“Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright. …
Creighton Tull Chaney, aka Lon Chaney Jr., was born on February 10, 1906 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was the son of silent screen star and master makeup artist, Lon Chaney and Francis Cleveland Creighton (Cleva), a gifted singer and performer.
A complete actor whose career on stage and in film spanned over 5 decades, Lon Chaney Jr. because of his brilliant portrayal as the cursed Larry Talbot, the son of a wealthy English Lord who would later become the unfortunate victim of an attack by a traveling Gypsy Lycan (Werewolf), – only to be transformed into a “Wolfman” himself – will always in the eyes of millions of horror movie fans worldwide, be considered an elite member of Hollywood’s guild of actors of the macabre.
From the moment he entered this world as an infant Lon Chaney Jr. was an actor in a spectacular drama. Born lifeless, his mother’s attending physician repeatedly attempted to revive the newborn but all to no avail; the tiny infant’s father, Lon Chaney, (an accomplished actor known as “The man of a thousand faces”) as if from a scene from a movie, grabbed his son, ran outside and submerged him into the icy waters of Oklahoma City’s Belle Isle Lake, an act that miraculously revived the dying infant.
Born of performing parents, acting was in young Creighton’s blood. By the age of 6 months, Creighton made his first appearance in show business as a prop in one of his father’s stage acts. Creighton’s young life was full of adventures, some good and some bad. The young boy traveled throughout the United States with his parents by train in popular vaudeville shows. Often these traveling theatrical troupes went broke leaving the Chaney family stranded in various parts of U.S. and Canada.
Fate in the form of employment opportunities pointed the Chaney’s in the direction of Hollywood, California. In the 1920s, Hollywood, California because of the success of the silent movies had become a “Mecca” to individuals that were talented in every aspect of making movies. It was the aura of the stage, makeup and bright lights that forever ingrained the “acting bug” in the young Creighton.
Falling in love at age 20, Creighton married Dorothy Hinckley and with Dorothy, they had two sons, Lon Ralph Chaney born July 3, 1928 and Ronald Creighton Chaney born March 18, 1930. The nation’s “Great Depression” had just began and understanding the incredulous hardships of millions of Americans, the young husband and father in an attempt to provide for his family, chose the steady work with his father-in- law at General Water Heater Company over the inconsistent work as an actor in Hollywood.
However, fate was not finished with Creighton. In 1930, Creighton’s father Lon Chaney, an acting legend known as “The Man of Thousand Faces,” prematurely died at the age of 47 from a throat hemorrhage.
Summoned and guided by deep inner emotions and impulses, Creighton Chaney who rose to the position of Secretary-Treasurer of the General Water Heater Company, during the height of the “Great Depression” attempted to rekindle his acting career.
Thwarted by the lack of consistent work, in 1935, he reluctantly took the name of his father as Lon Chaney, stating, “I tried for three years to make a go of things without capitalizing upon dad’s name, but the cards have been stacked against me. If I had only myself to think of, I would battle it out to the end. But I’m getting older every year and I don’t think it’s right to make my family suffer just so I can fight for a principal.”
By 1936, Creighton now calling himself Lon Chaney Jr., met and fell in love with an aspiring model named Patricia Beck, which unfortunately ended his marriage with his first love Dorothy Hinckley. Lon Chaney Jr. and Patsy Beck were married October 1, 1937 in a private ceremony and remained together as husband and wife until his death on July 12, 1973.
The turning point of Lon Chaney’s acting career came in 1939 when he won the role of Lennie in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” for the West Coast stage production. Chaney’s performance as Lennie was so powerful, it enabled him to secure the film role in Hal Roach’s production of “Of Mice and Men,” earning the aspiring thespian the New York’s Critics Choice Award.
Starring in hundreds of big screen and television films, Lon Chaney Jr. is fondly remembered by his legion of faithful horror fans for his many roles as a monster, but particularly as the “Wolfman”.
As Hollywood’s depiction of the werewolf has evolved throughout the decades, countless actors are beholding to the cinematic genius of Lon Chaney Jr. as their “study in acting”, who in the opinion of many old movie lovers, was the best Werewolf / Lycan of all time. Who knows, when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright the sounds of howls may still be heard on the Chaney estate in the northern woods of California. Trick or Treat? Have a Safe and Happy Halloween.
Until next time Louisianans, Good Day, God Bless and Good Fishing.