We here at Universal Monsters Universe know that if it was not for the great actors and actresses of the classic Universal Monsters movies of the 1930s and 1940s, we would not have movies like Dracula, The Mummy and The Invisible Man to look forward to. In our “Meet The Monsters” series, we will feature a new actor or actress who starred in an original movie. Our first feature was Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi. In this edition we will feature Lon Chaney, Jr., the man behind the fur in The Wolfman and the only actor to portray all four monsters-the Wolfman, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula.
Lon Chaney, Jr. was born Creighton Tull Chaney on February 10, 1906 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma territory (Oklahoma did not become a state until 1907) to actor Lon Chaney who was also famous for his roles as Quasimodo and the Phantom of the Opera. His mother, Frances Cleveland Creighton Chaney, was a singing stage performer. Lon, Sr. and Frances divorced in 1913 after Frances tried to commit suicide by swallowing a mercuric substance. Lon, Jr. lived in various homes and a boarding school until his father remarried and had a stable home again.
Lon used his given name, Creighton, in film credits until 1935 when he began to use Lon Chaney, Jr. In 1939, he got his breakthrough role as Lennie Small in the feature film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men. After roles in 1940’s One Million B.C. and Universal’s 1941 film Man Made Monster, Chaney, Jr. was given the role of Larry Talbot in The Wolfman. Unfortunately just as Dracula did to Bela Lugosi, The Wolfman would typecast Chaney, Jr. as either a monster or a villain. He would reprise his Wolfman role in other films such as House of Dracula (1944) and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
After his run with Universal ended in 1957, Chaney, Jr. was making various appearances in Western films and television shows. He appeared in the 1952 classic High Noon starring Gary Cooper and the television program Rawhide. By the 1960s, he was making regular guest appearances on television programs but his health was declining. He had been afflicted with throat cancer and heart disease due to long-term drinking and smoking. He passed away on July 12, 1973 at the age of 67. He had been married twice and had two sons, Lon Ralph Chaney and Ronald Creighton Chaney both by his first wife, Dorothy Hinckley. Dorothy and Lon divorced in 1937. Lon was married to his second wife, Patsy Beck until his death. Much like his father, Lon Chaney, Jr. was a man of a thousand faces.