Birth of Lon Chaney, Jr.

Birth of Lon Chaney Jr.

U.S. #3172 – Chaney in his hallmark role as the Wolf Man.

Lon Chaney Jr. was born Creighton Tull Chaney on February 10, 1906, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Territory.

Creighton was the son of Leonidas (Lon) Chaney, a popular vaudeville and theater actor. As a child, Creighton traveled the country with his mother, who was a singer. When his parents divorced in 1913, Creighton was shuffled between several homes and boarding schools. Then by 1916, his father began working in the film industry, re-married and was able to provide him with a stable home.

U.S. #3168 – Chaney’s father was dubbed “The Man of a Thousand Faces.”

Early on, Creighton worked to separate himself from his famous father’s legacy. His father didn’t want him to become and actor, so Creighton attended business school and found success working for an appliance company.

After his father died in 1930, Creighton decided to give acting a try. He had his first role, though uncredited, in the 1932 movie Girl Crazy. For the first few years of his career, when he was credited, he used his real name. He adopted the name Lon Chaney, Jr. in 1935, but was later billed simply as Lon Chaney.

U.S. #1773 – Chaney got his big break in Of Mice and Men, based on the novel by John Steinbeck.

Though he had appeared in over 50 movies by that point, Chaney had his first major success in 1939 when he played Lennie Small in Of Mice of Men. He then began to receive larger roles, particularly in 1941’s Man Made Monster. Taking on a role originally written for Boris Karloff, Chaney impressed everyone and was offered the starring role in The Wolf Man, which was released later that year.

The makeup for the film involved a rubber snout, large teeth, and yak fur for the werewolf’s hair. In a scene where Chaney is transformed into the beast, filming took 10 hours. The makeup artist applied a layer of fur, a few frames would be filmed, and then Chaney returned to the makeup chair for the next layer. The final product was a seamless transition from man to beast, which takes only a few seconds in the movie.

U.S. #2566Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was the first of several films to pair the comedy duo with classic movie monsters.

Chaney then became typecast as a horror film actor, spending the next decade in the genre. He reprised his Wolf Man character in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Chaney went on to portray Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy, and Dracula, making him the only actor to play all four of Universal Studios’ major horror characters. He later reprised his Frankenstein role for 1952 live television performance.

In the 1950s, Chaney began to forge a new persona for himself, away from the horror characters for which he had become famous. He found success as a supporting actor and villain in such films as High Noon, Casanova’s Big Night, and The Defiant Ones. In 1957 Chaney took part in the first American-Canadian television production. He played Chingachgook in Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans, inspired by the stories of James Fenimore Cooper.

U.S. #4421 – Chaney starred opposite Gary Cooper in High Noon.

Chaney continued to work in the 1960s, starring in horror, westerns, and even low-budget productions. He also made a number of television guest appearances including on Wagon Train and The Monkees. Chaney made his final horror film appearance in Dracula vs. Frankenstein in 1971. He spent his final years working on a book about his family’s legacy, that was never finished. He died in 1973 in California.

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7 responses to "Birth of Lon Chaney, Jr."

7 thoughts on “Birth of Lon Chaney, Jr.”

  1. I met the son of Lon Chaney, Jr, once, in California. He is not an actor, but joined a profession of even greater horrors–he is a lawyer.

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  2. Ah, but then we got the young Dr. Frankenstein! The nave will live in infamy. I did feel sorry for the wolfman (werewolf) and recall his name in the flick was Lawrence Talbot.

    Reply
  3. I remember going to the movie theatre alone as a younger teenager in the early 70’s to see the Vincent Price Movies (PG13) and they definitely left me awestruck to say the least. These are all great movie classics and Lon Chaney ringing the church bells has always been my lasting flashback to the black & white horror films of that generation of horror flicks.

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  4. As a kid in the 1950s my best friend and I love the monster movies. Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff were the greatest of all ten monsters and always scared the living heck out of me.

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  5. In the late 50’s and early 60’s we would leave the theater after the horror matinees and walk through a stretch of about half a mile with a massive cemetery on one side and a “House on Haunted Hill” on the other. It was twilight, scary and irresistible fun to scare each other.

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