The Legacy of “The Man of a Thousand Faces”
Lon Chaney Sr. is one of the most famous actors of the twentieth century, and rightly so. “The Man of a Thousand Faces”, Lon created characters that have remained fascinating and frightening throughout the years through the mastery of special effects makeup, striving for realism in even the most surreal characters. Many of his techniques remain in some form or another today, especially ones used in his most famous role, Eric, the Phantom of the Opera.
Chaney’s Eric was an extensive labor. False teeth, prosthetics of cotton and collodion on his cheeks, and adhesives to pull his nose back are the most obvious (edtech), and these are carried into today with the use of latex and foam rubber prosthetics, along with adhesives such as spirit gum.
However, even more than the prosthetics, Eric came to life through the use of makeup shading and highlights. To create Eric’s bulging eyes, for example, Chaney used shading around the eyes and on the upper lid, but used a highlight on his lower lid, causing the eyes to appear bigger (Day Gore, Richard). Cheeks, nostrils, and his grimace were similarly accentuated. Chaney himself said that the highlights and shadows were more important than the prosthetics (PBS). This was an even larger contribution to modern theater and film than his influence on prosthetics; namely, an understanding of how to use light in making a character. These shading techniques are in constant use today to create anything from old men to horrific monsters. Truly, Lon Chaney Sr. is the man of thousands of faces, even if they’re no longer his own.
Day Gore, Richard. “Lon Chaney”. SilentHollywood.com. 2009. Accessed 18 Nov. 2013. http://silenthollywood.com/lonchaney.html
“Lon Chaney-Biography”. Edtech.mcc.edu. Accessed 18 Nov. 2013 http://edtech.mcc.edu/~spainter/comw100/project1/bio.html
“Lon Chaney-The Man of a Thousand Faces”. American Masters Online. PBS.org. 30 Oct. 2002. Accessed 18 Nov. 2013. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/lon-chaney/the-man-of-a-thousand-faces/552/