Local 706 - The Artisan

Fall 2023

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Page 48 of 51

THE ARTISAN FALL 2023 • 47 For the wart on the eye, Chaney taped his right eye closed with adhesive tape and covered the area with nose putty. Crepe-wool hair was used for the bushy eyebrows, and Zan, the leading theatrical wigmaker in Los Angeles, created his wig. Chaney altered the tip of his nose with nose putty, which was further accentuated by the use of cigar holder ends placed in the nostrils to give a wider appearance. When it came to the distorted teeth, Chaney turned to his dentist, James L. Howard, who had made various false teeth for the actor's other roles. Howard made an upper plate to fit over Chaney's own teeth, but it did not cover the molars. For the lower jaw, Howard fitted a plate over the natural teeth and extend well down on the sides of the mouth facing the cheek, which forced the actor's cheeks down half an inch. The dentist did not place any teeth in the lower plate, but cut out the front portion of the plate, letting Chaney's natural lower front teeth show through. Chaney loved this effect, but was concerned how he could hold the lower contraption in his mouth. To solve that headache, Howard made good use of two pieces of an alarm clock spring, each about two inches long. He vulcanized one end of each spring to the upper plate in the molar regions, while letting the lower ends slant down and rest on the top ridges of the lower appliance. This caused strong pressure on the lower plate, permitting the mouth to open and close, while at the same time, forcing the muscles of the cheeks down. Throughout the years, it has been erroneously claimed that to achieve the appearance of a hunchback, Chaney wore a 70-pound rubber hump. His co-star in the film, Patsy Ruth Miller, adamantly stated the hump was made of plaster and weighed no more than 20 pounds. Chaney designed a leather harness that held the plaster hump on his back, which also prevented him from standing erect. This harness fitted around his waist (like a belt), with straps over his shoulders that attached to the front part of the belt, thus keeping him in a hunched-over position. (During production, Chaney had a stool with arms on it that would allow him to rest between scenes.) For the famous whipping wheel sequence, Chaney had a shirt made out of rubber which allowed him to appear bare-chested. Crepe-wool hair was applied to hide the front seam and collar of the shirt. Chaney's make-up showed the critics and movie audience just how effective make-up could be in creating a character. With the exception of John Barrymore in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) and Chaney's dual role as the doctor and the half-ape, half-man in A Blind Bargain (1922), movie audiences at that time were unaware how make-up could alter a person's appearance. While Chaney's facial make-up and performance stunned critics and audiences, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a major step in cinema history. Universal Studios was known primarily for producing Westerns, melodramas and comedies for the second-tier theaters across the country. Irving Thalberg, who at age 20 was appointed head of production at Universal, strongly believed that the studio needed to produce a prestige picture to compete with other major studios. Lon Chaney had optioned the film rights to Hugo's novel, and his attempt to secure financing to independently produce the project was unsuccessful. Thalberg, however, realized this was Universal's chance to produce an epic and convinced studio head Carl Laemmle to greenlight the film with a $1.25 million budget, one of the first films of the silent era with such a large allocation. Building the massive Medieval Paris set involved an army of craftsmen, which covered nearly 19 acres on the studio back lot. (Universal's "Earthquake" studio tour attraction stands on the former set's location.) Production took nearly six months (December 1922 to June 1923), with three months devoted to night work that required every studio light in Hollywood to illuminate the massive set. With such a vast area, director Wallace Worsley used the Western Electric Public Address System to relay directions to the large number of extras (often numbering well over 1,500), as well as crew members. The Hunchback of Notre Dame premiered at the Astor Theatre in New York City on September 6, 1923. Photoplay magazine praised the film as "a superb and remarkably impressive spectacle... His [Chaney] performance transcends anything he has ever done, both in his make-up and in his spiritual realization of the character." The New York Times noted it "is a film which people are going to talk about. Chaney wanted to make his work count, and he has gone to great pains and borne no end of discomfort to give a realistic and faithful performance of the hunchback of his conception." The trade paper Variety held a different opinion, calling the film a "two-hour nightmare... Mr. Chaney's performance as a performance entitles him to starring honors—it makes him evermore on screen, but his make-up as the Hunchback is propaganda for the wets." (The term 'wets' was slang for those who opposed prohibition.) While the trade paper felt the film could "become a detriment to the box office," The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a major success at the box office, earning well over $3.5 million dollars in 1923 and 1924 (roughly $61,233,625 in 2023 dollars), not counting subsequent re-releases throughout the 1920s. Because of his ability at make-up, Chaney showed movie audiences just how important make-up was in creating a unique character. It was also a precursor for other versions, notably Charles Laughton's version in 1939. Not bad for a hunchback who just turned 100. • Michael F. Blake is a retired journeyman make-up artist and author of three books on Lon Chaney.

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