On this Date: Lon Chaney Jr. born in 1906


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It was 103 years ago today that Creighton Tull Chaney -- who would be better known to the world as Lon Chaney Jr. -- was born in Oklahoma City.

For years it appeared that the younger Chaney would follow a different career path than his world-famous acting father (the son secured a business degree and as a young man was a success as an executive with an appliance corporation in Los Angeles) but two years after the elder Chaney died in 1930, his son began appearing in films.

His big breakthrough was opposite Burgress Meredith in ‘Of Mice and Men’ in 1939 but it was the 1941 feature ‘The Wolf Man’ that set the defining tone for his career. Here he is tussling with Claude Rains in the fog...

He wore the famous fur in four more movies and also took on roles as Frankenstein’s monster andthe son of Dracula and he memorably portrayed the Mummy in three movies. I loved him in ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,’ a true comedy classic from 1948. It was probably A&C’s best film and Chaney was joined by Bela Lugosi, who was back in the cape as Dracula. Here’s the trailer...

Chaney was a drinker and one of his live performances, reportedly done through a boozy haze, is a bit creepy to watch...


In 1952, Chaney played a startling version of Frankenstein’s monster for a live TV production. It was part of the series ‘Tales of Tomorrow.’ According to Hollywood lore, Chaney showed up so drunk for the performance he thought it was just a rehearsal and that he picked up furniture props he was supposed to smash and instead muttered, ‘Break later.’ In this clip from that live broadcast, he’s pretty rough with a young costar...

Scary! It’s interesting to see how much that particular version of Frankenstein’s monster resembles the Robert DeNiro incarnation of the 1990s as opposed to the classic Boris Karloff visage that has shaped the most widely recognized image of the patchwork man.

Chaney died in 1973 at age 67 but his creepy cinema legacy endures. A new Wolf Man’ film is headed to theaters later this year and I’m sure the work of the original lupine superstar will be evoked often in the coverage of the film. Let’s get an early start and, to honor Chaney on his birthday, let’s all go howl at the moon tonight.

-- Geoff Boucher


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