Saturday, April 1, 2017

Born Today April 1: Lon Chaney Sr.


1883-1930

Leonides Frank Chaney aka Lon Chaney Sr. was born on this day in Colorado Springs, Colorado to two deaf parents.  The result of being a hearing child dealing with two non-hearing parents was his development of a very engaging pantomime.  He started acting on the stage in 1902 with touring vaudeville acts.  There he met Cleva Creighton who would become his wife and mother to their son Creighton Tull Chaney, who would become known to the world as Lon Chaney, Jr.  Both vaudeville performers--they toured together, along with their young son.  One of silent films most iconic actors, "the man with a thousand faces." appears not to have been very interested in entering the film industry, despite his unconfirmed (possibly non-existent) appearance in one film in 1912 (The Honor of the Family).  Rather, he was forced into the industry in 1913 when his wife showed up at theater that he was managing in downtown Los Angeles, and attempted a dramatic suicide by drinking mercuric chloride.  She did not die, but the attempt ruined her singing voice, forcing her retirement from the stage and forced Chaney to seek work elsewhere due the scandal that it caused.  This is when films gained one of it's most talented early actors, with a very wide range.  The first confirmed film that appeared in was The Ways of Fate (1913), a short melodrama.  Most of the films that he was in between 1913-1916 were shorts.  Beginning in 1916, he started getting larger roles in full-length films; most of them dramas, with breakout roles coming in 1917 and 1918.  The reason for his nickname, as most fans of silent film know well, was his willingness to take on roles that required extremely heavy makeup, and this was during a era when actors were expected to apply their own makeup.  He is probably also the very first true horror icon, despite that Max Schreck and Conrad Viedt were in very famous horror films before him, he has become the face of horror in the 1920's.  The first well known film that is sometimes counted in the horror category that he starred in was The Hunchback Of Notre Dame in 1923.  The first real horror film that he was in came in 1925 with The Monster.  Also in 1925 came The Phantom Of The Opera, not only one the most famous and lavish silent films, but one of the horror genre's biggest early classics.  He also famously starred in Tod Browning's tragically lost film (now only fragmentally reconstructed) London After Midnight (1927).  The first partial sound film that he appeared in was West of Zanzibar in 1928.  All the films he made after this were partial silents, save for one:  The Unholy Three (1930); a remake of a crime film he appeared in 1925 (another Tod Browning film).  Sadly, his only sound film would be his last film.  Chaney had been diagnosed with bronchial cancer in 1929.  He developed a serious infection after a throat hemorrhage after filming on set with artificial snow that was made from corn flakes.  Despite heavy treatment, Chaney died at the age of 47 on Ausgust 26th.  The pallbearers at his funeral were:  Irving Thalberg, Lionel Barrymore, Ramon Novarro, Paul Bern, Wallace Beery, Louis B. Mayer, Lew Cody, Tod Browning, and Hunt Stromberg.  He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park next to his father.  For unknown reasons, his tomb remains unmarked.  After Chaney's death, director Tod Browning revealed that he was his first choice for the role of Dracula in his 1931 horror royalty classic Dracula; famously, the role went to Bela Lugosi




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