Lon Chaney, Sr.

Lon Chaney, Sr.

Infobox actor
bgcolour = silver
name = Lon Chaney

caption = Lon Chaney during the production of "The Miracle Man", 1919
birthname = Leonidas Frank Chaney
birthdate = birth date|1883|4|1|mf=y
location = Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.
deathdate = death date and age|1930|8|26|1883|4|1
deathplace = Los Angeles, California, USA
height =
othername =
homepage =
academyawards =
emmyawards =
spouse = Cleva Creighton (1906-1915), Hazel Hastings (1915-1930)
children = Creighton Chaney later known as Lon Chaney, Jr.

Lon Chaney (April 1 1883 – August 26 1930), nicknamed "The Man of a Thousand Faces," was an American actor during the age of silent films. He was one of the most versatile and powerful actors of early cinema. He is best remembered for his characterizations of tortured, often grotesque and afflicted characters, and his groundbreaking artistry with film makeup. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Lon Chaney Dies After Brave Fight. On Road to Recovery, Screen Actor Is Stricken by Hemorrhage of the Throat. Was a Master of Makeup. Son of Deaf and Dumb Parents, He Began Career as Property Boy. Excelled in Vivid Personations. Acted as Pike's Peak Guide. Made Stage Debut at 17. Appeared in Slap-Stick Comedy. Wore Straitjacket as "Hunchback." New Disguise for Each Film. |url= |quote=Although he was believed to be on the road to recovery, Lon Chaney, screen actor, who had been making a valiant fight against anemia and bronchial congestion, died at 12:55. |publisher=New York Times |date=August 27 1930 |accessdate=2007-07-21 ]


Lon Chaney was born Leonidas Frank Chaney in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Frank H. Chaney and Emma Alice Kennedy; his father had mostly English and some French ancestry, and his mother was of Irish descent. [ [http://www.wargs.com/other/chaney.html Ancestry of Lon Chaney ] ] Both of Chaney's parents were deaf, and as a child of deaf adults Chaney became skilled in pantomime. He entered a stage career in 1902, and began traveling with popular Vaudeville and theater acts. In 1905, he met and married sixteen year old singer Cleva Creighton and in 1906, their first child and only son, Creighton Chaney (a.k.a. Lon Chaney, Jr.) was born. The Chaneys continued touring, settling in California in 1910.

Unfortunately, marital troubles developed and in April 1913, Cleva went to the Majestic Theater in downtown Los Angeles, where Lon was managing the "Kolb and Dill" show, and attempted suicide by swallowing mercury bichloride. The suicide attempt failed and ruined her singing career; the ensuing scandal and divorce forced Chaney out of the theater and into film.

The time spent there is not clearly known, but between the years 1912 and 1917, Chaney worked under contract for Universal Studios doing bit or character parts. His outstanding skill with makeup gained him many parts in the highly competitive casting atmosphere. During this time, Chaney befriended the husband-wife director team of Joe De Grasse and Ida May Parke, who gave him substantial roles in their pictures, and further encouraged him to play macabre characters.

Chaney also married one of his former colleagues in the "Kolb and Dill" company tour, a chorus girl named Hazel Hastings. Little is known of Hazel, except that her marriage to Chaney was solid. Upon marrying, the new couple gained custody of Chaney's ten year-old son Creighton, who had resided in various homes and boarding schools since Chaney's divorce in 1913. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Mrs. Lon Chaney Dies. Before Her Husband Entered the Movies She Was Well Known In Vaudeville. |url= |quote= |publisher=New York Times |date=November 1, 1933, Wednesday |accessdate=2007-07-21 ]

By 1917 Chaney was a prominent actor in the studio, but his salary did not reflect this status. When Chaney asked for a raise, studio executive William Sistrom replied, "You'll never be worth more than one hundred dollars a week."

After leaving the studio, Chaney struggled for the first year as a character actor. It was not until 1918 when playing a substantial role in William S. Hart's picture, "Riddle Gawne", that Chaney's talents as a character actor were truly recognized by the industry.

In 1919, Chaney had a breakthrough performance as, "The Frog," in George Loane Tucker's "The Miracle Man". The film not only displayed Chaney's acting ability, but his talent as a master of makeup. Critical praise and a gross of over $2 million put Chaney on the map as America's foremost character actor.Chaney is chiefly remembered as a pioneer in such silent horror films as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Phantom of the Opera". His ability to transform himself using self-invented makeup techniques earned him the nickname of "Man of a Thousand Faces". In an autobiographical 1925 article published in "Movie" magazine that gave a rare glimpse into his life, Chaney referred to his specialty as "extraordinary characterization".

He also exhibited this adaptability with makeup in more conventional crime and adventure films, such as, "The Penalty", where he played an amputee gangster. He appeared in a total of ten films by director Tod Browning, often playing disguised and/or mutilated characters, including carnival knife thrower Alonzo the Armless in "The Unknown" (1927) opposite Joan Crawford. In 1927, Chaney co-starred with Conrad Nagel, Marceline Day, Henry B. Walthall and Polly Moran in the now lost Tod Browning directed horror classic, "London After Midnight", quite possibly the most famous lost film ever. His last film was a remake with sound of his silent classic, "The Unholy Three" (1930), his only "talkie" and the only film in which he displayed his versatile voice. In fact, Chaney signed a sworn statement declaring that five of the key voices in the film (the ventriloquist, old woman, parrot, dummy and girl) were in fact his own.

Although Chaney created, in Quasimodo, the bell ringer of Notre Dame, and Erik, the "phantom" of the Paris Opera House, two of the most grotesquely deformed characters in film history, the portrayals sought to elicit a degree of sympathy and pathos among viewers not overwhelmingly terrified or repulsed by the monstrous disfigurements of the characters, who were merely victims of fate.

"I wanted to remind people that the lowest types of humanity may have within them the capacity for supreme self-sacrifice," Chaney wrote in "Movie" magazine. "The dwarfed, misshapen beggar of the streets may have the noblest ideals. Most of my roles since "The Hunchback," such as "The Phantom of the Opera", "He Who Gets Slapped", "The Unholy Three," etc., have carried the theme of self-sacrifice or renunciation. These are the stories which I wish to do."

"He was someone who acted out our psyches. He somehow got into the shadows inside our bodies; he was able to nail down some of our secret fears and put them on-screen," the writer Ray Bradbury once explained. "The history of Lon Chaney is the history of unrequited loves. He brings that part of you out into the open, because you fear that you are not loved, you fear that you never will be loved, you fear there is some part of you that's grotesque, that the world will turn away from."

Chaney's talents extended far beyond the horror genre, and stage makeup. He was also a highly skilled dancer, singer and comedian. In fact, many people who did not know Chaney were surprised by his rich baritone voice and his sharp comedic skills.

Chaney and his second wife Hazel led a discreet private life distant from the Hollywood social scene. Chaney did minimal promotional work for his films and MGM studios, purposefully fostering a mysterious image, and he reportedly avoided the social scene in Hollywood on purpose.

In the final five years of his film career (1925-1930), Chaney worked exclusively under contract to MGM, giving some of his most memorable performances. His portrayal of a tough-as-nails marine drill instructor in "Tell It to the Marines" (1926), one of his favorite films, earned him the affection of the US Marine Corps, who made him their first honorary member from the motion picture industry. He also earned the respect and admiration of numerous up and coming actors, as Chaney was considered helpful towards new actors, showing them the ropes, and was always willing to talk to the cast and crew about his experiences between takes on films.

During the filming of "Thunder" in the winter of 1929, Chaney developed pneumonia. In late 1929 he was diagnosed with bronchial lung cancer. Despite aggressive treatment, his condition gradually worsened, and seven weeks after the release of the remake of "The Unholy Three", he died of a throat hemorrhage. His death was deeply mourned by his family, the film industry and by his fans. The US Marine Corps provided a chaplain and Honor Guard for his funeral. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California, next to the crypt of his father. His wife Hazel was also interred there upon her death in 1933. For unknown reasons, Chaney's crypt has remained unmarked.


In 1957, Chaney was the subject of a biopic titled "Man of a Thousand Faces", and was portrayed by James Cagney. Though much of the plot was fictional, the film was a moving tribute to Chaney and helped boost his posthumous fame. During his lifetime, Chaney had boasted he would make it difficult for biographers to portray his life, saying that "between pictures, there is no Lon Chaney." [ [http://worldconnect.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=rant58&id=I6003 RootsWeb's WorldConnect Project: Anthony, Saunders and Associated Families ] at worldconnect.rootsweb.com] This was in line with the air of mystery he purposefully fostered around his makeup and performances.

Lon Chaney has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1994, he was honored by having his image designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, placed on a United States postage stamp.

The stage theater at the Colorado Springs Civic Auditorium is named after Lon Chaney.In 1929, Chaney built an impressive stone cabin in the remote wilderness of the eastern Sierra Nevada, near Big Pine, California, as a retreat. The cabin (designed by architect Paul Williams) still stands, and is preserved by the Inyo National Forest Service.

Chaney's son Creighton, renamed Lon Chaney, Jr., became a film actor after his father's death, and is best remembered for roles in horror films, especially "The Wolf Man". The Chaneys appeared on US postage stamps as the Phantom of the Opera and the Wolf Man, with the set completed by Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster and The Mummy.

He and his son are mentioned in the Warren Zevon song "Werewolves of London".

Many of Chaney's colleagues held him in high regard and he would often give advice and help actors who were just beginning their careers. He was also greatly respected by the film crews and studio employees with whom he worked.

Following his death, Chaney's famous makeup case was donated by his wife Hazel to the Los Angeles County Museum, where it is sometimes displayed for the public. Makeup artist and Chaney biographer Michael Blake considers Chaney's case the central artifact in the history of film makeup.

In 1978, Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS wrote a song about Lon Chaney called "Man of 1,000 Faces" for his first solo album. Simmons had been influenced by the old black and white classic horror movies growing up in New York City.


*"The Honor of the Family" (1912) (uncredited)
*"The Ways of Fate" (1913)
*"Suspense" (1913) (unconfirmed)
*"Shon the Piper" (1913)
*"The Blood Red Tape of Charity" (1913)
*"The Restless Spirit" (1913) (uncredited)
*"Poor Jake's Demise" (1913)
*"The Sea Urchin" (1913)
*"The Trap" (1913)
*"Almost an Actress" (1913)
*"An Elephant on His Hands" (1913)
*"Back to Life" (1913)
*"Red Margaret, Moonshiner" (1913)
*"Bloodhounds of the North" (1913)
*"The Lie" (1914)
*"The Honor of the Mounted" (1914)
*"Remember Mary Magdalen" (1914)
*"Discord and Harmony" (1914)
*"The Menace to Carlotta" (1914)
*"The Embezzler" (1914)
*"The Lamb, the Woman, the Wolf" (1914)
*"The End of the Feud" (1914)
*"The Tragedy of Whispering Creek" (1914)
*"The Unlawful Trade" (1914)
*"Heartstrings" (1914)
*"The Forbidden Room" (1914)
*"The Old Cobbler" (1914)
*"The Hopes of Blind Alley" (1914)
*"A Ranch Romance" (1914)
*"Her Grave Mistake" (1914)
*"By the Sun's Rays" (1914)
*"The Oubliette" (1914)
*"A Miner's Romance" (1914)
*"Her Bounty" (1914)
*"The Higher Law" (1914)
*"Richelieu" (1914)
*"The Pipes o' Pan" (1914)
*"Virtue Is Its Own Reward" (1914)
*"Her Life's Story" (1914)
*"Lights and Shadows" (1914)
*"The Lion, the Lamb, the Man" (1914)
*"A Night of Thrills" (1914)
*"Her Escape" (1914)
*"The Sin of Olga Brandt" (1915)
*"The Star of the Sea" (1915)
*"A Small Town Girl" (1915)
*"The Measure of a Man" (1915)
*"The Threads of Fate" (1915)
*"When the Gods Played a Badger Game" (1915)
*"Such Is Life" (1915)
*"Where the Forest Ends" (1915)
*"Outside the Gates" (1915)
*"All for Peggy" (1915)
*"The Desert Breed" (1915)
*"Maid of the Mist" (1915)
*"The Grind" (1915)
*"The Girl of the Night" (1915)
*"The Stool Pigeon" (1915 - also directed)
*"For Cash" (1915 - directed only)
*"An Idyll of the Hills" (1915)
*"The Stronger Mind" (1915)
*"The Oyster Dredger" (1915 - also directed)
*"Steady Company" (1915)
*"The Violin Maker" (1915 - also directed)
*"The Trust" (1915 - also directed)
*"Bound on the Wheel" (1915)
*"Mountain Justice" (1915)
*"Quits" (1915)
*"The Chimney's Secret" (1915 - also directed)
*"The Pine's Revenge" (1915)
*"The Fascination of the Fleur de Lis" (1915)
*"Alas and Alack" (1915)
*"A Mother's Atonement" (1915)
*"Lon of Lone Mountain" (1915)
*"The Millionaire Paupers" (1915)
*"Under a Shadow" (1915)
*"Father and the Boys" (1915)
*"Stronger Than Death" (1915)
*"Dolly's Scoop" (1916)
*"The Grip of Jealousy" (1916)

*"Tangled Hearts" (1916)
*"The Gilded Spider" (1916)
*"Bobbie of the Ballet" (1916)
*"The Grasp of Greed" (1916)
*"The Mark of Cain" (1916)
*"If My Country Should Call" (1916)
*"Felix on the Job" (1916)
*"The Place Beyond the Winds" (1916)
*"Accusing Evidence" (1916)
*"The Price of Silence" (1916)
*"The Piper's Price" (1917)
*"Hell Morgan's Girl" (1917)
*"The Mask of Love" (1917)
*"The Girl in the Checkered Coat" (1917)
*"The Flashlight" (1917)
*"A Doll's House" (1917)
*"Fires of Rebellion" (1917)
*"The Rescue" (1917)
*"Pay Me!" (1917)
*"Triumph" (1917)
*"The Empty Gun" (1917)
*"Anything Once" (1917)
*"The Scarlet Car" (1917)
*"The Grand Passion" (1918)
*"Broadway Love" (1918)
*"The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin" (1918)
*"Fast Company" (1918)
*"A Broadway Scandal" (1918)
*"Riddle Gawne" (1918)
*"That Devil, Bateese" (1918)
*"The Talk of the Town" (1918)
*"Danger, Go Slow" (1918)
*"The Wicked Darling" (1919)
*"The False Faces" (1919)
*"A Man's Country" (1919)
*"Paid in Advance" (1919)
*"The Miracle Man" (1919)
*"When Bearcat Went Dry" (1919)
*"Victory" (1919)
*"Daredevil Jack" (1920)
*"Treasure Island" (1920)
*"The Gift Supreme" (1920)
*"Nomads of the North" (1920)
*"The Penalty" (1920)
*"Outside the Law" (1920)
*"For Those We Love" (1921)
*"Bits of Life" (1921)
*"The Ace of Hearts" (1921)
*"The Trap" (1922)
*"Voices of the City" (1922)
*"Flesh and Blood" (1922)
*"The Light in the Dark" (1922)
*"Oliver Twist" (1922)
*"Shadows" (1922)
*"Quincy Adams Sawyer" (1922)
*"A Blind Bargain" (1922)
*"All the Brothers Were Valiant" (1923)
*"While Paris Sleeps" (1923)
*"The Shock" (1923)
*"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923)
*"The Next Corner" (1924)
*"He Who Gets Slapped" (1924)
*"The Monster" (1925)
*"The Unholy Three" (1925)
*"The Phantom of the Opera" (1925 - also directed)
*"The Tower of Lies" (1925)
*"The Blackbird" (1926)
*"The Road to Mandalay" (1926)
*"Tell It to the Marines" (1926)
*"Mr. Wu" (1927)
*"The Unknown" (1927)
*"Mockery" (1927)
*"London After Midnight" (1927)
*"The Big City" (1928)
*"Laugh, Clown, Laugh" (1928)
*"While the City Sleeps" (1928)
*"West of Zanzibar" (1928)
*"Where East is East" (1929)
*"Thunder" (1929)
*"The Unholy Three" (1930)


Further reading


* "" by David W. Menefee. Albany: Bear Manor Media, 2007.

External links

*imdb name|id=0151606|name=Lon Chaney
* [http://eric.b.olsen.tripod.com/chaney.html Chaney's story on History of Horror website]
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=189 Lon Chaney's Gravesite]
* [http://www.silentgents.com/PChaney.html Lon Chaney Photos]
* [http://www.lonchaney.com/ Official Chaney family website]
* [http://film.virtual-history.com/person.php?personid=849 Photographs of Lon Chaney]

NAME=Chaney, Sr., Lon
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=The Man of a Thousand Faces
SHORT DESCRIPTION=American silent film actor
DATE OF BIRTH=April 1, 1883
PLACE OF BIRTH=Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States
DATE OF DEATH=August 26, 1930

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  • Lon Chaney — [Lon Chaney] (1883–1930) a US actor in silent films who often played ugly and frightening characters. He was known as the ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’ because he used ↑make up to change his appearance in many different parts. His best films include… …   Useful english dictionary

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