A well-known actor of the silent film era, Lon (Leonidas) Chaney was born in 1883 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Chaney was one of four children, all hearing, born to a prominent deaf family. In the decade prior to his birth, his grandparents were involved in the founding of the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in 1874.
Chaney was drawn to theatre in his youth, however his mother was bedridden with Rheumatism so at the age of 10, he quit school and became her caregiver, helping out with his younger siblings. He spent his summers working as a tour guide at Pikes Peak as well as picking up odd staging jobs at the nearby Opera House to help support the family. When his older brother John started his own traveling troupe, Lon quickly jumped on board, first working behind the scenes, and eventually performing (Gazette). For the next thirty years of his life, he traveled and performed as an actor and dancer. Soon he was drawn to motion pictures, starring in numerous silent films and gaining the title, ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces.’ Chaney performed in over 150 roles, He starred in such films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) (Gazette). He was extremely skilled in makeup artistry as well as pantomime and is known for developing the techniques he used to transform himself into memorable characters.
See him perform in The Phantom of the Opera below:
At the height of his career in 1930 at the age of 47, Chaney died, the result of bronchial (lung) cancer. After his death, he was honored by receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and memorialized on a United States Postage Stamp. Lon Chaney’s family has continued his legacy through Chaney Entertainment Inc., visit the website to read his biography and for a full list of his filmography. The Public Broadcasting Service produced a biographical episode entitled, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces in 2000, for the American Masters series. His IMDB profile also provides insight into this historical figure.