December 05, 2004

Lon Chaney Jr.

While cruising the net, I ran across this image, which brought back memories:


[The stamps issued consist of] five portraits of the actors based on publicity photographs of their most famous horror films. Lon Chaney appears as the Phantom of the Opera, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein and the Mummy and Lon Chaney Jr. as Wolf Man.

The descendants had wanted stamps that carried two portraits of their famous relatives, one with monster makeup and one without. Designer Derry Noyes of Washington met their wishes by placing signed photographs of the four actors at the top of the sheets of 20 stamps.

The stamps are the second to contain hidden images, using a process developed by Graphic Security Systems Corp. of Lake Worth, Fla. This time designers have scrambled an image -- not letters -- into each of the stamps: bats on the Dracula stamp, hieroglyphics on the Mummy, masks on the Phantom, wolves on the Wolf Man and lightning bolts on Frankenstein.

To see the images requires purchase of a $4.95 "decoder lens" from the Postal Service.

With that as inspiration, here's the third in a series of brief bios based on those classic stamps.

(in the extended entry)

Lon Chaney, Jr., is the only person to have played all four of the classic movie monsters: the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy and Dracula.

Born Creighton Tull Chaney in Oklahoma City in 1906, Lon Chaney Jr was inextricably tied to his father's acting career. From the earliest days, in addition to doing regional theater under his own name, he worked menial jobs to support himself without calling upon his father. He was at various times a plumber, a meatcutter's apprentice, a metal worker and a farm worker. Despite his attempts to separate himself from his father's legacy, there was no animosity between them. From his father he developed skills as a makeup artist, but was seldom allowed to utilize them because of strict union rules.

After his father died in 1930, Creighton Chaney began making films, appearing in several small parts. In 1935 a producer insisted on changing his name to Lon Chaney Jr. for marketing purposes. Chaney was uncomfortable with the change but recognized that the famous name would help his career.

Lon Chaney Jr as Lennie

In 1939 he was given the role of the simple-minded Lennie in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. This proved to be his breakout role, giving an incredibly sensitive and touching performance. The role was his personal favorite as well, and often after a few drinks, he would recite scenes from the film at parties.

His next legendary movie role was in 1941 as the Wolf Man. Once again, he brought uncommon life and pathos to an unconventional role, this time as the lead character who struggled with personal demons as well as lycanthropy.

After this, Chaney starred in a string of minor horror films and gained a reputation as a solid character actor in more prestigious, big-budget films such as High Noon.

All told, Lon Chaney Jr appeared in over 170 movies. Not too shabby for a son whose father told him that he was too tall for a successful career in film.

He suffered from various illnesses and alcohol problems later in his life, and died in 1973.

When he died, it was as an actor who had spent his life chasing the fame of his father, but who was much beloved by a generation of filmgoers who had never seen his father.

Like his father, he refused requests for autographs.

Posted by Ted at December 5, 2004 01:05 AM
Category: Cult Flicks
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