The Mask

26 December 2006

The Mask of Fu Manchu was originally published as a twelve part serial in Collier's magazine from May 7, 1932 through July 23, 1932. The cover of the May 7 issue presented a stunning portrait by W. T. Benda.

From the collection of Lawrence Knapp

W. T. Benda (Wladyslaw Theodore Benda) was the premiere mask maker of the early Twentieth Century. His masks were shown in magazines such as Vanity Fair and Vogue.  One Vogue issue featured the most prominent models of the day (all in Benda masks) in a series of photographs taken by Edward Steichen on a Long Island estate. In this and other photographic series it is not at all clear that masks are in use. In his book, Masks, Benda even presents nude studies of models wearing only his masks, but short of believing him, they appear quite real.   His masks were used in Masques or Miracle Plays in New York City at the Coffee House. Benda also created the masks for stage productions in New York and London for such writers as Eugene O'Neil and Noel Coward.

As a result, it was quite logical for the editors of Collier's to turn to Benda for the cover illustration for The Mask of Fu Manchu. While it is immediately apparent that the young lady is holding the "mask" of Fu Manchu, only those familiar with Benda's work will recognize that the young lady herself is wearing a mask. Compare her to the mask in the lower left corner of the dust wrapper for his book and his mask, "Golden Beauty," made in 1920.

John Richard Flanagan did the interiour illustrations for  the Collier's serial, drawing  a mask quite similar to Benda's.

From the collection of Lawrence Knapp

"Then the lid was raised and we saw those precious relics of the Masked Prophet."
The Mask of Fu Manchu, Part VII, June 18, 1932

From the collection of Lawrence Knapp
Detail showing the mask

MaskTrans.gif (59412 bytes) The mask is clearly visible in the case in the  Syrian room.


"Shan," said Fah Lo Suee, "I am going now, dear. You mustn't come down to the door"

The Mask of Fu Manchu, Part XI
Collier's July 16, 1932

Another view of the Syrian room, showing the sword and the mask and . . .

"Dr. Fu Manchu"
            -- All the caption that was necessary!

The Mask of Fu Manchu, Conclusion
Collier's July 23, 1932


MaskConc.jpg (33619 bytes)

From the collection of Larry Feher.

The dustjackets of the American hardcover editions emphasized the mask-like quality of the woman holding the mask by eliminating her neck.
From the collection of Lawrence Knapp The mask itself appeared on the spine and title page -- again by John Richard Flanagan. There are eight drawings from the Collier's series in all.

The Mask of Fu Manchu. New York, The Crime Club, 1932; New York: A. L. Burt, various reprint editions.

This title page drawing above is clearly based on the mask in the case in the Syrian room..
MaskDetail2.jpg (20723 bytes)

The mask as seen in the 1932 movie production starring Boris Karloff also bears a striking resemblance to the Benda original. "The famous mask in the film was based on the original designs by famed artist W. T. Benda for the novel's serialization in Collier magazine. The foremost mask maker of his day, Benda frequently worked on stage productions and even created special masks for fashion models" (Turner Classic Movies).

MaskInMovie.jpg (12131 bytes)

.From the collection of Lawrence Knapp

Many theaters gave away 
cardboard cutout masks.


From the collection of Lawrence Knapp  

The early British dustjacket stayed quite close to the theme, but it apparently needed an appropriate British hairstyle and the mask like qualities of the woman are considerably reduced.


London: Cassell, 1933.

Artist: ?

The mask was virtually identical on the 1955 dust wrapper.

London: Cassell, 1955.

Artist: ?

Swe_mask.jpg (30370 bytes) The Mask of Fu Manchu has been translated into many languages, but the covers generally have no evidence of Benda's influence. A notable exception is the cover  by N. G. Granath for the Swedish edition which doesn't use Benda's mask but reworks the turbaned woman.



1934     Fu Manchus Mask. Stockholm: Hugo Gebers Förlag. Till Svenska av Anna Bagge. 269 pages. Kr. 4:00.


Well known comic book artist, Wally Wood started his career at Avon Comics in 1950. His early work included Capt. Science, Space Detective and a twenty-five page comic book version of The  Mask of Fu Manchu, an "Avon Fantasy Classic"  published in 1951. It was later reprinted by IW comics. Wood also found little to change in the mask as seen in the panel below. It was later reprinted by IW comics.

The mask made another appearance in 1967 on the cover of the Corgi paperback.

London: Corgi Books, 1967.


Artist not identified

From the collection of Lawrence Knapp

The mask reappeared on the spine of the 1973 Cassell edition. Tony Phebey's jacket design also featured it. 


It's rare for an artist to have work re-used and re-worked by so many others in various mediums over so many years. It makes Benda's affinity for masks all the more evident.


Copyright © 1998-2006  Lawrence Knapp. All rights reserved.

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