Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Star Child and the Phantom of the Opera #WEP



Critique Preferences:
Whatever. Just don't be a dick.

The Other remains reviled.

The Essay:

Over the course of more than a century, many actors have played Erik, the title character of Gaston Leroux's 1910 Gothic mystery/romance The Phantom of the Opera. Born with a disfigured face, Erik was abandoned by his father and his mother expressed overt disgust at his deformity. He wears a mask to hide his face.

A feeling of being an outsider may not be necessary for an actor to portray Erik authentically, but it can certainly help. Lon Chaney, the first actor to interpret Erik on film, was the son of deaf parents. He learned sign language at a young age. Chaney exhibited a self-reliant and perfectionist attitude, which sometimes strained his relationships.

Chaney drew from sympathy for The Other to lend authenticity to his portrayals of deformed or monstrous characters. As he wrote in a 1925 article for Movie magazine:

"I wanted to remind people that the lowest types of humanity may have within them the capacity for supreme self-sacrifice. The dwarfed, misshapen beggar of the streets may have the noblest ideals. Most of my roles since The Hunchback, such as The Phantom of the Opera, He Who Gets Slapped, The Unholy Three, etc., have carried the theme of self-sacrifice or renunciation. These are the stories which I wish to do."

Ray Bradbury once said of Chaney, "He was someone who acted out our psyches. He somehow got into the shadows inside our bodies; he was able to nail down some of our secret fears and put them on-screen. The history of Lon Chaney is the history of unrequited loves. He brings that part of you out into the open, because you fear that you are not loved, you fear that you never will be loved, you fear there is some part of you that's grotesque, that the world will turn away from."

Unlike Erik, Lon Chaney was a triumphant figure whose abilities as an actor and makeup artist are still lauded more than eighty years after his passing.

Nearly seventy-five years after Lon Chaney brought the Phantom of the Opera to life, a man better known as a musician than a thespian brought a powerful authenticity to the role, drawing inspiration from his own experiences. The name Paul Stanley has become synonymous with the Star Child character he created for his band, Kiss. Star Child allowed Paul a way to become someone besides Stanley Bert Eisen, a deeply wounded and angry young man who looked normal on the surface but saw himself as distorted and possibly unlovable.

Until I read Paul’s autobiography, I had no idea how sensitive and thoughtful he is. I knew he had been born with microtia, a condition affecting both the appearance and function of the ear. Paul’s right ear was deformed, lacking an ear canal and eardrum. His peers targeted him for ridicule, calling him Stanley the One-Eared Monster. Between holding his own against bullies and dealing with a volatile home environment, Paul became a defensive personality always ready for a fight.

Although Paul’s parents never expressed any strong revulsion regarding his disability, they weren’t particularly supportive either. Paul describes the house he grew up in as filled with constant tension and frequent arguments. His older sister had serious mental health challenges and at times acted out violently. His parents weren’t affectionate with each other or their children. Paul believes his thirst for acceptance led him to develop addictive sexual behaviors.

Unlike the tragic and ultimately doomed Erik, Paul Stanley is a triumphant figure. He found success at a young age despite his insecurities. He managed to avoid succumbing to substance addiction in an industry that offers constant temptation. He has a healthy relationship with his children. He has been been happily married to his second wife, Erin, since 2005. He credits mental health counseling with helping him work through his anger, self-doubt, and tendency to overextend himself to the point where he starts having panic attacks.

Since Gaston Leroux wrote The Phantom of the Opera, attitudes toward those who do not conform to exacting standards of beauty have not significantly changed. People still place a greater emphasis on a person's external appearance than on their character. While technological advancements have been impressive in recent decades, ridiculing those who fail to meet rigid ideals of attractiveness remains not only acceptable but encouraged. We need to do better, starting now.

730 words


Blake, Michael F. A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures. Vestal, New York: Vestal Press, 1997. ISBN 978-1-8795-1121-7.

Stanley, Paul (2014). Face the Music: A Life Exposed. HarperCollins. p. 13. ISBN 9780062114068.

Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera is in the public domain. Free digital copies of the story are available here.

Free use image from Open Clipart Vectors

Ornery Owl Sez:
You know how some people like to abbreviate the names of their favorite movies or TV programs? Like GOT for Game of Thrones or SNG for Star Trek: The Next Generation? You don't want to abbreviate Phantom Of the Opera. Trust me on this.