The Many Faces of the Phantom Of the Opera

Mask of Red Death Greets You!
Greetings! And welcome to the world of the Phantom of the Opera. There have been several versions of the Phantom popularized by several movies and plays, even a musical or two. But the original Paris Phantom was immortalized by the author Gaston Leroux. Most modern adaptations have the Phantom disfigured by a hateful spray of acid or fire, and he is motivated by revenge. The original Phantom was described as a living skull, "His eyes are so deep that you can hardly see the fixed pupils. You just see two black holes, as in a dead man's skull. His skin, which is stretched across his bones like a drumhead, is not white, but nasty yellow. His nose is so little worth talking about that you can't see it side-face; and the absence of that nose is horrible thing to look at." Not a pretty site.

The Phantom was born with this face, and as a child and young man he was displayed as as freak in a travelling circus side show act. But beneath that horrid face was an incredible mind that developed the architectural plans for the realm under the Paris Opera House. His lair complete with personal pipe organ was constructed on the underground lake along with several torture, puzzle chambers to trap any curious souls who dared to venture below.

My Hero Lon Chaney's Phantom:
Lon Chaney did the best portrayal of the Phantom's make up in the 1928 silent movie classic. Realize that this was before elaborate make up techniques had been developed. He relied on wax appliances, physical facial distortions and his cleverness. His nose was actually pulled up by a piece of tape that was secured under the bald cap he wore (and you thought Pee Wee invented that.) Now that could not have been comfortable; no wonder he looks frightening.

It was said that when his face was exposed as he played organ that some women in the movie theatre fainted at the incredible visage. (Remember this was way before Geraldo Rivera.)

Phantom Make Up
The Design:
Having enjoyed the imagery of the book and Lon Chaney's version of the Phantom, I stuck with the living skull concept. And yes, this was the year the Broadway Musical version of the Phantom of the Opera hit New York. So I used the familiar half-mask design, which I found rather appealing. So I attempted to create the protruding bone look for my right cheek, eye and forehead.

A friend helped me to make a life cast (or mask) of my face to work as a base for my designs. My friend also tried his idea for the Phantom Face design, which is at the right here. It was more that burnt/acid face Phantom, not my vision, but intriguing.

Alternative Design
What Big Eyes You Have.
Phantom Make-Up:
The life cast created a plaster cast of my face, which I then added plasticine, oil-based, clay to sculpt the cheekbone, eye socket, forehead ridges and mouth disfigurations. From that I cast the clay designs in plaster forming the mold for the facial appliances. The life mask insured that the design would fit to my face perfectly. I then painted several layers of liquid latex into this mold building up the appliance.

So I started by applying my latex appliance with Spirit Gum to my face. I then used water-based make up to paint the bone highlights and eye sockets. This was just like painting with water colors (NOTE: you can NOT use oil based make-up with latex appliances, the oil with breakdown the latex, just like with condoms.) I slicked back my hair with Vaseline (not the best idea, it took four days of washing to remove.) So this formed the hideous face of the Phantom. But the Phantom does not go out without a Mask... or two.

Phantom's Half-Mask Half-Mask:
For the Phantom Half-Mask, I simply sculpted it in Sculpy, a oven-hardening plastic clay, directly on my plaster life cast. Care had to be taken when baking the mask since the plaster life cast could become brittle. To avoid drying out the plaster, I put a tray of water beneath the cast during baking and allowed the mold to slowly come up to the 375 degrees F, clay baking temperature. I just used photos of the Broadway Musical Phantom Mask and it turned out quite nicely. Now you can buy a nice, comfortable plastic one at any decent costume shop.

So that brings us to the final Mask for this costume. In the book, Silent Movie and Broadway musical the Phantom makes an appearance at the Opera's Costume Ball. Since most Halloween Parties are Costume Balls themselves, I figured the Phantom should wear at least the mask he wore then, The Mask of Red Death. Too tempting a project...

Mask of Red Death
The Mask of Red Death:
This was my most favorite mask. I have seen Lon Chaney's Image of Red Death since I started reading Monster Magazines. It is so creepy to see the Skull's extreme grin, the ultimate evil smile of Death and dressed so regally. I have to admit that I do not recall the exact details of Edgar Allen Poe's story of the same title, but I know it symbolizes imminent doom. Plus I was getting over a broken-heart and sculpting this mask was an excellent way to vent my anger and loss.

[Depending where you have been looking among my costumes, you may recognize this skull design. When the mask started to crumble, I made a rubber mold of it, and made copies using plaster bandages, which are much lighter and easier to wear.]

Once again I sculpted with Sculpy directly on my life cast. I started with the lower jaw, realizing that a portion of it would fit up under the skull. When I was fone with jaw, I covered it with foil and started the skull making sure to leave some room for jaw to move. I also concentrated on getting my eyes positioned in the sockets for maximum effect. Since again I was using my life cast, the mask was sure to fit my face exactly. I had to make sure that the mask was at least a quarter inch thick for strength.

Once I was done sculpting, I baked the mask on the plaster cast in the oven, again using a pan of water to prevent the plaster from breaking. The final mask was a bit heavy, but elastic bands and the wonderful hat aided in keeping it on my face. My neighbor sewed up the bright red material on a hat frame, and we added a feather boa and large plumes for maximum effect. Upon seeing the feather boa and hat, one friend asked where I kept my high heels and gowns. A quick peek in my meager closet cleared that up.

The finishing touches were a silver skull at the crown of the hat, a plastic skull-topped staff, and my red-lined cape with a touch of sequins on the edge for flash.

Total Red Death
Popular Phantom
A Real Crowd Pleaser:
This was a really fun costume to show-off, because just when the audience thinks they have seen the whole costume, you take one mask off and there is yet another. By the time, I got to show off the Make Up, they are hooked and realizing that this character is more than he appears, just like the original Phantom.

I won first place at work at Hewlett Packard and again at my local Bar. It was great to get this costume done a year before all the "plastic" Phantom's that have grown out of the over-popularization of the Musical. I still have the two Masks proudly displayed near the Broadway Phantom artwork I got in New York earlier that year.

Side Shot

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by Earl B.

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