Lon Chaney Sr. was born 1 April 1883 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Both his parents were deaf, and because of this he learned pantomime. He started traveling with popular Vaudeville acts in 1902. In 1905 he met and married singer Cleva Creighton, and the following year they had their first only son, Lon Chaney Jr.
The three of them moved and settled in California. In April 1913, marital problems started and one day Cleva went to the theatre where Lon was managing a show, and attempted suicide. The attempt failed, and the ensuing scandal and divorce forced Lon out of the theatre and into the motion picture industry.
From 1912 – 1917, Lon was under contract with Universal Pictures, doing bit parts. His skills with makeup earned him many parts. In 1915, he married Hazel Hastings, a former colleague from the show he ran before.
By 1917, Lon Chaney was a very well-known actor, though his salary didn’t reflect this. When he asked for a raise, studio executive William Sistrom replied, “You’ll never be worth more than one hundred dollars a week.”
Chaney appeared in 14 films between 1917 and 1919, all of them he starred alongside with Dorothy Phillips, and William Stowell as a team, and usually directed by husband/wife team Joe De Grasse and Ida May Park. This lasted until 24 November 1919, when Stowell was in the caboose of a train when it was hit by the locomotive from another train, killing him instantly.
Later that year, Chaney would star as “The Frog” in “The Frog” in George Loane Tucker‘s The Miracle Man. Not only did it show how talented he was as an actor, but also his skill with makeup. He quickly became one of America’s favourite character actors. starring in a number of films, and earning the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Faces”. In 1923, Chaney would play the tole of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and in 1925 he played Erik (or “The Phantom”) in The Phantom of the Opera, two of the most grotesquely deformed characters in film history. Both were done with Chaney’s skills with makeup.
In late 1929, he was working on a film called Thunder when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. On 26 August 1930, Lon Chaney died.
From the time he was a child, Lon Chaney Jr. had to work hard to get out from under his father’s shadow, who always discouraged him going into show business. It wasn’t until his father died in 1930 that Jr. started his acting career in an uncredited roll in a 1933 film titled Girl Crazy. In 1939, he starred in Of Mice and Men. When he starred in One Million B. C., Jr. began being viewed as a character actor in the same league as his father.
He starred in a long list of films over the years, until he was doing low budget films and making guest appearances on The Monkees.
Lan Chaney Jr. died on throat cancer on 12 July 1973.
Lon Chaney Sr. and Jr. are survived by sr.s great-grandson and Jr.’s grandson, Ron Chaney, who rums Chaney Entertainment, and attends film conventions and talks about his great-grandfather’s and grandfather’s careers.