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Chaney during the production of The Miracle Man, 1919
|Born||Leonidas Frank Chaney
April 1, 1883
Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.
|Died||August 26, 1930
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale|
|Occupation||Actor, director, screenwriter|
|Spouse(s)||Cleva Creighton (m. 1905; div. 1913)
Hazel Hastings (m. 1915–30) (his death)
|Children||Creighton Tull Chaney (later known as Lon Chaney, Jr.)|
Leonidas Frank "Lon" Chaney (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930) was an American stage and film actor, director and screenwriter. He is regarded as one of the most versatile and powerful actors of early cinema, renowned for his characterizations of tortured, often grotesque and afflicted characters, and his groundbreaking artistry with makeup. Chaney is known for his starring roles in such silent horror films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). His ability to transform himself using makeup techniques he developed earned him the nickname "The Man of a Thousand Faces."
Leonidas Frank Chaney was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Frank H. Chaney and Emma Alice Kennedy; his father, was of English and French ancestry, and his mother was of Scottish, English, and Irish descent. Chaney's maternal grandfather, Jonathan Ralston Kennedy, founded the "Colorado School for the Education of Mutes" (now, Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind) in 1874, and Chaney's parents met there. 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, Chaney, then 22, met and married 16-year-old singer Cleva Creighton (Frances Cleveland Creighton) and in 1906, their only child, a son, Creighton Tull Chaney (later known as Lon Chaney, Jr.) was born. The Chaneys continued touring, settling in California in 1910.
Marital troubles developed and on April 30, 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 mercuric chloride. The suicide attempt failed but it ruined her singing career as a result; 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 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 Park, who gave him substantial roles in their pictures, and further encouraged him to play macabre characters.
Chaney 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 10-year-old son Creighton, who had resided in various homes and boarding schools since Chaney's divorce from Cleva in 1913.
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 1917 Universal presented Chaney, Dorothy Phillips, and William Stowell as a team in The Piper's Price. In succeeding films, the men alternated playing lover, villain, or other man to the beautiful Phillips. They would occasionally be joined by Claire DuBrey nearly making the trio a quartet of recurring actors from film to film. So successful were the films starring this group that Universal produced fourteen films from 1917 to 1919 with Chaney, Stowell, and Phillips. The films were usually directed by Joe De Grasse or his wife Ida May Park, both friends of Chaney's at Universal. When Chaney was away branching out on films such as Riddle Gawne and The Kaiser, Beast of Berlin, Stowell and Phillips would continue on as a duo until Chaney's return. Stowell and Phillips made The Heart of Humanity (1918), bringing in Erich von Stroheim for a part as the villain that could easily have been played by Chaney. Paid in Advance (1919) was the group's last film together, for the chiseled featured Stowell was sent to Africa by Universal to scout locations for a movie. En route from one city to another, Stowell was in the caboose when it was hit by the locomotive from another train; he was killed instantly. The majority of these films are lost but a few, including Triumph and Paid in Advance survive in private collections or unrestored in European or Russian archives.
In 1919, Chaney had a breakthrough performance as "The Frog" in George Loane Tucker's The Miracle Man. The film displayed not only Chaney's acting ability, but also 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.
He exhibited great adaptability with makeup in more conventional crime and adventure films, such as The Penalty (1920), in which he played an amputee gangster. Chaney appeared in ten films directed by Tod Browning, often portraying disguised and/or mutilated characters, including carnival knife-thrower Alonzo the Armless in The Unknown (1927) opposite Joan Crawford. In 1927, Chaney also co-starred with Conrad Nagel, Marceline Day, Henry B. Walthall and Polly Moran in the Tod Browning horror film, London After Midnight, considered one of the most legendary and sought after lost films. His final film role was a sound remake of his silent classic The Unholy Three (1930), his only "talkie" and the only film in which Chaney utilized his versatile voice. Chaney signed a sworn statement declaring that five of the key voices in the film (the ventriloquist, the old woman, a parrot, the dummy and the girl) were his own.
As Quasimodo, the bell ringer of Notre Dame, and Erik, the "phantom" of the Paris Opera House, Chaney created two of the most grotesquely deformed characters in film history. However, the portrayals sought to elicit a degree of sympathy and pathos among viewers not overwhelmingly terrified or repulsed by the monstrous disfigurements of these victims of fate.
In a 1925 autobiographical article for Movie magazine, Chaney wrote, "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, 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." Chaney referred to his expertise in both make-up and contorting his body to portray his subjects as "extraordinary characterization." Chaney's talents extended beyond the horror genre and stage makeup. He was also a highly skilled dancer, singer and comedian.
Ray Bradbury once said of Chaney, "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 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 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 for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, purposefully fostering a mysterious image, and he reportedly intentionally avoided the social scene in Hollywood.
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 Marine Corps, who made him their first honorary member from the motion picture industry. He also earned the respect and admiration of numerous aspiring actors, to whom he offered mentoring assistance, and between takes on film sets he was always willing to share his professional observations with the cast and crew.
During the filming of Thunder in the winter of 1929, Chaney developed pneumonia. In late 1929 he was diagnosed with bronchial lung cancer. This was exacerbated when artificial snow, made out of cornflakes, lodged in his throat during filming and quickly created a serious infection. 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 on August 26, 1930 in Los Angeles, California. His funeral was held on August 28 in Glendale, California. Honorary pallbearers included Paul Bern, Hunt Stromberg, Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Tod Browning, Lew Cody, and Ramon Novarro. The US Marine Corps provided a chaplain and Honor Guard for his funeral. While his funeral was being conducted, all film studios and every office at M-G-M observed two minutes of silence in his honor.
Chaney was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California, next to the crypt of his father. His wife Hazel was 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. The film is a largely fictionalized account as Chaney was notoriously private and hated the Hollywood lifestyle. He never revealed personal details about himself or his family, once stating "Between pictures, there is no Lon Chaney."
The stage theater at the Colorado Springs Civic Auditorium is named after Chaney.
In 1929, Chaney built a 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, who later changed his name Lon Chaney, Jr., became a film actor after his father's death. Chaney, Jr. is best remembered for roles in horror films, most notably as the title character in The Wolf Man (1941). In October 1997, both Chaneys appeared on commemorative 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.
Following his death, Chaney's famous makeup case was donated to the Los Angeles County Museum by his widow Hazel. The case is occasionally displayed for the public.
In popular culture
|1912||The Honor of the Family||Unconfirmed/disputed
|1913||The Ways of Fate||Unconfirmed/disputed
|1913||Poor Jake's Demise||The Dude|
|1913||The Sea Urchin||Barnacle Bill||Lost film|
|1913||The Blood Red Tape of Charity||Marx, a Gentleman Thief||Lost film|
|1913||Shon the Piper||Clansman||Unconfirmed/disputed
|1913||The Trap||Lon||Lost film|
|1913||The Restless Spirit||The Russian Count||Uncredited
|1913||Almost an Actress||Cameraman||Lost film|
|1913||An Elephant on His Hands||Eddie's Uncle||Lost film|
|1913||Back to Life||The Rival||Lost film|
|1913||Red Margaret, Moonshiner||Lon||Alternative title: Moonshine Blood
|1913||Bloodhounds of the North||Mountie Lieutenant||Lost film|
|1914||The Lie||Young MacGregor||Lost film|
|1914||The Honor of the Mounted||Jacques Laquox||Lost film|
|1914||Remember Mary Magdalen||The Half-Wit||Lost film|
|1914||Discord and Harmony||Lon - the Sculptor||Lost film|
|1914||The Menace to Carlotta||Giovanni Bartholdi||Writer
Alternative title: Carlotta, the Bead Stringer
|1914||The Embezzler||J. Roger Dixon||Lost film|
|1914||The Lamb, the Woman, the Wolf||The Wolf||Lost film|
|1914||The End of the Feud||Wood Dawson||Lost film|
|1914||The Forbidden Room||John Morris||Lost film|
|1914||The Tragedy of Whispering Creek||The Greaser||Writer
Alternative title: The Mystery of Whispering Creek
|1914||The Unlawful Trade||The Cross Blood||Lost film|
Alternative title: Heartstrings
|1914||The Old Cobbler||Wild Bill||Lost film|
|1914||The Hopes of Blind Alley||The Vendor||Lost film|
|1914||A Ranch Romance||Raphael Praz||Lost film|
|1914||Her Grave Mistake||Nunez||Lost film|
|1914||By the Sun's Rays||Frank Lawler - the Clerk|
|1914||The Trey o' Hearts||One of Judith's Henchmen||Uncredited
|1914||The Oubliette||Chevalier Bertrand de la Payne||Alternative title: The Adventures of François Villon #1: The Oubliette|
|1914||A Miner's Romance||John Burns||Lost film|
|1914||Her Bounty||Fred Howard||Lost film|
|1914||The Higher Law||Sir Stephen Fitz Allen||Alternative title: The Adventures of François Villon #2: The Higher Law
|1914||The Pipes o' Pan||Arthur Darrell||Lost film|
|1914||Virtue Is Its Own Reward||Duncan Bronson||Lost film|
|1914||Her Life's Story||Don Valesquez||Lost film|
|1914||Lights and Shadows||Bentley||Lost film|
|1914||The Lion, the Lamb, the Man||Fred Brown - the Lion||Alternative title: Woman Finds Love in Untarnished Manhood
|1914||A Night of Thrills||The Visitor||Lost film|
|1914||Her Escape||Pete Walsh - Pauline's Brother||Writer
|1915||The Sin of Olga Brandt||Stephen Leslie||Lost film|
|1915||The Star of the Sea||Tomasco||Lost film|
|1915||A Small Town Girl||The Procurer||Lost film|
|1915||The Measure of a Man||Lt. Jim Stuart|
|1915||The Threads of Fate||The Count||Lost film|
|1915||When the Gods Played a Badger Game||Joe - the Property Man||Lost film|
|1915||Such Is Life||Tod Wilkes||Lost film|
|1915||Where the Forest Ends||Paul Rouchelle||Lost film|
|1915||Outside the Gates||Perez||Lost film|
|1915||All for Peggy||Seth Baldwin||Lost film|
|1915||The Desert Breed||Fred||Lost film|
|1915||Maid of the Mist||Lin - Pauline's Father||Lost film|
|1915||The Grind||Jerry||Lost film|
|1915||The Girl of the Night||Alternative titles: What's in a Theory, Her Chance
|1915||The Stool Pigeon||Director
|1915||An Idyll of the Hills||Lafe Jameson||Lost film|
|1915||The Stronger Mind||The Crook's Pal||Lost film|
|1915||The Oyster Dredger||Writer, director
|1915||Steady Company||Jimmy Ford||Lost film|
|1915||The Violin Maker||Pedro - the Violin Maker||Director
|1915||The Trust||Jim Mason||Director
Alternative title: The Truce
|1915||Bound on the Wheel||Tom Coulahan||Lost film|
|1915||Mountain Justice||Jeffrey Kirke||Lost film|
|1915||The Chimney's Secret||Charles Harding||Writer, director
|1915||The Pine's Revenge||Black Scotty||Lost film|
|1915||The Fascination of the Fleur de Lis||Duke of Safoulrug|
|1915||Alas and Alack||The Fisherman and Hunchback Fate|
|1915||A Mother's Atonement||Ben Morrison|
|1915||Lon of Lone Mountain||Lon Moore||Lost film|
|1915||The Millionaire Paupers||Martin - the Landlord|
|1915||Under a Shadow||DeSerris||Lost film|
|1915||Father and the Boys||Tuck Bartholomew||Lost film|
|1915||Stronger Than Death||Attorney||Lost film|
|1916||Dolly's Scoop||Dan Fisher|
|1916||The Grip of Jealousy||Silas Lacey|
|1916||Felix on the Job||Tod|
|1917||The Mask of Love||Marino|
|1914||Damon and Pythias||Unconfirmed|
|1916||The Grip of Jealousy||Silas Lacey|
|1916||Tangled Hearts||John Hammond|
|1916||The Gilded Spider||Giovanni||Alternative title: The Full Cup|
|1916||Bobbie of the Ballet||Hook Hoover|
|1916||The Grasp of Greed||Jimmie|
|1916||The Mark of Cain||Dick Temple|
|1916||If My Country Should Call||Dr. George Ardrath|
|1916||The Place Beyond the Winds||Jerry Jo|
|1916||The Price of Silence||Edmond Stafford|
|1917||The Piper's Price||Billy Kilmartin|
|1917||Hell Morgan's Girl||Sleter Noble|
|1917||The Girl in the Checkered Coat||Hector Maitland|
|1917||The Flashlight||Henry Norton/Porter Brixton||Alternative title: The Flashlight Girl|
|1917||A Doll's House||Nils Krogstad|
|1917||Fires of Rebellion||Russell Hanlon|
|1917||The Rescue||Thomas Holland|
|1917||Pay Me!||Joe Lawson|
|1917||The Empty Gun||Frank|
|1917||Anything Once||Waught Moore||Alternative titles: The Maverick, Any Way Once|
|1917||The Scarlet Car||Paul Revere Forbes|
|1918||The Grand Passion||Paul Argos|
|1918||Broadway Love||Elmer Watkins|
|1918||The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin||Bethmann-Hollweg||Lost film|
|1918||Fast Company||Dan McCarty|
|1918||A Broadway Scandal||"Kink" Colby||Lost film|
|1918||Riddle Gawne||Hame Bozzam|
|1918||That Devil, Bateese||Louis Courteau||Lost film|
|1918||The Talk of the Town||Jack Langhorne|
|1918||Danger, Go Slow||Bud|
|1919||The False Faces||Karl Eckstrom|
|1919||The Wicked Darling||Stoop Connors|
|1919||A Man's Country||"Three Card" Duncan|
|1919||The Miracle Man||The Frog|
|1919||Paid in Advance||Bateese Le Blanc|
|1919||When Bearcat Went Dry||Kindard Powers|
|1920||Daredevil Jack||Royce Rivers|
|1920||Treasure Island||Blind Pew/Merry||Lost film|
|1920||The Gift Supreme||Merney Stagg|
|1920||Nomads of the North||Raoul Challoner|
|1920||Outside the Law||Black Mike Sylva/Ah Wing|
|1921||For Those We Love||Trix Ulner||Lost film|
|1921||Bits of Life||Chin Chow||Lost film|
|1921||The Ace of Hearts||Farallone|
|1922||Voices of the City||O'Rourke||Lost film|
|1922||The Trap||Gaspard the Good||Writer|
|1922||Flesh and Blood||David Webster|
|1922||The Light in the Dark||Tony Pantelli|
|1922||Shadows||Yen Sin, the Heathen|
|1922||Quincy Adams Sawyer||Obadiah Strout||Lost film|
|1922||A Blind Bargain||Dr. Arthur Lamb/The Ape Man||Alternative title: The Octave of Claudius
|1923||All the Brothers Were Valiant||Mark Shore||Lost film|
|1923||While Paris Sleeps||Henri Santodos||Lost film|
|1923||The Shock||Wilse Dilling|
|1923||The Hunchback of Notre Dame||Quasimodo||Makeup artist (uncredited)|
|1924||The Next Corner||Juan Serafin||Lost film|
|1924||He Who Gets Slapped||Paul Beaumont/HE|
|1925||The Monster||Dr. Ziska|
|1925||The Phantom of the Opera||The Phantom||Director, makeup artist (uncredited)|
|1925||The Unholy Three||Echo, the Ventriloquist|
|1925||The Tower of Lies||Jan||Lost film|
|1926||The Blackbird||The Blackbird/The Bishop||Alternative title: The Black Bird|
|1926||The Road to Mandalay||Singapore Joe|
|1926||Tell It to the Marines||Sergeant O'Hara|
|1927||Mr. Wu||Mr. Wu/Wu's Grandfather|
|1927||London After Midnight||Professor Edward C. Burke||Makeup artist (uncredited)
|1928||The Big City||Chuck Collins||Lost film|
|1928||Laugh, Clown, Laugh||Tito|
|1928||While the City Sleeps||Dan Coghlan|
|1928||West of Zanzibar||Phroso|
|1929||Where East is East||Tiger Haynes|
|1930||The Unholy Three||Echo||Makeup artist (uncredited)|
- "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.". New York Times. August 27, 1930. Retrieved July 21, 2007.
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.
- Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Embracing Events, Institutions, Industries, Counties, Cities, Towns, Prominent Persons, etc. edited by Frank W. Blackmar c. 1912 pp.496–498
- Mysteries and Scandals - Lon Chaney (Season 3, Episode 34). E!. 2000.
- "Mrs. Lon Chaney Dies. Before Her Husband Entered the Movies She Was Well Known In Vaudeville". New York Times. November 1, 1933. Retrieved July 21, 2007.
- Internet Movie Database,IMDb.com ; film listings on Lon Chaney, William Stowell, Dorothy Phillips & Claire Dubrey
- Pictorial History of the Silent Screen, by Daniel Blum c. 1953 p.141; scene from Triumph (1917), description ...Phillips has hand on Chaney's head embracing him while Stowell reads paperwork on desk
- Vogel, Michelle (2010). Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood's "Joy Girl". McFarland. p. 146. ISBN 0-786-44795-8.
- Herzogenrath, Bernd, ed. (2008). The Cinema of Tod Browning: Essays of the Macabre and Grotesque. McFarland. p. 79. ISBN 0-786-43447-3.
- Silents are Golden
- Dick, Bernard F., City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997, pp. 52-55
- Fleming, E.J. (2009). Paul Bern: The Life and Famous Death of the MGM Director and Husband of Harlow. McFarland. p. 167. ISBN 0-786-45274-9.
- Schickel, Richard (1962). The Stars. New York: Bonanza Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc. p. 133.
- "Funeral Service For Lon Chaney". The Telegraph. August 28, 1930. p. 5. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
- Riley, Philip J. (1993). MagicImage Filmbooks Presents The Wolf Man. MagicImage Filmbooks. p. 54. ISBN 1-882-12721-8.
- Slide, Anthony (2010). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. University Press of Kentucky. p. 217. ISBN 0-813-13745-4.
- "Lon Chaney". latimes.com. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
- Blake, Michael F. (1997). A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures. Vestal Press. p. 290. ISBN 1-461-73076-7.
- Smith, Don G. (2004). Lon Chaney, Jr.: Horror Film Star, 1906-1973. McFarland. pp. 9, 12. ISBN 0-786-41813-3.
- Guiley, Rosemary (2004). The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters. Infobase Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 1-438-13001-5.
- Carr, Richard (October 5, 1997). "Movie Monsters Kick Off National Stamp-collecting Month". sun-sentinel.com. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
- French, Phillip (January 4, 2014). "The Phantom of the Opera". theguardian.com. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
- "Quits (1915)". silentera.com. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
- Blake, Michael F. (1997). A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures. Vestal Press. ISBN 1-879-51121-5.
- Menefee, David W. (2007). The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era. BearManor Media. ISBN 1-593-93109-3.
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