Norman Kerry, Chaney’s co-star in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera

Can you name someone who starred in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), and The Unknown (1927) who's not named Lon Chaney?

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That'd be Norman Kerry, he of the waxed mustache who entered films in 1916 and pretty much immediately found himself playing opposite heavy hitters such as Mary Pickford and Constance Talmadge. After serving in World War I Kerry signed with Universal where he appeared in the first two iconic Lon Chaney films mentioned above moving to MGM in the later twenties to star opposite Lillian Gish in Annie Laurie and Chaney for the final time in The Unknown. Kerry appeared in a handful of talkies through 1931 and then, his fortune made, he bought a villa in Southern France in 1934 where he'd stay for the next five years.

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Norman Kerry was born Arnold Kaiser to Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Kaiser of Rochester, New York, June 16, 1894. He sold steel bridges before coming to the screen where he was a regular presence from 1916 through 1931. Kerry married three times, first to Rozine Tripp in 1917 through to 1929, then to Helen Mary Wells in 1932. He was divorced from Wells prior to his move to France. His third wife, the actress Kay English, and he were married in 1946. Kerry's 1956 death notices remark that he'd put off entering the hospital himself at the time because English had undergone major surgery just previous to his death. In her column the week of Kerry's passing Louella Parsons sends out both sympathies and get well wishes to Kay English.

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During World War II Kerry joined the French Foreign Legion with whom he guarded the Maginot Line. According to the New York Times he served in the Luxembourg Triangle until incapacitated by a frozen leg which put him in the hospital at the time of France's capitulation. After the war Kerry returned to the States and made one more film appearance, a small role in 1941's Tanks a Million. He died of undisclosed causes in Los Angeles, January 12, 1956.

The January 13, 1956 edition of the New York Times reported Kerry's passing and offered a summary of his work:

At the peak of his career, from 1925 to 1930, Norman Kerry was the dashing, romantic hero of the silent screen, the gay, swashbuckling adventurer. He played villain part, too. His black, carefully waxed mustache was adaptable to either role.

His renown as the hero of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) has since been somewhat obscured by the lasting fame that Lon Chaney won as the Phantom. But at the time the movie-going public, watching the film with bated breath, was very glad Mr. Kerry was around at the end.

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"Somewhat obscured," you think? But the legacy of Norman Kerry surely survives among casual film fans far greater than many stars with larger legacies today. After all, if you've only seen a handful of silent films there's a pretty good chance that Kerry was in at least two of them. You might not be able to name him, but his face as depicted on this page ought to at least ring a bell. We'll finish with that unintended pun.

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Comments

    • says

      Hi @d61af6a639f3f4029ec11fb198b3f450:disqus – he died January 12, 1956, it’s just that newspapers didn’t give a definite cause of death at the time of his obituaries.  Most of the coverage mentioned how he’d kept his illness from his wife before his death because she was in the hospital herself undergoing a major surgery. 

      Checking now I see his Wikipedia page says that it was a liver ailment.

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