Lon Chaney, nicknamed “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” was an American actor during the age of silent films. He was one of the most versatile and powerful actors of early cinema. He is best remembered for his characterizations of tortured, often grotesque and afflicted characters, and his groundbreaking artistry with film makeup.
Lon Chaney was born Leonidas Frank Chaney in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Frank H. Chaney and Emma Alice Kennedy; his father had mostly English and some French ancestry, and his mother was of Irish descent. Both of Chaney’s parents were deaf, and as a child of deaf adults Chaney became skilled in pantomime. He entered a stage career in 1902, and began traveling with popular Vaudeville and theater acts. In 1905, he met and married 16-year-old singer Cleva Creighton and in 1906, their first child and only son, Creighton Chaney was born. The Chaneys continued touring, settling in California in 1910.
Marital troubles developed and in April 1913, Cleva went to the Majestic Theater in downtown Los Angeles, where Lon was managing the Kolb and Dill show, and attempted suicide by swallowing mercury bichloride. The suicide attempt failed and ruined her singing career; the ensuing scandal and divorce forced Chaney out of the theater and into film.
The time spent there is not clearly known, but between the years 1912 and 1917, Chaney worked under contract for Universal Studios doing bit or character parts. His skill with makeup gained him many parts in the highly competitive casting atmosphere. During this time, Chaney befriended the husband-wife director team of Joe De Grasse and Ida May Park, who gave him substantial roles in their pictures, and further encouraged him to play macabre characters.