Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)

122 mins | Biography | October 1957

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HISTORY

The opening credits begin with the following written statement: “On August 27, 1930, the entire motion picture industry suspended work to pay tribute to the memory of one of its great actors. This is his story.” The film’s opening and closing cast credits vary slightly. Although the film is generally faithful to the facts of Chaney's life, it did fictionalize some particulars. As depicted in the film, Lon Chaney (1883--1930) was born in Colorado to deaf parents, and learned from them the art of pantomime. Although not depicted in the film, Chaney's mother became ill when he was young, and remained bedridden throughout her life, prompting Chaney to quit school to care for her and his four siblings.
       In 1905, Chaney married Cleva Creighton, but according to modern sources, a few years into the marriage, Cleva turned to alcohol and then drank poison in a failed suicide attempt. Chaney then forbade Cleva any contact with their son Creighton, and later married Hazel Bennet Hastings. The actor began his film career at Universal studios, and became a star with his portrayal of a beggar who can dislocate his limbs in the 1919 film The Miracle Man (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ).
Chaney later becmae known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces," and his skill with makeup became so renowned that he eventually wrote the entry on makeup in the 1923 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Among myriad roles as marginalized and disfigured characters, Chaney's most famous parts include "Quasimodo" in Universal's 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame , directed by Wallace Worsely, and the title role in the 1925 film ... More Less

The opening credits begin with the following written statement: “On August 27, 1930, the entire motion picture industry suspended work to pay tribute to the memory of one of its great actors. This is his story.” The film’s opening and closing cast credits vary slightly. Although the film is generally faithful to the facts of Chaney's life, it did fictionalize some particulars. As depicted in the film, Lon Chaney (1883--1930) was born in Colorado to deaf parents, and learned from them the art of pantomime. Although not depicted in the film, Chaney's mother became ill when he was young, and remained bedridden throughout her life, prompting Chaney to quit school to care for her and his four siblings.
       In 1905, Chaney married Cleva Creighton, but according to modern sources, a few years into the marriage, Cleva turned to alcohol and then drank poison in a failed suicide attempt. Chaney then forbade Cleva any contact with their son Creighton, and later married Hazel Bennet Hastings. The actor began his film career at Universal studios, and became a star with his portrayal of a beggar who can dislocate his limbs in the 1919 film The Miracle Man (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ).
Chaney later becmae known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces," and his skill with makeup became so renowned that he eventually wrote the entry on makeup in the 1923 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Among myriad roles as marginalized and disfigured characters, Chaney's most famous parts include "Quasimodo" in Universal's 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame , directed by Wallace Worsely, and the title role in the 1925 film The Phantom of the Opera , directed by Rupert Julian (for both, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ). Scenes from several of Chaney's films were recreated for Man of a Thousand Faces.
       According to a May 1956 DV news item, publicist Ralph Wheelwright and James Cagney sold the story of Lon Chaney’s life to Universal. A Nov 1956 HR item states that Norma Shearer, widow of Irving Thalberg, spotted Robert J. Evans, a young sportswear executive, in Beverly Hills and, noting his resemblance to the mogul, brought him onto the project. Evans acted in several additional films and went on to become the head of production for Paramount Pictures in the early 1970s. Jeanne Cagney, who plays Chaney’s sister in the film, was Cagney’s real-life sister. An Oct 1956 HR article reported that Lon Chaney, Jr. wanted to appear in the picture, but the studio could not find a “suitable role” for him to play. The younger Chaney changed his first name from Creighton to Lon, Jr. in the 1930s, after appearing under his real name in many films.
       A 1998 Filmfax article, written by Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake, reported the following information about the production: Director Joseph Pevney originally was not interested in Man of a Thousand Faces , but accepted the job after producer Robert Arthur agreed to allow him to direct Tammy and the Bachelor ; Cagney personally recommended Dorothy Malone for the role of “Creva Creighton Chaney” and Roger Smith for the role of the adult “Creighton Chaney”; and the scenes featuring Chaney’s Beverly Hills home were shot on location in Toluca Lake, CA.
       HR news items add Larry Blake, Joe Neadham, Hugh Lawrence and Herbert Lytton to the cast, and modern sources add John George and George Mather. Their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add makeup man Jack Kevan to the crew. Man of a Thousand Faces received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
20 Jul 1957.
---
Box Office
27 Jul 1957.
---
Daily Variety
5 Apr 1956.
---
Daily Variety
16 Jul 57
p. 3.
Film Daily
16 Jul 57
p. 7.
Filmfax
Oct/Jan 1998
106-112, 138.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 1956
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 1956
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Oct 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Nov 1956
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Nov 1956
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1956
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1956
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Nov 1956
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 1956
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Dec 1956
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Apr 1957.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jul 57
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
20 Jul 57
p. 457.
New York Times
14 Aug 57
p. 21.
Variety
17 Jul 57
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
Mr. Cagney's ward
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Tech adv
Unit mgr
Scr supv
DETAILS
Release Date:
October 1957
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 13 August 1957
Los Angeles opening: 15 August 1957
Production Date:
early November--late December 1956
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures Co., inc.
Copyright Date:
14 August 1957
Copyright Number:
LP9085
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
122
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18537
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At Universal Studios on 27 August , 1930, mogul Irving Thalberg speaks to a packed house as part of a tribute to recently deceased actor Lon Chaney. Thalberg describes how Chaney’s unique background as the child of two deaf parents helped him achieve his great sensitivity: In Colorado Springs, Colorado, a young Lon regularly fights with the children who mock his loving parents. Years later, the still-feisty Lon is a great success as a vaudeville clown, but when his wife, singer Cleva Creighton, is fired from the show, Lon also quits. After revealing that she is pregnant, Cleva asks finally to be introduced to his family, and Lon agrees. In Colorado, however, Cleva discovers that the Chaneys are deaf and, fearing for her unborn child, turns away from Lon, declaring that she no longer wants the baby. They travel to San Francisco, where Lon starts work with the famous vaudeville comedy team of Clarence Kolb and Max Dill, and becomes friendly with their press agent, Clarence Locan. Although Lon is a hit at work, at home relations are strained with Cleva, who resents living in a house far from the city. Months later, Creighton is born, and when Cleva learns that she will need to wait a few weeks to know if he can hear, she spurns the baby. In response, Lon pulls away from her, but soon they both exult upon learning that Creighton can hear. Four years later, Lon is a doting father, performing skits for Creighton and welcoming him to the theater. There, dancer Hazel Bennet, who secretly loves Lon, cares for Creighton when Cleva is busy. One day, Cleva reveals that she is singing at ... +


At Universal Studios on 27 August , 1930, mogul Irving Thalberg speaks to a packed house as part of a tribute to recently deceased actor Lon Chaney. Thalberg describes how Chaney’s unique background as the child of two deaf parents helped him achieve his great sensitivity: In Colorado Springs, Colorado, a young Lon regularly fights with the children who mock his loving parents. Years later, the still-feisty Lon is a great success as a vaudeville clown, but when his wife, singer Cleva Creighton, is fired from the show, Lon also quits. After revealing that she is pregnant, Cleva asks finally to be introduced to his family, and Lon agrees. In Colorado, however, Cleva discovers that the Chaneys are deaf and, fearing for her unborn child, turns away from Lon, declaring that she no longer wants the baby. They travel to San Francisco, where Lon starts work with the famous vaudeville comedy team of Clarence Kolb and Max Dill, and becomes friendly with their press agent, Clarence Locan. Although Lon is a hit at work, at home relations are strained with Cleva, who resents living in a house far from the city. Months later, Creighton is born, and when Cleva learns that she will need to wait a few weeks to know if he can hear, she spurns the baby. In response, Lon pulls away from her, but soon they both exult upon learning that Creighton can hear. Four years later, Lon is a doting father, performing skits for Creighton and welcoming him to the theater. There, dancer Hazel Bennet, who secretly loves Lon, cares for Creighton when Cleva is busy. One day, Cleva reveals that she is singing at a nearby club, and after Lon objects, insists that she can no longer stand to be alone all day, with a husband who cannot forgive her for turning away from her newborn son. Lon concedes, but after Creighton suffers a stomachache at the theater one day, Lon insists that Cleva quit singing and take care of their son. In her dressing room, Lon sees William R. Darrow, Jr. present Cleva with a bouquet of flowers, and then informs the manager that she is off the program. Upon returning to his theater, he witnesses Hazel’s ex-husband, Carl Hastings, hit her and accuse her of having an affair with Lon. Lon punches him, but then discovers that he has no legs. As Lon comforts her, Cleva appears and, assuming the worst, races out. Three days later, after being rejected by Darrow, she reappears during Lon’s show, rushing onto the stage to drink a vial of poison in front of the audience. Cleva lives, but will no longer be able to sing, and Lon’s stage career is ruined by the scandal. He visits her in the hospital, and upon discovering that she has fled, vows that she will never again run out on Creighton. Lon files for divorce, but the judge declares that Creighton must remain a ward of the court until Lon can furnish a stable home environment for him. Crushed, Lon moves to Hollywood and tries to break into the movies. Eager to earn enough money to get Creighton back, Lon brings his makeup kit to the set each day and, after reading what type of actor is needed for the day’s shooting, transforms himself into that character. His disguises are so skillful that they fool even the visiting Clarence, who then invites Lon to try out for his new boss, producer George Loane Tucker. In the role of a deformed man who is healed in the movie The Miracle Man , Lon stuns the whole company, but after a reporter questions him about his family, Lon laments that he will never be able to work in peace. Inspired, Clarence decides to bill Lon as “the man of mystery,” and he is an instant hit. Three years later, Lon has steady work and a beautiful home, but the judge still will not grant him custody of Creighton. Clarence invites Hazel to visit, and gently points out that perhaps Lon needs a wife to provide a complete home. They marry, and soon Creighton, who believes his real mother is dead, comes to live with them. Over the years, Lon’s fame grows, his best role presenting itself when Thalberg invites him to Universal to develop the character of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame . The mogul, who knows Lon’s past, urges the actor to help the audience understand the heartbreaking story of a man who is different. While Lon is creating Quasimodo’s uncomfortable costume and makeup, he learns from a teenaged Creighton that a woman has been watching him at school, and realizes it must be Cleva. He finds and excoriates her, despite Hazel’s warning that Creighton will hate him if he later learns that his mother wanted to see him. Soon after, Creighton excitedly reveals that an agent has promised to represent him as an actor, under the name Lon Chaney, Jr., but Lon refuses to allow him to act. Four years later, Hazel spots Cleva outside their house and invites her in. Cleva insists on leaving before Creighton returns, but when Hazel tells Creighton of her visit, he leaves in a fury to live with his mother. Lon is despondent over Creighton’s departure, but refuses to apologize or visit him and throws all of his energy into his work, despite a persistent cough. Soon after, The Jazz Singer ushers in the era of the talking picture, and Lon works even harder to keep up with the new demands. One day, unknown to Lon, he is diagnosed with terminal bronchial cancer. Clarence informs Creighton, who meets his father at their fishing cabin and reconciles with him. After Lon finally collapses, he is brought to his deathbed, where he gives Creighton his makeup kit, with “Jr.” added to the name painted on the box. With Clarence and Hazel looking on, Creighton translates his father’s last wish, rendered in sign language, to gain their forgiveness. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.