JOHN CHAMBERS…IN CHARGE OF MAKE UP SPECIAL EFFECTS
From the June 1979 Science Fiction Land and Lord of Light Presentation Book for the State of Colorado
In the fifty year history of the Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has only twice given out the Golden Statuette for make-up artistry.
In 1969 John Chambers was the second such person to win the coveted honor for his amazing work in transforming human actors into the necessary characters for “Planet of the Apes Alongside of this testimony, almost all of the people connected with the award were aware that it also stood for a long overdue salute to Chambers’ wizardry over and beyond any other make-up man’s call of duty.
Not only do Chambers’ peers hold him in such high regard, but the rest of the world is doing so also, for as a token of the work he has done for the industry, last year the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce dedicated a star to him on the famed Hollywood Boulevard in January of 1979.
John Chambers was always interested in art and attended Lane Technical School where he majored in commercial art and learned the basic mechanics of advertising layout and design. It was at this early age that he began being the best at what he did, for it was then that he attained the highest art grades in the history of the school.
Chambers’ first job out of school was designing earrings and such for a jewelry manufacturer, and soon swapping that to become a rug and carpet designer. But all of this was too restrictive for Chambers and so with a high IQ joined the Army and went into the Dental Technician School, after which he served for three years creating dental plates and such prosthetic devices as artificial noses and ears for wounded soldiers.
This experience gave the gifted sculptor and artist an opportunity to work in various forms of plastic and such materials. It also provided him laboratory facilities wherein he developed new adhesive and rubber compounds.
The following years found Chambers heavily ensconced with the Veteran’s Administration where he developed new techniques for the painting of artificial eyes; honing his talents in the design and fabrication of artificial limbs and facial sections and such parts of the body one only thinks of in the imagination.
“It was all excellent background training,” explains Chambers modestly, “as I had to try and make a person whole again. But working with people in that condition eventually got to me. So to lose myself I spent a lot of time watching television and movies. Eventually I realized that the false parts the actors were wearing were no where as good as I could make. I knew I could do better.”
Chambers was right, and so he came to Hollywood, and his fight to get into what was then a closed shop of make-up artists, is nearly as well known as he himself is.
Typical of Chambers, he persisted until he was able to work, and started at NBC where he was to be for some six years. He worked on such notable shows as the Frank Sinatra Show, the Dean Martin Show, the Donald O’Connor Show, the Matinee Theater and many many more.
After all those years Chambers decided it was time to work in feature films, so he joined Universal first and started with “The Flower Drum Song,” then he went onto “The Ugly American,” and then “Bed Time Story”…one of the reasons why Marlon Brando is such a frequent guest at Chambers house stems from the impeccable work he did for the fastidious star.
Because Chambers has done so many remarkable things for so many stars, his home looks as if it could be a Hollywood Landmark. It is full of face masks of all of the important celebrities from the last twenty years. Chambers is really acknowledged as the dean of his craft – but he is more. Out of a workshop set up in the garage behind his Burbank home, come half of the make-up appliances (artificial noses, ears, eyes, arms, etc.) used throughout the United States and Canada.
The cast for the ears of Leonard Nimoy’s famous Mr. Spock of ”Star Trek” lies casually in the garage, too, as do many hundreds of other exciting paraphernalia, including the actual plaster cast busts of some of the most famous actresses of our time.
The number of films Chambers has been involved in are far too many to mention but some of the most well known are “The List of Adrian Messinger,” in which he had to make ten disguises for Kirk Douglas and make Burt Lancaster look like a horse-faced woman; he made Robert Culp into a Chinese War Lord in the film ” War Lord;” he gave Tony Curtis the nose which made him into “The Boston Strangler;” Robert Forster wore Chamber’s ear when he had to have it cut of in “Justine;” John Wayne cut off Chamber’s fingers in “True Grit” and George C. Scott was Chamber’s “Patton.” “Planet of the Apes” and all the sequels are of course so very well known as are “Slaughter house Five,” and “:Smbryo.”
In one of his last films, “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” Chambers created such lifelike make-up appliances that the producers and actors were unsure of how the wild animals they had to work with would react to Chamber’s half-human, half animal creations.
The details such as the dirt underneath a broken finger nail of a claw are the aspects that have made the world aware of the fact hey are experiencing the work of a master.
And as if it weren’t enough to have those and many more credits to his name, Chambers has a number of important awards as well as the famed Oscar.
There is a coveted Emmy, one of the four nominations he has had too. He also has The George Melies Award from Paris; The Fantasy Film Fans International Contemporary Award, A Science Fiction Television category award, he roled on many shows like “Night Gallery” and “The Wild Wild West,” and if those aren’t enough just this year he became president of the famed and prestigious Society of Make-Up Artists.
So why with all of these acclaimations and more work than he can handle, does John Chambers want to be involved with “Lord Of Light?”
“This film has a tenderness, it has a mysticism and even though I don’t seek out challenges anymore, this film is going to be one that I want… and it’s going to fulfill all my needs.
“When Maurice Stein told me of it, and I heard Jack Kirby was involved, I knew I had to be too. It is going to be something very remarkable.
“There is too much negativity in this world. I’ve always had a feeling towards humanity (shown of course by his work with The Veteran’s Administration, which although he doesn’t talk about he still does) and this film will deal with the positive side of humanity.
“This film can be the culmination of my career, I would like to say I’ve participated in such a marvelous thing.
And no matter how minutely I’ve participated, I don’t aspire to go any greater than this “Lord Of Light.”