Monday, October 6, 2008

Lon Chaney - Master of Makeup

October is the start of the Holiday season for me. October has, of course, Halloween, followed in the following months those other great holidays of Thanksgiving and finally, Christmas. One of the great October traditions in our house is to watch old horror films all throughout the month, culminating in a marathon session the weekend closest to Halloween. And I do mean old films, no Nightmare on Elm Street for me, I've never seen it. I like the black and white originals, not the special effect laden remakes. To celebrate this I thought I would highlight some of the great horror stars of the past throughout the month (and perhaps beyond), starting in the silent era with Lon Chaney.

Lon Chaney was born in 1883 to deaf mute parents. He became skilled in the art of pantomime in order to communicate with them. In 1905 he married a singer, Cleva Creighton, and they had a son, Creighton (aka Lon Chaney Jr.), the next year. At this time they lived in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. By 1910 they had moved to West Coast and were divorced in 1914.

In 1913 he began working for Universal Studios. In 1915 he remarries and young Creighton comes to lives with him. In 1918, after over a hundred films, he leaves Universal because they refuse to give him a raise.

His first big break comes in 1919, when he plays a villain in Riddle Gwane. He began working at Universal again and was receiving more parts. After this he played a cripple in The Miracle Man (1919), which proved a great success for him.

He started to appear in many films which required elaborate makeup and contortions of his body, makeup which he designed himself. In The Penalty (1920), he wore a leather harness, binding his feet to his thighs and walking on his knees, to portray a legless criminal. His costume and makeup for his role of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) included a hump and harness which twisted his body in the pain of the character. On top of this 50 - 70 pounds of equipment he wore a skin tight rubber suit covered with animal hair. This was clearly getting into the mind AND the body of the character. His elaborate and painful makeup continued with his role in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), but it also secured him film immortality. Who is not horrified at the moment his mask is removed and his horribly disfigured face revealed.

In the later part of the twenties he did many films with MGM Studios including The Unknown (1927), with Joan Crawford. He did not want to make the transition to the talkie films, and made only one, which was also his final film, The Unholy Three (1930). He died at the age of 47, in August of 1930, of a throat hemorrhage.

Enjoy this video tribute the "The Man of A Thousand Faces".


Alyson said...

That is really interesting! I've never watched any of his movies, but some of those images are definitely iconic.

Bee said...

This is the second Halloween-themed post I've read today! Americans must be needing some fun.

There is no getting around the fact: Halloween in England is a grave (seasonal pun!) disappointment. We always mourn our beloved October rituals.

BTW, an interesting fact about your man Lou having deaf-mute parents.

Randall said...

Excellent post. Too many greats of the silent era are being forgotten. I wrote one about Buster Keaton a while back. You can read it here.

Cindy said...

Alyson ~ Since all but one of his movies were from the Silent era, it is hard to find them. Turner Classic Movies is the only channel I have ever seen any of them played on and they actually are running The Hunchback and The Unknown this month.

Bee ~ Yes isn't Halloween fun. It deserves a month of enjoyment instead of just a night. Of course, retail stores would have us already thinking of Christmas. Can you believe I saw Christmas trees on display for sale in September. That's terrible, it's always rush, rush, rush to the next thing and then the second that's over let's throw everything out and move onto the next. There is so less enjoyment it seems.

Randall ~ I read your post and I will have to look for that film. Trains and classic movies are two favorites.