Article By: Eilfie Music
During the golden age of movies, music was played live with the film and you not only had to read the subtitles but also really pay attention to the body language of the actors. This was a new form of art and a way to immortalizing yourself. Today we see these old films with over-exaggerated movements that work great on a stage, but not so well in front of the camera. They are time capsules that give a glimpse into fashion, culture, and the social viewpoint of the time. Some of these pale figures have only survived on celluloid film and have recently been scanned and preserved. So many have been destroyed by war, fire, and the decay of time.
Much like the old films that are still played in some of the revamped theatres, the ghosts of these forgotten stars haunt not only the places where they worked to make a name for themselves, but where they could bathe in the fame that was often short-lived.
A place still haunted by the memories of the silent age is one of the first long-standing enclosed stages in Hollywood. Stage 28 was a great feat for the still young movie studio and would be paired with Universal Studios’ biggest production at that time. The movie they were investing so much in was based on a book which was not known very well at that time. Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, or The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux, had been published in France between 1909 and 1910 as a serial in the Le Gaulois French Daily paper, and was later gathered together and published into a book and translated to English in 1911.
The movie was not easy to make from the very beginning; they started in 1923 with building the sets while having numerous scripts re-writes along the way. The actor who would be heading this great ordeal was already a famous actor of the macabre, Lon Chaney. Dubbed the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” he could change his face with make-up and the contorting of his body and would star as the horrific Phantom. Some claimed the image was too frightening to be displayed on advertisements, though others speculated this was just a marketing gimmick. Along with the set problems, Lon did not get along at all with the director. Rubert Julian was rumored to be a bully on set with all the cast and set hands; some say that Lon did some directing of the movie while Rubert was on one of his many tirades.
The building of the set and the production of the movie were heavily advertised since this was huge, and they wanted everyone to know. So much energy was put into this one structure, from the actors and extras to the sets that became permanent fixtures long after the movie was filmed, such as the interior of the Paris Opera House seating. It is no wonder it now has some spirits who refuse to leave, long after the filming was over.
Today Soundstage 28 still stands, though some of the sets were removed and the outside was stripped and insulated when it became a sound stage for the talking movies. The stage has continued to be used and is now on the historic registry.
No one is sure when the nickname “Phantom Stage” came about, but the name has stuck for both being the place where the famous movie was filmed, and where now a true phantom haunts the place. Lon Chaney died a few years after filming “Phantom of the Opera” in 1930, just after doing his first and only talking movie – a remake of a silent film he made years earlier, “The Unholy Three”.
Like many ghosts of famous actors, such as Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart, the ghost of Lon Chaney has been spotted both at this famed sound stage and at one point at the bus stop where he took the bus to get to work before hitting it big. When people report seeing Chaney, they do not his face, but a shadow of a cloaked figure running across the catwalks like the character he portrayed so well. Is it Chaney that we see reliving his memorable roll over and over again, since some of the original sets remain from the movie? Or is it an actor who portrayed the role so well that perhaps it etched the character into the environment? Along with the phantom, another ghostly figure with a more direct connection still works at his job making sure nothing goes wrong. The ghost of an electrician has also reportedly been seen still working at his post long after he fell to his death during the making of the 1925 movie.
Though many of the young starlets never made it big, or were soon forgotten once the talkies came about, their ghosts still remain on film and in the places where they wanted nothing more than to be remembered.
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By Dennis William Hauck