Verne Langdon, a journeyman make-up artist with wide-ranging interests, died Jan. 1, 2011 in Arizona of undisclosed causes. Langdon’s career extended beyond make-up to include stints as a musician, radio host, voice-over artist, writer, producer, actor, professional wrestler, puppeteer and magician.
He was born Sept. 15, 1941, in Oakland, California, The child of musicians, he studied piano and Hammond organ and worked in music stores before moving on to a career in radio, broadcasting on the Bay Area radio station KLOK 1170 AM station in the early ’60s.
Langdon enjoyed making masks as well as music. He became friends with Don Post after ordering masks from the Don Post Studios; in 1963, Post sold Langdon a 50 percent share in the business. As co-owner of the shop, Langdon created a line of life masks based on old monster-movie stars, including Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and Boris Karloff. Langdon hired Ellis Burman and his sons Tom and Ellis Jr. to work in the Post lab; make-up artist John Chambers began giving museum work to Langdon and later hired him to do special make-up effects on the original Planet of the Apes. Langdon is credited with special make-up effects on six Planet of the Apes films in all.
After working with Chambers at Fox, Langdon applied for membership in Local 706, the West Coast union of make-up artists and hairstylists. He went on to work as a staff artist at CBS. His film and TV credits included Hello, Dolly!, Baryshnikov on Broadway, Diff’rent Strokes and The Star Wars Holiday Special.
According to colleagues, he was best known for sculpture, mold making, foaming and hand-finishing appliances, plus hair work, bald caps and aging make-ups. Local 706 president Sue Cabral Ebert said she believed he learned his craft partly on his own and partly through the guidance of Chambers and artist Dan Striepeke.
“He was a mask maker, but also was knowledgeable about clown make-ups before he ever got into the union,” she said. “He was an extremely gifted, artistic man.”
In 1967, his passions for making music and monsters met in An Evening With Boris Karloff and his Friends, a scripted recording of the actor set to music. Langdon and collaborator Milt Larsen produced the album for Decca Records.
With Jay Stein and Terry Winnick he created The Land of a Thousand Faces make-up show in 1975 and the Castle Dracula horror show in 1980 for the Universal Studios Tour in Hollywood.
By his own account, Langdon wrote, produced or was a featured artist on 15 albums, two singles and nearly 30 CDs. He was a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and a frequent contributor to Famous Monsters of Filmland, for which he wrote features on famous make-up effects artists.
In his later years, Langdon served as master of ceremonies at the Monsterpalooza conventions in California. He had been booked as a guest at the 2011 show.
“Verne was a very independent thinker; very, very humorous, very interested in new ideas, a stickler for perfection,” Monsterpalooza producer Eliot Brodsky said. “He appreciated people who gave 100 percent to whatever they were working on. Every five years he seemed to move into a new field. He was interested in living life to the fullest.”
Langdon is survived by his ex-wife, Dawn Langdon Karrasch, and family members Brent and Brianna Karrasch. Colleagues are invited to e-mail memories of Langdon to Dawn at [email protected]. At press time, service arrangements were still pending.
Our thanks to Local 706 and Eliot Brodsky for their contributions to this story. Make-Up Artist magazine’s Issue 89 (March/April 2011) will feature an appreciation of Langdon’s work.
Editor’s Note: Memorial services for Verne Langdon will be held Jan. 25 at 1 p.m., at Pierce Bros. Valhalia (10621 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood, Calif. 91606). A private reception will follow; RSVP to [email protected].