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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Where A Great Actor Drew The Line ...

Once Again --- Lon Chaney Shall Not Die!

What we know of the great Lon Chaney sure wasn't gleaned from him. This was a silent man in more ways than characters he created on screen. Like any working stiff, he punched a time clock and quit at finish of day's work, not at all like fellow stars who ran the race 24/7. Chaney had more in common with trash collectors and sewer workers than glitter gods he led in popularity, but not temperament. This may be reason why trash collectors and sewer workers loved Lon like no other picture player. They knew he spoke for them, even in guise of freaks and monsters. Chaney disdained interviews but was evidently civil to writers just doing their job on film sets. One of these was Inez Wallace, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's woman on the scene in Hollywood. She won the trust of Hollywood by telling mostly truth and keeping her word re off-record exchanges. Wallace sat with Chaney during idle time between takes, in plain conversation rather than interview mode. He spoke, she listened, both understanding talk wouldn't go beyond studio walls. She kept the promise so long as he lived, finally gave it up in a tribute column printed 9/7/30 in the Plain-Dealer. I came across the page ("Women's Magazine and Amusement Section") during scan of theatre ads. It sure reads to me like Chaney in more-less his own words, these a seldom find then or now.

The Well-Traveled Inez Wallace Received by India Hosts

We don't learn what year their conversation took place, or which film Chaney was working on when they met, but here's philosophy in part as expressed by him to her: "I can't see any sense in publicity. Either the public likes you or they don't," this a stand we know Chaney took, even as he did cooperate in publicity, a vital if onerous aspect of merchandising any product, movies and their stars no different from whatever sold retail. Lon tells of how sick he got of "ham actors" during struggle days (as property man), always bragging and laden with press clippings. "I made up my mind that if I ever did have any luck, I was going to soft-pedal the self-advertising --- because I learned that the better actor a man was, the less he talked about it." That's a quote characteristic of Chaney. I recall similar words spoken later by Humphrey Bogart, he and Lon hewing to similar outlook, with similar result in terms of accomplishment and lasting value of work.

Chaney Paying Health Penalty for Starring in The Penalty

Chaney deplored actors "selling their souls for publicity," forgetting about their own families because they were "so obsessed with what other actors would think about them." Chaney spoke of the "terrific fight" he had in keeping his home life private, that when his studio day is through, "I'M THROUGH --- and I don't mean perhaps." What intrigued me most about the Chaney-Wallace discussion was reference to chronic back pain Lon had experienced since The Penalty in 1920. "It was a great part, but I wish I'd never played it," said Chaney, his doctor now forbidding roles that required twisting or binding of body parts. "It's going to be tough on me to give up the contortions because they are half of my success." Chaney leaves Wallace with impression that he may have to quit the screen because of his back. She ends her article and posthumously published interview with speculation that Chaney " ... really gave his life for his art, as he has never been well since this trouble with his back began ..." One more long-ago conversation to add to Lon lore, if deepening his mystery rather than resolving it, but like any LC speculation, welcome at Greenbriar.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Boris Karloff hitchhiking was given a lift by Lon Chaney who told him the key to success was to wait for the part no one else wanted and then to give it your all. And, of course, the part of the Creature/Monster in FRANKENSTEIN was a Lon Chaney part if ever there was one. Thank God for Forrest J Ackerman, James Warren and FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. No, Lon Chaney shall not die. The mantle passed from Forry to us and through us to generations untold. Ditto Lugosi lives Eternal, Karloff The Dark Prince, Lon Jr., Peter Lorre, Lord High Master of all that is Sinister...

I have been called a shameless, self-promoter by those who have never and will never like my work. That they don't and won't is fine by me as exceptional people have liked and do like my work. I just post the praise to annoy then that don't. I understand fully where Chaney is coming from here. Often I am told I am a legend. I say, "Yes and that and fifty dollars will buy a case of beer." Some say, "What do you mean by that?" I reply if I tell you you won't understand it. Chaney got it, that is clear. Small wonder he wanted his son to stay out of acting.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Chaney's death is one of the greatest tragedies in film history.

After seeing the remake of London After Midnight, Uncle Dave said, "The difference between Lon Chaney and Lionel Barrymore is 999 faces."

7:59 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

The James Cagney biopic of Lon Chaney has Lon living in a cabin in the woods towards the end of his life. You can hike to the actual cabin located near Big Pine in the High Sierras. One day I hope to make that hike. It doesn't have a road running alongside the way the movie showed it.
There's a lot of websites out there with info and pictures. Here's one:
If you ever make it to Big Pine on Hwy 395, make sure you stop at Lone Pine to check out the Alabama Hills where many western films & TV shows were filmed.

9:19 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks for this info and the link. I've seen pictures of the cabin, and understood it was still there. That would be a neat spot to visit.

10:25 AM  

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