2/12: Void Influences – Lon Chaney, Sr: The Man of 1,000 Faces! (1965)
Welcome to my second in a series of twelve (12) tributes to the inspirations for Deacon Void. Standing dark and mysterious at position #2 is the “Man of 1,000 Faces,” Mr. Lon Chaney, Sr.
I started first grade in the fall of 1964. As my world began to expand, so did my interests. By 1965, I was a full-fledged fan of the pantheon of monsters who roamed the world of my imagination and Universal Studios. As Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and Creature from the Black Lagoon filled my dreams (and nightmares), I soon learned that the man who paved the way for these legendary creatures was a man who commanded the silver screen long before the advent of talking pictures.
A child of deaf mute parents, Chaney became a master of pantomime and understanding people who were born “different.” Legends say he never even knew to speak until he was eight years old, communicating entirely through non-verbal means. This led to his amazing ability to portray dozens of characters on film without uttering a word, from Quasimodo in Hunchback of Notre Dame to a vampire in London After Midnight to possibly the most visually striking screen monster ever, The Phantom of the Opera!
Chaney died much too soon in 1930, and in 1931, Bela Lugosi shot to stardom playing Count Dracula in the Tod Browning classic film. As much as I love Lugosi … and readers of I Know Why the Dogwoods Blush know that I truly love Lugosi … it was Chaney who had already been cast to play the evil vampire by Browning. Who knows what Chaney’s version would have been like?
It was also Chaney who befriended a young Boris Karloff and opened Hollywood’s doors for him, thus giving the young British star his opportunity when Frankenstein became available. And the Wolf Man? That was Chaney’s son, the remarkable Lon Chaney, Jr. Thus, it was Chaney Sr. who probably made more impact on the Universal Monsters than anyone else in Hollywood history.
A quiet soul by nature, Chaney valued his privacy highly. Granting few interviews and disliking the Hollywood social whirl, he much preferred spending quiet time with his family and a few close friends, often at his cabin in the Sierra Nevadas. This avoidance of publicity led him to be unfairly labeled by some as “strange and unfriendly.” Yet those who knew him best always described him as a loving husband, father, and friend.
In the late 1950s, interest in Chaney’s work soared. One great influence was the magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland (FMoF). Begun in 1958 and edited by devoted Chaney fan Forrest J. Ackerman, FMoF featured photographs and articles about Chaney on a regular basis. Each issue included at least one full page devoted to Chaney under the title, “Lon Chaney Shall Not Die.” This coverage introduced Chaney to new generations (including me … who bought or begged copies of FMoF with regularity in the 60s).
He’s been featured twice on official USPS stamps. He was one of ten 29¢ US commemorative postage stamps celebrating stars of the silent screen, issued 27 April 1994. He appeared again in 1997 as one of a set of five 32¢ US commemorative postage stamps celebrating “Famous Movie Monsters.” To no one’s surprise, he is shown as the title character in Phantom of the Opera (1925).
I grew up feeling as if I knew Lon Chaney, Sr. His influence is still very strong today in the look and feel of any character who seems strange, dark, dangerous or somehow “out of place.” As I tell stories of Deacon Void, you can bet that within the swirling fog and mist of the London East End, there is something else lurking in the darkness just beyond the range of your vision. And that “something else” is my old friend … Lon Chaney, Sr. But it goes even deeper than that! When I look at the face of Deacon Void … his real face … the one beneath the mask and bandages, I see the face of Lon Chaney, Sr. But here’s the rub … there are 1,000 faces to choose from, so which one is real and which ones are only illusion? We’ll find out soon enough!
The parts I play point out a moral. They show individuals who might have been different, if they had been given a different chance.
Lon Chaney, Sr. (1883-1930)
For more information on this amazing man and his still living legacy to film entertainment, please go to his official website: