Did you know the original wolf man of Hollywood, Lon Chaney Jr., holds the distinguished honor of being the only actor to play all four classic movie monsters? Chaney is best known, perhaps, for his role as Lawrence Talbot, the tragic wolf man in Universal Studios’ 1941 classic, The Wolf Man, but he also played the role of Frankenstein’s monster (The Ghost of Frankenstein, 1942), the mummy – Kharis (The Mummy’s Tomb, 1942), and a vampire – Dracula’s son, Count Anthony Alucard (Son of Dracula, 1943).
Chaney was the son of silent film star, Lon Chaney. His given name was Creighton Tull Chaney, but a producer wanted him to capitalize upon his father’s fame and change his name to Lon Chaney, Jr., which he did in 1935.
The elder Lon Chaney was also known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces” because of his amazing skills as a makeup artist. He is best remembered for his role in the 1925 silent classic Phantom of the Opera.
Creighton Chaney chose to follow his father into the business, but it wasn’t until he changed his stage name to Lon Chaney Jr. and starred in 1939’s Of Mice and Men as simpleton Lennie Small that he became noticed by Hollywood. He received critical acclaim for this. Chaney’s role in Of Mice and Men is one of the two roles he has always been remembered for, with the other role being his portrayal of the doomed lycanthrope, Lawrence Talbot in The Wolf Man.
Chaney worked a number of bit parts when he began his career in Hollywood and used a number of stage names. According to Lon Chaney Jr.’s biography on houseofhorrors.com, Chaney said that he actually used four different names when he began acting. “I did extras under one name, stunts under another name, bits under another and leads under my own name,” Chaney was quoted as saying at one time. He went on to say that “they had to starve me to make me take this name (Lon Chaney Jr.).”
The 1936 movie, Undersea Kingdom, was the first to list the actor as Lon Chaney Jr. He signed on with Universal Studios in 1940 and starred in his first role for the studio – the 1941 film Man-Made Monster.
It was the 1941 Universal Studios movie, The Wolf Man, that made Lon Chaney Jr. a recognized name. Chaney played the role when he was in his mid-thirties and went on throughout his career to star in a number of low-budget horror movies during the 1950s and a host of character roles, including a role in High Noon in 1952.
While many co-stars and people who knew Chaney stated that he had a likable personality and a sweet demeanor, many also noted his chronic drinking problem. One director, Charles Barton, was quoted as saying that Chaney “had that drinking problem. By late afternoon, he didn’t know where he was. He had the problem all through his life, even when he was very young. . .”
Apparently Lon Chaney Jr. was well aware of his own limitations due to his drinking. He is said to have warned a director that his performance would be unsatisfactory later in the day. “Get everything you can out of me before 1 p.m. because after that I can’t guarantee anything,” he was quoted as saying.
Chaney died in 1973 after struggling with alcohol problems and other health issues – including a battle with throat cancer. His cause of death was attributed to a heart attack. He was married twice and had two sons.
According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Lon Chaney Jr. had roles in 195 movies, but it was his role in The Wolf Man that keeps his name known and remembered among younger generations of movie goers.