Lon Chaney: The Hunchback and the Phantom - A Master of Unrequited Love and Horror

Updated on July 8, 2018

The Beginning

Leonidas Chaney was born April 1st, 1883. Lon, his stage name, was born to deaf parents. Learning how to communicate with them developed his skills of pantomiming and acting. Finding his talent lucrative, Lon joined vaudevilles and began perfecting his acting skills. His travels eventually landed him in California.

It was here that he started his second career as a film actor. He became famous for his ability to create human monsters, and his two most famous roles were The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, which were both silent films. He portrayed torture souls with macabre physical defects.

His talent to turn himself into a combination of likable grotesqueness was rare. He was labeled “A Man of a Thousand Faces.” What is even more impressive about his situation is in the 1920’s when he was creating the characters there were no makeup artists like today. Lon Chaney was his own makeup artist. He created the defects on himself.

Most actors disguised themselves with fake mustaches, wigs, or beards. Chaney’s ability to change his physical appearance caught the eye of directors. In 1920, he was cast in the movie Outside the Law where he played two characters. One of the characters was killed by his other character in a shootout.

Quasimodo (Lon Chaney) with Esmeralda
Quasimodo (Lon Chaney) with Esmeralda | Source

The Hunchback

The love story of Quasimodo the Hunchback intertwined with terror and drama peeked everyone’s curiosity and tugged at their heartstrings. The picture turned out to be one of the most profitable silent movies. It made what would be equivalent to 3 ½ million dollars in today’s money.

He achieved the deformities by using wax to build up portions of the face and paint and makeup to create shadows and marks.

The re-creation of Notre Dame and the cathedral was another monumental task for the time period.

The Movie Set

The Cathedral
The Cathedral | Source

The Real Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral | Source

The Gallery of Kings and Portals

Along with the cathedral, the director wanted to include the “Gallery of Kings.” The Kings are 35 statues that are ten feet tall. See the video clip below where he is climbing the set version of the Gallery of Kings.

The Set

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Movie Set 1923
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Movie Set 1923 | Source

The Real Gallery of Kings and Portal

Notre Dame
Notre Dame | Source

What is Left

The original film was made of cellulose nitrate. It wore out and disintegrated. Some of the film was disposed of by the studio. The film that is left is not the original but copies the studio made for people to view at their homes. There are no known original prints or negatives. The public domain version was recreated with the home quality prints. The advancement in film restoration has helped with the quality. It became public domain in 1951.


Here is a copy of the entire film with Lon climbing next to the Gallery of Kings. If you don't have time to watch the whole production, watch the last two minutes. You get to see the makeup and how the acting, costumes, and music all intertwine.

For Comparison

For example, to show how incredible Lon Cheney’s makeup skills were for the time, Anthony Quinn played the hunchback in 1956, 33 years later. His facial features were achieved with latex, makeup, and makeup artist. Watch this short clip below.

The Phantom of The Opera

Lon Cheney was involved in another unrequited love masterpiece. He played the phantom in 1925. Again, Cheney was his own makeup artist. To achieve the ghostly effects he used black paint around his eyes and nostril openings, which made him look like a living skeleton. His nose was turned up with tape and wire, which flared his nostrils even more. The rotten teeth are a false set created for him. Along with his pale skin and hair that appears to be plucked thin, Cheney’s appearance scared the audiences as you can imagine from the clip below.

Get to feel what the audience felt, and see what they saw for the first time. Watch The Unmasking with music.


The Unmasking

Or when you have time you can watch the entire movie below. This version of the film is in the public domain.

The Life and Legend

Lon Cheney had a way of making you feel painful love and fear at the same time. All this was done with acting, music, and stage.

Cheney passed away in the fall of 1930 from a throat hemorrhage. His throat became infected when he inhaled an artificial snowflake during the filming of The Unholy 3. It was the only picture that he spoke in. He was also in the silent version of the movie.

In the previous year, he developed lung cancer, which had caused pneumonia and other infections. He was 46 years old at the time of his death.

His Voice Finally Heard

Questions & Answers

    Are You A Fan of Silent Films?

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://reelrundown.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)