Cast & Crew
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.
Robert J. Evans
Phil Van Zandt
R. Wright Campbell
Leslie I. Carey
Ray De Camp
Russell A. Gausman
Ted J. Kent
Best Writing, Screenplay
Man of a Thousand Faces
Chaney (James Cagney) is the son of deaf-mute parents, so grew up communicating non-verbally through sign language, body language, and expression. After going into vaudeville as a dancer, juggler, and clown, he falls in love with and marries his assistant Cleva Creighton (Dorothy Malone). Cleva becomes hysterical upon meeting Chaney's parents, fearing that any child they have will be born deaf. She is cold and distant when their son Creighton is born, even after Chaney proves that the child is normal. Chaney becomes a popular performer in vaudeville, and the disturbed Cleva's resentment grows. She attempts suicide onstage, and eventually abandons the family altogether. Chaney divorces her and tries to break into motion pictures, but his lack of work causes the courts to place his son in a foster home. Determined to get more roles, Chaney brings his makeup kit to casting calls so that he can become any character type that is needed. His star rises in Hollywood as he creates a memorable series of film portrayals of tortured characters. His second wife Hazel (Jane Greer) is loving and supportive and Chaney's life seems tranquil, until Cleva returns to renew contact with her son.
James Cagney was acting in These Wilder Years in 1956 when storyman and friend Ralph Wheelwright mentioned to him that he had written a screen treatment based on the life of Lon Chaney. In the 1920s, Wheelwright had worked in the publicity department at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio which became Chaney's home base in his final years. (The very first film produced at MGM, in 1924, was Chaney's He Who Gets Slapped). Cagney expressed an immediate interest in the property, since he had been a Chaney fan in his youth. A deal was put together - not at MGM, but at Universal-International. Universal had released two of Chaney's greatest triumphs, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), and The Phantom of the Opera (1925), so the production venue was entirely appropriate. Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake, in his book A Thousand Faces, reports that James Cagney received a salary of $75,000 and a percentage of the profits for his role as Chaney. The production team came together quickly; producer Robert Arthur assigned R. Wright Campbell to write the script and contract director (and former actor) Joseph Pevney was given the directing job. Cagney brought in Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, who had written such Cagney vehicles as White Heat (1949) and Come Fill the Cup (1951), for some script polishes.
In what must have been a strong selling point in accepting the role, James Cagney was delighted that the depiction of Chaney's early vaudeville career afforded him the chance to perform some dance routines. In his book A Thousand Faces, author Blake quotes director Pevney, who said, "I can't tell you how many times we shot those two dance numbers until Jimmy was satisfied. He was almost like a child in his desire to dance in a scene." Cagney even wrote the music for these sequences. Jane Greer is effectively cast against type and serves as a perfect counterpoint to Malone's intense turn as Chaney's first wife. Pevney related that it was Cagney's suggestion to cast Malone in the Cleva role: "I thought she was a little too old for the part, but she turned out great. She turned Cleva into a real bitch. We had to cut a scene of her going into the dressing room to see her son before she attempts suicide. If we had left it in the picture, it made her role too sympathetic, and she was really the villain..." Among the smaller roles, Celia Lovsky stood out as Chaney's mother Emma.
In a another small but key part in the picture, producer Arthur was intent on depicting Universal production chief Irving Thalberg, and with good reason: Thalberg had become executive in charge of production at Universal at the age of 21, and was heavily involved in the making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. To obtain the rights to use the producer's name, the studio gave the final casting approval to Norma Shearer, Thalberg's widow. According to legend, Shearer spotted a young man by the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel whom she thought strongly resembled her late husband. He was an actor with very little experience named Robert Evans. While Evans' performance was widely criticized at the time for being "wooden," the casting now seems appropriate; Evans became a mogul himself as Paramount production chief in the 1970s.
One of the difficulties in producing a Hollywood biopic is recreating iconic movie images with which the audience is already familiar. Man of a Thousand Faces had the formidable challenge of depicting the famous makeup achievements of Chaney, and even the title of the film pointed to the importance of carrying them off. The resulting recreations, though, were seen by most as a failure. One of the reasons for their weakness is basic ¿ while Chaney had a thin, lean face, Cagney's was rounded and full, making Cagney an unlikely candidate for elaborate makeup in the first place. The movie's recreations also point out the changes that had occurred in that particular field by the late 1950s. At that time Bud Westmore was head of the Universal makeup department, having replaced Jack Pierce in 1946. Pierce created the look of the classic Universal monsters such as the Wolfman, the Mummy and Frankenstein's Monster, using a laborious "built-up" method requiring cotton and collodion. Chaney had worked with those materials too, but he was also able to use more drastic (and sometimes painful) methods to distort his features with glues, adhesives, and monofilament lines. With these, he was able to distend the corners of his mouth or bulge his eyes or flatten his nose or ears. Westmore's methods were entirely different. With his assistant Jack Kevan, Westmore fashioned large foam rubber appliances that covered Cagney's entire face, except for the mouth and eyes. While these masks were much easier and faster to apply, they resulted in clumsy, bulky makeups with none of the power or naturalism of Chaney's original creations. As John McCabe remarked in his biography Cagney, "one cannot create anything very frightening out of a cherubic countenance, which Cagney's basically was."
Man of a Thousand Faces had three successful previews, and premiered on August 13, 1957. It was one of Universal's biggest hits of the year, earning more than $2.4 million. Though several of the performances were widely praised, the only Oscar® nomination the film earned was for Best Original Screenplay. Many reviews noted the film's emphasis on melodrama, but most had high praise for Cagney's performance. In The New York Times Bosley Crowther wrote, "It may not be Chaney exactly that Mr. Cagney gives us in this film, but it is a person of reasonable resemblance and comparable complexity....There is an abundance of tenderness, sensitivity and pride in his creation of the driven actor. This is the heart of the film. Joseph Pevney's direction has a curious affection for cliches, but Mr. Cagney rises above it. He etches a personality."
Producer: Robert Arthur
Director: Joseph Pevney
Screenplay: R. Wright Campbell, Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts, based on a story by Ralph Wheelwright
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Film Editing: Ted J. Kent
Music: Frank Skinner
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Eric Orbom
Costume Design: Bill Thomas
Makeup: Bud Westmore
Cast: James Cagney (Lon Chaney), Dorothy Malone (Cleva Creighton), Jane Greer (Hazel Bennett Chaney), Jim Backus (Clarence Locan), Robert Evans (Irving Thalberg), Celia Lovsky (Mrs. Chaney), Jack Albertson (Dr. Shields), Nolan Leary (Pa Chaney), Roger Smith (Creighton Chaney).
BW-122m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by John M. Miller
Man of a Thousand Faces
This film starring James Cagney as Lon Chaney shows Chaney making a scene in Miracle Man, The (1919). That film was based on a novel by Frank L. Packard and its stage adaptation by George M. Cohan, who acted in it himself (not in the same part as Chaney, though). And in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Cagney had played Cohan.
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 Daily Variety news item, publicist Ralph Wheelwright and James Cagney sold the story of Lon Chaney's life to Universal. A November 1956 Hollywood Reporter 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 October 1956 Hollywood Reporter 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.
Hollywood Reporter 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.
Released in United States 1998
Released in United States Fall October 1957
Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.)
Released in United States Fall October 1957