Lon Chaney – Just in Time For Halloween 2019

I used a variety of software applications to put together this short video dedicated to the Man of 1,000 Faces, Lon Chaney (Sr.).  While I barely made a dent in reviewing Lon’s incredible number of faces, at least it’s a start. I used Photoshop to restore dingy old photos to a like-new B/W sheen, and then turn them into color images. Each finished color image was then sent to the Motion Portrait software demo to create the illusion of movement from still photos. As a finishing touch, I used Magix Audio Lab to clean up and restore the sound quality to a 1922 acoustical record of Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette,” more popularly known as Alfred Hitchcock’s theme from his TV series.


On the Set with Colin Clive

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Colin Clive (1900-1937) is forever immortalized as Henry Frankenstein in the first two Universal FRANKENSTEIN films. His real forte as an actor was playing angst-ridden neurotics – meaning that he was perfectly cast as Henry Frankenstein – and when portraying a driven nervous energy character he didn’t seem to be acting. Much has been written about Colin’s health issues including a tubercular condition and alcoholism that eventually brought him to an early death. But here we’d like to celebrate his unique persona and compelling voice that made him so unforgettable even though his career was relatively brief. As you scroll down to the images, listen to his rare “lost” radio performance of November 14, 1935. Colin is introduced by host Rudy Vallee:

Colin takes a tea break with co-star Valerie Hobson on the set of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). They seem to be in the middle of filming their first scene when Henry Frankenstein is brought back home on a stretcher and his fiance Elizabeth believes that he is dead:
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Universal publicists were eager to take a number of photos of Colin and Boris Karloff taking breaks on the BRIDE set:
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A playful Colin hugs Valerie Hobson somewhere on the backlot of Universal during the making of BRIDE during January-February 1935:
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Another BRIDE publicity shot – the Monster is supposed to hate fire but perhaps that doesn’t apply to lighting his cigarettes:
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When Colin worked for 20th Century Pictures in late 1934, the studio did a publicity shoot at his apartment at the Hollywood Tower located on Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles:
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At Warner Bros. filming THE KEY (1934), a story of the Irish Rebellion. To Colin’s right are director Michael Curtiz and the film’s star William Powell:
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Colin and girlfriend Iris Lancaster out on the town circa 1935. It is believed that Iris paid the expenses of his funeral. She worked as an actress in films until 1944 and thereafter vanished from public life:
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On the roof of the Hollywood Tower (still in operation today offering luxury apartments), Colin looks out over the LA landscape towards the “Hollywood” sign in the distance:
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If you are only familiar with Colin’s work in the FRANKENSTEIN films, you definitely will want to check out his performances in CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933) with Katharine Hepburn, MAD LOVE (1935) with Peter Lorre and Frances Drake, and HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (1937). with Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer.

On the Set Again with Karloff & Lugosi: A New Halloween Tribute

Last Halloween and thereafter, we received quite a number of hits on our tribute to those unsurpassed masters of the macabre, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Since there’s plenty more, we decided to salute our horrific heroes again for this Halloween. Admit it, we know that we’re in the presence of the masters when reciting a single line such as, “I never drink – wine,” from DRACULA (1931), or “I dislike to be touched,” from THE MUMMY (1932), can be more blood curdling than the goriest of chainsaw massacres.

On the DRACULA set, Bela Lugosi greets Horace Liveright who produced the Broadway play version that brought stardom to Lugosi. The film’s director Tod Browning stands to the left of Bela:

Boris Karloff has survived the rigors of makeup and costuming as he checks the script before filming a scene for THE MUMMY (1932):

But nothing was as arduous as sitting for hours as makeup artist Jack Pierce literally made a Monster out of Boris. Judging by the status, I’d say they were only at the beginning of the procedure:

By contrast, Bela Lugosi’s greatest makeup challenge as Dracula was to make himself look as handsome as possible:

The boys would vary their horror film appearances with an occasional non-horror movie where they still gave audiences the creeps. Here Bela Lugosi as a medium matches wits with Warner Oland as Charlie Chan in THE BLACK CAMEL (1931), the only Charlie Chan movie filmed on location in Hawaii. Bela and Warner are standing in the lobby of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel:

Boris Karloff plays an anti-Semitic Prussian nobleman whom George Arliss has outwitted in THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD (1934):

Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein shares a tea and cigarette break with Boris on the set of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935):

It was inevitable that Boris and Bela would be teamed, but the real surprise is that they worked very well together. The first and arguably the best of their co-starring vehicles is THE BLACK CAT (1934), a film that had nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe, and almost nothing to do with cats either:

Their third pairing is a personal favorite of your blogmeister, THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936), a stylish sci-fi yarn that seamlessly blended in the Gothic horror elements of their earlier films. Here Dr. Karloff has been poisoned by his discovery of Radium X, and appeals to Dr. Lugosi for help. You just know this will turn out badly:

These guys seem to be holding their own Halloween party. On the set of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) they are really celebrating Boris’ birthday – from left to right, Boris, director Rowland V. Lee, Bela, and Basil Rathbone:

Halloween Bonus! Hear Boris Karloff and John Carradine on INFORMATION PLEASE, a live and unrehearsed radio show exactly as broadcast on February 20, 1942:

On the Set with… Karloff and Lugosi: A Halloween Salute

There was something about Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi that was just plain creepy. Neither actor had to “do” anything other than merely show up. Even the occasional non-horror role they landed didn’t change each man’s fundamental ability to send chills down the spines of viewers by saying nothing more threatening than, “Good evening.”

Speaking of which, Bela seems to be inviting us to watch as he applies makeup for DRACULA (1931). He seems cordial enough – but we know better!

Since this is late 1930, it’s worth mentioning that many actors handled their own makeup chores because they had to do it themselves in the theater. During the 1930s, makeup artists began to assist film stars and eventually handled all the tasks:

Bela could even make smoking a cigar look sinister:

Boris Karloff often played roles that required arduous makeup sessions. Here Universal’s makeup wizard Jack Pierce turns Boris into the Frankenstein Monster for the very first time for FRANKENSTEIN (1931):

Filming the world’s first glimpse of Boris as the Monster:

Bela definitely had the romantic edge over Boris. Here Helen Chandler (Mina) seems to respond to the mysterious guest from Transylvania while Edward Van Sloan (Dr. Van Helsing) and David Manners (Jonathan Harker) appear suspicious, or perhaps they’re only jealous:

When mummies are restored to life and want to blend in with other folks, they remove their wrappings. But the passage of 3700 years can cause dry skin. Here Jack Pierce checks to make sure Boris’s parchment-like skin doesn’t come off in THE MUMMY (1932):

Bela seems so charming here – so why do his fellow cast members in DRACULA look terrified? From left to right, Bela, David Manners, Helen Chandler, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan:

Boris did get to do a romantic scene with Zita Johann in THE MUMMY, but it was cut out of the film:

Double the chills – by the mid 1930s Boris and Bela were teamed up in THE BLACK CAT (1934), THE RAVEN (1935), and one of my favorites, the sci-fi yarn, THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936) where they play perfectly respectable scientists – until the murders begin:

It’s difficult to believe these are the same two gents, joined by Basil Rathbone, as they celebrate Boris’s birthday on the set of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939):

Bela finally got to know what it felt like to sit for hours in Jack Pierce’s makeup chair while he is prepared for his role as Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN:

Jack Pierce at long last gets his comeuppance from Bela and Boris in this gag photo. That’s director Rowland V. Lee assisting in the skullduggery:


On the Set with …

Lon Chaney Sr. was the granddaddy of the Character Actor-Star in American films, and in many ways he single-handedly created the horror film genre. Lon is remembered mainly for two films where he played the grotesques of the title: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). In fact, almost all his other films were melodramas, bizarre to be sure, but not exactly horror films. Reclusive by nature, the studios publicized him as the “man of mystery.” Chaney worked in silent films before makeup artists entered the field and developed his own makeup so skillfully and could appear so different from film to film that he was eventually dubbed “The Man of A Thousand Faces.”

Lon labored in the vineyards of film-making from 1914 on playing in support of some well-remembered stars such as William S. Hart and many forgotten ones. Many of these early works are now lost including his breakthrough film, THE MIRACLE MAN (1919), where he played a phoney paralytic. Here is Chaney as himself (more or less) and in character:

In 1922, Lon appeared in a photo spread displaying his craft in conjunction with the film A BLIND BARGAIN (another lost one). Here he displays his makeup case that can be seen today at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History:

Lon tries out some fangs in planning the appearance of his “apeman” character in the film. Enlarging this photo shows the time on Chaney’s wrist watch as 2:50:

Lon combs out his apeman wig (the time is now almost 2:55):

Lon’s Asian characterizations are remarkable. This portrait, scanned directly from a negative, is from OUTSIDE THE LAW (1923), a film that not only survives but is available on dvd. This photo is striking in black & white but if color film were available, the photographer might have attempted a lantern-light effect such as this:

At a time when movie villains were typically handsome and well-dressed, Chaney displayed evil in characters usually portrayed sympathetically such as the disabled. Another photo scanned directly from a negative, here Lon plays a malevolent cripple in THE SHOCK (1923), another film available on dvd:

Chaney waits between camera setups in perhaps the most famous scene in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923). Note the two reflectors on the right used to redirect the sunlight to brighten up shadows on the buildings across the plaza:

A fine study of Quasimodo from THE HUNCHBACK. In the film Chaney seems unrecognizable under his makeup, but here you can almost see Lon’s face:

Circa 1923, Lon poses for some “mug shots” to demonstrate how he arranges his features and uses dental appliances to suggest a character:

Lon would apply adhesives to pull his skin taut but here he demonstrates how he developed his characterizations more informally:
Both photos above are scanned directly from negatives.

Lon wrings out his sleeve after emerging from the underground lagoon beneath the Paris Opera House in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). Chaney’s makeup design for Erik the Phantom was arduous enough but now it also had to be waterproof:

The Unused Ending – preview audiences rejected this finale where Erik dies of a broken heart and the film went back into production to create a new ending:

THE PHANTOM was not the only big hit Lon had in 1925:

Lon frequently teamed up with director Tod Browning to create a number of macabre masterpieces. One of their best collaborations is THE UNKNOWN (1927) where Chaney portrays a murderer posing as a bogus armless circus performer. To escape detection and impress a woman, he has his arms amputated!

In this publicity photo for THE UNKNOWN, Chaney demonstrates his “skill” at writing with his foot for actress Claire Windsor. Actually, Chaney was doubled in the film where he uses his feet as hands:

Lon plays three generations of an Asian family in Mr. Wu (1927). Here he takes a break from filming by conducting a student orchestra visiting the MGM studio:

Perhaps the most famous “lost” American film, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927) where Lon plays a vampire but only as a ruse (no harm giving away the ending since the film is lost) to expose a murderer:

Another direct negative scan, this is one of Lon’s lesser known Thousand Faces from the opening scene in WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928):

A restored lobby card: pictured are Lionel Barrymore, Lon, and Mary Nolan:

WEST OF ZANZIBAR plays South of the Border:

Another restored lobby card from WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1928) where Lon played it straight without resorting to one of his “faces”:

By popular request after we published this post – an original lobby card in original colors:

A detailed study of the subtle makeup used by Chaney to suggest an older character. This photo from LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH (1928) is scanned directly from a negative:

Yet another restored lobby card from 1929, Lon’s next-to-last silent film is the final collaboration between Chaney and director Tod Browning, and featured Lupe Velez and Lloyd Hughes:

A fanciful shot of Chaney as he might have looked in his 60s from his last silent film, a railroad drama titled THUNDER (1929). Alas, only a few minutes survive:

Lon Chaney made only one talkie, the very successful THE UNHOLY THREE (1930), which was a remake of his 1925 hit. Filmed during April 1930, the Man of a Thousand Faces spoke in five different voices, including as an old lady, a parrot, and a ventriloquist’s dummy pictured here in what turned out to be Lon’s final photo session:

Chaney’s death from lung cancer on August 26, 1930, shocked the world. He was only 47. The old story of how Universal wanted Lon for DRACULA (1931) has been discredited but then Universal didn’t want Bela Lugosi either. But that’s another story to be told in our next post (in anticipation of Halloween), On the Set with Bela Lugosi.

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