Lon Chaney Jr.

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Lon Chaney Jr.
Chaney Lon Jr 1.jpg
Chaney in early 1950s
Born Creighton Tull Chaney
(1906-02-10)February 10, 1906
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Territory, U.S.
Died July 12, 1973(1973-07-12) (aged 67)
San Clemente, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart failure
Occupation Actor
Years active 1931–1971
Spouse(s) Dorothy Hinckley
(m. 1928–1937; divorced; 2 children)
Patsy Beck
(m. 1937–1973; his death)
Children Lon Ralph Chaney (1928–1992)
Ronald Creighton Chaney (1930–1987)

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, 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.

Early life[edit]

Lon Chaney, Creighton's father

Creighton was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Territory, the son of silent film star Lon Chaney and Frances Cleveland Creighton Chaney, a singing stage performer who traveled in road shows across the country with Creighton. His parents' troubled marriage ended in divorce in 1913 following his mother's scandalous public suicide attempt in Los Angeles. Young Creighton lived in various homes and boarding schools until 1916, when his father (now employed in the film industry) married Hazel Hastings and could provide a stable home.

From an early age, he worked hard to get out of his famous father's shadow. In young adulthood, his father discouraged him from show business, and he attended business college and became successful in a Los Angeles appliance corporation. Creighton, who had begun working for a plumbing company, married Dorothy Hinckley the daughter of his employer Ralph Hinckley, and they had two sons: Lon Ralph Chaney and Ronald Creighton Chaney.

Creighton's life changed forever when his father was diagnosed with throat cancer and died on August 26, 1930 at the age of 47. Many articles and biographies over the years report that Creighton was led to believe his mother had died while he was a boy, and was only made aware she lived after his father's death. Creighton always maintained he had a tough childhood.

Career[edit]

As Creighton Chaney[edit]

It was only after his father's death that Chaney started acting in films, acting under his own name. He began with an uncredited bit part in the 1931 serial The Galloping Ghost and signed a contract with RKO who gave him small roles in a number of films, including Girl Crazy (1932), The Roadhouse Murder (1932), Bird of Paradise (1932), and The Most Dangerous Game (1932).

RKO gave him the starring role in a serial, The Last Frontier (1932). He got bigger film roles in Lucky Devils (1933), Son of the Border (1933), Scarlet River (1933), The Life of Vergie Winters (1934). Over at Mascot Pictures he supported John Wayne in a serial, The Three Musketeers (1933), which was later re-edited into a film Desert Command (1946).

"I did every possible bit in pictures" said Chaney later. "Had to do stuntwork to live. I bulldogged steers, fell off and got knocked off cliffs, rode horses and precipes into rivers, drove prairie schooners up and down hills."[2]

He had the lead in the independent film Sixteen Fathoms Deep (1934) and a small part in Girl o' My Dreams (1934) at Monogram. The last film he made under the name "Creighton Chaney" was The Marriage Bargain (1935) for Screencraft Productions. From this point on he would 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.

As Lon Chaney Jr[edit]

He had the lead A Scream in the Night (1935) made for Commodore Pictures, a horror movie.[3] He played small roles at Paramount: Hold 'Em Yale (1935), Accent on Youth (1935) and Rose Bowl (1936). A small outfit, Ray Kirkwood Productions, gave him a lead, The Shadow of Silk Lennox (1935).

At Republic he starred alongside Gene Autry in The Singing Cowboy (1936) and The Old Corral (1937). He was a henchman in a serial for Republic, Undersea Kingdom (1936). Universal got him to play a henchman in their serial, Ace Drummond (1937) and he was uncredited in Columbia's Killer at Large (1937). He leant his name to a cafe which was embroiled in a liquor scandal.[4]

Chaney was the main villain in a Tom Tryon B Western, Cheyenne Rides Again (1937) and was in a serial, Secret Agent X-9 (1937).

20th Century Fox[edit]

He signed a contract at 20th Century Fox and appeared in Love Is News (1937), Midnight Taxi (1937), That I May Live (1937), This Is My Affair (1937), Angel's Holiday (1937), Born Reckless (1937), Wild and Woolly (1937), The Lady Escapes (1937), Thin Ice (1937), One Mile from Heaven (1937), Charlie Chan on Broadway (1938), Life Begins in College (1937), Wife, Doctor and Nurse (1937), Second Honeymoon (1937), Checkers (1937), Love and Hisses (1938), City Girl (1938), Happy Landing (1938), Sally, Irene and Mary (1938), Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938), Walking Down Broadway (1938), Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), Josette (1938), Speed to Burn (1938), Passport Husband (1938), Straight, Place and Show (1938), Submarine Patrol (1938), and Road Demon (1939). He was almost killed by a train while filming a bank robbery scene in Jesse James (1939.[5]

He later made Charlie Chan in City in Darkness (1939) and Frontier Marshal (1939).

Of Mice and Men (1939)[edit]

Chaney Jr's only stage appearance had been as Lennie Small in a production of Of Mice and men with Wallace Ford.[6] He was cast in that role in the film version, which was produced by Hal Roach Studios. The film was Chaney Jr's first major role in an A film and was a massive critical success for him.

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.

Hal Roach used him in 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. Cecil B. de Mille used him in a support role in North West Mounted Police (1940) and MGM used him in Billy the Kid (1941 film) (1941). That studio considered putting Chaney Jr in a remake of his father's hit He Who Gets Slapped but decided not to make it.[7]

Universal Pictures[edit]

Universal Pictures offered Chaney Jr the lead in Man-Made Monster (1941), a science-fiction horror thriller originally written with Karloff in mind. Chaney's first horror film, it was successful enough for them to offer him a long-term contract.

Universal kept him in support roles for a while: a comedy Too Many Blondes (1941), a musical San Antonio Rose (1941), a serial Riders of Death Valley (1941), the Western Badlands of Dakota (1941) and the "Northern" North to the Klondike (1942).

Horror Film Star: The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Inner Sanctum[edit]

Chaney was then given the title role 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 Jr was now an official horror star, and Universal gave him the role of Frankenstein's Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). He was in a crime film, Eyes of the Underworld (1942) and the wartime shorts Keeping Fit (1942) and What We Are Fighting For (1943).

Chaney Jr played Kharis the Mummy in The Mummy's Tomb (1942), another hit. He was in a Western Frontier Badmen (1943), then reprised his role as the Wolf Man in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).

Chaney was given the role of Dracula in Son of Dracula (1943). This made him the only actor to portray all four of Universal's major horror characters: the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, and Count Dracula.

After a cameo in Crazy House (1943) he was given the lead in Calling Dr. Death (1943), based on the Inner Sanctum mysteries. It kicked off another series starring Chaney, the first of which was Weird Woman (1944).

He made a second mummy movie, The Mummy's Ghost (1944) and had a support parts in Cobra Woman (1944), starring Maria Montez and Ghost Catcher (1944), with Ole and Johnson.

Dead Man's Eyes (1944) was the third Inner Sanctum then he was back as the Wolf Man in House of Frankenstein (1944). The Mummy's Curse (1944) was Chaney's third and final appearance as Kharis.

He had a small role in an Abbott and Costello comedy Here Come the Co-Eds (1945), then made more Inner Sanctums: The Frozen Ghost (1945) and Strange Confession (1945). He returned as the Wolf Man in House of Dracula (1945), one of the last of the Universal horror cycle. Pillow of Death (1945) was the last Inner Sanctum. The Daltons Ride Again (1945) was a Western.

Leaving Universal[edit]

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.

He was in a Bob Hope comedy My Favorite Brunette (1947), supported Randolph Scott in Albuquerque (1948) and had a support in The Counterfeiters (1948) and played a villain in 16 Fathoms Deep (1948) for Monogram Pictures, a remake of his 1934 film.

He reprised his Wolfman role to great effect in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) but it did not cause a notable boost to his career. In April 1948 Chaney went to hospital after taking an overdose of sleeping pills.[8]

He recovered and played Harry Brock in a Los Angeles theatre production of Born Yesterday in 1949.[9]

Chaney kept busy in support roles: Captain China (1950), Once a Thief (1950), Inside Straight (1951), Bride of the Gorilla (1951), [Only the Valiant]] (1951), Behave Yourself! (1951), Flame of Araby (1952), The Bushwackers (1952), Thief of Damascus (1952), Battles of Chief Pontiac (1952) (in the title role), High Noon (1952), Springfield Rifle (1952), The Black Castle (1952) (a return to horror), Raiders of the Seven Seas (1953), A Lion Is in the Streets (1953), The Boy from Oklahoma (1954), Casanova's Big Night (1954), Passion (1954), The Black Pirates (1954), Jivaro (1955), Big House, U.S.A. (1955), I Died a Thousand Times (1955), The Indian Fighter (1955), and The Black Sleep (1956)

He had a leading role in Indestructible Man (1956) then was back to support parts; Manfish (1956), a Martin and Lewis comedy, Pardners (1956); Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer (1957), The Cyclops (1957) and The Alligator People (1959).

Chaney established himself as a favorite of producer Stanley Kramer; in addition to playing a key supporting role in High Noon (1952) (starring Gary Cooper), he also appeared in Not as a Stranger (1955)—a hospital melodrama featuring Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra—and The Defiant Ones (1958, starring Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier). Kramer told the press at the time that whenever a script came in with a role too difficult for most actors in Hollywood, he called Chaney.

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.[10] 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."[11]

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)

1960s[edit]

In the 1960s, Chaney specialised in horror films, such as House of Terror (1960), The Devil's Messenger (1961) and The Haunted Palace (1963), replacing Boris Karloff in the latter for Roger Corman.

He was in a Western Law of the Lawless (1963), Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964), Witchcraft (1964), and Stage to Thunder Rock (1964).

He had one of his best later roles in Spider Baby, made in 1964 but not released until 1967. Then it was back to Westerns - Young Fury (1965), Black Spurs (1965), Town Tamer (1966), Johnny Reno (1967), Apache Uprising (1967), Welcome to Hard Times (1967) and Buckskin (1968). There was also horror, such as Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors (1967) and Hillbillys in a Haunted House (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.

Final films[edit]

In later years, he battled throat cancer and chronic heart disease among other ailments 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.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Chaney was married twice. His first wife Dorothy divorced him in 1936 for drinking too much and being "sullen".[13] He remarried in 1937. He had two sons by his first wife, Lon Ralph Chaney (born July 3, 1928) and Ronald Creighton Chaney (born March 18, 1930), both now deceased.

He was survived by a grandson, Ron Chaney, who attended film conventions and discussed his grandfather's life and film career.

Chaney was well liked by some co-workers – "sweet" is the adjective that most commonly emerges from those who acted with, and liked him – yet he was capable of intense dislikes. For instance, he and frequent co-star Evelyn Ankers did not get along at all despite their on-camera chemistry. He was also known to befriend younger actors and stand up for older ones who Chaney felt were belittled by the studios. One example was that of William Farnum, a major silent star who played a bit part in The Mummy's Curse. According to co-star Peter Coe, Chaney demanded that Farnum be given his own chair on the set and be treated with respect, or else he would walk off the picture.

Chaney had run-ins with actor Frank Reicher (whom he nearly strangled on camera in The Mummy's Ghost) and director Robert Siodmak (over whose head Chaney broke a vase).[14] Actor Robert Stack claimed in his 1980 autobiography that Chaney and drinking buddy Broderick Crawford were known as "the monsters" around the Universal Pictures lot because of their drunken behavior that frequently resulted in bloodshed.[15]

Honors[edit]

In 1999, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[16]

Death[edit]

Chaney died of heart failure at age 67 on July 12, 1973 in San Clemente, California.[17] His body was donated for medical research.[1]

He was honored by appearing as the Wolf Man on one of a 1997 series of United States postage stamps depicting movie monsters. His grandson Ron Chaney Jr. has frequently appeared as a guest at horror movie conventions.[18][19]

Biography[edit]

Lon Chaney JR, Horror Film Star, 1906–1973 (1996) ISBN 0-7864-1813-3

Filmography[edit]

This is a list of known Lon Chaney Jr. theatrical films broken down by decade. Television appearances are listed separately.

1920s[edit]

1930s[edit]

1940s[edit]

1950s[edit]

1960s[edit]

1970s[edit]

Selected television appearances[edit]

Select radio credits[edit]

  • Inner Sanctum - "Ring of Doom" (1943)[21]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Lon Chaney Jr., Actor, Is Dead at 67; Portrayed Monsters". New York Times. July 14, 1973. Retrieved 25 February 2014. Lon Chaney Jr., the film actor, died yesterday at the age of 67. A long series of illnesses had put Mr. Chaney in and out of hospitals for the last year. He was released from a San Clemente ... 
  2. ^ FILLER OF FATHER'S FOOTWEAR: FILLER OF FATHER'S FOOTWEAR Smith, Frederick James. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]28 July 1940: J6.
  3. ^ Mary Pickford Considers Leading Drive to Produce Pictures in England: British Films Would Use American Actors Cycle of Kipling Stories Looms Both Here and Abroad; Lon Chaney, Jr., Follows in Noted Parent's Footsteps Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]07 Sep 1935: 5.
  4. ^ Cash Given to Werners, Says Witness at Hearing: BOARD VOTE BOAST CITED BY WOMAN Owner of Cafe Takes Stand Weinblatt Asked $1000 in Liquor License Renewal, She Testifies Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]18 June 1936: 1.
  5. ^ Lon Chaney, Jr., Escapes Injury The Washington Post (1923-1954); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]20 Oct 1938: X7
  6. ^ Chaney Jr. Nixes Horror Make-ups Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]15 Jan 1940: 9.
  7. ^ Young Chaney May Do 'He Who Gets Slapped': Preston 'Night' Star Fellows Subject Named Warners Sign Darwell Ink Spots, Faye Cast Bellamy Set for Comedy Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]04 Jan 1941: A9.
  8. ^ Lon Chaney Jr. Takes Too Many Sleeping Pills , Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]23 Apr 1948: 1.
  9. ^ Kanin's 'Born Yesterday' Well Acted at Biltmore Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]18 Jan 1949: A7.
  10. ^ "Film Threat – The Bootleg Files: Tales Of Tomorrow – Frankenstein". Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Interview with Ron Chaney, including references to Lon's book
  13. ^ Lon Chaney Jr. Is Sued for Divorce; Wed 10 Years Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]26 June 1936: 23.
  14. ^ Smith, Don G., Lon Chaney Jr.: Horror Film Star, McFarland & Co., 1996
  15. ^ Stack, Robert, Straight Shooting, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1980, p. 64
  16. ^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated Archived 2012-10-13 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ Cumuseumofterror.com (Includes Chaney's Death Certificate)
  18. ^ Vest, Jason; Vest, Jason (1993-05-31). "MEETING THE CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-05-07. 
  19. ^ "Monster Bash: It's a Graveyard Smash". Geek Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2017-05-07. 
  20. ^ Lonchaney.com
  21. ^ Lon Chaney Jr. On Air. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]04 Apr 1943: W6.

External links[edit]