Winters’ Bones

This is a prosthetic Shelley Winters, constructed by makeup effects supremo Maurice Seiderman (CITIZEN KANE, BRIDE OF THE MONSTER) for NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. The kind of thing you really don’t expect to see in a ’50s movie, and it’s so convincing you don’t realise you are seeing it. Easier to believe Shelley has an oxygen tank hidden just out of sight. I think it’s often evidence of a good film, when the crew find themselves doing unconventional things, or finding new ways to solve old problems.

Shelley never had much luck in the water, did she? Asides from the hauntingly evoked watery grave above, she suffered an aquatic heart attack in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and drowned in A PLACE IN THE SUN. I assume something bad happens to her in TENTACLES, and even in LOLITA, where her character’s death by drowning was altered by Kubrick so he wouldn’t have to film on an unconvincing studio lake, James Mason responds to her passing by taking a bath.

Seiderman is a fascinating figure. He was employed by RKO to sweep the floor in the hair and makeup department, when Welles spotted his talent and allowed him to design the old-age makeup for KANE. Seiderman invented the soft contact lens as part of his work. Later he designed Welles’ prosthetics for TOUCH OF EVIL, but his IMDb credits look painfully incomplete: even some of the films listed, he received no credit for.


33 Responses to “Winters’ Bones”

  1. I always did think it was really Shelley Winters didn’t know it was a prosthetic. It’s an incredible job by Mr. Seiderman, I don’t blame him for falling in love with it one bit.

    That scene is one of those “key” NoTH moments. It’s as much a representative image as “Love” and “Hate” on the knuckles. It takes the movie on to another level evoking Ophelia’s death in Hamlet(or that famous painting by Millais) or the silent cinema. It’s an awful tragic death and dispersal of a corpse but in-and-itself it’s a haunting image.

  2. Mark me down as another many-time viewer of NOTH who thought that was really Winters. It’s just so convincingly beautiful, and wow, the way that hair drifts in the water. It’s less like a dummy and more like an apparition. Worst of all is when James Gleason sees her, but since we’ve seen her too, we KNOW why he’s driven to stupefy himself with alcohol: that body is captivating and terrifying, like a siren with a slit throat.

    Speaking of Winters in the water, don’t forget that her fatal accident in Lolita is caused by a heavy rain. And as for the made-up Hollywood lore… be careful! It might be because I’ve been up all night, but the first time I read that sentence, I took it as true (if preposterous).

  3. Shelley Winters, refreshingly, is merely strangled to death in her early appearance in George Cukor’s A DOUBLE LIFE

  4. I was fooled, too. That’s the scene that always comes to mind first when I think of that film: it encapsulates its gothic strangeness and dreamlike tone–the silent waving of the hair, that sense that the horrors of life are hidden just below our line of sight. Creepy, and wow, it’s amazing that it’s a dummy.

    Next thing you’re going to tell me that Kim Cattrall was played by a dummy in every scene in Mannequin!

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dcairns, Rebecca. Rebecca said: RT @dcairns: The prosthetic Shelley Winters mystery — […]

  6. “Poor Birdie”. This is the scene that moves the film from suspense thriller to horror movie. The hair floats and undulates like seaweed around her head. In a film full of creepy scenes, this is no doubt the creepiest.

  7. You’re quite right about Seiderman’s genius. I don’t know of anyone who has seen the scene who didn’t think it was Shelley Winters herself. And its an image of incredible poetic beauty and strangeness.

  8. It’s still a great performance by Winters, since when her face was cast she’s obviously assumed an amazing, lopsided, lifeless expression. Transferring that onto an inanimate object makes for one of the most convincing and tragic corpses in cinema.

  9. When watching Night recently, I couldn’t help but think of the theater artist Robert Wilson, whose work has a similar strangeness that’s in this image. There’s also the many silhouetted images in the film, like when Powell is riding a horse along the horizon.

  10. Ah yes, the famous midget-on-a-donkey shot.

    I wanted to talk about the wild geograohy of that scene, with the landscape around the barn seen from the outside looking as flat as Holland, whereas the view from the top looks out on this crazy high horizon which looks like a cliff edge. I love this.

    Wilson’s tricks with scale and use of big shadows is pretty cinematic and connects to the surreal and expressionistic traditions NOTH also touches upon.

  11. Christopher Says:

    Still one of the top disturbing moments in Film.
    I’d holler like Mitchem too if I knew I was in the same water with that.

  12. NOTH is a work of many auteurs – Laughton, Agee, and Cortez all made their contributions – but Davis Grubb the author of the book was as significant as any of them. According to the Criterion extras, the two key images cited above – the image of Willa underwater, and the image of Powell riding his horse along the horizon as seen by the children – were both closely based on sketches drawn by Davis Grubb.

  13. Nor was Grubb a one-shot – among other things, he provided the original story for a memorable episode of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, “Where the Woodbine Twineth,” which, like NOTH, is a Southern Gothic tale centered around a child. It can be viewed in full here:

  14. Robert Wilson is differently scaled than Charles Laughton — and anyone else in cinema. No one who saw his epic Deafman Glance with it’s tropical rainforests, giant sinking Egytian pyaramid, chorus-line of dancing Mammies, giant bunnies cavorting to “We Belong to a Mutual Admiration Society” and Jack Smith (yes himself!) declaiming stage center has ever forgotten it.

    Only Chereau’s rendition of the Ring Cycle comes close.

  15. DE- I think I was referring to a general “stage picture” quality in some of the scenes…probably being too general.
    There’s that anecdote about Robert Wilson having a problem with a scene in a production, asking Jack Smith what he should do. “Why don’t you try it much slower Bob, much slower.” I don’t know if this happened during Deafman or not.
    That you saw Deafman Glance- wow!

  16. C. Jerry — thanks, I’ll check that out.

    DE and Tom — wish I COULD check that out!

    That last passage of Grubb’s book brings tears to my eyes.

  17. isn’t the awful haze woman killed by a car in the novel too? i think humbert is planning to kill her in the lake but it doesn’t quite happen.

  18. Ah, you may be right. I just recall reading about how Kubrick struggled to find a way to avoid shooting a lake scene.

  19. Bob Wilson definitely learned how to do slooooooow from Jack Smith.

  20. Wilson and I also had the same boyfriend back in the day.

  21. There’s a condensed video version of Deafman Glance in video, that is really another work. With the early original productions, I think they were more temperal- specific; if you weren’t there, you missed it.

    There are photos of the ’71 D/G productions on the Wilson website. I wonder if there’s a full film or video of the full 7hrs.

    t attended a small seminar that Wilson gave about ten years ago. I can just say, it seemed as though the emperor had lost his clothes somewhere along the way.


  22. Thanks for links! That Drexel looks like a sly one!

  23. I read that Mitchum HATED working with Winters so much, he suggested to Laughton to have her underwater for that scene.

  24. I’ve seen Wilson much more recently and he’s fully clothed.

  25. Those stills are nice but they only give a vague suggestion of what Deafman Glance was like.

    Yes, Joe was very sly.

  26. I was told CHARLIE GEMORA made this dummy of Shelly under the supervision of Wally Westmore. Do you really think she would remain under water like that for the scene? It would seem more practical to make a dummy likeness of her. Where is this oxygen tank and prosthetic information coming from?

  27. The information re Seiderman comes from Robert Gitt’s documentary on the Criterion DVD of Night of the Hunter, which is extremely well researched, to say the least. But what’s your source? It may be that you can correct him.

    There’s no “oxygen tank information” — read what it says above. The dummy is so convincing, and prosthetic actors so uncommon in the 50s, that I and many viewers were taken in and thought it was somehow the real Shelley (as Laughton intended). As I clearly say, we were wrong. There was an incorrect “oxygen tank supposition.”

    Hopefully it’s obvious that the bit at the end is a joke.

  28. Sharon Peyton Says:

    Maurice Seiderman was a dear, personal friend of mine during his last decade until he died in 1989. He was an extremely talented and brilliant man who may have been somewhat eccentric. However, he was a rather serious person and that story about the Shelly Winters dummy seems rather ridiculous. It does seem plausible that he wanted to keep the dummy as an artifact but nothing more.

    It’s bad enough that when he was alive he didn’t receive much recognition for his accomplishments. I would prefer that his memory, after death, would not be tarnished by this silly item. I wish you would remove it.

    Thank You, Sharon Bernstein Peyton

  29. I’ve emailed you — I’m sort of hoping to preserve the joke, but maybe I have to make it clearer that it’s not a statement of fact, just a fantasy. But I’ll cut it by all means if it’s the only way to defuse the problem.

  30. My name is Sean Hannon, and I was a friend of Dr. Seiderman in the late 70’s to early 80’s. I was in my early 20’s and I met him when I was on line to see “Alien”. He was there in a wheelchair with his wife Celita. I offered him a place in line and we got to talking. That’s when I learned who he was. They invited me up to their home in the Hollywood hills on Deronda Drive. I became a frequent visitor and he hired me to help keep his studio a dust-free environment in which to continue his experimental work. I have to admit I was very skeptical at first when he told me that he was Orson Welles uncredited makeup artist on “Citizen Kane”. But then I saw the life masks of Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton hanging on the wall of the studio, and he showed me the news article where Orson paid special tribute to Dr. Seiderman.

    Although he was living in retirement, he was astonishingly inventive and had several creative projects going on at the time I knew him. “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was in production, and Dr. Seiderman’s friend Robert Wise was directing. He threw some work Dr. Seiderman’s way, asking him to produce some matte paintings on glass of nebulas and galaxies. I saw them and they were quite beautiful but I don’t believe they ended up being used. Dr. Seiderman told me that he had invented a couple of other things and had the patent stolen away by others. One was the soft contact lens, and he showed me a metal cabinet with drawers filled with soft transparent discs that he said were the templates for the lenses. He also claimed to have invented the Waring blender and lost that patent to another person.

    Just when I was starting to question again how much was the truth and how much fabrication, I saw on his workbench another ongoing project that he was getting close to finishing: artificial caviar! He showed me the process, which involved a high speed blender used on a real sturgeon, mixed with a saline solution, and poured into some type of funnel that dripped into a beaker of water. When the droplets hit the water, they formed a spherical “egg” that held it’s shape and even a solid membrane. I tried it and it really tasted and felt like caviar. Insane stuff.

    There was one final invention he was working on, and I believe he described it as a “human battery” to redirect the body’s own naturally produced electrical energy inward as an effective way to kill the varicella zoster virus (aka Shingles). He considered his approach more effective than other current methods such as “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation”. He was sure that that method simply cauterized the wound at the surface and did not reach the virus, whereas his more passive method left the surface wound and nerve path open, allowing the redirected energy to reach the virus. Wow.

    Yes, Dr. Seiderman was one of the most interesting creative individuals I’ve met on this life journey, and it was my honor and pleasure to get to know him. I remember swinging by on my motorcycle in the mornings for breakfast, when he and Celita were sitting down for tea made in a large samovar. He spoke about his time at RKO, and his gratefulness to Orson. He also had the highest regard and enormous appreciation for Val Lewton. I also remember him telling me that there was an actor that he felt he closely resembled – Akim Tamaroff, and that he almost doubled for him in “Touch of Evil”. Or it might have been the never-completed “Don Quixote”, where Tamiroff played Sancho Panza. It was a long time ago, and that recollection is somewhat vague.

    Dr. Seiderman was a powerful, opinionated, bigger-than-life personality, and his manner could often be abrasive and uncomfortable to be around for long. But he was also generous and full of life. Out of the blue, he gifted me with an amazing treasure. One of his makeup kits from the RKO days, filled with original Max Factor makeups. There were lipsticks and rouges in gold-colored metal casings. Glass bottles of “Burnt Cork”, “Texas Dirt”, and amber bottles labeled “Body Tint”, primarily used on white extras to turn them into Native Americans, lol. Among all of these was a small glass bottle with the label “Undetectable”. It was a spirit gum adhesive that Dr. Seiderman created himself and had produced. Yet another invention.


    Postscript: To my great surprise, I happened upon a small exhibit within the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, that was all about Dr. Seiderman. He had bequested many of his art materials, letters from Orson, nose molds, and photos. And I thought, “Good for you, Maurice! Way to save yourself from obscurity”. I will be getting in touch with the curator and offer to loan them the makeup kit to add to their exhibit if they want it. Better there than in my closet, eh?

  31. Amazing! Thanks for sharing that! What a privilege to have known such a remarkable man. Yes, it would be great to have the makeup kit on display somewhere it could be seen. I have visited that museum and gazed in awe upon the Welles-Seiderman correspondence and noses. Your contribution would be a marvelous addition.

  32. I’ll let you know what they have to say about it. I anticipate a problem in their accepting at legit, since Dr. Seiderman didn’t give me a signed certificate of authenticity or anything. But I also gave them the same background details I wrote here, so maybe that will be enough to assuage any doubts.

  33. […] he had to age Tryon throughout the movie. He was apparently a last-minute replacement for the great Maurice Seiderman (CITIZEN KANE), who quarrelled with Preminger and, as a parting gesture, ran his electric razor in […]

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