Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Born Today February 10: Lon Chaney Jr.


The man who would become a major fixture in the Universal Horror canon, was actually born Creighton Tull Chaney, the son of his a very famous actor father Lon Chaney, who was a horror icon in silent films.  Creighton's mother was a singer who traveled with road shows with her young son.  His childhood was a difficult one.  His parents divorced in 1913, when he was only 7, after a much publicized suicide attempt by his mother in Hollywood.  He then bounced around from various homes and boarding schools, until his father remarried and was able to provide a home for him.  Chaney openly discouraged his young son from going into show business; even telling him that he was too tall to be an actor.  Nonetheless, he did let his son play a bit part in one of his movies in 1922, when "Chaney Jr." was 16 as "Hands of a Boy;"  the film was The Trap (it can be seen at Internet Archive) and was produced by Universal.  This would be the only silent film that he appeared in; and the only time that he came close to getting any sort of acting approval from his father.  The next film that he would have a role in came in 1931, and only as a extra, in The Galloping Ghost--credited under his birth name.  During this hiatus he worked private industry, had gotten married and started a family In 1930, his father died from a battle of throat and lung cancer.  History records that Creighton had been told his mother had died when he was a boy;  and that it was only after his father's death that he found out otherwise.  After the death of his father, he pursued acting full time; but wound up in only bit parts and uncredited roles for most of the 1930's.  By the late 1930's, he was being billed as Lon Chaney Jr.  In 1939, he got his break through role in Of Mice And Men in the role of Lennie Small.  His very next role, in One Million B.C. (1940), with it's heavy makeup job, got him a much coveted contract with Universal.   While he continued to make other types of movies, principally westerns, the studio started to look at him as a actor following his father's legacy of accepting roles requiring heavy makeup.  Well, we all know where this is 1941 to  The Wolf Man! Chaney was type-cast by the part and appeared in many an horror film from then on.  Lon Chaney Jr. died on the 12th of July from various ailments: he had been suffering from Beriberi (a drinkers vitamin B1 deficiency) and liver failure; he finally succumbed to heart failure in San Clemente, CA.  His body was donated to science for medical research.  For years, it was reported that his liver and lungs were kept in specimen jars, as examples of what extreme smoking and alcohol abuse does to human organs.  He has no grave site and no memorial marking his passing.  

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