Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Lon Chaney Jr. died on this day - July 12th some 45 years ago. Chaney was only 67. He was one of the most emblematic horror film stars of the 1940s. Though given the name "Creighton Chaney" by his parents, he took the name "Lon Chaney, Jr." at the behest of a producer who wished to capitalize on the reputation of his father, who had starred in such silent classics as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Phantom of the Opera." 

After playing a number of small, forgettable roles through the 1930s, the younger Chaney's first role of note was 'Lenny Small' in the 1939 film adaptation of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." This role made great use of Chaney's size and empathetic manner, and would remain his favorite. He followed this with an even greater success, playing the title character in 1941's "The Wolf Man." His performance, which echoed his own life as a prodigal son figure returning home only to find tragedy, came as his father's studio, Universal Pictures, was struggling to reestablish itself as the premier studio for horror films. Universal would cast Chaney in a string of sequels to both "The Wolf Man" and it's classic films of the 1930s. 

All in all, Chaney would end up playing the Wolf Man five times, the barely mobile mummy Kharis three times, the Frankenstein Monster once (and again, briefly, in perhaps the best of Universal's long run of sequels, 1948's "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" when Glenn Strange was incapacitated), and Dracula once. He would also star in Universal's "Inner Sanctum" series and a number of lesser thrillers through the 1940s. Though the films were always entertaining, and Chaney almost always made a great effort to imbue his performances with quality, the formulaic nature of these productions concealed his ability, and he became typecast as a "monster."

 Chaney's last roles of note were as a supporting player in both 1952's "High Noon" (starring Gary Cooper) and 1958's "The Defiant Ones" with Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier. More often, he would play in a number of low-budget films, mostly westerns and horror films, often reprising his roles from the glory days at Universal. Always a heavy drinker, he would die from various alcohol-related ailments after playing his last role, fittingly enough a non-speaking part in the 1971 farce "Dracula vs. Frankenstein.". His body was dedicated to medical science...

1 comment:

  1. I recall Chaney's passing and that it fell in what was such a sudden spate of celebrity deaths that newspapers and nightly newscasts took note of it. Starting with actress Fay Holden's, who had played Ma Hardy throughout most of the series, passing on June 23 and running for almost the next month until Bruce Lee died unexpectedly on July 20th someone of great renown passed away every couple of days including Betty Grable, Veronica Lake, Robert Ryan, Joe E. Brown, Ernest Truex, Jack Hawkins, the drummer of The Byrds Clarence White and Chaney. It was quite unsettling and much remarked upon at the time.