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Lon Chaney Jr

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

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Overview

Creighton Tull Chaney (February 10, 1906 – July 12, 1973), known by his stage name Lon Chaney, Jr. was an American actor known for playing Larry Talbot in the 1941 film The Wolf Man and its various crossovers, as well as portraying other monsters such as The Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, and Count Alucard (son of Dracula) in numerous horror films produced by Universal Studios. [1] He also portrayed Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men (1939). Originally referenced in films as Creighton Chaney, he was later credited as "Lon Chaney, Jr." in 1935, and after 1941's Man Made Monster, beginning as early as The Wolf Man later that same year, he was almost always billed under his more famous father's name as Lon Chaney. Chaney had English, French and Irish ancestry, and his career in movies and television spanned four decades, from 1931 to 1971.

Film Career

It was only after his father's death that Chaney started acting in films, beginning with an uncredited bit part in the 1932 film Girl Crazy. He appeared in films under his real name until 1935, when he began to be billed as "Lon Chaney, Jr." From 1942 onward, he was billed as "Lon Chaney" although the "Jr." was usually added by others when they referred to him to distinguish him from his more famous father, whom Chaney, Jr. resembled. Chaney first achieved stardom and critical acclaim in the 1939 feature film version of Of Mice and Men, in which he played Lennie Small. Chaney was asked to test for the role of Quasimodo for the 1939 remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The role went to Charles Laughton. Lon Chaney, Jr. in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

With his third-billed character role in One Million B.C. (1940) as Victor Mature's caveman father, Chaney began to be viewed as a character actor in the mold of his father. He had in fact designed a swarthy, ape-like Neanderthal make-up on himself for the film, but production decisions and union rules prevented his following through on emulating his father in that fashion. Put under contract by Universal Pictures Co. Inc., Chaney was cast in Man Made Monster (1941), a science-fiction horror thriller originally written with Karloff in mind. Chaney's performance led to an offer to star in The Wolf Man (1941) for Universal, a role which, much like Karloff's Frankenstein monster, would largely typecast Chaney as a horror film actor for the rest of his life.

Chaney maintained a career at Universal horror movies over the next few years, reprising his Wolf Man character in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948); playing Frankenstein's monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942); and playing Kharis the mummy in The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944) and The Mummy's Curse (1944). He also played the title character, Count Alucard—Dracula spelled in reverse—in Son of Dracula (1943). Chaney is thus the only actor to portray all four of Universal's major horror characters: the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, and Count Dracula.

Despite being typecast as the Wolf Man, the 6-foot 2-inch, 220 pound actor managed to carve out a secondary niche as a supporting actor and villain in several crime films and westerns, including Big House, USA (1955), I Died A Thousand Times (1955), Indestructible Man (1956), The Silver Star (1955), and even a Martin and Lewis comedy, Pardners (1956). He also starred in a series of radio show appearances, including psychological mysteries on the Inner Sanctum radio show. After making 30 films for Universal, he left the studio and worked primarily in character roles, including such notable films such as High Noon and Casanova's Big Night, along with roles in lower-budget films and television shows. Chaney also appeared in on the stage in such productions as Born Yesterday, where he assumed the Broderick Crawford role.

One of his most legendary roles was a 1952 live television version of Frankenstein on the anthology series Tales of Tomorrow for which he allegedly showed up drunk, though that contention is unsubstantiated. [2] During the live broadcast, Chaney, playing the Monster, apparently thought it was just a rehearsal and he would pick up furniture that he was supposed to break, only to gingerly put it back down while muttering, "I saved it for you." [3]

He became quite popular with baby boomers after Universal released its back catalog of horror films to television in 1957 (Shock Theater) and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine regularly focused on his films. In 1957, Chaney went to Ontario, Canada, to costar in the first ever American-Canadian television production, as Chingachgook in Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans, suggested by James Fenimore Cooper's stories. The series ended after 39 episodes. That same year, Universal released the popular film biography of his father, Man of a Thousand Faces, featuring a semi-fictionalized version of Creighton's life story from his birth up until his father's death. Roger Smith played the young Creighton. He appeared in a 1958 episode of the western series Tombstone Territory titled "The Black Marshal from Deadwood", and appeared in numerous western series such as Rawhide. He also hosted the 13-episode television anthology series 13 Demon Street in 1959, which was created by Curt Siodmak. Chaney, Jr. in Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (1971)

In the 1960s, Chaney's career ran the gamut from horror productions such as Roger Corman's The Haunted Palace and big-studio Westerns such as Welcome to Hard Times, to such low budget productions as Hillbillys in a Haunted House and Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors (both 1967). His bread-and-butter work during this decade was television – where he made guest appearances on everything from Wagon Train to The Monkees – and in a string of supporting roles in low-budget Westerns produced by A. C. Lyles for Paramount. In 1962 Chaney got a brief chance to play Quasimodo in a simulacrum of his father's make-up, as well as return to his roles of the Mummy and the Wolf Man on the television series Route 66 with friends Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. During this era, he starred in Jack Hill's Spider Baby (filmed 1964, released 1968), for which he also sang the title song.

In later years he battled throat cancer and chronic heart disease among other aliments after decades of heavy drinking and smoking. In his final horror film, Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (1971), directed by Al Adamson, he played Groton, Dr. Frankenstein's mute henchman. He filmed his part in the spring of 1969, and shortly thereafter performed his final film role, also for Adamson in The Female Bunch. Chaney had lines in The Female Bunch but his hoarse, raspy voice was virtually unrecognizable. Due to illness he retired from acting to concentrate on a book about the Chaney family legacy, A Century of Chaneys, which remains to date unpublished in any form. His grandson, Ron Chaney, was working on completing this project. [4]

Honors

In 1999, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.

Death

Chaney died of heart failure at age 67 on July 12, 1973 in San Clemente, California.

References

  1. "Lon Chaney Jr., Actor, Is Dead at 67; Portrayed Monsters". New York Times. July 14, 1973.
  2. "Film Threat – The Bootleg Files: Tales Of Tomorrow – Frankenstein".
  3. A kinescope of the January 18, 1952 broadcast is available on DVD, YouTube, and also open to the public for viewing at The Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles.
  4. Interview with Ron Chaney, including references to Lon's book

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