Lon Chaney was born April 1, 1883, in Colorado Springs to deaf parents. This contributed to his versatility as a silent film star as he became greatly skilled in communicating through pantomime, animated facial expression and sign language.
At 12, he worked as a prop boy at a local theater, studied the actors and began dreaming of the stage. Chaney served his apprenticeship in traveling companies for decades before emerging as a major figure in silent film. His mobile face and ability to pick up people’s mannerisms and entire personalities made him a wide-ranging character actor, but it was his mastery of makeup that led him into the macabre possibilities of horror films such as Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
See Chaney with his legs tied back in The Penalty (1920), playing a legless (and heartless) tyrannical factory boss; in The Unknown, (1927) he plays a carnival worker known as "The Armless Wonder," who throws knives with his feet in order to impress Joan Crawford:
Like any good movie monster, Chaney had the pathos and sympathy to create universal appeal. He died of throat cancer in 1930.
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