In fourth grade, we were given the assignment of picking an important American about whom to write and present a report. I chose Lon Chaney, brilliant actor and inventor of modern special effects makeup. I’m sure the parents of the Neil Armstrong kid and the Albert Einstein kid took pity on my parents.
My runner up choices were Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.
This project, which the teacher referred to as Night of Notables, required research and revision. When we were done, we presented the paper to an elementary gym filled with parents and other relatives. We all dressed in character. Since there was no way I could recreate Lon Chaney’s famously painful Phantom of the Opera make-up, I decided to copy what I thought was the Phantom’s disguise before he removes his mask. I ended up wrapping my entire head in bandages, which looked more like The Invisible Man than The Phantom of the Opera.
Which starred Claude Raines, not Lon Chaney.
Immediately after having my head covered in bandages, my nose started bleeding. So I stood up and presented my speech on Lon Chaney while dressed as Claude Raines with a hunk of bandages cut away from my nose to remove the blood stains.
If any of my classmates had known how terrified I had been writing my presentation, I would’ve needed more bandages to cover my embarrassment.
In the days of card catalogs, before the Internet, finding information about Lon Chaney in rural Iowa was difficult. Most of the books I did find were aimed at adults, and I couldn’t stop myself from looking at pictures from movies far scarier than what I was used to watching. There was probably some parental rule about staying away from these pictures, but I couldn’t help myself.
One picture of Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu got under my skin. As you are probably already aware, monsters are legally allowed to visit any time you close your eyes in your bedroom. In the picture, Klaus was leaning over a bed and ready to bite. This meant he would be there as soon as I opened my eyes. His makeup seemed so lifelike then that I still believe Klaus Kinski looked like Nosferatu, and all other pictures reporting to be “Klaus Kinski” are of a fraud and imposter.
I think the book ended up in my parent’s room after I made them come in and take it away. It lead to a long night listing all of the things I would never do again if I made it through the night without having that pale bloodsucker hovering over my neck. Since I HAVE been mean to people and told lies since the fourth grade, I’m pretty sure I didn’t keep those promises.
This is what real vampires look liked, by the way. If you’re a grownup still holding onto hope for vampires with sensitive, mousey personalities and elegantly styled hair, you are living a lie. Klaus will find you one day.