Editor’s note: This is an extended look at the Martini Shot featured in Issue 128.
The man of a thousand faces was about to meet the man of a thousand talents. The year was 1922 and a 19-year-old young man by the name of Carlos Cruz Gemora was just hired onto Lon Chaney Sr.’s picture as an extra. Gemora’s talent for sketching likenesses with charcoal and paper soon promoted him to the Universal Pictures art department. Known as “Charlie,” his job was to sculpt a gargoyle for Chaney to climb for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Without having any formal training in sculpture, he excelled.
There’s something exceptional about Gemora, and wigmakers Percy and Ernest Westmore invite him to learn the art of wigmaking and make-up. Their father, George Westmore, was a friend of Chaney’s and would direct make-up and hair for his films at MGM. For Universal’s next picture, The Phantom of the Opera, Chaney needed a new face. This would give Gemora the grandest introduction to wigs and make-up. Gemora multitasked by art directing, sculpting figures for the opera house re-creation and assisting Chaney in his Phantom make-up. The make-up was kept a secret, with Chaney developing the character away from the studio. “That is all I am asking—to keep my make-up a secret so that the audience will get the full benefit of any value it has when it appears on the screen,” said Chaney at the time.
Both humble and honest men, Gemora and Chaney likely got along swimmingly. After their success at Universal, they would team at MGM for at least two pictures directed by Tod Browning. Where East is East and The Unholy 3 in which Gemora co-stars in an ape costume of his own masterful creation. His acting improved by studying Chaney’s tricks; Gemora considered him the greatest character actor of all time. The Unholy Three would be their last collaboration due to Chaney’s untimely death on Aug. 26, 1930. That same year, Gemora would go on to fool audiences into believing they saw a real gorilla kidnap a woman in the hit film Ingagi (means gorilla).