Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)

John Chambers (12 September 192325 August 2001; age 77) was an American make-up effects artist of Irish descent who created the pointed Vulcan ears worn by Leonard Nimoy on Star Trek: The Original Series. He is perhaps best known for designing the make-up used in the classic 1968 science fiction film Planet of the Apes and its sequels. For his work on the first Planet of the Apes, he received an Honorary Academy Award, as there was no category for "Best Make-up" at that time. He was only the second person to receive this honor, after William Tuttle.

Early life and career

Chambers was born in Chicago, Illinois. He served as a dental technician in the US Army during World War II. After the war, he worked at Hines Veterans Hospital in Illinois, he acquired knowledge of facial prosthetics while designing artificial body parts for amputees and veterans requiring reconstructive surgery.

In 1953, he joined the make-up department at NBC in Hollywood, California, where he created and applied make-up for actors on live television programs. Also during this time, he worked on his first film, the 1956 classic Around the World in Eighty Days. He then did two 1958 westerns for Regal Films, Ambush at Cimarron Pass and Showdown at Boot Hill.

The 1960s and 1970s

After working at NBC for six years, Chambers moved on to Universal Studios, where he worked in the make-up lab under department head Bud Westmore, the half-brother of hair stylist Pat Westmore and uncle of veteran Star Trek make-up artists Monty and Michael Westmore (also the great uncle of McKenzie Westmore and Michael Westmore, Jr. and uncle-in-law of June Westmore). One of his projects at Universal was to create a series of prosthetic makeups for the 1963 film The List of Adrian Messenger. He also helped create the make-up for some of the characters on the 1960s television series, The Munsters.

Chambers left Universal in the mid-1960s and, with his partner Tom Burman, opened his own studio, which he ran from his own garage in Burbank, California. It was here that Chambers created the ears for Star Trek's Spock. He also worked on such television series as I Spy, The Outer Limits, Lost in Space, Night Gallery, and Mission: Impossible, the latter of which, like Star Trek, was produced by Desilu. In addition, Chamber created the artificial nose worn by actor Lee Marvin for his Academy Award-winning performance in the 1965 film Cat Ballou. He also created prosthetic body parts for such films as The Boston Strangler and Red Tomahawk.

While working on I Spy, Chambers was asked to design the ape make-up for Planet of the Apes. He designed and created the ape prosthetics for more than two hundred actors (including James Daly, Paul Lambert, and Felix Silla), a task he had to accomplish in only three months and with a budget of less than million dollars. Following the success of Planet of the Apes, Chambers was brought back to create the prosthetics for the four sequels that followed: 1970's Beneath the Planet of the Apes (which featured Jeff Corey, James Gregory, and Gregory Sierra), 1971's Escape from the Planet of the Apes (featuring Ricardo Montalban, Jason Evers, and William Windom), 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (also featuring Ricardo Montalban), and 1973's Battle for the Planet of the Apes (featuring France Nuyen and Paul Williams).

In addition, Chambers provided a false chest for actor Richard Harris to use in the 1970 film A Man Called Horse and developed life masks for use in the 1971 film The Mephisto Waltz, which featured Lilyan Chauvin and the aforementioned William Windom. He was also a special make-up artist on such films as Slaughterhouse-Five (starring Eugene Roche and featuring Kevin Conway) and Superbeast (starring Antoinette Bower). He then designed the make-up for Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (starring Gerrit Graham and Paul Williams) and the 1977 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Throughout the 1970s, Chambers received three Emmy Award nominations. His first came for the 1971 Night Gallery episode "Pickman's Model", which starred Louise Sorel. He was then nominated for the 1975 TV movie Twigs and again for the Hallmark Hall of Fame's 1976 production of Beauty and the Beast.

Later life

Chambers received his fourth Emmy nomination for his work on the short-lived science fiction series Beyond Westworld. Later in the early 1980s, Chambers worked as a makeup technician on the slasher film Halloween II and provided prosthetic make-up for the acclaimed, seminal science fiction film Blade Runner, which featured Joanna Cassidy. After supervising the prosthetics for the 1982 comedy Class Reunion, Chambers retired from the film make-up industry.

In 1991, at the age of 68, Chambers suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. He then moved into the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. He died there ten years later from complications of diabetes. He was 77 years old.


Throughout his career, Chambers created new techniques and introduced new materials into the make-up industry which have since become the standard in Hollywood. He created a new technique for making "bald caps," which give actors the appearance of being completely bald. Instead of using rubber, Chambers used liquid plastic, which he sprayed onto a metal form of an actor's head, giving it a more realistic appearance.

In addition, Chambers developed a new technique for making veneer theatrical false teeth. He also created a new plastic-based material for making scars and wounds. For Planet of the Apes, he used his own foam rubber compound (rather than the typical plastic) to create an innovative facial prosthetic which allowed heat and sweat to pass through the material's pores, making them more comfortable to wear and prohibiting the adhesive used to apply it from peeling off.

Chambers was a mentor for many aspiring make-up artists. Among those he apprenticed was veteran Star Trek make-up designer Michael Westmore.

Chambers' work was not limited to Hollywood; throughout his career he frequently assisted the CIA by using his talents to help create disguises for agents, and for which he was eventually awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit, the agency's highest honor bestowed on civilians. In the Oscar-winning 2012 film Argo, which featured Bob Gunton, Victor Garber, and Keith Szarabajka, Chambers, played by John Goodman, was one of the main characters, highlighting his role in the CIA's successful extraction of six American Embassy staffers from Tehran in the wake of the 1979 revolution.

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