Making Monsters:
Spotlight on Hollywood's
Makeup Artists
Lon Chaney

By William Henry Pratt

 He was called The Man of a 1,000 Faces and
that he was.  Long before horror icons such as Robert
Englund, Vincent Price and even before Bela Lugosi
and Boris Karloff, there was the very first master of
terror Lon Chaney.  But as good as he was as an
amazing actor, Chaney was also as well known for the
characters that he turned himself into from film to film.  
For not only was he the very first horror star but he was
his very own make-up artist as well.  He was the silent
cinema’s greatest asset as he was the Rick Baker of
his time.

 Born Leonidas Frank Chaney on April 1 1883, the young actor displayed an
amazing gift for early stage make-up.  Chaney seemed to be able to turn himself
into almost anything at will and this shows so to the point with two of his most
notable roles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923 and The Phantom of The
Opera 1925.  As the disfigured bell tower ringer Quasimodo, Chaney was at his
very best as an actor and make-up artist.  With his face contorted, a skin tight
rubber costume outfitted with real animal hair and a large rubber hump on his
back said to weigh 70 pounds, Chaney performed.  He wore a leather harness to
keep him from standing fully up-right and one of his eyes covered making him
appear as though his one eye was off center and mishapened.

 Chaney brought the classic Victor Hugo novels most known character to life in a
way that to this day...has never been matched.  With no voice or sound, color or
any of today's movie perks, Chaney's Quasimodo was a sad and lost creature
who only wanted to be loved and be treated like a human being.  The scene with
him atop the round platform, chained and beaten is one that stands out in all of
cinema.  On the flip side of Quasimodo was Eric, the burn victim, who dwells
beneath the Paris Opera House who falls for the lovely Christine and will stop at
nothing to have her.  Again Chaney's gift for make-up turned himself into The
Phantom of The Opera, a frightful human monster unlike anything the world had
seen up until that point.....maybe even today.

 As the Phantom, Chaney use things stuffed into his cheeks to raise them up and
a very thin strip of fish skin glued to his nose to pull it back giving him the look of a
living skull.  He also put something into the front of his nose to flair out his nostrils
as well.  Within his mouth was a set of primitive hand made false teeth worn over
his own with small hooks to pull back his lips a little giving the actor a sick and
demonic grin.  In the end, out of endless remakes it is Lon Chaney's Hunchback
and Phantom that are most remembered.

 The very amount of pain and torture the man put himself through for his craft
was nothing less amazing.  You have to this day and time of early
film making there were no studio make-up artists.  An actor did all their own make-
up to create the characters they were to play.  There were no latex modes as in
today, no CGI, no make-up nothing.  Just an actor..his role and the
thing he was to turn himself into with the most unlikely of things.  Clear tape to pull
back eyes as with Chaney to play the Chinese Mr. Wu.  Pulling his legs back with
straps to look as though his legs were missing and walked on his knees in The
Penalty.  Also strapping down his arms as though he had none in The Unknown,
Chaney made use of all and any device to make himself into something other than
himself.  By the time he ended filming The Unknown, all the self abuse was taking
its toll on the actor and was giving him great back pain.

 In all, this amazing actor and early make-up wizard filmed 150 movies, 130 of
them before he even played his two most famous creations Phantom and
Hunchback.  He was to play the title role of Dracula in Universal's 1931 film but
before filming could begin Chaney died of lung cancer.  Today, even 80 years
after his death, the film world and most noteable the horror world all know of Lon
Chaney.....the man of 1,000 Faces and that he was.