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Lon Chaney, Jr


mrroberts
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I have just gotten a copy of the magazine "Films of the Golden Age" , summer 2015.  It is a very good magazine, I believe I will start a subscription , probably purchase some back issues as well.  Anyway, this current issue has a very good article on Lon Chaney, Jr  concerning his life and film career. I am making references to this article. Interestingly it states that the "original" Lon Chaney , great silent film star, was never billed as  Lon Chaney SR but today it is common to refer to him in that matter. In other words the son's name has taken precedent over the father's. Clearly the father was the greater star in his day but in the present day more people are familiar with the son's work.  Chaney Jr was actually Creighton Chaney, his film career starting soon after his father's death (age only 47) in 1930. For several years the son resisted the idea of adopting his father's name for professional use. Finally in 1935 he consented to be billed as "Lon Chaney Jr".,  in time  the "Jr" would be dropped.  I guess at this point of discussion we can just refer to the man as "Lon Chaney" , with any reference to his father as the Senior.  Lon Chaney led a rather troubled personal life and his career as an actor had some real highs and lows. He actually had quite a bit of success on the stage, maybe he would have been better served to have spent more time working there. I'll let this stand at this point, welcoming any comments about Chaney and his work. If anyone has any questions and the article I have has anything to offer I will share it.

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I didn't know that Chaney had done stage work, mrroberts.

 

Evelyn Ankers, the "Fay Wray of the '40s" as a screen screamer, was his co-star in a few of his best remembered horror films at Universal, in particular as his leading lady in The Wolf Man.

 

I was disappointed to see this quote in IMBd about her feelings about Lon:

 

Despite the numerous times she worked with Lon Chaney Jr., the two reportedly had a strong disliking for each other. Often Chaney would scare Ankers and because of this, she referred to him as "a brute with bad breath".

 

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If the above breath quote is true, I wonder how much acting Ankers is doing here.

 

By any chance, does that article give any indication as to the kind of relationships that Chaney had with  his acting co-stars, mrroberts, in particular, Evelyn Ankers?

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I guess I'm too much of a movie buff to refer to Creighton as Lon Chaney, without the Junior since to me there is only one Lon Chaney.

 

But I did enjoy his work and think he was superb in "The Wolfman". His essential sadness seemed to permeate that role. Ankers, aka "the girl with the stars in her eyes" seemingly did not care for  Lon Junior as I've read also.

 

I even like him in "Spider Baby" though by then his problems with drink were quite apparent seemingly.

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Tom, you bring up two very interesting issues concerning Lon Chaney. First about his stage work;  while Broderick Crawford was playing "Lennie" in OF MICE AND MEN on the New York stage, Chaney was playing the role on the Hollywood stage, and getting great reviews. And of course Chaney would get the film part. Interestingly the first choice for the movie was "Big Boy" Guinn Williams, but Chaney lobbied hard to test for the film and  then he won the role.   And years  later Chaney played the lead in a touring company of BORN YESTERDAY. Paul Douglas worked on the Broadway play with Judy Holliday but Broderick Crawford  eventually got the film role.  Chaney and Crawford were two actors whose career paths crossed regularly, often competing for the same parts.. They did work together  on several films.  The  personal relationship between  Lon Chaney and Broderick Crawford must have been wild, the two were hard drinking buddies  but regularly  they would brawl and beat each other up . Figure that one out.  Now about Evelyn Ankers and her "relationship" working with Lon Chaney.  Their first film together was NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE (I've never seen this one but I really have to now, Broderick  Crawford and Chaney "fight" in this one ) , this was filmed before THE WOLF MAN. For whatever reasons Chaney quickly developed an intense dislike for Evelyn and was extremely abusive towards her.  Its hard to believe they would do several more films together but she was under studio contract and had to endure him.  Part of the dark side of Lon Chaney was his drinking and being very abusive to some  people, and yet to others he could be a nice guy.

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In addition to enjoying Chaney in his horror roles playing on late night television, I also have vague memories of seeing Lon playing Chingachgook in a 1957 TV series, Last of the Mohicans, later retitled Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans.

 

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The series was actually filmed in the Toronto area. For years I was under the mistaken (apparently) impression that it had been partially filmed in a marsh land just a couple of miles from my home. Quite a few episodes can be found on You Tube.

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Tom, you bring up two very interesting issues concerning Lon Chaney. First about his stage work;  while Broderick Crawford was playing "Lennie" in OF MICE AND MEN on the New York stage, Chaney was playing the role on the Hollywood stage, and getting great reviews. And of course Chaney would get the film part. Interestingly the first choice for the movie was "Big Boy" Guinn Williams, but Chaney lobbied hard to test for the film and  then he won the role.   And years  later Chaney played the lead in a touring company of BORN YESTERDAY. Paul Douglas worked on the Broadway play with Judy Holliday but Broderick Crawford  eventually got the film role.  Chaney and Crawford were two actors whose career paths crossed regularly, often competing for the same parts.. They did work together  on several films.  The  personal relationship between  Lon Chaney and Broderick Crawford must have been wild, the two were hard drinking buddies  but regularly  they would brawl and beat each other up . Figure that one out.  Now about Evelyn Ankers and her "relationship" working with Lon Chaney.  Their first film together was NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE (I've never seen this one but I really have to now, Broderick  Crawford and Chaney "fight" in this one ) , this was filmed before THE WOLF MAN. For whatever reasons Chaney quickly developed an intense dislike for Evelyn and was extremely abusive towards her.  Its hard to believe they would do several more films together but she was under studio contract and had to endure him.  Part of the dark side of Lon Chaney was his drinking and being very abusive to some  people, and yet to others he could be a nice guy.

Thanks very much, mrroberts, for confirming the talk about Chaney's abusive relationship with Ankers.

 

Yeh, Chaney and Crawford must have been a lot of fun to be around when they were drinking, another reflection of that Chaney dark side. I wonder if when Crawford was wacking him, he was thinking of how he missed out on playing the film Lennie because of Lon. Chaney is wonderful in Of Mice and Men, of course, the performance of his career in my estimation.

 

I didn't know Chaney had played the Crawford role in a stage version of Born Yesterday., By that time, of course, Crawford's career was much hotter than Chaney's.

 

I think I may have actually seen North to the Klondike a zillion years ago on TV. I don't recall the film at all, of course, but it's a title I've been on the lookout for for some time now.

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I guess I'm too much of a movie buff to refer to Creighton as Lon Chaney, without the Junior since to me there is only one Lon Chaney.

 

But I did enjoy his work and think he was superb in "The Wolfman". His essential sadness seemed to permeate that role. Ankers, aka "the girl with the stars in her eyes" seemingly did not care for  Lon Junior as I've read also.

 

I even like him in "Spider Baby" though by then his problems with drink were quite apparent seemingly.

 CaveGirl, I understand your point.  As I tried to explain in the first post referring to the two "Lon Chaneys" is mostly  a matter of perspective. Most people today know the "Jr" more than the "Sr" so "Jr' gets the nod as "Lon Chaney".  When the James Cagney bio picture MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES was done years later the end of the film has the dying father taking his make up box and writing "Jr"  on it for his son. That, of course was pure Hollywood. By the way,  Lon Chaney (Jr) was going to play a small part  (his own uncle) in the Cagney film but that didn't happen.

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Lon Chaney appears to have on going difficulties dealing with his famous father's legacy.  At times he wants to emulate his father's successes and at other times he loathes  the  man's memory.  In the  Cagney bio movie of his father's life  a young Chaney learns about his real mother, wants to see her and reconciles  happily  with her.  In real life Chaney does seek out his real life mother , finds her, but the real life reunion doesn't go very well at all. Chaney has very volatile relationships with his two wives and others who are close to him.  He is either intensely liked or disliked by people who he worked with.  In the early 40's he was promised the chance to do a remake of one of his father's great movie triumphs, "The Phantom Of The Opera" but the role goes to Claude Rains instead. He is very angry about this.  Chaney ends up in SON OF DRACULA (poor Evelyn Ankers is in this one too)  and has a confrontation with the director, Robert Siodmak. Chaney breaks a vase over the director's head.  At times Chaney appears on a set, very professional and prepared, the man is a very capable actor. But other times he's drunk and  uncontrollable . In the early television  days he did some live programs. That must have been fun,  no one knew what to expect from him.

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I have a beautiful 16mm print of NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE.  Chaney and Crawford have a SPOILERS-inspired donnybrook at the end of the picture.  When they prepared the scene, they agreed to do the entire fight WITHOUT DOUBLES, which was extraordinary in that day.  Once that decision was made, the director and photographer made sure that every shot was framed so that the audience knew it was really Lon and Brod doing the slugging, pitching and falling.  It is truly a memorable sequence and the film is one of the better B's that Big U turned out that year.  Oh, poor Evelyn is in that one too! :P

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Lon Chaney appears to have on going difficulties dealing with his famous father's legacy.  At times he wants to emulate his father's successes and at other times he loathes  the  man's memory.  In the  Cagney bio movie of his father's life  a young Chaney learns about his real mother, wants to see her and reconciles  happily  with her.  In real life Chaney does seek out his real life mother , finds her, but the real life reunion doesn't go very well at all. Chaney has very volatile relationships with his two wives and others who are close to him.  He is either intensely liked or disliked by people who he worked with.  In the early 40's he was promised the chance to do a remake of one of his father's great movie triumphs, "The Phantom Of The Opera" but the role goes to Claude Rains instead. He is very angry about this.  Chaney ends up in SON OF DRACULA (poor Evelyn Ankers is in this one too)  and has a confrontation with the director, Robert Siodmak. Chaney breaks a vase over the director's head.  At times Chaney appears on a set, very professional and prepared, the man is a very capable actor. But other times he's drunk and  uncontrollable . In the early television  days he did some live programs. That must have been fun,  no one knew what to expect from him.

Thanks, mrroberts. Chaney sounds like he was quite the Jekyll-Hyde personality, particularly if booze was nearby. I don't suppose you might know the approximate time at which his drinking became a problem, and did he still have it right to the end? Certainly his increasingly haggard appearance as he aged would seem to indicate that he probably never got away from the bottle for long.

 

You mentioned Son of Dracula, which I think is one of the better Universal horror films, certainly of the '40s. Wonderful photography and atmosphere. One complaint - leading man Robert Paige irks the heck out of me. I'm rooting for Chaney to break his irritating neck.

 

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I have a beautiful 16mm print of NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE.  Chaney and Crawford have a SPOILERS-inspired donnybrook at the end of the picture.  When they prepared the scene, they agreed to do the entire fight WITHOUT DOUBLES, which was extraordinary in that day.  Once that decision was made, the director and photographer made sure that every shot was framed so that the audience knew it was really Lon and Brod doing the slugging, pitching and falling.  It is truly a memorable sequence and the film is one of the better B's that Big U turned out that year.  Oh, poor Evelyn is in that one too! :P

Amazing (and a little crazy) that Universal would allow the two actors to do their own stunt work in the big fight scene. Because of that, I rather assume that the fight was the last scene filmed with them in case there was an injury.

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Tom, from the Films of the Golden Age magazine article:  June 1932 ,  26 year old  Creighton Chaney is starring in a serial, THE LAST FRONTIER.  Co director Gordon Bennet said that Chaney was drunk during most of the filming.  July 12, 1973, Lon Chaney Jr dies , age 67. By his wishes his body is donated to the University of Southern California School of  Medicine  where his lungs and liver are examined to illustrate the damage from alcoholism and smoking.

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I remember seeing Lon in this horrible horror flic, Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)

In it he played a mute along with fellow old time co-star J. Carrol Naish (who played a wheelchair bound descendant of Dr. Frankenstein. A no name actor played Dracula.

It may have been a step above an Ed Wood production, but probably not. It was in color.

I believe that it may have been both Lon and Naish's last film. I know that they both looked pathetically weak.

I recall reading or hearing that Lon played a mute because, like his father, his voice had become so ravaged (in Lon's case from both tobacco and alcohol abuse) that it was unintelligible. Despite his condition (or because of it), Lon reportedly continued to smoke and drink throughout the shoot.

Naish and Chaney shared a dressing room and he use to annoy the hell out of poor J. Carrol by leaving little notes saying, "You know we're going to die soon."

I was a big horror buff as a kid, and a fan of the earlier work of both actors.

It really saddened me to see that they were reduced to such fare as a swan song.

I wonder if Bela Lugosi felt bad or just grateful to be employed when working for Wood?

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Tom, from the Films of the Golden Age magazine article:  June 1932 ,  26 year old  Creighton Chaney is starring in a serial, THE LAST FRONTIER.  Co director Gordon Bennet said that Chaney was drunk during most of the filming.  July 12, 1973, Lon Chaney Jr dies , age 67. By his wishes his body is donated to the University of Southern California School of  Medicine  where his lungs and liver are examined to illustrate the damage from alcoholism and smoking.

Thanks, mrroberts, and how sad.

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I remember seeing Lon in this horrible horror flic, Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)

In it he played a mute along with fellow old time co-star J. Carrol Naish (who played a wheelchair bound descendant of Dr. Frankenstein. A no name actor played Dracula.

It may have been a step above an Ed Wood production, but probably not. It was in color.

I believe that it may have been both Lon and Naish's last film.

Yes, it was the last film of Chaney and Naish, both actors dying two years later.

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A significant part of Lon Chaney Jr.'s legacy is that he is the ONLY actor at Universal to have played the Wolf Man, the Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula (okay, Dracula's son).

 

The Wolf Man, of course, is the role that truly belongs to him.

 

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And, oh, how I remember the way that he was the one monster in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein that really scared me silly the first time I saw that film as a kid (sitting on my father's lap, covering my eyes with my hands whenever the Wolf Man musical theme began to play and then peaking through my fingers). Boy, did I have a good time!

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The Wolf Man, of course, is the role that truly belongs to him.

Much as I love Lon Chaney Jr., my favorite werewolf film and film werewolf is Henry Hull in Werewolf of London, Hollywood's first mainstream werewolf: 

 

werewolf_of_london.jpg

 

But I do love Lon in all his films. I think, in terms of his Wolf Man roles, I have a preference for his Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, particularly his angry fit when the singer wishes him eternal life.

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Paraphrasing from the Lon Chaney article in Films of the Golden Age magazine;   August 1967, Lon Chaney is given a supporting role in the MGM production of DAY OF THE EVIL GUN , which stars Glenn Ford,  Arthur Kennedy and Dean Jagger. The film's  director Jerry Thorpe really wanted to give Chaney this opportunity to work in a major project but Chaney is inebriated and unable to give them even one scene. So they have to find another actor to play the role of a sheriff, Paul Fix is given the role.  This was Lon Chaney's last opportunity to play a part in a respectable movie.  (Reading this makes me think about  how well Chaney played a similar supporting role in HIGH NOON some 15 years earlier. Now such a performance wasn't possible.)

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In addition to enjoying Chaney in his horror roles playing on late night television, I also have vague memories of seeing Lon playing Chingachgook in a 1957 TV series, Last of the Mohicans, later retitled Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans.

 

hqdefault1_zpsrbgwraqc.jpg

 

The series was actually filmed in the Toronto area. For years I was under the mistaken (apparently) impression that it had been partially filmed in a marsh land just a couple of miles from my home. Quite a few episodes can be found on You Tube.

He liked these kinds of roles/films (I think more than the horror picture stuff). One role he campaigned hard for was the title character in BATTLES OF CHIEF PONTIAC.

 

Hawkeye was remade by Stephen Cannell in the mid-90s with Lee Horsley and Lynda Carter (filmed in British Columbia).

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Lon Chaney appears to have on going difficulties dealing with his famous father's legacy.  At times he wants to emulate his father's successes and at other times he loathes  the  man's memory.  In the  Cagney bio movie of his father's life  a young Chaney learns about his real mother, wants to see her and reconciles  happily  with her.  In real life Chaney does seek out his real life mother , finds her, but the real life reunion doesn't go very well at all. Chaney has very volatile relationships with his two wives and others who are close to him.  He is either intensely liked or disliked by people who he worked with.  In the early 40's he was promised the chance to do a remake of one of his father's great movie triumphs, "The Phantom Of The Opera" but the role goes to Claude Rains instead. He is very angry about this.  Chaney ends up in SON OF DRACULA (poor Evelyn Ankers is in this one too)  and has a confrontation with the director, Robert Siodmak. Chaney breaks a vase over the director's head.  At times Chaney appears on a set, very professional and prepared, the man is a very capable actor. But other times he's drunk and  uncontrollable . In the early television  days he did some live programs. That must have been fun,  no one knew what to expect from him.

 

I'm sure many of you know of Lon's live production of "Frankenstein" in 1952. For some reason [ maybe drink ] He though the live broadcast was the dress rehearsal. He picks up a chair to smash and gently puts it down and says "we'll save it for air". He does it again as he exist the room.. The floor manager got to him and told him "This is live you idiot". I met one of the crew years later when I was at NBC in New York. He said Chaney's eyes filled with tears. So sad to see his talent in "Of Mice and Men" and the Wolfman films and the wonderful role in "High Noon" with Gary Cooper, then to see what the booze and cigarettes can do to a person.

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Yeah, MrRoberts....that Films Of The Golden Age detailed time line story was excellent. I enjoyed reading that format and it fleshed Creighton's life out just as well as a biography.

He seemed to have a kind of sad childhood.

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But I do love Lon in all his films. I think, in terms of his Wolf Man roles, I have a preference for his Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, particularly his angry fit when the singer wishes him eternal life.

When I watched that film recently and that scene, in particular, I thought, "Boy, Lon sure knows how to break up a party."

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Paraphrasing from the Lon Chaney article in Films of the Golden Age magazine;   August 1967, Lon Chaney is given a supporting role in the MGM production of DAY OF THE EVIL GUN , which stars Glenn Ford,  Arthur Kennedy and Dean Jagger. The film's  director Jerry Thorpe really wanted to give Chaney this opportunity to work in a major project but Chaney is inebriated and unable to give them even one scene. So they have to find another actor to play the role of a sheriff, Paul Fix is given the role.  This was Lon Chaney's last opportunity to play a part in a respectable movie.  (Reading this makes me think about  how well Chaney played a similar supporting role in HIGH NOON some 15 years earlier. Now such a performance wasn't possible.)

Man, I loved Chaney as a kid, and I'm getting a little depressed reading this stuff. Still, it's good to know the real story so thank you, mrroberts.

 

Anyone recall how good Chaney was in his character part in THE DEFIANT ONES? He played a somewhat compassionate role, for a change, as a former convict who helps Poitier and Curtis escape from his small town, Those craggy features of Lon's also made his casting in that role completely convincing.

 

In contrast to his Defiant Ones role, I also remember how impressive he was in his sole appearance in an episode on TV's popular The Rifleman. In an episode (one of the best of the series, in fact) called Gunfire Chaney played a cold blooded killer, Charlie Gordo, coming to town (probably for revenge or something, I forget his motive). Chaney gave a really convincingly nasty performance in this one, a true western thug ready to gun anyone down. As a fan of Chaney, I was gratified to see how really good he was in this one when it appeared on Encore Westerns a number of moons ago.

 

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As Charlie Gordo in The Rifleman, a character of pure evil.

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