Monday, August 15, 2011

Lon Chaney: "The Man of a Thousand Faces."

Lon Chaney (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930). He was one of the most versatile actors of silent films. He is best remembered for his characterizations of grotesque and afflicted characters, and his artistry with film makeup.

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 many Vaudeville and theater acts.

In 1917 Universal presented Chaney, Dorothy Phillips, and William Stowell as a team in, The Piper's Price. In many films after, both men alternated playing lover, villain, or other man to the actress, Phillips. They would occasionally be joined by Claire DuBrey. So successful were the films starring this group that Universal produced fourteen films from 1917-1919 with Chaney, Stowell, and Phillips. The films were usually directed by Joseph De Grasse or his wife Ida May Park. When Chaney was away working on films, Riddle Gawne or 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). "Paid in Advance" (1919) was the group's last film together.

In 1919, Chaney had a breakthrough performance as "The Frog" in George Loane Tucker's, The Miracle Man. The film not only showcased Chaney's acting ability, but his talent as a master of makeup. Chaney is best remembered as a pioneer in such silent horror films:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame(1923). He played 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.

His ability to transform himself using makeup techniques earned him the nickname of "Man of a Thousand Faces." He also exhibited this talent with makeup in crime and adventure films, The Penalty, in which he played an amputee gangster. Chaney appeared in 10 films directed by Tod Browning, often portraying disguised and/or mutilated characters, including carnival knife-thrower Alonzo 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 horror film, London After Midnight, one of the most legendary lost films.

His final movie role was a sound remake of his silent classic, The Unholy Three (1930), his only "talkie" and the only film in which Chaney displayed his versatile voice. The actor 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.

Chaney was also a highly skilled dancer, singer and comedian. Many were surprised by his rich baritone voice and his comedic skills.

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: Tell It to the Marines (1926), one of his favorite films.

Personal Quote:

"The parts I play point out a moral. They show individuals who might have been different, if they had been given a different chance."

First video of 9.


  1. I have never seen a Lon Chaney film...but that's because I don't like silents.

    However, I did see the James Cagney film about him..."Man of a Thousand Faces." It was one of many films in which I think Cagney gave a brilliant performance. From that movie, I was highly impressed with the versatility and creative talent of Mr. Chaney.

    Have a great day!!

  2. The younger Chaney was quite a handsome youth. Must have gotten his looks from his mother. Our Lon had that character-lead face that served him so well.

  3. Patti, I saw my first Lon Chaney, film today and I enjoyed more than I thought I would.. I will also, keep my eye out for James Cagney's film..."Man of a Thousand Faces."

    Caftan Woman, I was very suprised how handsome Lon Chaney was, after seeing pictures of him in his scary make up...

  4. Thanks for your lovely blog! You do know that the top picture is of Lon Chaney Jr.?


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