Artist, illustrator and costume designer Wladyslaw Theodore Benda was born in Poznan, Poland on January 15, 1873. He died in his adopted home of New York City on November 30, 1948. In 1914, three years after becoming a US citizen, Benda turned his hand to designing and making papier-mâché face masks. At first he featured them in his own studio pantings and graphic art, before he was hired to make them for miracle plays in New York City at venues like the New York Coffee House. Benda’s masks featured in stage productions on Broadway and London’s West End for works by such writers as Eugene O’Neill and Noël Coward, and for the movie The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), which was originally published as a twelve part story in Collier’s magazine from May 7, 1932 through July 23, 1932.
In 1931, photographer Arnold Genthe (1869-1942) took this photograph of Benda’s masks.