Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lon Chaney's Shadow John Jeske and The Chaney Mystique by Suzanne Gargiulo

Lon Chaney, Hollywood’s famous “Man of a Thousand Faces,” was a very private individual who prized loyalty highly. He despised the hordes of “yes” men and phonies that proliferated Hollywood, and chose his friends with care, usually from outside his profession. His closest friend was a man of mystery himself, his name was John Jeske.

From their meeting in 1923, when Jeske was a hardworking German immigrant struggling to make ends meet as an auto mechanic, until Chaney’s death in 1930, Jeske was at his side as his personal assistant, chauffeur, best friend, and confidante. He was he man who knew all Lon Chaney’s secrets but never betrayed them. Even when he was in desperate need, living on the fringes of poverty and suffering extreme mental anguish after some of Chaney’s relatives, who resented his inheritance from Lon and his widow Hazel, tried to steal it from him, aided by a gang of toughs, who kidnapped the newlywed Jeske and his bride. And when he was despondent over, and further impoverished by, the failure of his marriage, John Jeske still maintained his silence and remained true to Chaney’s memory. He never wrote a tell-all book, talked to the press, or utilized the knowledge about makeup he had learned from Chaney to find employment at the Hollywood studios.

Ms. Gargiulo faced a daunting task in writing this book. Jeske is one of the forgotten men of history. Almost everyone who knew him is dead, he had no children, and was not close to his family, and left no diaries or memoirs behind when he died in 1944 and was consigned to an unmarked pauper’s grave.

Although some Chaney biographers paint Jeske as a somewhat shady character because he tried to marry Chaney’s widow on her deathbed, Ms. Gargiulo does a fine job of clearing his name and proving that though this has been painted as a lurid and sordid episode it was indeed nothing of the kind.

This slim volume is a fine memorial for a forgotten man, a man who knew how to be true.

1 comment:

librarypat said...

In this era of tell all books it is refreshing to know that someone keep his secrets even when he so desperately needed the money.