Paul Blaisdell: The forgotten B-movie monster maker of Hollywood
A color photo of Saucer Man. A costume made by Paul Blaisdell for the 1957 film, ‘Invasion of the Saucer Men.’
The cheaper they are, the better they are.”
—Frank Zappa in 1973 referencing his love of horror movies, especially Roger Corman’s 1956 film It Conquered The World.
Unless, of course, you happen to be a huge Roger Cormanfan, the name Paul Blaisdell may be lost on you. This is a very sad thing given the many famous monsters Blaisdell created for Corman’s nutty cinematic flicks and other popular sci-fi/horror low-budget B-movies of the 50s and 60s.
Very early in his career, Blaisdell caught the attention of Forest J. Ackerman. Ackerman, the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine suggested to his friend Roger Corman that he hire the young illustrator, who he was representing to work on The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), as the services of Ray Harryhausen were far too expensive for Corman’s production wallet. Corman took Ackerman’s advice, and the film would be the first time Blaisdell would have the title of “monster creator” as a part of his soon-to-be extensive resume. With a total budget of only $200 to build the monsters for the film, Blaisdell created a hand puppet, something he had never done before. He and his wife and collaborator Jackie named the eighteen-inch creation Little Hercules and Corman was apparently happy “enough” with the results to hire Blaisdell again for his next film, Day The World Ended. And let’s face it, Blaisdell talent came cheap and this directly aligned with Corman’s movie studio budgets.
Day The World Ended challenged Blaisdell once again as he was tasked with making a life-sized rubber monster suit for the 1956 film. Blaisdell had never made a monster suit before, and for the movie, he would also be the man inside the monster suit marking his first “appearance” in a Hollywood film. Dubbed by Blaisdell as Marty the Mutant, the costume, which Blaisdell and Jackie glued together one piece at a time was actually quite terrifying. Here’s a little blow-by-blow from Blaisdell’s cohort Bob Burns on how Marty was made:
“The headpiece was pretty interesting. That was built up over an army helmet liner and the top part of the head, the sort of pointed shape up at the top, was actually made out of plaster over a wire framework that he’d built up over the helmet. The ears he made out of a form of resin— or possibly fiberglass at that time —I don’t know if they even had resin in the ’50s. The head was built up, so he had to look out through the mouth, so he wore a pair of sunglasses behind it. And the teeth he sculpted up himself, and I think those were out of clay. The horn things were flexible; it was a kind of early vinyl that he used. He sculpted up Marty’s face out of this resin-like material. There wasn’t much rubber on the head at all…He used to get his supplies from a place called Frye Plastic’s, they had the little plastic spheres that he’d use for eyeballs and all that stuff.”
Remember, Burns is talking about a man who had never done this kind of special effects before and was operating on sheer talent, ingenuity and being inspired to create outside of his usual wheelhouse. For their next film, Corman would finally have a legitimate hit on his hands thanks to a few key things falling into place. The first, Lee Van Cleef (a regular in sci-fi film during his early career) and Peter Graves signed on to appear in the leading roles in It Conquered The World (1956). Actress Beverly Garland also agreed to appear in the film, and her performance gave the movie credibility teeth as did the script. Though he would have a next-to-nothing budget, Blaisdell created an unforgettable monster, which historically, is as easily recognizable as Godzilla. Here, let me refresh your memory: This is Beulah—the fire red, nearly impossible to describe alien from Venus:
To help promote the film, Beulah and Marty the Mutant toured around the country during which Marty was mysteriously torn to shreds (pictured above). For Corman’s 1957 film, The She-Creature, Blaisdell made a plaster cast of his entire body, then used it as the foundation so-to-speak for the She-Creature. He and Jackie spent a month inside their garage making Cuddles, and Corman and fans of his films loved it. In 1957 alone, Blaisdell played a crucial role in eight movies, creating effects and monsters, making it even more difficult to understand how his contributions to horror and sci-fi cinema and FX could be so overlooked. Of course, not everyone forgot about Blaisdell’s work as he has a cult following, much like Corman. It’s also important to remember Blaisdell’s competition in the monster department was pretty fierce as they were pitched up against real movie monsters like Christopher Lee, rubber monster suit category killer Godzilla, and the giant spider from 1955’s Tarantula, which still scares the shit out of me to this day.
In 2009 a wonderful biography full of color photos, Paul Blaisdell, Monster Maker: A Biography of the B Movie Makeup and Special Effects Artist was released, and if you are a fan of this kind of movie magic, I highly recommend picking up a copy. Photos taken during Blaisdell’s career—many in full glorious color, follow.
Blaisdell and his wife Jackie working on the She-Creature.
A great color shot of Blaisdell in his She-Creature costume.
A rare color photo of Blaisdell’s first movie monster/puppet, Little Hercules from ‘The Beast With A Million Eyes.’
Another shot of Little Hercules.
A strange photo of a model holding a model of Little Hercules.
Blaisdell and Beulah clowning around.
Actress Beverly Garland and Beulah in a publicity photo for ‘It Conquered the World.’
Blaisdell and Beulah.
Blaisdell and his pal Bob Burns holding up the head of Blaisdell’s Saucer Man in 1957.
Blaisdell’s aliens from 1957’s ‘Invasion of the Saucer Men.’
A kooky shot of a model wearing one of Blaisdell’s Saucer Men heads.
Blaisdell’s monster for 1957’s ‘Voodoo Woman’ and actress Marla English. This was one of many times Blaisdell became the monster he made for a film he was working on.
Blaisdell wearing the mutant costume he created for the 1955 film ‘Day the World Ended’ with actress Lori Nelson.
A publicity photo of Blaisdell’s mutant She-Creature from ‘Day the World Ended’ for its second appearance in the 1959 film ‘Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow.’
An illustration of Blaisdell and his monster pals.
A lobby card for the 1958 ‘How to Make a Monster.’ An awful piece of trivia concerning the film involves a fire on the set, shot for the climax of the movie. During the scene many of Paul Blaisdell’s masks, from his personal collection no less, were either destroyed or badly damaged by the fire, which got out of control quickly. According to author Bill Warren (noted in his book ‘Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties,’ Blaisdell kept the badly burned mask of Buelah, the Venutian from ‘It Conquered the World’ hanging over his fireplace mantle.
A lobby card featuring Blaisdell’s monster from 1955’s ‘Day the World Ended.’
A lobby card for ‘The Beast With 1,000 Eyes!.’
A sweet, short documentary on Blaisdell and his wife Jackie presented by his life-long friend, Bob Burns.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The Godfather of Halloween: The pioneering creations of monster-mask maker Don Post
Beatniks, Bugaloos, & Astro-Spooks: Vintage masks made by the High Priest of Halloween, Ben Cooper
Famous Monsters: The eerie movie-monster portraits of Basil Gogos
Homemade Monsters: DIY horror movie makeup from 1965
No Drama Without Synthetic Violence: Ray Harryhausen’s Creatures (Not Monsters!)
Posted by Cherrybomb