Lon Chaney - The Man of a Thousand Faces
A child of deaf mute parents, Chaney became a master of pantomime and understanding people who were born different. A quiet soul by nature, Chaney valued his privacy highly. Granting few interviews and disliking the Hollywood social whirl, he much preferred spending quiet time with his family and a few close friends, often at his cabin in the Sierra Nevadas. This avoidance of publicity led him to be unfairly labeled by some as strange and unfriendly. Yet those who knew him best always described him as a good, loving husband, father, and friend. Similarly, his co-stars, among them Loretta Young and Joan Crawford, remembered him as being very cooperative and helpful, especially to those performers without much experience. Chaney befriended the young Boris Karloff shortly after Karloff's arrival in Hollywood.He helped Karloff gain a foothold in the movies, and until the end of his life, Karloff always spoke kindly of Chaney as a good friend and colleague.
Were it not for his death, Chaney, rather than Bela Lugosi, would have been Tod Browning's choice for the starring role in Dracula (1931). For many years, the cause of the lung cancer that brought about his death at the age of 47 was thought to have been a piece of artificial snow, made out of crushed gypsum, that lodged in his throat during the filming of Thunder (1929), his last silent film. However, Chaney biographer and scholar Michael Blake points out that the most likely cause was the fact that Chaney was a heavy smoker, and that the piece of artificial snow merely hastened the inevitable.
Unbeknown to many people, who consider Chaney a "horror actor", he was an amazing dancer in his stage years. The only film that contains footage of him dancing is the incomplete The Fascination of the Fleur de Lis (1915). He was also known to be a hilarious comedian. In fact, one report of the day said, "As a comedian, he is irresistible". And according to Michael F. Blake (Chaney's biographer), Lon could even sing. Sadly, no audio recordings exist of Chaney singing, but people who knew him said that he had a rich baritone voice.
His knowledge of make-up was so vast that he wrote the entry on the subject for an edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He carried almost all the make-up he used in films in a small leather case he always had with him when in Hollywood.
Date of Birth April 1, 1883, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Date of Death August 26, 1930, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Birth Name Leonidas Frank Chaney
Nickname Man of a Thousand Faces
"I wanted to remind people that the lowest types of humanity may have within them the capacity for supreme self-sacrifice. The dwarfed, misshapen beggar of the streets may have the noblest ideals. Most of my roles since The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), such as The Phantom of the Opera (1925), He Who Gets Slapped (1924), The Unholy Three (1925), etc., have carried the theme of self-sacrifice or renunciation. These are the stories which I wish to do."
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