Hollywood horror film historian David Del Valle reports on a very special screening of the Lon Chaney classic THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Ron Chaney is the great grandson of Lon Chaney Sr. and the grandson of Lon Chaney Jr. and it has long been one of his goals in life to honor the legacy these two men have left in the world of show business and especially the Horror genre. I first met Ron in the late 1990’s at Forrest J Ackerman’s house in Hollywood and then, later, we became good friends when I moved to Palm Springs where Ron maintains a residence with his wife and daughters. At the time I hosted a radio program down there and Ron was my special guest for nearly three hours we talked about both of his famous relatives and the amazing roles they created in their careers. We mainly focused on a book started by his grandfather Lon Chaney Jr. who was also dedicated to preserving his father’s legacy and that of his family.
A few weeks ago, Ron appeared for the 90th anniversary of his great grandfather’s most famous role that of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at the Egyptian theater as part of Beyond Fest, now in its third year at the American Cinematheque. Ron addressed a full house that afternoon dressed in period complete with a top hat. The print screened was a 16mm Blackhawk chosen so they could match the score to the live musicians Ron had been working with to try and replicate the experience audiences had back in 1925. After the screening, Ron, with the help of make-up wizard Casey Wong, recreated the Phantom makeup designs Lon Chaney Sr. had gone to such lengths to disfigure his own face with in that cinematic nightmare that still haunts the imagination of movie goers around the world.
I wish the print for Phantom had been better since the theater was packed with fans of all ages and some, of course, might not have had an opportunity to see a silent film on the big screen with live musicians. However, sadly, the print was terrible and actually stopped at least twice during the performance. I have seen such films as THE MAN WHO LAUGHS and BELOVED in a theater with the great late Gaylord Carter at the organ, so I do know the difference it can make to showcase these rare silent films with an audience and I’ve seen the joy these wonderful films can bring to the 21st Century.
The saving grace of this presentation was of course Ron Chaney himself, a very nice guy and unlike some of the other sons and daughters of horror stars of the past, very knowledgeable about both Chaney’s career’s and films. Lon Chaney Jr. began the initial work on the tome “Century of Chaney’s” and then Ron took up the slack writing in great detail about the life and times of both men so I am hopeful this proposed book, which has be decades in the making, will finally see the light of day in the next couple of years. Ron has also been busy trying to secure the rights to film a new version of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, the most famous of the lost silent films of the 20’s.
When I lived in Palm Springs in 2000, I performed for Ron in a presentation he called “Chaney’s Weekend House of Horrors” presenting different scenes with live actors from THE WOLF MAN and PHANTOM, a project he put together along with his brother Gary, who played the mummy. I played Sir John Talbot the Claude Rains role opposite Ron as Laurence Talbot/The Wolf Man. The late Jean Carson, who was an actress you may remember from I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, as well as the original THE TWILIGHT TV show, played the gypsy Maleva. The show was attended by Bela Lugosi Jr who also attended this most recent screening of the PHANTOM.
At the end of that troubled but historically important screening, Ron presented himself in full make up and invited the sold out audience to come to the lobby for photos creating a huge line of fans waiting to get their photo taken with Erik the Phantom. I am pleased to say that as long as Ron Chaney is around the legacy of a Century of Chaney’s is secure…
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