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April 22, 1894|
Hagerstown, Maryland, U.S.
|Died||February 2, 1946
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Elizabeth Immell James (1926–1930; divorced)
Mabel Housh (1934–1946; his death)
Rondo Hatton (April 22, 1894 – February 2, 1946) was an American soldier, journalist and occasional actor with a minor career playing thuggish bit and extra parts in Hollywood B-movies, culminating in his elevation to horror movie star-status with Universal Studios in the last two years of his life, and posthumously as a movie cult icon. He was known for his unique facial features which were the result of acromegaly, a syndrome caused by a disorder of the pituitary gland. He was born in Hagerstown, Maryland to Missouri-born teachers.
Hatton was born in Hagerstown, Maryland. The family moved several times during Rondo's youth, to Hickory, North Carolina, and to Charles Town, West Virginia, and, finally, to Tampa, Florida, where family members owned a business. In Tampa, Hatton worked as a sportswriter for The Tampa Tribune. He continued working as a journalist until after World War I, when the symptoms of acromegaly developed.
Acromegaly distorted the shape of Hatton's head, face, and extremities in a gradual but consistent process. Hatton, eventually became severely disfigured by the disease. Because the symptoms developed in adulthood (as is common with the disorder), the disfigurement was incorrectly attributed later by film studio publicity departments to his exposure to a German mustard gas attack during service in World War I. Hatton served in combat and served on the Pancho Villa Expedition along the Mexican border and in France during World War I with the United States Army, from which he was discharged due to his illness.
Director Henry King noticed Hatton when he was working as a reporter with The Tampa Tribune covering the filming of Hell Harbor (1930) and hired him for a small role. After some hesitation, Hatton moved to Hollywood in 1936 to pursue a career playing similar, often uncredited, bit and extra roles. His most notable of these were as a contestant-extra in the "ugly man competition" (which he loses to a heavily made up Charles Laughton) in the RKO production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He had another supporting-character role as Gabe Hart, a member of the lynch mob in the 1943 film of The Ox-Bow Incident.
Universal Studios attempted to exploit Hatton's unusual features to promote him as a horror star after he played the part of The Hoxton Creeper (aka The Hoxton Horror) in its sixth Sherlock Holmes film, The Pearl of Death (1944). He made two films playing "the Creeper", House of Horrors (filmed in 1945 but not released until 1946, after his death) and The Brute Man (1946, also posthumously). Hatton died of a heart attack (a direct result of his acromegalic condition) in 1946.
Hatton's name – and simple but brutish face – have become recurring motifs in popular culture. In season 6, episode 4 of the 1970s television series The Rockford Files ("Only Rock-n-Roll Will Never Die, part 1"), Jim Rockford, exasperated at a friend who dismisses himself as unattractive, exclaims "You're no Rondo Hatton!" Hatton's physical likeness appears as the Lothar character in Dave Stevens' 1980s Rocketeer Adventure Magazine stories, as well as Disney's 1991 film version, The Rocketeer, where the character is played by actor Tiny Ron in prosthetic make-up.
The 2000 AD comic book character Judge Dredd, who is rarely seen without his helmet on, used "face-changing technology" to make himself look like Rondo Hatton in issue 52 (18 February 1978) – the first time the character's face was shown unobscured. As the artist Brian Bolland revealed in an interview with David Bishop: "The picture of Dredd’s face – that was a 1940s actor called Rondo Hatton. I've only seen him in one film." Additionally, the character "The Creep" in the Dark Horse Presents comic-book series strongly resembled Hatton.
Hatton is regularly name-checked in the novels of Robert Rankin, (often referred to as "the now-legendary Rondo Hatton") and credited as appearing in films that are either fictional, or in which he clearly had no part, such as the Carry On films. Rankin's references to Hatton routinely occur in the form of "he had a Rondo Hatton" (hat on). Another namecheck occurs in Rafi Zabor's PEN/Faulkner-award winning 1998 novel The Bear Comes Home, where the name is used as a nickname for good-natured but unrefined minor character Tommy Talmo. In the 2004 Stephen King novel, The Dark Tower VII, a character is described as looking "like Rondo Hatton, a film actor from the 30's, who suffered from acromegaly and got work playing monsters and psychopaths..." The episode of Doctor Who entitled "The Wedding of River Song" features Mark Gatiss as a character whose appearance (achieved through prosthetics) is based on Hatton's, credited under the pseudonym "Rondo Haxton" for his performance.
The play with music entitled The Return of Dr. X written by Welsh playwright Chris Amos contains a dedication to Rondo Hatton and the story (of a horror star named Gabriel Haydon) is loosely based on the life of Rondo Hatton. The show has been produced in several UK regional theatres and was nominated for the Cameron MackIntosh Award in 2000.
Since 2002, The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards represent Hatton in both name as well as his likeness. The physical award is a representation of Hatton's likeness, based on the bust of "The Creeper", portrayed by Hatton in the 1946 Universal Pictures film House of Horrors. Acromegaly and Rondo Hatton are both mentioned in the 2008 Mickey Spillane novel The Goliath Bone.
Filmography (credited roles)
- 1937 In Old Chicago
- 1940 Chad Hanna
- 1940 Moon Over Burma
- 1943 Sleepy Lagoon
- 1944 The Pearl of Death
- 1945 The Jungle Captive
- 1946 The Spider Woman Strikes Back
- 1946 House of Horrors
- 1946 The Brute Man
- Duryea, Bill (June 27, 1999). "Floridian: In love with a monster". St Petersburg Times.
- Bishop, David (24 February 2007). "Vicious Imagery: 28 Days of 2000 AD #24: Brian Bolland Pt. 1".
- BBC (7 October 2011). "Extended Matt Smith and Mark Gatiss Interview - Doctor Who Confidential - Series 6 - BBC Three" – via YouTube.
- Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, dreadcentral.com; accessed August 30, 2016.