Lon Chaney


Actor
Lon Chaney

About

Also Known As
Leonidas F Chaney
Birth Place
Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
Born
April 01, 1883
Died
August 26, 1930
Cause of Death
Bronchial Cancer

Biography

Dubbed "The Man of a Thousand Faces" and the first great master of horror before it became a formalized genre in the 1930s, actor Lon Chaney broke new ground in the silent era of Hollywood for his exceptionally skilled use of makeup and his ability to contort his own body in any manner he chose. After a career in vaudeville, Chaney made his way to Hollywood in 1912 and worked on dozens o...

Photos & Videos

The Unholy Three (1925) - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
West of Zanzibar - Scene Photos
West of Zanzibar - Publicity Art

Family & Companions

Cleva Creighton
Wife
Mother of Creighton Chaney (Lon Chaney Jr).
Hazel Hastings Chaney
Wife
Second wife; met when both worked with Ferris Hartmann Opera Company in San Francisco.

Bibliography

"The Films of Lon Chaney"
Michael Blake, Vestal Press (1998)
"A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures"
Michael Blake (1996)

Notes

Wrote article on make-up in the Encyclopedia Britannica and wrote preface on a textbook of screen makeup by Cecil Holland.

His obituary in The New York Times claimed he was fond of the Hollywood quip: "Don't step on that spider; it may be Lon Chaney"

Biography

Dubbed "The Man of a Thousand Faces" and the first great master of horror before it became a formalized genre in the 1930s, actor Lon Chaney broke new ground in the silent era of Hollywood for his exceptionally skilled use of makeup and his ability to contort his own body in any manner he chose. After a career in vaudeville, Chaney made his way to Hollywood in 1912 and worked on dozens of pictures as a supporting player until elevating his status alongside Dorothy Phillips and William Stowell in films like "The Piper’s Price" (1917), "The Talk of the Town" (1918) and "Paid in Advance" (1919). At this time, Chaney won widespread recognition thanks to his first collaboration with director Tod Browning on "The Wicked Darling" (1919). Meanwhile, he went to increasingly greater lengths to create tortured characters until achieving true mastery as the deaf and partially blind Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923). But his most lasting creation was undoubtedly the disfigured Phantom in "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925), in which his full artistry was on display in a pivotal unmasking scene that remained one of the most frightening moments captured on film. In the last five years of his life, Chaney made some of his most popular movies, including "Tell It to the Marines" (1926), "Mr. Wu" (1927) and "The Unholy Three" (1930), his only talkie. With his son, Lon Chaney, Jr., successfully carrying on his legacy, Chaney remained a remarkable figure whose ability to make human a grotesque gallery of deformed characters was unmatched.

Born on April 1, 1883 in Colorado Springs, CO, Chaney was raised by his immigrant father, Frank, a deaf-mute barber shop owner, and his mother, Emma, also a deaf-mute who was crippled by inflammatory rheumatism when he was nine years old. Because both of his parents were deaf, Chaney grew up skilled in pantomime. At some point in his youth, he left school and became a guide, leading tourists along the treacherous trail to Pike’s Peak. He later worked as a prop boy at the Colorado Springs Opera House, before taking the stage himself with an appearance in "The Little Tycoon," co-written with his brother, when he was 17 years old. Chaney soon began a successful vaudeville career and joined the Ferris Hartmann Opera Company in San Francisco, which traveled to Los Angeles. In 1905, he married 16-year-old singer Cleva Creighton and had his only child, son Creighton Chaney, who later became known as Lon Chaney, Jr. Following marital troubles, Mrs. Chaney attempted suicide by swallowing mercury chloride; the attempt failed, but ruined her singing voice and ended her career. The fallout led Chaney to divorce Cleva and leave vaudeville for Hollywood.

In 1912, Chaney began appearing in a number of short films, playing the heavy in a number of Westerns. In his very first films he often appeared uncredited, while most from this time period were considered lost, as so many silent films were by the 21st century. He received his first screen credits as an actor in films like "Shon the Piper" (1913), "The Blood Red Tape of Charity" (1913) and "The Lamb, the Woman, the Wolf" (1914). Chaney debuted as a director with the short film, "The Stool Pigeon" (1915), and went on to direct and supervise Western star J. Warren Kerrigan in several films for Universal Pictures. In 1917, he was paired with actress Dorothy Phillips and actor William Stowell, and made a number of successful pictures for Universal, with Chaney and Stowell alternated between playing Phillips’ lover and the villain. The trio made their first appearance together in "The Piper’s Price" (1917), and went on to make such films as "Hell Morgan’s Girl" (1917), "The Girl in the Checkered Coat" (1917), "Broadway Love" (1918), and "The Talk of the Town" (1918).

Of course, Chaney was in demand outside of his collaboration with Phillips and Stowell, and even went as far as making the anti-German propaganda film "The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin" (1918) at the height of World War I. Meanwhile, he made his last film with Phillips and Stowell, "Paid in Advance" (1919), when Stowell was killed in a train accident while scouting locations in the Congo. Chaney next began making the first of many collaborations with horror master Tod Browning in "The Wicked Darling" (1919) and finally won widespread recognition with audiences for his first major role, playing a contortionist in "The Miracle Man" (1919). By this time, Chaney had developed a reputation as a versatile character actor capable of transforming his appearance at will, often to the point where audiences were unable to recognize him, thus earning the nickname "The Man of a Thousand Faces." He quickly became renowned for his artistry with makeup and the great, almost masochistic lengths he would go to create the grotesque bodies that hid the tortured souls of his characters. Chaney bound his legs behind him and walked on his knees in "The Penalty" (1920), strapped his arms tightly to his body to play the part of an armless knife thrower in "The Unknown" (1927), and wore painfully enormous teeth to create a vampire in "London After Midnight" (1927), in which he also played a detective.

In "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923), one of his most famous films, Chaney wore a 40-pound hunch in a 30-pound harness strapped to his back, covered his eyeball with an eggshell membrane to look sightless and contorted his body in a straightjacket. As the deaf and partially blind Quasimodo, Chaney’s tortured hunchback became one of his most famous creations and helped elevate his already rising status in Hollywood, thanks to the film’s box office success. More than merely a master of disguise, Chaney's genius was in communicating the man behind the monster: the hunger for acceptance, the unrequited love and sexual frustration, and the pain caused by society's cruelty that fuels his monsters' desire for revenge. These qualities were most eloquently conveyed in his definitive film, "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925), in which he harnessed all his skills in creating the deformed Phantom, who haunts the Paris Opera House in order to see the woman he loves turned into a star. Given complete freedom to design his own makeup, Chaney again contorted his body, this time pinning his nose upward with a wire, while painting his nostrils and eye sockets black. His skull-like Phantom was unmasked in a pivotal scene that terrified early audiences and became one of the most frightening images ever put on screen.

Chaney followed up with "The Unholy Three" (1925), in which he played the roles of Professor Echo, the ventriloquist, and Mrs. O’Grady. In the last five years of his career, he signed an exclusive contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and made some of his most popular films, including "Tell It to the Marines" (1926), in which he played a tough drill sergeant. He next played the title character, "Mr. Wu" (1927), a Chinese patriarch who seeks revenge on the man who seduced his daughter. After playing a Siberian peasant in "Mockery" (1927) and a traveling circus clown in "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" (1928), Chaney was an animal trapper in Laos who would do anything for his daughter. The film marked the last time he worked with director Tod Browning. During the making of his next film "Thunder" (1929), Chaney developed pneumonia and later was diagnosed with lung cancer. Though he sought aggressive treatment and even managed to film a remake of "The Unholy Three" (1930), his only talkie, Chaney suffered from a throat hemorrhage and died on Aug. 26, 1930 in Los Angeles. He was 47 years old and left his son, Lon Chaney, Jr., to carry on his legacy of transformation, which he did to great effect and appreciation.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

The Trust (1915)
Director
The Oyster Dredger (1915)
Director
The Stool Pigeon (1915)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)
Groton
The Unholy Three (1930)
[Professor] Echo [also known as Grandma O'Grady]
Where East Is East (1929)
Tiger Haynes
Thunder (1929)
Grumpy Anderson
West of Zanzibar (1928)
Flint
Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928)
Tito
While the City Sleeps (1928)
Dan
The Big City (1928)
Chuck
The Unknown (1927)
Alonzo
Mockery (1927)
Sergei
Mr. Wu (1927)
Mr. Wu/Mr. Wu's grandfather
London After Midnight (1927)
Burke
Tell It to the Marines (1927)
Sergeant O'Hara
London After Midnight (Reconstruction) (1927)
The Blackbird (1926)
The Black Bird/The Bishop of Limehouse
The Road to Mandalay (1926)
Singapore Joe
The Tower of Lies (1925)
Jan
The Monster (1925)
Dr. Ziska
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Phantom
The Unholy Three (1925)
Echo
The Next Corner (1924)
Juan Serafin
He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
"He Who Gets Slapped"
While Paris Sleeps (1923)
Henri Santodos
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
Quasimodo
The Shock (1923)
Wilse Dilling
All the Brothers Were Valiant (1923)
Mark Shore
Oliver Twist (1922)
Fagin
The Trap (1922)
Gaspard
Flesh and Blood (1922)
David Webster
A Blind Bargain (1922)
Dr. Arthur Lamb/The Hunchback
Shadows (1922)
Yen Sin, "The Heathen"
Quincy Adams Sawyer (1922)
Obadiah Strout
The Light in the Dark (1922)
Tony Pantelli
For Those We Love (1921)
Trix Ulner
The Night Rose (1921)
O'Rourke
Bits of Life (1921)
Chin Gow
The Ace of Hearts (1921)
Farralone
The Gift Supreme (1920)
Merney Stagg
Treasure Island (1920)
Pew/Merry
The Penalty (1920)
Blizzard
Outside the Law (1920)
Black Mike Sylva/Ah Wing
Nomads of the North (1920)
Raoul Challoner
Daredevil Jack (1920)
When Bearcat Went Dry (1919)
Kindard Powers
The Miracle Man (1919)
The Frog
A Man's Country (1919)
"Three Card" Duncan
The False Faces (1919)
Karl Ekstrom
Paid in Advance (1919)
Bateese Le Blanc
The Wicked Darling (1919)
Stoop Connors
Victory (1919)
Ricardo
Fast Company (1918)
Dan McCarty
The Talk of the Town (1918)
Jack Langhorne
Danger -Xxx Go Slow (1918)
Bud
Broadway Love (1918)
Elmer Watkins
Riddle Gawne (1918)
Hame Bozzam
The Grand Passion (1918)
Paul Argos
The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin (1918)
Bethmann-Hollweg
That Devil, Bateese (1918)
Louis Courteau
A Broadway Scandal (1918)
"Kink" Colby
Anything Once (1917)
Waught Mohr
The Rescue (1917)
Thomas Holland
Fires of Rebellion (1917)
Russell Hanlon
Pay Me (1917)
Joe Lawson
Triumph (1917)
Paul Neihoff
The Girl in the Checkered Coat (1917)
Hector Maitland
Hell Morgan's Girl (1917)
Sleter Noble
The Scarlet Car (1917)
Paul Revere Forbes
The Flashlight (1917)
Henry Norton/Porter Brixton
A Doll's House (1917)
Nils Krogstad
The Piper's Price (1917)
Billy Kilmartin
If My Country Should Call (1916)
Dr. George Ardrath
The Grip of Jealousy (1916)
Silas Lacey
Bobbie of the Ballet (1916)
Hook Hoover
The Grasp of Greed (1916)
Jimmie
The Mark of Cain (1916)
Dick Temple
The Gilded Spider (1916)
Giovanni
The Place Beyond the Winds (1916)
Jerry Jo
Tangled Hearts (1916)
John Hammond
The Price of Silence (1916)
Edmund Stafford
Father and the Boys (1915)
Tuck Bartholomew
Richelieu (1914)
Baradas

Cast (Short)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 Studio Tour (1925)
Himself

Life Events

1912

Entered films as Western heavy; appeared unbilled in "False Faces", "Riddle Gawne"

1914

First screen acting credit, "Hell Morgan's Girl"

1915

Debut as film director with the short, "The Stool Pigeon"

1916

Directed and supervised Western star J. Warren Kerrigan in seven films for Universal (also scripted two)

1919

First role which brought national recognition, "The Miracle Man"

1929

Final silent, "Thunder"; although thought lost, footage was discovered in 1996

1930

First talking picture (and his last film), "The Unholy Three" (sound remake of his 1925 silent film)

1930

Was signed to star in Tod Browning's "Dracula" at time of death

Photo Collections

The Unholy Three (1925) - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken during production of The Unholy Three (1925), featuring director Tod Browning and his cast.
West of Zanzibar - Scene Photos
Here are several scene stills from MGM's West of Zanzibar (1928), Tod Browning's silent melodrama starring Lon Chaney.
West of Zanzibar - Publicity Art
Here are a few pieces of advertizing art prepared by MGM to publicize Tod Browning's West of Zanzibar (1928) in newspapers and magazines.
Laugh, Clown, Laugh - Publicity Stills
Here are a few stills taken to help publicize MGM's Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), starring Lon Chaney and Loretta Young. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Laugh, Clown, Laugh - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from MGM's Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), starring Lon Chaney and Loretta Young. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Unholy Three (1925) - Scene Photos
Here are several Scene Stills from Tod Browning's The Unholy Three (1925), starring Lon Chaney, Victor McLaglen, and Harry Earles.
The Unholy Three (1925) - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Unholy Three (1925). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
The Man of a Thousand Faces - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from The Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Laugh, Clown, Laugh - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from MGM's Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), starring Lon Chaney and Loretta Young.
Laugh, Clown, Laugh - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), starring Lon Chaney and directed by Herbert Brenon.
The Phantom of the Opera - Behind-the-Scenes Still
Here is a photo taken behind-the-scenes during production of The Phantom of the Opera (1925), starring Lon Chaney. Chaney is wringing out his costume after filming the underwater sequence in the film; this shot demonstrates the durability of his makeup as Erik the Phantom.
London After Midnight - Movie Posters
Here are a few Movie Posters from the lost silent film London After Midnight (1927), starring Lon Chaney.
The Unknown - Movie Posters
Here are a few American movie posters for Tod Browning's The Unknown (1927), starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford.
The Unknown - Lobby Cards
Here are a few American Lobby Cards for Tod Browning's The Unknown (1927), starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford.
The Unholy Three (1930) - Movie Posters
Here are a few original release movie posters for the talkie version of The Unholy Three (1930), Lon Chaney's first and only talking picture.
The Unknown - Scene Stills
Here are a number of scene stills from MGM's The Unknown (1927), starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford.
London After Midnight - Behind-theScenes Photo
Here is a Behind-the-Scenes Photo from the lost silent film London After Midnight (1927), starring Lon Chaney.
London After Midnight - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from the lost silent film London After Midnight (1927), starring Lon Chaney.

Videos

Movie Clip

He Who Gets Slapped - The Revenge Lon Chaney is a circus clown preparing to spring his revenge in this scene from He Who Gets Slapped (1924).
Unholy Three, The (1930) - You're Too Feminine It’s a little incoherent but Lon Chaney as “Professor Echo,” Harry Earles as “Willie” and Ivan Linow as “Hercules” have left the circus and formed a criminal band, now in disguise as they prevail on their ex-cohort Rosie (Lila Lee), who’s working a pet shop employee (co-writer Elliott Nugent), in The Unholy Three, 1930.
Unholy Three, The (1925) - God's Gifted Genius Early scenes introducing two of the titular three, Hercules (Victor McLaglen) and Echo (Lon Chaney), at the carnival, their pickpocket friend Rosie (Mae Busch) working the crowd, in Tod Browning's original The Unholy Three, 1925.
Unholy Three, The (1930) - Professor Echo His first spoken lines in Lon Chaney’s first and only talking picture, as Professor Echo at the carnival, practicing ventriloquism he learned for the picture, Richard Carle the barker, Lila Lee his partner in crime, Ivan Linow the strongman, in MGM’s five-years-later remake, The Unholy Three, 1930.
Mr. Wu (1927) - The Illustrious Mandarin Wu Grand MGM sets and Maria Newman’s original score for TCM featured in the opening, as Lon Chaney appears in his first role as the senior Wu, looking to engage Muir (Claude King) for the Western style education of his grandson (Sonny Loy), in Mr. Wu, 1927.
Mr. Wu (1927) - I Go To Join My Ancestors We’ve just met Lon Chaney in his second role, as the now grown-up grandson Wu, on the occasion of his marriage (Mrs. Wong Wing as the young wife), then Chaney again, this time as the even-older, emaciated grandfather Wu, conferring with Muir (Claude King), in MGM’s Mr. Wu, 1927.
Ace Of Hearts, The (1921) - He Has Lived Too Long Part of the opening act, the thus-far not defined brotherhood assembles, Morgridge (Hardee Kimble) chairing, Farralone (Lon Chaney) fretting and Forrest (John Bowers) providing evidence against an evil-doer whom, it transpires, they vote to eliminate, in The Ace Of Hearts, 1921.
Penalty, The (1920) - Thousands Of Hats Weird Blizzard (Lon Chaney), kingpin of the San Francisco underground, turned evil by a doctor who amputated his legs as a boy, is being described by lawman Lichtenstein (Milton Ross) for his undercover agent Rose (Ethel Grey Terry), in Samuel Goldwyn’s The Penalty, 1920.
Penalty, The (1920) - Do I Look Like Satan? Vengeful San Francisco crime boss Blizzard (Lon Chaney), unaware that his new consort (Ethel Grey Terry) is a federal agent, is thrilled to find an improbable newspaper ad placed by the artist daughter of the doctor who wrongly amputated his legs as a child, in The Penalty, 1920.
Unholy Three, The (1925) - Since When Do You Own Me? Echo (Lon Chaney) in drag, fellow thief Rosie (Mae Busch) working on their stooge Hector (Matt Moore), Tweedledee (Harry Earles) playing the baby, angry Hercules (Victor McLaglen) arriving, as the thieves tangle in Tod Browning's The Unholy Three, 1925.
West Of Zanzibar (1928) - You Poor Blind Idiot Opening scenes, magician Flint (Lon Chaney) is alarmed to learn that his wife and assistant (Jacqueline Gadsdon) plans to leave him for sly African ivory trader Crane (Lionel Barrymore), in Tod Browning's West Of Zanzibar, 1928.
West Of Zanzibar (1928) - Gold Of The Congo Spooky voodoo in Africa mystifies ivory trader Crane (Lionel Barrymore), who doesn't yet know that his old enemy Crane (Lon Chaney), supported by "Doc" (Warner Baxter), has hunted him down seeking revenge, in Tod Browning's West Of Zanzibar, 1928.

Promo

Family

Lon Chaney Jr
Son
Actor. Born February 10, 1906; mother was Chaney's first wife, Cleva Creighton.

Companions

Cleva Creighton
Wife
Mother of Creighton Chaney (Lon Chaney Jr).
Hazel Hastings Chaney
Wife
Second wife; met when both worked with Ferris Hartmann Opera Company in San Francisco.

Bibliography

"The Films of Lon Chaney"
Michael Blake, Vestal Press (1998)
"A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures"
Michael Blake (1996)

Notes

Wrote article on make-up in the Encyclopedia Britannica and wrote preface on a textbook of screen makeup by Cecil Holland.

His obituary in The New York Times claimed he was fond of the Hollywood quip: "Don't step on that spider; it may be Lon Chaney"