Lon Chaney, Jr. (February 10, 1906 – July 12, 1973), born Creighton Tull Chaney, was an American character actor. He was best known for his roles in monster movies and as the son of famous silent film actor, Lon Chaney. He is notable for portraying Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men and Larry Talbot 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.
Creighton was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 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 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 had died while he was a boy, and was only made aware she lived after his father's death in 1930. Lon always maintained he had a tough childhood.
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.
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 until 1935, when he began to be billed as "Lon Chaney, Jr." From 1942 onward, he was billed simply as "Lon Chaney," although the "Jr." was often added by others when they referred to him. 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.
With his third-billed character role in One Million B.C. 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 him from following through on emulating his father in that fashion. Put under contract by Universal Pictures Co. Inc., Chaney was cast in Man Made Monster, a science-fiction horror thriller originally written with Karloff in mind. This lead to Chaney's signature role in The Wolf Man for Universal, 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 title character 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 Count 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 more often appeared as heavies. After leaving Universal, where he made 30 films, he worked primarily in character roles in notable films like High Noon and Casanova's Big Night, and in more prominent roles in lower-budget films and television shows. He also appeared on stage, notably in productions of Born Yesterday in the role Broderick Crawford originated on stage.
He also established himself as a favorite of producer Stanley Kramer, taking key supporting roles in the 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 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, 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 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-fictonalized 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 westerns such as Rawhide.
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 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 Westerns produced by A. C. Lyles for Paramount. In 1962 Chaney got a brief chance to play Quasimodo in a simulalcrum 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 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.
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.
Chaney was 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 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 biography 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.
Chaney died of heart failure at age 67 on July 12, 1973 in San Clemente, California. His body was donated for medical research.
He was honored by appearing as the Wolf Man on one of a 1997 series of United States postage stamps depicting movie monsters.
His career suffered in his later years due to alcoholism.
Attempted an early career as a songwriter.
He is the only person to have played all four of the classic movie monsters: The Wolf Man (1941) (Larry Talbot/Wolf Man); The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) (The Frankenstein Monster); The Mummy's Tomb (1942) (Kharis, the mummy); Son of Dracula (1943) (Count Anthony Alucard, Dracula's son).
Pictured on one of a set of five 32¢ US commemorative postage stamps, issued 30 September 1997, celebrating "Famous Movie Monsters". He is shown as the title character in The Wolf Man (1941). Other actors honored in this set of stamps, and the classic monsters they portray, are Lon Chaney as The Phantom of the Opera (1925); Bela Lugosi as Dracula (1931); and Boris Karloff on two stamps as The Mummy (1932) and the monster in Frankenstein (1931).
Broderick Crawford, who had played Chaney's role of Lennie in "Of Mice and Men" on Broadway in 1937, worked with Chaney at one time and shared a dressing room with him. Apparently, both men were such heavy drinkers that they'd get drunk together and take turns beating each other up.
Well-known character actor William Smith started out as a child actor, and in an interview with a horror-film magazine stated that during breaks on the set of The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Chaney treated all of the children on the set to ice cream.
Father of two sons, Lon and Ron.
From his father he developed skills as a makeup artist. He was not able to make much use of these skills due to strict union rules.
Two sons with Dorothy Hinckley: Lon Ralph Chaney born July 3, 1928, and Ronald Creighton Chaney born March 18, 1930.
His father told him he was too tall for a successful career in film.
His favorite role was that of Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men (1939). After a few drinks at parties, he would recite scenes from that film.
He was born prematurely, and the illnesses he suffered at the end of his life may have been partially the result of this. In fact, he was born, in his own words, "black and dead." His father took him outside to a ice covered lake, broke the ice and put him into the ice cold water to jump-start his breathing. However, according to his son Lon Ralph Chaney as well as Cleva's daughter by her second marriage, Stella George, the story is complete fiction.
In 1930, lived at 735 N. Laurel Avenue, Los Angeles, while working as an advertising manager for a water-heater company.
Is mentioned in the Warren Zevon song "Werewolves of London."
Was an avid hunter/outdoorsman.
He only officially played the role of the Frankenstein Monster twice: once in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) and then again in a 1952 episode of the TV series "Tales of Tomorrow" (1951). It wasn't until 1957 when the 1932 version of Frankenstein (1931) staring Boris Karloff would debut on TV. Also in 1957 Christopher Lee would assume the role of the monster in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Chaney played the role "unofficially" twice for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, in Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) in which he stood in for Glenn Strange for one scene while Strange recovered from a broken ankle, and for a 1951 "The Colgate Comedy Hour" (1950) episode where, in a mock-opera sketch, Chaney appears (for some reason) in full monster regalia and dances a Charleston with Lou Costello, then hangs around for the finale. Shortly before his death, Chaney complained in an interview that the serious horror film genre had been ruined by Abbott and Costello.
Grandfather of Ron Chaney.
His last film might have been in Woody Allen's Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). In "Conversations With Woody Allen" by Eric Lax, Allen recalls feeling like a fan, "sitting across from the Wolf Man!" as he interviewed Chaney for a role. Chaney did not appear in the final cut, and died the year after it was released.
Was possibly not as tall as is often reported. According to Calvin Thomas Beck in "Heroes of the Horrors" (Macmillan, 1975), Chaney wore special shoes in Of Mice and Men (1939) to increase his height by six inches. "In reality," Beck writes, "he was just six feet tall." Chaney said, according to Beck, that "from that film on, people thought I was much taller" (Beck, p. 235). Early publicity accounts from the 1930s describe Chaney as a strapping six-footer. In Gregory William Mank's books, Chaney is described as being 6'2" (though Mank reproduces press material for The Wolf Man (1941) which describes Chaney as being five inches taller than Claude Rains, who was 5'7").
Like his father, Lon Chaney, Jr. often refused requests for autographs, though when he did sign he usually wrote "Luck, Lon Chaney," using a very large "L" as the first letter for both "Luck" and "Lon".
My father would be horrified if he knew I was making it in the pictures and that I'm not billed as Creighton Chaney. I am most proud of the name Lon Chaney. I am not proud of Lon Chaney, Jr., because they had to starve me to make me take this name. Nothing is more natural to me than horror.