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Sesquicentennial Minute: Hollywood’s ‘Man Of A Thousand Faces’ was from Colorado Springs

Image: Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum
Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum
Image: Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- He was famously dubbed the “man of a thousand faces." He had more acting credits than Charlie Chaplin. He was born and raised in Colorado Springs.

It was nearly 130 years ago when a young boy named Leonidas “Lon” Chaney dropped out of Lincoln Elementary to take care of his sick mother. Little did he know, that decision would lead him to one of the most successful careers in early Hollywood.

Chaney was one of the world’s first silent film stars. He credited his acting ability with how he had to communicate with his deaf parents.

"Both his parents were deaf. His mother was born deaf. And his father became deaf as a result of a childhood illness. And his grandfather, Mr. Kennedy, actually helped found the Colorado School For The Deaf And The Blind here in Colorado Springs," said Leah Witherow, curator of the Pioneers Museum.

From a young age, Lon learned to pantomime with a passion, a skill that came in handy while communicating with his mother and while on the stage.

"He would share with her what was going on in Colorado Springs, what was going on with the family, what was going on in the neighborhood, and as he retold her the stories, he began to pantomime, to add extra enthusiasm and make it more interesting for her," said Witherow.

Lon took a job as a stagehand at the Colorado Springs Opera House, joined a traveling group of actors before eventually making it to Hollywood where he would star in more than 160 movies, including The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and Phantom Of The Opera in the 1920s.

Sesquicentennial Minute is a summer series produced by KRDO's Josh Helmuth leading up to Colorado Springs' 150th birthday this July 31, 2021.

Josh Helmuth

Josh is an anchor for Good Morning Colorado. Learn more about Josh here.

Comments

1 Comment

  1. “And his grandfather, Mr. Kennedy, actually helped found the Colorado School For The Deaf And The Blind here in Colorado Springs”
    .
    Not explained in the story is that Mr. Kennedy was Chaney’s maternal grandfather (his mother was Emma A. Kennedy). It was Mr. Kennedy’s founding of the D&B School that resulted Emma meeting and marrying Frank H. Chaney.

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