Monday, July 12, 2010

Deathday: Lon Chaney Jr. 1906-1973 "The Wolf Man"

Lon Chaney, Jr. (February 10, 1906 – July 12, 1973), born Creighton Tull Chaney, was an American character actor, known mainly for his roles in monster movies and as the son of famous silent film actor, Lon Chaney (below).

 He is most notable for playing Larry Talbot and the werewolf in The Wolf Man movies. Originally credited in films as Creighton Chaney, he was first credited as "Lon Chaney, Jr." in 1935. Chaney had English, French and Irish ancestry.

Early life

Creighton was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the son of Lon Chaney and Frances Cleveland Creighton Chaney, a singing stage performer who traveled in road shows across the country with Lon. His parents' troubled marriage ended in divorce in 1913 following a scandalous public suicide attempt by his mother, in Los Angeles. Young Creighton lived in various homes and boarding schools until 1916, when his father (now employed in films) married Hazel Hastings and could provide a stable home. Many articles and biographies over the years report that Creighton was led to believe his mother Cleva had died while he was a boy, and was only made aware she lived after his father's death in 1930.

From an early age he worked hard to avoid 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.


It was only after his father's death that Chaney started acting in movies, beginning with an uncredited role in the 1932 film Girl Crazy. He appeared in films under his real name Creighton until 1935, when he began to be billed as "Lon Chaney, Jr." (and would appear as "Lon Chaney" later in his career). 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. In his final years, Chaney would get a brief chance to play Quasimodo, and return to the roles of the Mummy, and the Wolfman on the 1960s television series Route 66 with friends Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. Lon first achieved stardom and critical acclaim in the 1939 feature film version of Of Mice and Men, in which he played Lennie Small.

In 1941, Chaney starred in the title role of The Wolf Man for Universal Pictures Co. Inc., a role which would typecast him for the rest of his life. He maintained a career at Universal horror movies over the next few years, replaying the Wolf Man in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Frankenstein's monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein, Kharis the mummy in The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse. He also played the offspring of Count Dracula in Son of Dracula. Chaney is thus the only actor to portray all four of Universal's major monsters: the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, and the vampire son of Dracula. Universal also starred him in a series of psychological mysteries associated with the Inner Sanctum radio series. He also played western heroes, such as in the serial Overland Mail, but the imposing 6-foot 2-inch, 220-pound actor often appeared as mundane heavies. After leaving Universal Studios, where he made 30 films, he worked primarily in character roles in low-budget films.

He also established himself as a favorite of producer Stanley Kramer, taking key supporting roles in the classic western High Noon (1952) (starring Gary Cooper), 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 talked about roles was a 1952 live television version of Frankenstein on the anthology series Tales of Tomorrow for which he showed up drunk. During the live broadcast, Chaney, playing the Monster, was so drunk that he 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, "Break later."[1] Chaney's bald and scarred makeup in this show closely resembles that worn by Robert De Niro in a 1994 big-screen treatment.

He became quite popular with baby boomers after Universal released its back catalog of horror films to television in 1957 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.

In the 1960s, Chaney's career ran the gamut from decent horror productions, such as Roger Corman's The Haunted Palace and big-studio Westerns such as 1967's Welcome to Hard Times, to such bottom-of-the-barrel fodder 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 but entertaining and very traditional Westerns featuring middle-aged casts and produced by A. C. Lyles for Paramount. Arguably his finest latter work was in Jack Hill's Spider Baby (filmed 1964, released 1968), for which he also sang the film's title song. He appeared in the 1958 episode "The Black Marshal from Deadwood" of the western series Tombstone Territory.

In later years he battled throat cancer and chronic heart disease 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 filmed his final film role, also for Adamson, in The Female Bunch. 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[2].

From a personal standpoint, Chaney seemed to have been well-liked by his co-workers — "sweet" is the adjective that most commonly emerges from people who acted with 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 undeniable on-camera chemistry. Chaney is also said to have had a belligerent relationship with actor Martin Kosleck. Years after the fact, Kosleck explained this as a case of jealousy over Kosleck's (self-described) superior talent. Chaney had run-ins with actor Frank Reicher (whom Chaney nearly strangled on camera in The Mummy's Ghost) and director Robert Siodmak (over whose head Chaney broke a vase).

Chaney always projected a peculiar childlike quality on screen, no matter how old he was, which meant that his best roles tended to be those for which a childish, helpless or subservient quality was requisite, such as "Lennie," "Larry Talbot," and even in later years some of his roles as weak and/or alcoholic parents. Only rarely did this quality drop, as was the case with his performance as the offspring of "Dracula" in Son of Dracula and years later as "Simon Orne" in The Haunted Palace.

Chaney never for a moment escaped the long shadow of his father, one of the screen's greatest actors. Nonetheless, Chaney, Jr., gave a number of strong performances with notable individuality.
 He was honored by appearing as the Wolf Man on one of a 1997 series of United States postage stamps depicting movie monsters.

Personal life

Married twice, Chaney 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. Ron Chaney was featured on the CBS News Sunday Morning program on October 29, 2006.


At the age of 67, Chaney died on July 12, 1973 of heart failure in San Clemente, California[3]. His body was donated for medical research.[4]


The Galloping Ghost (1931)
Girl Crazy (1932)
The Roadhouse Murders (1932)
Bird of Paradise (1932)
The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
The Last Frontier (1932)
The Black Ghost (1932)
Lucky Devils (1933)
The Three Musketeers (1933)
Son of the Border (1933)
Scarlet River (1933)
Sixteen Fathoms Deep (1934)
The Life of Vergie Winters (1934)
Girl of My Dreams (1934)
The Marriage Bargain (1935)
Hold 'Em Yale (1935)
A Scream in the Night (1935)
Accent on Youth (1935)
The Shadow of Silk Lennox (1935)
The Singing Cowboy (1936)
Undersea Kingdom (1936)
Ace Drummond (1936)
Killer at Large (1936)
Rose Bowl (1936)
The Old Corral (1936)
Cheyenne Rides Again (1937)
Love Is News (1937)
Midnight Taxi (1937)
Secret Agent X-9 (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)
One Mile From Heaven (1937)
Thin Ice (1937)
Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)
Life Begins in College (1937)
Wife, Doctor, and Nurse (1937)
Second Honeymoon (1937)
Checkers (1937)
Love and Hisses (1937)
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)
Road Demon (1938)
Jesse James (1939)
Union Pacific (1939)
Charlie Chan in City in Darkness (1939)
Of Mice and Men (1939)
Frontier Marshal (1939)
North West Mounted Police (1940)
One Million B.C. (1940)
Too Many Blondes (1941)
Billy the Kid (1941)
Man Made Monster (1941)
San Antonio Rose (1941)
Riders of Death Valley (1941)
Badlands of South Dakota (1941)
The Wolf Man (1941)
North to the Klondike (1941)
Overland Mail (1942)
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Keeping Fit (1942)
Eyes of the Underworld (1942)
The Mummy's Tomb (1942)
Frontier Badmen (1943)
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
What We Are Fighting For (1943)
Son of Dracula (1943)
Crazy House (1943)
Calling Dr. Death (1943)
Weird Woman (1944)
The Mummy's Ghost (1944)
Cobra Woman (1944)
The Ghost Catchers (1944)
Dead Man's Eyes (1944)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
The Mummy's Curse (1944)
Here Come The Co-Eds (1945)
The Frozen Ghost (1945)
Strange Confession (1945)
House of Dracula (1945)
The Daltons Ride Again (1945)
Pillow of Death (1945)
Desert Command (1946)
My Favorite Brunette (1947)
Laguna U.S.A. (1947)
Albuquerque (1948)
The Counterfeiters (1948)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
16 Fathoms Deep (1948)
Captain China (1950)
There's a Girl In My Heart (1950)
Once a Thief (1950)
Inside Straight (1951)
Bride of the Gorilla (1951)
Only the Valiant (1951)
Behave Yourself! (1951)
Flame of Araby (1951)
The Bushwhackers (1952)
The Thief of Damascus (1952)
Battles of Chief Pontiac (1952)
High Noon (1952)
Springfield Rifle (1952)
The Black Castle (1952)
Raiders of the Seven Seas (1953)
Bandit Island (1953)
A Lion Is in the Streets (1953)
The Boy from Oklahoma (1954)
Casanova's Big Night (1954)
The Big Chase (1954)
Passion (1954)
The Black Pirates (1954)
Jivaro (1954)
Big House, U.S.A. (1955)
I Died a Thousand Times (1955)
The Indian Fighter (1955)
Not as a Stranger (1955)
The Silver Star (1955)
The Black Sleep (1956)
Indestructible Man (1956)
Manfish (1956)
Pardners (1956)
Daniel Boone: Trail Blazer (1956)
Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans (1957) - Television series
Along the Mohawk Trail (1957)
The Redmen and the Renegades (1957)
The Pathfinder and the Mohican (1957)
The Cyclops (1957)
The Defiant Ones (1958)
The Alligator People (1959)
Money, Women, and Guns (1959)
13 Demon Street (1959) - Television series
House of Terror (1960)
The Phantom (1961)
The Devil's Messenger (1961)
Rebellion in Cuba (1961)
The Haunted Palace (1963)
Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964)
Law of the Lawless (1964)
Witchcraft (1964)
Stage to Thunder Rock (1964)
Spider Baby (1964)
House of Black Death (1965)
Young Fury (1965)
Black Spurs (1965)
Town Tamer (1965)
Johnny Reno (1966)
Sharad of Atlantis (1966)
Apache Uprising (1966)
Welcome to Hard Times (1967)
Blood of Dracula's Castle (1967)
Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors (1967)
Hillbillys in a Haunted House(1967)
The Far Out West (1967)
Cannibal (1968)
Buckskin (1968)
The Fireball Jungle (1969)
The Female Bunch (1969)
A Stranger in Town (1969)
Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)


1.^ A kinescope of the January 18, 1952 broadcast is available on YouTube, and open to the public for viewing at The Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles.
2.^ (interview with Ron Chaney, including references to Lon's book)
3.^ (includes Chaney's Death Certificate)
4.^ "Lon Chaney Jr., Actor, Is Dead at 67; Portrayed Monsters". New York Times. July 14, 1973, Saturday. "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 ..."

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