Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have often said in recent years that the four original characters of the Demon, the Starchild, the Catman and the Spaceman are the definitive image of KISS.
These characters were created by the original KISS members, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss and live on in today’s KISS line up of Gene, Paul, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. They may well live on in future line ups.
KISS as the Demon, the Starchild, the Catman and the Spaceman
When KISS first wore make up in 1973 it wasn’t an entirely original idea. Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Roy Wood and Arthur Brown (to name but a few) had already been using similar make up designs in recent years.
What was different for KISS was that all four members of the band wore the make up, not just the frontman and that they stuck to these four characters over the years, never allowing themselves to be seen or photographed without the make up.
This masked their real personalities entirely and built up their mystic. Along with their pyrotastic live show and platinum selling albums this made them an instantly recognisable household name across America in the late 1970s and across the world since then.
Gene and Paul had first discussed the idea of onstage characters in their previous band, Wicked Lester. At one point Paul was going to be a gun slinging gambler (“I’ll be your gambler baby, lay down the bet!”), Gene was going to be a caveman (“I’m going back to the stone age, back where I belong!”) and ideas were also thrown around for the other band members.
These plans were however not followed through and it was only when KISS formed with Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace that they first wore the now legendary make up.
The original four KISS characters have become synonymous with the image of the band but this article will look at the other make up characters. Some such as Eric Carr’s Fox character are well known to all fans, others such as the Bandit, the Hawk and the Taylor are less well known.
Paul Stanley as the Bandit
Paul Stanley’s first make up design was the that of the Starchild that we all know and love, however late December 1973 he tried out a different character.
This was partly an idea from Neil Bogart, the boss of Casablanca Records who had just signed KISS to his label. Bogart thought that all the make up characters should have symmetrical faces and that Paul’s Starchild therefore didn’t work as well as the rest.
So Paul tried out a symmetrical design called the Bandit, with red lips and a silver eye mask edged in back. This may have been based on the Wicked Lester idea for Paul to be a Gunslinger.
The bandit design was worn by Paul for was worn for a photo session with Raeanne Rubenstein on 28 January 1973 and two or three live shows. One of these being at the Fillmore East in New York on 8 January 1974, where the band were photographed by Rik Fox (the original bass player of WASP).
Soon after and ever since, Paul reverted to his Starchild make up (in fact he also had photos taken wearing the Starchild make up at the same photo session with Raeanne Rubenstein).
The Bandit has never reappeared. More recently it has been suggested in fan circles that Tommy Thayer should wear the Bandit make up. This is not a view currently endorsed by KISS themselves.
KISS live at the Fillmore East, New York on 8 January 1974, with Paul in the Bandit Make Up, Photo by Rik Fox.
THE PANTOMIME CAT
Kiss with Peter as the Pantomime Cat
Peter’s Catman make up was the least consistent of the four original members in the early days, often varying in small details. For example he re-did his whisker shape three times during the 1973 Raeanne Rubenstein photo session.
But just for one day in 1974, for some reason best known to himself, Peter abandoned his usual routine entirely and became what looks like some kind of whiskered clown. Unfortunately that day was 31 January 1974, the day of the historic photo shoot by Joel Brodsky for the debut KISS album and thus the Pantomime Cat has been enshrined in KISSTORY ever since.
What actually happened was that he let a make up artist do his face for him based upon their own ideas of what a cat (or possibly a clown) might look like. Notice also the silver effect in Ace’s hair in that photo session. He did that with car spray paint wrongly assuming it would just wash out later.
As well as on that first album cover, the Pantomime Cat still crops up from time to time on pieces of official and unofficial artwork here and there. I saw it in a Japanese Manga magazine recently.
From 2014 Manga Comic ‘The World God only Knows’ Vol 24
Eric Carr as the Hawk
The Hawk is probably the most legendary of makeup designs among KISS fans. This was Eric Carr’s initial design. He never wore it in concert or at an official photo session but it was glimpsed on the ‘KISS MY ASS’ video release, displayed on the US KISS Expo Tour in 1995 and was later suggested by Gene for other band members too.
Eric Carr joined KISS in early July 1980 (see my earlier Kiss Drummer Auditions Article). Their first show was later that same month. They only had a few weeks to rehearse the set and come up with a new character that would suit Eric.
The first idea they had was the Hawk. Eric’s Hawk make up was to have red lips, golden hawk’s wings across his eyes and a hawk’s head on his forehead, while two outstretched talons curved his from his golden beaked nose.
A costume was also created complete with hawkish golden feathers. The band later joked that it looked like the Sesame Street character, Big Bird.
Paul Stanley’s former guitar technician, and incidentally also the bass player on ‘Shandi’ on the ‘KISS Unmasked’ record, Tom Harper, described seeing Eric in the Hawk costume during rehearsals for the Palladium show to Mitch Lafon:
“I was there when Eric was going to be the Hawk. I saw him come out of the dressing room with the first hawk costume on. There was hysterical laughter. He looked so dejected…”
In ‘KISS Alive Forever’ Bill Aucoin described the fall out from the Hawk debacle; “That night before the Palladium gig was the only time I ever recall Gene and Paul tuning to me and telling me, ‘You’re the manager you fix it!’. They were very frustrated over Eric’s make up and costume.”
Eric was soon settled into the Fox make up but that wasn’t the end of the Hawk. Gene seemed hooked on the idea and tried to pass it off onto at least two other KISS members later.
In Kerrang! magazine of May 1983, Dante Bonutto said of Vinnie Vincent that “at Simmons request, he flirted briefly with a fierce hawk-like visage.”
Then Eric Singer says he could have been the Hawk on the KISS Extreme Close Up video:
“If I would have been in make up… I’d asked Paul and Gene that before, I just wanted to know for myself, what character would you have been for me (sic)? And they said maybe the Hawk, probably ‘cos of my nose!”
There are members of the KISS Army that maintain to this day that Eric Singer should hold true to that quotation and wear the Hawk make up when performing with KISS. Naturally KISS themselves do not subscribe to that idea.
The original 1980 prototype Hawk costume and mannequin painted by Paul Stanley was sold at auction in 2002.
THE SILVER FOX
Eric Carr’s early Silver Fox Make up at the New York Palladium, 1980
At very short notice therefore a new character had to be dreamt up for Eric Carr. In ‘KISS Alive Forever’ costume designer Pixie Esmond explains: “Eric’s Outfit started out as a hawk which they quickly decided looked too much like a canary.
So we removed the feathers and switched it to a fox persona with a leather jacket, little metal studs and a silver fox fur that had been dyed orange. Eric and I and Bill (Aucoin) worked on the make up the whole night before the first show. It was Bill who came up with the concept of the fox.”
The original fox design had elaborate silver outlines and a silver tip on his nose and is therefore often known in fan circles as the Silver Fox. Eric wore this make up for one show only, his debut with the band at the New York Palladium in 1980.
As with Peter’s one day experiment with the Pantomime Cat, Eric’s Silver Fox make up keeps cropping up from time to time as the band did photo sessions on the day of the Palladium show for several magazines and their upcoming European and Australian tour program. The program was then badly touched up without the aid of computer graphics to reflect Eric’s later design before going to print.
Silver Fox make up worn by the Eric Carr figure in the 2002 MacFarlane Creatures of the Night range.
Eric Carr as the Footloose and Fancy-free Fox on the shoot of the ‘I’ video, 1981
By the time the KISS 1980 European tour had begun, Eric Carr had simplified his fox make up into the style in which he is best remembered. The silver outlines were dropped and a white stripe appeared down his nose.
Eric Carr kept this make up design fairly consistent through the remainder of the Unmasked tour, the Elder Period and the Creatures of the Night tour finishing with the last KISS shows in make up in Brazil in 1983.
The only small changes made in this time were for the ‘Creatures Of The Night’ album cover, where Eric wore no brown around his eyes, just pure black, and briefly mid way through the ‘Creatures’ tour where he dropped the curls at the end of his lips for a few shows, though they soon came back.
Eric’s Fox make up with no brown around the eyes on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ album cover.
THE EGYPTIAN WARRIOR
Vinnie Vincent as the Egyptian Warrior
When it was announced to the world that Vinnie ‘the Wiz’ Vincent (AKA Vinnie Cusano) would be replacing Ace Frehley on the Creatures of the Night Tour in late 1982, the new guitarist appeared in press photos with a golden ankh across his forehead. Vinnie continued to wear this make up throughout the tour of the USA, Canada and Brazil.
At the time it was said that this design was because Vinnie had a life long interest in the pharaohs. This may well have been the case, though Vinnie’s never mentioned it in any depth since, but the make up designed for Vinnie by Paul Stanley had its roots in the original characters dreamt up for Wicked Lester back in 1971 when Gene was to be a caveman and Paul a gambler.
These designs never went beyond the drawing board but back then a Egyptian Warrior character was created and sketched out for guitarist Steve Coronel.
Aside from the final KISS shows in make up in Brazil in 1983, Vinnie last wore his make up at two unofficial fan club expos in 1996, one in Atlanta, Georgia and the other in Stockholm, Sweden. It is rumoured that the KISS legal team sent Mr. Cusano a short correspondence asking him to refrain from using the make up in future as they owned the copyright to it and not him.
In a bizarre twist of events, Vinnie then copyrighted Eric Carr’s fox make up when the patent lapsed on it. This may explain why the Eric Carr figure in MacFarlane’s 2002 range wore the Silver Fox make up rather than the standard Fox!
The Wicked Lester Egyptian Warrior Character in a drawing by Steve Coronel, 1971
OTHER HYPOTHETICAL DESIGNS
Now let’s look at some of those guys who were nearly in KISS make up, several of these guys had ideas of their own.
BRUCE KULICK as THE DOG
Bruce Kulick joined KISS as lead guitarist in 1984, the year after they took the make up off and departed from the band when they put it back on with the original line up in 1996. Hence Bruce is the only long term member never to have worn a make up design.
He was interviewed by the mysterious Maul Stanley onstage at the Twenty-Second New York KISS Expo and asked if he ever considered a make up character.
“I figure that since there’s already a cat in the band, I should probably be the dog. I’d have a big circle around one eye and I’d look like Petey from the Little Rascals. I’ve actually seen one or two fan renditions of what that might look like, so yeah, I’d be the dog.”
BOB KULICK as MING THE MERCILESS
Bob Kulick played guitar parts on some of the ‘KISS ALIVE2’ and ‘KISS KILLERS’ albums but was not considered to join the band onstage or wear make up.
He later told Metal Rules- “No, I mean it was always the joke when Ace was going to leave, I would be Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon. I thought that would have been the best outfit. There it is for them, it was just a joke.”
ANTON FIG as THE SILVER GIRAFFE
Paul Stanley remarked quite pointedly in his autobiography ‘Face the Music’:
“It wouldn’t have made sense to have Anton Fig or some other known commodity dress up as a silver giraffe or whatever.”
BOBBY RONDINELLI as THE INVISIBLE MAN
Bobby Rondinelli auditioned for KISS in 1980 and was rumoured to be second choice to Eric Carr. Metal-Rules asked Bobby what his make up character would have been had he got the gig.
“The invisible man make-up! I don’t know? But I didn’t get it, so I didn’t have to worry about it.”
Possibly the most hilarious character idea came from Paul Stanley. In the ‘KISS Alive Forever’ book, Jayne Grodd from Aucoin Management recalls about the search for a new drummer to replace Peter Criss:
“At one point towards the end of the process, George Sewitt, Paul Stanley, Gene and I went across the road to Lady Astor’s (a local restaurant), where I was to witness one of the funniest conversations I have ever heard.
“Gene and Paul were discussing what the new character was going to be. Paul was having fun with it and Gene was showing absolutely no sense of humour.
“Paul was saying things like ‘OK, we’ll make him a tailor! And he’ll like sew things onstage’. George and I were rolling on the floor but Gene was deadly serious.”
NEIL BOGART as THE CROW
As we said that the start of the article, KISS would like to only promote the four classic characters. They are reticent to allow others to wear similar styles of make up. Gene once sued King Diamond for the getting too close to his design.
There were however two exceptions in the 1970s where they did allow people close to that band to wear their own make up designs next to KISS. The first was Neil Bogart, president of Casablanca records. In 1974 he wore a Crow design while at a KISS concert in New York.
Neil Bogart as the Crow with KISS in 1974. Note Paul is wearing the Bandit design and Peter has an early attempt at the Catman.
FLO and EDDIE as the SILVER ELK and the OFFSET STARCHILD
The second time KISS allowed themselves to be photographed with friends in similar make up to themselves was in Anaheim 1976, when local DJs (and former members of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention) were introducing KISS onstage.
For this event they wore their own hastily created make up designs. It’s difficult to guess what characters they had in their addled minds at the time but I call them the Silver Elk and the Offset Starchild.
Flo and Eddie with Gene and Paul, Anaheim 1976 (photo by Brad Eltermann, Cream Magazine)
Here are some of the KISS designs used throughout the years, illustrated by a fan on plastic masks. From the top 12 o’clock position going clockwise they are: The Hotter Than Hell Compilation, the Demon, The Spaceman, The Hawk, The Pantomime Cat, the Egyptian Warrior, the Bandit, the Fox, The Catman and the Starchild.