Born: February 10, 1906
Died: July 12, 1973 (at the age of 67)
Lon Chaney Jr. was born Creighton Tull Chaney on February 10, 1906 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Lon is the son of Silent Film Legend Lon Chaney and Francis Cleveland Creighton (Cleva).
Lon grew and followed his parents to there theater engagements. Sometimes staying with Cleva's or Lon's Parents. After the divorce of Lon and Cleva in 1915, Creighton was sent to a home for children of divorce and disaster.
Creighton attended Los Feliz grammar school in Hollywood and in the seventh grade won a pantomime contest in which he played the role of the "Prince" in "The Princess and the Pea". Lon Sr. did not want young Creighton to be an actor, he wanted him in a more stable business. Young Creighton always had a desire to followe in his famous fathers footsteps. He would try to learn all of the techniques of makeup at his fathers side. He took some stage rolls in stock companies for awhile. Creighton worked many types of jobs.
Creighton was married to Dorothy Hinckley in 1926 and had two sons, Lon Ralph Chaney born July 3, 1928 and Ronald Creighton Chaney born March 18, 1930. Creighton went to work for Dorothy's father at 'General Water Heater Co.' and became a secretary of the firm.
After the death of his father, Creighton decided to begin acting. In 1931 a casting director named Rex Bailey asked him to change his name to Lon Chaney Jr. Rex pitched the idea of a 'Chaney Jr.' to David Selznik at RKO Pictures. Selznik loved the idea and wanted to sign Creighton to a long term contract if he would allow to be billed as Lon Chaney Jr. Creighton refused because he did not want to be thought of as the 'Son of the Great Actor' but wanted to be known for his own merot.
RKO finally agreed to give him a try and signed in March of 1932 as Creighton Chaney. He did some bit parts, took acting lessons and did stunt work while working under several different names. He worked hard for many years learning his craft.
The studio still asked him to change his name and finally in 1935 a producer insisted on changing his name to Lon Chaney Jr. as a marketing ploy. After trying to make it on his own name for many years Creighton finally gave in to become known as Lon Chaney Jr. With this change he did start to see more opportunities for new and better parts.
In 1936 or 1937, Creighton (Now known as Lon) met a young starlet and model by the name of Patricia Beck and fell in love with her. After ten years of being married to Dorothy they divorced, and Lon left everything to Dorothy and the boys. Lon and Patricia (Patsy) Beck were married October 1, 1937. Also in 1937 Lon signed with Fox Studios and made around 30 films in the next 3 years.
Chaney would always be uncomfortable with the ploy and always hated the "Jr". addendum, but he was aware that it would help his career so he kept using it. Languished in bit parts Lon got a part in John Steinbeck's film adaptation 'Of Mice and Men' where he played his classic 'Lenny' character (a role he reprise a few times - the character was so popular it was also featured in a 'Looney Tunes' cartoon) for the West coast production of this Broadway play. His performance was so good that they signed him to Hal Roach's (Hal also did the 'Our Gang' series) production of 'Of Mice and Men' (1939). Following this film he starred in another Hal Roach production titled 'One Million B.C.' (1940) in which he developed his own makeup, but was unable to use it due to union regulations.
Lon then signed to Universal in 1941, where he did his first monster film 'Man Made Monster' (1941). He also made several Westerns and a Comedy. Finally his big break came when Universal cast him as 'The Wolf Man' (1941) in which the troubled Larry Talbot gets bitten by a wolf (played by Bela Lugosi) and turns into the Werewolf himself. The transformation to the wolf was excellent for that time period and Lon played the part superbly.
Lon was then asked to recreate many of the now famous Universal Monsters. He played Frankenstein's monster in 'Ghost of Frankenstein' (1942), Kharis the mummy in 'The Mummy's Tomb' (1942), 'The Mummy's Curse' (1944), 'The Mummy's Ghost' (1944), and Dracula (actually he called himself 'Count Alucard') in 'Son of Dracula' (1943). He would played the 'The Wolf Man' another four times for Universal in 'Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man' (1943), 'House of Frankenstein' (1944), 'House of Dracula' (1945), and 'Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein' (1948).
Lon was in more B-movie cult classic (low budget horror) films than probably any other actor of his magnitude. The films included 'Spider Baby' (1964) w/ Carol Ohmart, 'The Alligator People' (1959) w/ Beverly Garland, and 'Hillbillys in a Haunted House' (1967) w/ Joi Lansing. Lon reprised his role as 'Larry Talbot' and his hairy alter ego 'The Wolf Man' in 'Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein' (1948). (He also played Frankenstein in a few scenes after Glen Strange injured his leg.) Lon also did some Television, he appeared as 'The Wolf Man' in '77 Sunset Strip' and in an episode of 'The Monkees' he played Lenny from 'Of Mice and Men'. Lon's last film was 'Dracula vs. Frankenstein' (1971) w/ Regina Carrol. Lon has reportedly been in over 400 films and/or TV appearances and/or stage appearances.
Lon had many hobbies such as fishing, hunting, and wrestling (he was also a referee for a short time).
Sadly, Lon died in July 12, 1973 in San Clemente, CA from Beriberi, Liver Failure and a Heart Attack. His body was donated to USC Science Department for research so that it would be possible for him to help others after his life ended. Lon was very under-rated as an actor, some of his low budget films are very entertaining. He will be missed by the many people that new him personally and by his millions and millions of fans. Thankfully, most of Lon's films are still with us to watch and enjoy.
***** Lon Chaney Jr. was in a number of famous lasts! *****
The last actor to play the Universal Mummy in the last serious entry of their series.
Played Dracula in the last serious Classic Universal Dracula film.
Played the Frankenstein Monster in the last entry in the series where the monster was the 'star'; - he was seen as the monster (clips from 'Ghost of Frankenstein') in the last serious entry in Universal's classic monster series ('House of Dracula'); (He also was seen as the monster in the last of Universal's films using the classic monsters - 'Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein' - when he filled in for Glenn Strange when he injured his leg).
Ron Chaney (the Great-Grandson of Lon Sr and Grandson of Lon Jr) is keeping his Grandfather and Great-Grandfathers spirit alive for us. He spends time doing the Conventions Circuit and talks of their career's and personal life.
To get more info on The Chaney's Visit the LONCHANEY.COM: