How do we inspire our children to dream, to work hard to overcome adversity and achieve greatness?
One way is to hold up as inspiration those who grew up down the street and went on to win acclaim. We erect statues and put their names on parks, boulevards and buildings.
It’s time Colorado Springs so honors Lon Chaney, one of the greatest stars of the silent movie era and a pioneer in the use of makeup.
Sure, the tiny theater in the City Auditorium was named for Chaney in 1986. But he deserves much more.
A persuasive case is made by Michael Blake, a Hollywood actor, makeup artist and author of several biographies on Chaney.
Chaney’s parents, Frank and Emma, were deaf and mute and quite poor.
Blake’s research identified nine rental houses where the family lived before Chaney left to pursue acting.
Frank Chaney was known as “Dummy the Barber,” Blake said. It was an affectionate nickname, he said, given him by his millionaire clients who included Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer and gold miner/philanthropist Winfield Scott Stratton.
Emma was a teacher at the School for the Deaf and the Blind, which her father Jonathan Kennedy founded.
She suffered from inflammatory rheumatism, Blake said, forcing Chaney to drop out of school in fourth grade to care for her.
“She was basically a shut-in,” Blake said. “She couldn’t hear or speak. Lon was her eyes to the outside world.”
While growing up, Chaney worked many jobs, including as a carpet-layer, wallpaper hanger, tour guide on Pikes Peak and prop boy at the Colorado Springs Opera House, where his brother was the manager.
He made his acting debut there in 1902 and soon joined a touring company. He eventually settled in California and went on to star in 80 silent films. But he returned many times to visit family and friends.
“This guy was a big movie star,” Blake said. “He deserves a statue, a park, a big theater, a film festival.”
I agree. We need to give our kids inspirational role models. We need to show them they can achieve great things in whatever career they choose, whether it’s public service, science, education, sports or the arts.
Lon Chaney shows them they can be the poor son of “Dummy the Barber,” a dropout caretaker for their invalid mother, and still become a huge star.
And they can be from Colorado Springs!
Heck, we all ought to be celebrating Chaney. He’s at least as worthy as Hank the Cowboy, for crying out loud!
I vote for a life-size bronze outside the Chaney Performing Arts Center.
Maybe folks who agree should bombard the City Asset Naming Board.
Can’t afford the outrageous $50 nominating fee? Launch a social media campaign. What do you say, Mayor Bach? City Council?
Here’s some links to other good stories about Chaney in Colorado Springs:
On Thursday, June 21, 2012, I wrote about Lon Chaney and the need to recognize him.
In 1999, The Gazette wrote about Michael Blake and his efforts to honor Chaney. Click here to read it.
Follow this link to read another 1999 story that describes him as a generous family man.
Three houses where Lon Chaney lived as a child still exist. They are 509 W. Bijou St., 738 N. Spruce St. and 802 N. Walnut St. Here is a map: