Lon Chaney, Jr. (February 10, 1906 — July 12, 1973), born Creighton Tull Chaney, son of the iconic silent film actor Lon Chaney, was an American actor known for playing the titular role 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. 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 of Lon Chaney Jr.
Creighton Chaney 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.
Lon Chaney Jr.’s Career
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 live television version of Frankenstein on the anthology series Tales of Tomorrow for which he allegedly showed up drunk, though that contention is unsubstantiated. 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.”
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.
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 a 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 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.
Personal life of Lon Chaney Jr.
Married twice, Lon Chaney Jr. had two sons, Lon Ralph Chaney (born July 3, 1928) and Ronald Creighton Chaney (born March 18, 1930), both now deceased. He is survived by a grandson, Ron Chaney, who attends film conventions and discusses 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). 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.
Honors for Lon Chaney Jr.
In 1999, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
Death of Lon Chaney Jr.
Lon Chaney Jr. died of heart failure at age 67 on July 12, 1973 in San Clemente, California. His body was donated for medical research. Lon Chaney Jr.’s corpse was dissected by medical students. The medical school kept his liver and lungs in jars as specimens of what extreme alcohol and tobacco abuse can do to human organs. There is no grave to mark his final resting place.
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. frequently appears as a guest at horror movie conventions.
Courtesy of Wikipedia