Categories
Cinema Photography Silent Film Video

Lon Chaney – Guest Blogger – Lea Stans from ‘Silent-ology’

LON CHANEY

“Perhaps few actors have enjoyed such a cult following as the great Lon Chaney, whose remarkable makeup and acting skills have inspired generations of film lovers. I am pleased to present this article from my blog, Silent-ology, on the life and career of a man who became a legend in his own time. –Lea Stans”

# # # # #

Lon Chaney, Hollywood’s Finest Character Actor

Per a reader’s request, here is a piece on one of the greatest and most respected silent film legends–Lon Chaney. As you read this, I am currently at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival–and yes, I’ll be recapping every moment of it!

There was a popular, widespread joke back in the 1920s–“Don’t step on that spider, it might be Lon Chaney!” A joke which, of course, referred to his remarkable use of makeup and acting skills to create bizarre characters who stick in the popular imagination. Indeed, Chaney was one of the rare actors who was so skilled that he became a legend in his own time, graced with the title “The Man of a Thousand Faces”–a title which is linked with his name to this very day.

His birth name was Leonidas Frank Chaney, and he was born in Colorado Springs on April 1, 1883. His parents, Frank and Emma, were both deaf and mute. They had met at the Colorado School for the Education of Mutes, which had been founded by Chaney’s grandfather. Being the child of parents who couldn’t hear or speak, Chaney became adept at pantomime, which proved a useful training ground for his career–not only because of the pantomime used in early films, but because it made him more in tune with facial expressions and subtle gestures. When Chaney’s mother fell ill and developed rheumatism in her hands, she and Chaney reportedly would communicate only with their eyes.

As a young man Chaney quickly became set on having a stage career, and in 1902 he began working in vaudeville. He enjoyed a variety of stage roles and would also assist with Universalcostumes, makeup and choreography. In 1905 he married stage singer Cleva Creighton, and on February 10, 1906, their son Creighton Tull Chaney was born (he would one day go by Lon Chaney Jr.). It’s said that little Creighton was born premature and not breathing and that Lon, not knowing what else to do, rushed outside into the cold, knocked a hole in the ice of a lake and dunked the infant in the water, shocking him back to life.

Unfortunately, the marriage proved to be an unhappy one, involving jealousy and Cleva’s growing drinking problem. In April 1913 the Chaneys were in Los Angeles where Lon was working at the Majestic Theater. One day Cleva went to the theater, stood in the wings and attempted suicide by drinking mercuric chloride. While this dark, dramatic gesture didn’t claim her life, it did destroy her singing voice and caused a scandal that essentially put an end to Chaney’s theatrical career. He would divorce Cleva and take custody of his son, and with his stage options now closed, he had no choice but to fall back on a less lofty line of work–acting in motion pictures. (At least, it was less lofty back in 1913.)

He became an extra at Universal, partly because of his skill with makeup, and soon proved himself to be a reliable supporting actor. His earliest role that we can confirm was in Poor Jake’s Demise (1913), starring comedians Max Asher and Louise Fazenda. In 1914 he would remarry a woman named Hazel Hastings, and it would be a happy and lasting union.

Over the next few years, Chaney appeared in dozens and dozens of films, playing a wide variety of characters and often specializing in villains–an easy fit for a man with the square-jawed, rough-hewn face of a boxer or a steelworker. He grew deeply interested in creating detailed makeup effects and would photograph his various experiments to pinpoint what would be convincing onscreen. He kept his various greasepaints and other tools of transformation in a simple lunchbox–one day he would use a toolbox.

Chaney attracted attention as the villain Hame Bozzam in William S. Hart’s western Riddle Gawne (1918), but he got his breakthrough role in the drama The Miracle Man (1919). Chaney played a contortionist nicknamed “The Frog” who’s part of a gang that moves to a small town to escape the police. They discover that a faith healer has much of the town in thrall. They decide to scam the townspeople by having The Frog pose as a cripple and pretend to be miraculously healed and then use the resulting excitement to collect funds–supposedly for a chapel. But their plans go awry when a little boy really does experience a miraculous healing, and the gang’s, shall we say, “faith in fakery” is shaken.

Sadly, much of this intriguing The Miracle Man is lost, but luckily surviving clips show The Frog experiencing his “miraculous” healing. Chaney’s exceptional use of jerky body language to convey crippled limbs becoming straight is so convincing that to this day many people believe he was double-jointed, or at least knew how to dislocate his shoulders–not so. The performance put Chaney on the map as an exceptional and in-demand character actor.

Picture-Play Magazine interviewed Chaney in 1920, and the writer noted with some surprise:

The longer I talked with Lon Chaney the more paradoxical he proved to be. I had expected to find he was a circus contortionist or, at least, a veteran character actor. He is merely a talented young man with a hobby for cooking, painting, wood carving, modeling in clay, and in grease paint. He contradicts all notions of what an actor and villain should be…Acting to him means the creation of a man, whereas most of our favorite actors portray their personalities as pigment, Chaney, like the artist of sculpting or painting, creates from an imaginative model which has nothing to do with himself.

This would prove to be a rare peek into Chaney’s home life. Soon he would shy away from interviews and steer clear of Hollywood social events, preferring to keep the focus on his characters. He would once say: “My whole career has been devoted to keeping people from knowing me. It has taken me years to build up a mystery surrounding myself, which is my stock in trade.”

The Moving Picture Weekly, December 1920.

The Penalty (1920) is a fascinating example of his commitment to that stock in trade. Chaney plays a criminal whose legs were unnecessarily amputated above the knee after a childhood accident, and who finally decides to take revenge on the doctor. Chaney tied his legs back with special harnesses and walked on his kneecaps to portray the amputee, which was so painful that he could only act for ten minutes at a time. Originally, the film included a shot at the end of Chaney walking down a staircase–to prove the actor did have normal legs.

His fame only increased with The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), a huge hit that featured his most extreme makeup. As the grotesquely deformed Quasimodo, Chaney used layers of cotton and colodium on his face and sported fake teeth and a 20-lb hump on his back, all of which took three hours to put together. He also used a brace to keep himself in a hunched-over position special contact lenses and (in the 1920s these would’ve been made of glass). He was paid the generous salary of $2500 a week–a big achievement for someone who, in his early Universal days, was once told he would never be worth more than $100 a week.

Other iconic roles included the circus clown HE in He Who Gets Slapped (1924), the first film to begin production with the newly-formed MGM studio; Sergeant O’Hara in Tell It to the Marines (1926), which earned Chaney an honorary membership in the U.S. Marine Corps; and, of course, the titular Phantom of The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Chaney’s elaborate makeup was kept a complete secret, for maximum screen effect. Not only did the famous unmasking scene scare the daylights out of countless audiences (publicity stories claimed some people fainted), but it seems to have stuck in their minds long after other movie memories had faded. Even decades later, old-timers would recall their childhood terror of first seeing that ghastly face.

Chaney’s other iconic role is one we haven’t even seen–the ghoulish character from the thoroughly lost London After Midnight (1927). With his pointed teeth, long hair, and top hat, Chaney was the embodiment of many a Halloween haunted house decoration. Although it’s one of the most sought-after silent films (despite getting lackluster reviews in its own day), London After Midnight, unfortunately, shows no signs of turning up.

Tod Browning’s The Unknown is not only one of Chaney’s bizarre best but it also contains one of the rawest moments of horror in cinematic history. (SPOILERS at the end of this paragraph.) Chaney is Alonzo the Armless, a performer who secretly binds his arms to pose as a circus freak with a knife-throwing act (he keeps his hands out of sight so his double thumb can’t identify him as a former criminal). He falls hard for beautiful Nanon, a fellow performer who has a phobia of men’s arms and can’t stand being touched by them. But she’s comfortable around Alonzo, and he’s so head-over-heels in love that he decides to go through an unbelievably extreme act of devotion–have his arms amputated so they can be together. Unfortunately, his rival, the strongman, is able to overcome Nanon’s phobia and Alonzo finds out too late that he’s had his arms amputated for nothing–a truly horrifying moment of realization that Chaney plays to the hilt.

Chaney wasn’t enthused about the advent of talkies, feeling that if audiences heard his voice it would destroy his mystique. Eventually, he was talked into appearing in the crime drama The Unholy Three (1930), playing the ventriloquist Echo–and giving a solid performance. But sadly, it would be his final film. Lung cancer, which he had been secretly enduring for some time, finally claimed his life on August 26, 1930, after he began hemorrhaging uncontrollably. The news he had been taken to the hospital had moved countless fans to call the studio offering to donate blood, and the news of his death shocked both the public and the industry alike.

Fortunately, Chaney’s elaborate makeups were not doomed to obscurity. Today he continues to awe and inspire, one of the rare actors whose work is considered untouchable. And it’s moved some of his fans to declare, “Lon Chaney Shall Not Die!”

Sources:

Howe, Herbert. “A Miracle Man of Makeup.” Picture-Play Magazine, March, 1920.

Gebhart, Myrtle. “The Last of Mr. Chaney.” Picture-Play Magazine, September, 1930.

Everson, William K. American Silent Film. New York: Da Capo Press, 1998.

Koszarski, Richard. The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990.

“Chaney Dies As Fan Thousands Swamp Phone; Scores Offer Blood.” Variety, August 27, 1930.

http://lantern.mediahist.org

https://www.biography.com/people/lon-chaney-9244177

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lon_Chaney

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0151606/?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm

I highly recommend this classic documentary on Chaney’s life–another important source for this article!

# # # # #

Special Thanks to
Lea Stans and her blog ‘Silent-ology‘.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Categories
Cabaret Comedy Dixon Place Exhibit Juggling Mr Aviner's Variety HOur Music Performing Arts Photography Physical Theater Puppetry Variety Arts

Celebrating Dixon Place – An Online Gallery of photographs by Jim R. Moore

Theatre The’s production of “Radio Purgatory” Oct. 2010

Radio Purgatory at Dixon Place 2010The Dame (Jenny Lee Mitchell) leaning over the typewriter shares with us the goods!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sinatra Simulcra – Starring Jonny Cigar – April, 2011

Jony Cigar at Dixon PlaceJonny Cigar getting emotional during his rendition of  “That’s Life.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Glen Heroy as Elton John at Jim Moore’s ‘Dyslexic 56th B’day Party – May 2011

Dyslexic_2011.05.1019-1

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

MAC WELLMAN’S NEW PLAY – “3 2’S; OR AFAR” Oct. 2011

Mac Wellman's Play at Dixon PlaceJocelyn Kuritsky gets wrapped up in the sofa by the Something/Nothing characters.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

THE SECRET DEATH OF PUPPETS BY SIBYL KEMPSON Nov.2011

Secret Death of Puppets @ Dixon PlaceThe secret life of puppets. Suzanne Davies and Julia May Jonas.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

THE BINDLESTIFF OPEN STAGE VARIETY SHOW

Jan 2012

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 4.42.38 PM Keith Nelson attempts to catch 2 spoons in the cups while keeping his plates spinning.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 4.45.52 PM

Keith Nelson keeps his 4 plates spinning and next month will add more.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

MR. AVINER’S VARIETY HOUR – April 2012

Karianne Hayes at Dixon Place.Currently in her second year at Ecole de Cirque de Quebec, Karianne Hayes has amazing promise for the future.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

CORN MO – THELOWEREASTSIDEMUSICFESTIVAL

August 2012

Corn Mo at Dixon PlaceCorn Mo sings an original ‘heavy metal’ song about a Hava Nagela Monster. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“NO HOLDS BARRED VARIETY NIGHT” – Sept 2012.

Jason Mejias performs ‘How it Ends’ aerial piece. Jason Mejias performs ‘How it Ends’ aerial piece.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“RUFF” – PEGGY SHAW SOLO

PART OF THE PS122 COIL FESTIVAL

Jan. 2013

Peggy Shaw in "Ruff" at Dixon PlacePeggy Shaw explains the different ways to tell if you are having a stroke.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

‘THE PENALTY’ – 1920 BOOK ADAPTED TO THE STAGE BY CLAY MCLEOD CHAPMAN FOR APOTHETAE THEATER COMPANY

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 10.21.29 PMGregg Mozgala ‘begs’ the public as the character Blizzard in The Penalty.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

NANCY GILES

“THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE ACCIDENTAL PUNDETTE”

Nancy Giles at Dixon PlaceTalking about life experience and the political scene.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“THE NON-DENOMINATIONAL, NON-SECTARIAN, NON-PARTISAN, HOLIDAY SPECTACLE”

December 2013

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 5.21.10 PMKenny Mellman opened the evening’s festivities with a wonderful song.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 10.59.11 PMJoseph Keckler with some stories and songs.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 11.00.18 PM Erin Markey with another character and song.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“THE BARONESS IS THE FUTURE”

THE ANIMALS PERFORMANCE GROUP

Jan. 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 11.01.15 PMMadison Krekel flings up her arms in a passionate moment in front of the Baroness.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 11.00.58 PMLinda Mancini as The Baroness with dancers behind her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

KEVIN AUGUSTINE’S LONE WOLF TRIBE

HOBO GRUNT CYCLE

Feb. 2014

Kevin Augustine in Hobo Grunt Cycle at Dixon PlaceThere are many emotional moments in this play and wonderful acting by Kevin Augustine and his cast or actor/puppeteers.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

BINDLESTIFF OPEN STAGE VARIETY REVUE

April 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 10.37.53 PMKeith Nelson balances all these glasses on top of one another.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

JIM TURNER – ‘The Now and Low: Misadventures of the Glucose Highway”

August 2014

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 6.19.52 PMIn this work he delivered an informative, hysterical rant on his 44 years of Diabetes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

28TH ANNIVERSARY – DONOR DINNER – SEPT 15TH, 2014

Stew performing at Dixon Place.Award winning composer and writer STEW performed a few songs from his career.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

DIXON PLACE – A WONDERFUL PLACE TO SEE ART, THEATER, POETRY, CIRCUS, AERIAL, ETC.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 6.08.39 PMThis is Dixon Place in 1989. A small store front on East 1st that was home to many performers and writers.

Tom Murrin and Jim Tuner at Dixon Place in 1989.Two of Dixon Place’s regular performers were Tom Murrin (Alien Comic) and Jim Turner in 1989.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 6.10.24 PMAnd the new DIXON PLACE is so lovely. Located at 161 Chrystie St. in Lower Manhattan. Theater, Bar and Cabaret. Come visit!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Categories
Cabaret Circus Comedy Dance Dixon Place Film Juggling Magic Mime Music Performing Arts Photography Physical Theater Variety Arts

Dixon Place – A Wonderful Place to see Art, Theater, Poetry, Circus, Aerial, etc.

DixonPlace6This is Dixon Place in 1989. A small store front on East 1st that was home to many performers and writers.

Tom Murrin and Jim TurnerTwo of Dixon Place’s regular performers were Tom Murrin (Alien Comic) and Jim Turner in 1989.

Jim Turner performing at Dixon Place in 1989.Jim Turner performing at Dixon Place in 1989.

Rae C Wright at Dixon PlaceRae C Wright performing at a Benefit for Dixon Place at DTW in 1989.

Reno at Dixon PlacePolitical comic and all around hysterical social commentator RENO at the Benefit for Dixon Place at DTW in 1989.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 5.58.43 PMAnd the new DIXON PLACE is so lovely. Located at 161 Chrystie St. in Lower Manhattan. Theater, Bar and Cabaret. Come visit!

Kevin Augustine at Dixon PlaceKevin Augustine performing in his original piece “Hobo Grunt Cycle” at Dixon Place this past Feb. This piece was a commission by Dixon Place.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 6.06.49 PMAmazing juggler Sean Blue performing at the “No Holds Barred” Variety Show at Dixon Place in June 2013.

The Animals Performance group at Dixon Place

A visual/poem performance piece dedicated to the art/words of Dadaist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven performed by Animals Performance Group.

Gregg Mozgala performing at Dixon Place.Gregg Mozgala performing in an original adaptation of “THE PENALTY” by Clay Mcleod Chapman. Commissioned by Dixon Place.

Keith Nelson of Bindlestiff Open Stage Variety ShowAnd Keith Nelson of Bindlestiff Open Stage Variety Show that happens the first Monday of every Month at Dixon Place.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

FOR INFORMATION ON DIXON PLACE CLICK HERE.

Dixon Place, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1986 to provide a space for literary and performing artists to create and develop new works in front of a live audience. Our mission to support and nurture the development of new work and work in progress  from diverse artists and to build new audiences for the work.

More on Dixon Place’s Mission

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Categories
Dixon Place Performing Arts Photography Physical Theater Silent Film

The Penalty – 1920 book adapted to the stage by Clay McLeod Chapman for Apothetae Theater Company

The Penalty 

 inspired by the novel of the same name by Gouverneur Morris, and its film adaptation, starring Lon Chaney.

Written by CLAY MCLEOD CHAPMAN

Directed by KRIS THOR
Music and Lyrics by ROBERT M. JOHANSON CLAY MCLEOD CHAPMAN
Starring: Gregg Mozgala, Sarah Buffamanti & Phillip Taratula 
Commissioned by DIXON PLACE & THE APOTHETAE

Gregg Mozgala as Blizzard in The PenaltyGregg Mozgala ‘begs’ the public as the character Blizzard in The Penalty.

The cast of The Penalty.

(The Chorus/Burlesquers) Javana Mundy, Claire Sanderson, Jacob Boggs, Ilaria Tarozzi, Rachel Handler

Gregg Mozgala performing as Bliizzard in the Penalty

Sara Buffamanti (Sophie Ferris) Gregg Mozgala (Blizzard)

2013.06.12_Penalty.326

2013.06.12_Penalty.337 Gregg Mozgala (Blizzard), Sara Buffamanti (Sophie Ferris), Phillip Taratula (Dr. Ferris),

2013.06.12_Penalty.478

Jacob Boggs, Gregg Mozgala (Blizzard), Phillip Taratula (Dr. Ferris), Claire Sanderson

2013.06.12_Penalty.516Claire Sanderson, Rachel Handler, Phillip Taratula (Dr. Ferris)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Great writing by Clay McCleod Chapman, skilled directing by Kris Thor and wonderful performances by the entire cast!

GO SEE IT!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

For more information on The Penalty go here!

REVIEW IN NY THEATRE  here.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

To see the original film with Lon Chaney go here.

Categories
Dixon Place Film Performing Arts Physical Theater Silent Film Vaudevisuals Interview

Vaudevisuals interview with Clay McCleod Chapman – “The Penalty”

Clay McCleod Chapman has written the adaptation of the book “The Penalty” to stage for the upcoming production at Dixon Place.

He discusses his friendship with Apothetae Theatre Company Artistic Director Gregg Mozgala and what Clay pondered during his considerations when writing the story.

Categories
Dixon Place Performing Arts Photography Video

Vaudevisuals Interview with Gregg Mozgala – Artistic Director of Apothetae Theater Company – THE PENALTY

Apothetae TheaterCo's production of The Penalty


Vaudevisuals interview with actor/playwright and artistic director of Apothetae Theater Company.
Gregg talks about the upcoming production of “The Penalty” to be performed at Dixon Place beginning
June 14th, 2013.
Inspired by the 1920’s film THE PENALTY starring Lon Chaney. Adapted for Apothetae Theater Company by Clay Mcleod Chapman. Music and lyrics by Robert Johanson and Clay Mcleod Chapman.
Directed by Kris Thor

For more information on Apothetae Theater Company:
http://theapothetae.org/home.html

Interview originally appeared on:
https://vaudevisuals.com

Lon Chaney on Wikipedia:

Additional Information on The Penalty:

Dixon Place ticket information: