Lon Chaney (1883-1930), better known in the industry as the "Man of 1,000 Faces," was a silent film actor who pioneered cosmetic artistry and brought to life on the screen the disfigured yet sympathetic characters of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and in his signature role, the Phantom of the Opera. He also worked as a screenwriter and director.
Leonidas Frank Chaney was born in Colorado Springs, Colo., to deaf parents. (His maternal grandfather founded what is now the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs and the place where Chaney's parents met.) Growing up in a deaf household may have spurred his early skills in pantomime and Chaney began a stage career at age 19 in 1902.
Chaney joined the theater and began touring with various vaudeville acts. In 1905, he married a young singer, Cleva Creighton, a union which produced his actor son, Creighton (Lon Chaney Jr. on-screen). The marriage ended in divorce following a violent suicide attempt by Cleva at a Los Angeles theater. She survived but the chemical she swallowed destroyed her voice. The scandal ejected Chaney from the theater.
He landed at Universal Studios where he built his prowess in make-up and took on several bit parts. It would be 1919's "The Miracle Man" and his role as the frog which gave Chaney his first fame for both his acting and cosmetic skills. The film grossed more than $2 million. Chaney moved on to MGM during the last five years of his life, generating one of his most famous roles outside the horror genre as a hard-nosed drill sergeant in 1926's "Tell It to the Marines."
His final role in 1930 was his first "talkie." "The Unholy Three" was a remake of one of his earlier movies and the augment of sound gave Chaney one final attempt to illustrate his extreme versatility: the incredible range of his voice. Chaney provided the voices of five characters in the movie.
Less than two months after the release of the film, the 47-year-old Chaney died of lung cancer.