Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lon Chaney The Man Behind The Thousand Faces by Michael F. Blake

This is the first full-length biography to be published about the most brilliant character actor of the silent film era, Lon Chaney, best remembered today for his amazing makeup and his starring roles in the "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

Writing a biography of Chaney is an impressive feat in itself. He was a private man, promoted by the Hollywood studios as a "man of mystery" to explain his persistent refusal to play the Hollywood game and provide fodder for the fan magazines and gossip columns. Chaney gave few interviews and was determined to keep his private life private. He was dedicated to his art and fully immersed himself in his roles, but the movies were primarily a job to earn a living for him. He was a man who came from humble beginnings, the son of deaf mute parents, who worked as a wallpaper hanger and carpet layer before succumbing to the allure of the stage and his fascination with how actors used greasepaint, nose putty, and false hair to transform themselves. His first marriage, to Cleva Creighton, ended unhappily after his wife's career as a cabaret singer, her drinking, socializing, and presumed infidelity with her customers, and a botched suicide attempt in which while standing in the wings of the theatre her husband was then managing she downed a vial of mercury bichloride, thus permanently damaging her vocal cords and putting an end to her singing career. Chaney was granted full custody of their son, Creighton, the future actor Lon Chaney Jr., and eventually remarried, and remained so, quite happily, until his death in 1930 from throat cancer.

Mr. Blake, whose childhood interest in Chaney was sparked by the biographical film "Man of a Thousand Faces" starring James Cagney as Lon Chaney, became an ardent fan and collector of Chaney memorabilia, and himself grew up to be a makeup artist. He spent years researching this book and does a wonderful job of dispelling the many myths that have grown up around Lon Chaney over the decades. The book is also full of fascinating information about the history of makeup in the movies and how Chaney created his extraordinary creations to help bring his characters to life.

See the real Lon Chaney in action on dvd and the bio pic that has inspired so many to pursue careers as movie makeup artists.

1 comment:

librarypat said...

Thanks for the information on a talented actor and interesting person. I enjoy watching his work.