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
|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.