Lon Chaney Jr.
American character actor whose career was influenced (and often overshadowed) by that of his father, silent film star Lon Chaney. The younger Chaney was born while his parents were on a theatrical tour, and he joined them onstage for the first time at the age of six months. However, as a young man, even during the time of his father's growing fame, Creighton Chaney worked menial jobs to support himself without calling upon his father. He was at various times a plumber, a meatcutter's apprentice, a metal worker, and a farm worker. Always, however, there was the desire to follow in his father's footsteps. He studied makeup at his father's side, learning many of the techniques that had made his father famous. And he took stage roles in stock companies. It was not until after his father's death in 1930 that Chaney went to work in films. His first appearances were under his real name (he had been named for his mother, singer Frances Chaney). He played number of supporting parts before a producer in 1935 insisted on changing his name to Lon Chaney Jr. as a marketing ploy. Chaney was uncomfortable with the ploy and always hated the "Jr". addendum. But he was also aware that the famous name could help his career, and so he kept it. Most of the parts he played were unmemorable, often bits, until 1939 when he was given the role of the simple-minded Lennie in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1939). Chaney's performance was spectacularly touching; indeed, it became one of the two roles for which he would always be best remembered. The other came within the next year, when Universal, in hopes of reviving their horror film franchise as well as memories of their great silent star, Chaney Sr., cast Chaney as the tortured Lawrence Talbot in The Wolf Man (1941). With this film and the slew of horror films that followed it, Chaney achieved a kind of stardom, though he was never able to achieve his goal of surpassing his father. By the 1950s, he was established as a star in low-budget horror films and as a reliable character actor in more prestigious, big-budget films such as High Noon (1952). Never as versatile as his father, he fell more and more into cheap and mundane productions which traded primarily on his name and those of other fading horror stars. His later years were bedeviled by illness and problems with alcohol. When he died from a variety of causes in 1973, it was as an actor who had spent his life chasing the fame of his father, but who was much beloved by a generation of filmgoers who had never seen his father.
He was posthumously awarded a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars on January 11, 1999
Pictured on one of a set of five 32¢ US commemorative postage stamps, issued 30 September 1997, celebrating "Famous Movie Monsters"
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
When he died from a variety of causes in 1973, it was as an actor who had spent his life chasing the fame of his father, but who was much beloved by a generation of filmgoers who had never seen his father
His last film might have been in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)
He made headlines in the 1960s when he criticized "Fractured Flickers" for desecrating old film classics like his father's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
Also in 1957, Christopher Lee would assume the role of the monster in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
His scheduled ten-day tour on behalf of Bride of the Gorilla (1951) spiraled to 4-1/2 months and covered 4500 miles
By the 1950s, he was established as a star in low-budget horror films and as a reliable character actor in more prestigious, big-budget films such as High Noon (1952)
Chaney played the role "unofficially" twice for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, in Bud Abbott 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 an episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950) 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
He has three roles in common with Christopher Lee: (1) Chaney played Frankenstein's Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) while Lee played him in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), (2) Chaney played Kharis the Mummy in The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944) and The Mummy's Curse (1944) while Lee played him in The Mummy (1959) and (3) Chaney played Count Dracula in Son of Dracula (1943) while Lee played him in ten films from Dracula (1958) to Dracula père et fils (1976)
He appeared with Bela Lugosi in five films: The Wolf Man (1941), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and The Black Sleep (1956)
(1940), but union regulations forced him to abandon it
He credits the kindness of Wallace Ford, the original "George", for getting him the role, which, of course, led to the 1939 screen version (Of Mice and Men (1939)) and eventual stardom
He appeared with John Carradine in thirteen films: This Is My Affair (1937),Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), Submarine Patrol (1938) Jesse James (1939), Frontier Marshal (1939), House of Frankenstein (1944), The Mummy's Ghost (1944), House of Dracula (1945), Casanova's Big Night (1954), The Black Sleep (1956), House of the Black Death (1965), Gallery of Horror (1967) and Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)
He played number of supporting parts before a producer in 1935 insisted on changing his name to Lon Chaney Jr
He has two roles in common with Bela Lugosi: (1) Lugosi played Count Dracula in Dracula (1931) and Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) while Chaney played him in Son of Dracula (1943) and (2) Chaney played Frankenstein's Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), in which Lugosi also appeared, while Lugosi played him in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), in which Chaney also appeared
In 1930, he lived at 735 North Laurel Avenue, Los Angeles, while working as an advertising manager for a water-heater company
Had two sons with his wife Dorothy Hinckley: Lon Ralph (born July 3, 1928) and Ronald Creighton (born March 18, 1930)
He wanted to reprise his father's 1923 role of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and underwent a screen test for the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), but the role went to Charles Laughton