugosi was out.
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James Whale, the director of Frankenstein, met Boris Karloff at a Universal dinner on July 27. Within a few days, Karloff was cast as the Monster.
Pierce had continued to do research into a makeup design, being completely unhappy with what he'd come up with in the first six weeks. He studied anatomy, surgery, criminology, ancient and modern burial customs, and electrodynamics. By now, he realized that the Monster needed to look more butchered: Dr. Frankenstein was no surgeon, and no sculptor. There were just as few ways a surgeon could open the skull, and he sensed that Frankenstein would just lop off the top, remove the brain, and then seal the skull with a flat piece of metal.
For the first three weeks of August, Pierce and Karloff worked every single night in the makeup bungalow on new Frankenstein makeup. The most major changes were to get rid of the shaggy wig and to make the top of the skull flat. Other changes were minor. The neck bolts were retained, but the placement of scars on the face changed. Karloff suggested that putty be put on his eyelids to weigh them down and give his features a "dead look". He also removed his dental bridge to give his face a more hollow appearance. Karloff's makeup was given a light green tinge -- which would make the Monster appear more sallow and embalmed on black-and-white film. (Unfortunately, this means that color films have tended to make the Monster's face green.)
Some experiments were tried, such as giving the Monster the "clamped horns" which had been tried on Lugosi. Another experiment was to darken one of Karloff's cheeks with black powder to give an imbalance to the Monster's features and make him appear to have been burned or partially rotting. But these were jettisoned.
Karloff, much taller than Lugosi, still needed platform shoes (six inch ones) to make himself look taller. Karloff asked that the boots be weighed down with lead to make his walk more stilted. When that didn't create the desire effect, he strapped steel leg struts (like those used on polio victims) to inhibit his walk and make him lurch about.
When the design was finished, a cast was made of Karloff's head and shoulders. Pierce then crafted several headpiece prosthetics which could be applied to Karloff's skull and help speed the makeup process. Nevertheless, it still took nearly three hours to apply and an hour-and-a-half to remove. The weighted shoes, leg struts, and padded costume weighed 48 pounds (13 pounds alone in each boot).