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The Religious Affiliation of
great American actor
Lon Chaney's family background was Christian and Chaney clearly expressed faith in God. Although in nearly every way Chaney lived an admirably Christian life, he was never an active church-goer and was never active in any religious denomination.
Chaney was born to deaf parents who were part of a family of leaders in the Colorado Springs deaf community. Chaney remained close to his family througout his life and he appears to have been a life-long supporter of the deaf community, although he himself was not deaf. Chaney was unusually private and reserved during his film career, never at the center of the Hollywood social scene. If he is to be said to have any culture or "religious" community outside of acting, it would be the deaf community.
From: Michael F. Blake, Lon Chaney: The Man Behind the Thousand Faces, The Vestral Press, Ltd.: Vestal, New York (1990), pages 6-9:
...Colorado Springs, Colorado. Lon Chaney was born there on April 1, 1883... Frank Chaney [Lon Chaney's father] arrived in this growing town in mid-1877. At the age of 25, he was a professional barber, and whatever his impressions of Colorado Springs were, he could only express them with his hands -- for Frank Chaney was deaf.
Blake, page 270:
Frank Chaney was born on April 3, 1852, in Carroll, Ohio, of English and French descent...
It was here [Colorado Springs] first met his future wife, Emma Kennedy.
Emma's parents, John and Mary Kennedy, were of Irish descent and born in Ohio; in 1855 they settled in Lawrence, Kansas, where Emma was born on October 13 of that year. It soon became apparent that their beloved daughter was deaf. No doubt spurred on by his daughter's disability, John Kennedy established the Mute Asylum in Baldwin City, Kansas in 1864, and served as the steward of the Olastic Deaf and Dumb Asylum from 1866 to 1870. From there, the Kennedy family moved to Denver, where John Kennedy met with the governor and members of the state legislature in an attempt to establish a school for the deaf. The Colorado State Legislature voted to establish the school Colorado Springs. The Colorado School for the Deaf opened in a frame building on April 8, 1874... Kennedy was elected superintendent and his wife was matron.
...By  the Kennedys had two other children... both of whom were also deaf... On December 5, 1977, Frank and Emma [Lon Chaney's parents] exchanged marriage vows in her parents' home.
The day before his [Lon Chaney's] funeral, hundreds of people filed by his silver and bronze casket at the Cunningham and O'Connor funeral home in downtown Los Angeles to pay their respects. Many mourners were from the Los Angeles deaf community. Frank McCloskey, the former Marine who Lon befriended, kept a vigil beside Lon's casket in his Marine dress uniform.
Blake, pages 21-22:
The funeral service was held on Thursday, August 28, in the funeral home chapel. Throughout the service, five members of theU. S. Marine Corps, in full dress uniform, stood at attention beside Lon's casket. Lieutenant-Commander H. S. Dyer, the chaplin of the Marine Corps base in San Diego, gave the eulogy. While there was no traditional religious service, several passages of I Corinthians were recited. Lon had once said that even though he was not religious in the church-going sense, he did have his own faith. "I believe that we desert God, but God never deserts us," he said.
In the spring of 1905, the company [the acting company Lon Chaney was part of] arrived in Oklahoma City where auditions were held at Delmar Gardens for some local chorus girls. One of the locals to audition was a 16-year-old girl with a particularly beautiful singing voice; her name was Cleva Creighton.
Lon Chaney's first marriage, to Cleva Creighton (also known as Frances Chaney), did not last. Cleva tried to kill herself and also was found to be in love with somebody else. After they were divorced in 1915, Lon Chaney almost never spoke of her.
Blake, page 85:
Most stories relating to Lon and Cleva's romance and subsequent marriae give the date of their wedding as May 31, 1905; however, according to city records, Lon and Cleva were marred on May 31, 1906 by Thomas H. Harper, pastor of the People's Temple Church. It seems unlikely that Lon and Cleva would have waited three months after the birth of their child to marry, since bearing a child out of wedlock was considered unthinkable at that time. Possibly the city records are incorrect, or the Chaneys were married while on tour and had a more formal ceremony the next year when they returned to Cleva's home town. However, another item supporting the city records appeared in the Daily Oklahoman on June 1, 1906: "A marriage permit was issued from the probate court yesterday to Lon Chaney and Miss Cleva Creighton, both residents of Oklahoma City."
Regardless of the actual marriage date, they left the touring company in December of 1905 and returned to Oklahoma City to prepare for the birth of their child.
After completing the film [The Light in the Dark (1922)], the Chaneys stopped off in Colorado Springs... While he was in town, Lon appeared at the deaf school his maternal grandparents had founded and gave a talk to the students in sign language.
Blake, page 180:
Even after he was a star, Chaney was often asked to applly makeup to other actors.. One other well-known personality Chaney helped was [Latter-day Saint/Mormon] boxing champion Jack Dempsey. In 1919, Dempsey signed with Pathe Pictures to star in a 15-part serial entitled Daredevil Jack. Lon portrayed the lead villain and also served as Dempsey's make-up artist. Lon did a complete "straight" make-up on him, including fixing his disfigured nose with putty, giving it a straight appearance. Unlike another make-up artist who applied make-up to Dempsey's face as if he were a boxing opponent, Demsey said Lon had a feather-like hand.
Blake, pages 184-185:
One make-up Lon was said to have done, but which few people ever got a chance to see, was his characterization of Jesus Christ. In his book The Faces of Hollywood, Clarence S. Bull, a still photographer at M-G-M Studios, describes Lon's private portrayal of Christ -- as well as its extraordinary outcome. During a photo session, Bull reportedly told Chaney that he had seen a vision of Christ in Lon's face while Lon was in his clown make-up for HE Who Gets Slapped. This inspired Chaney to pose for photographs made up as Jesus Christ. The finished prints were somehow lost. However, during the Christmas season of 1929, Bull and two other studio employees were making stops at homes of the needy with food and gifts when he saw the missing photo in one of the houses he visited. The young boy of the house told Clarence that his late father worked as a janitor in the studio and found the photo in the trash. Clarence said he meant to pass the story along to Lon, but never got the opportunity before Lon's death.
Blake, page 203:
After completing The Unknown on March 18, 1927, Lon went to the mountains for a vacation, but his stay was cut short when his father suffered a stroke just a few days after his 75th birthday. Frank Chaney died on April 11, 1927, as a result of complications from his stroke. The funeral at Forest Lawn Cemetary in Glendale was attended by a large contingent from the Los Angeles deaf community.
Blake, page 287:
It is true that talent and art are gifts from God. But it is what we do with those gifts that is important. How we use them, how we shape them -- that is the test. Lon Chaney not only used his gifts as an accomplished actor, but a compassionate human being.
Webpage created 17 July 2005. Last modified 17 July 2005.
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