The Tim Curry It is the definitive Pennywise for most horror fans. The It movie — actually a 1990 TV mini-series — had a glorious cast, but it was Tim Curry's swaggering, giggling, deeply menacing Pennywise the clown that solidified It as the greatest of all the freaky clown horror movies. Never one to shy away from the darkest reaches of cinema, Tim Curry made the It movie his own, and stationed Pennywise in our nightmares forever.
Now the new look Pennywise has been revealed for the upcoming 2017 It reboot, it seems a good time to look back at how Tim Curry's iconic Pennywise was created for the original It movie. It's all down to one man: Bart J. Mixon.
A veteran of SFX who's worked on the Nightmare on Elm Street, The Ring and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises, Bart Mixon was responsible for creating the Pennywise look for the Tim Curry It movie. Speaking to iHorror, Mixon revealed his inspiration:
''I am not sure if I have mentioned this elsewhere, but the inspiration for this look was the original Lon Chaney 'Phantom of the Opera'. The upturned nose, bald dome and cheek bones were intended to echo this classic make-up. Interesting enough, while I was researching clowns, I found a photo of a Russian clown from around 1917 that looked very much like Chaney’s Phantom, but much creepier than Pennywise.''
The original Phantom of the Opera was released by Universal in 1925, and saw Chaney don the classic look as described by Mixon — ''upturned nose, bald dome and cheek bones.'' As to the Russian clown from 1917, I'm speculating that Mixon is referring to Ivan Radunsky, a clown known as Bim from early Soviet Russia. He even used his performance to bravely critique the dominant regime in 1917. Few images of Radunsky in costume remain widely available, but I found one picture of Radunsky (who was actually born Polish) that suggests he influenced Pennywise.
Lon Chaney himself played a freaky AF clown in the 1925 He Who Gets Slapped, who also has a hint of the Pennywise about him...
After conceptualizing the Tim Curry It look, Mixon produced sketches to perfect the design. You can see that the early Pennywise was more bestial, with only a few tufts of hair, ape-like long arms and grasping talons. Mixon was pleased with Tim Curry being cast in the role of Pennywise, and used his likeness to help him develop the final It image, telling Dread Central:
''I started out designing Pennywise by doing lots and lot of research into various clown looks. I did do a number of sketches, but these were somewhat pointless until the part was cast. The production was considering Tim Curry, Roddy McDowall, and Malcolm McDowell – and while I think any of these great actors would have given us a very unique Pennywise, I do think they made the right choice in casting Tim.''
''Once Tim was it, I got his head shot from the production and started sketching over it, so that I knew whatever I designed would fit on Tim. We then took a full head cast of Tim and produced three copies of it. Upon these busts, I did three clay sketches of different looks that I liked, sealed them and painted them with different clown designs. I took photos of these busts with a red wig and sent them to the director, Tommy Lee Wallace. We discussed them and eventually he chose one very similar to the final look in the film. I then sculpted this approved version and it was broken down into the various sections for an appliance make-up. At this time there was a domed head, the nose, cheek bones, and a chin. I had a wig made and we tested this make-up on Tim.''
Here's an awesome behind-the-scenes image of Tim Curry backstage in an early makeup test for his Pennywise costume. Note the thick blue eyeshadow, actually very reminiscent of Curry's makeup as Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show!
Mixon really is a treasure trove of awesome insider info and images of Tim Curry's Pennywise. He adds that his careful creation of the It movie look was influenced by Tim Curry's needs as an actor, which Mixon paid careful attention to:
''Tim wanted to wear as little prosthetics as possible, so we tested two looks for Pennywise. The first was just the nose and head piece and a paint scheme that Tim contributed some ideas to. Since I was using PAX paint as a base, and not traditional clown white make-up, I was able to glue the cheeks and chin over this for our second test. The paint this time was closer to what I had originally intended, but in the end the lighter make-up was chosen and the paint was modified to what it was in the film. Of course, this look was chosen AFTER I had sculpted the ''battery acid'' look for Pennywise, so that stage does have the facial features of my original design.''
Interestingly enough, Mixon had intended for Tim Curry to wear two different looks for Pennywise: one for the first part of the movie, where the cast are kids, and a second, ''rotted clown corpse'' version for the second part, in which the kids of Derry are all grown up:
''The 'battery acid' look incorporated another concept I had for Pennywise that ['It' director] Wallace did not want to use. I saw no reason for Pennywise to appear as the same clown to the seven characters when they were adults, because they already knew he was not a real clown; so I wanted him to look like a horrific caricature of his clown self, almost like a rotted clown corpse – as if it was mocking them that they once believed he was a real clown. Anyway, Wallace did not want to go this route, so I took elements of that design and used them on the disfigured part of the acid look.''
We recently got a peek at Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise look for the 2017 It reboot, which you can compare below with one of Bart Mixon's early models for Tim Curry's Pennywise. Note below the model, there are a few other Pennywise heads by the mannequin's feet!
It's fascinating to see into the creative process behind one of the best-loved horror characters of all time. Tim Curry and Bart Mixon, we salute you!