Lon Chaney Jr., Actor, Is Dead at 67; Portrayed Monsters
FROM: The New York Times (July 14th 1973) ~
By The Associated Press and William M. Freeman
SAN CLEMENTE, Calif., July 13
Lon Chaney Jr., the film actor, died yesterday at the
age of 67. A long series of illnesses had put
Mr. Chaney in and out of hospitals for the last year.
He was released from a San Clemente hospital last
April after surgery for cataracts and treatment for
beriberi. Friends said he had also suffered from liver
problems and gout and had recently undergone
acupuncture treatments to relieve pain.
Mrs. Chaney, his wife of 30 years, declined to disclose
the cause of death or to tell the funeral plans.
By William M. Freeman
While Lon Chaney Jr. was in the shadow of his famous
father, who played the title roles in the movies
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Phantom of
the Opera," he built a massive reputation of his own.
Most moviegoers thought of him as an interpreter of
"monster" roles, and he did many of them, but to critics his
most noted role was Lennie in the film "Of Mice and Men,"
based on John Steinbeck's novel.
In that film, he was Lennie, stupid, unable to care for
himself, protected by Burgess Meredith as George.
Lennie liked the feel of smooth things, but he was so
clumsy in his strength that he killed a bird, a mouse, a
white-and-brown puppy and finally Mae, the foreman's
wife, who was soft and had silky hair. At the film's end
George told Lennie once again how the two would have
their own place and then pulled a trigger behind Lennie's
happily nodding head.
The critics approved Mr. Chaney's portrayal, although
some said he did not quite erase the memory of
Broderick Crawford's earlier interpretation on the stage,
with Wallace Ford as George.
Mr. Chaney, who was 6 feet 3½ inches tall and weighed
200 pounds, played many monsters. In one film, in
which he changed from a conventional appearance to a
wolf man, he was pictured as he lay dying, changing in
minutes from the monster to his ordinary guise.
This was achieved by shooting a few frames in the full
make-up, then a slight alteration, a few more changes in
the make-up and so on. The process took some 24
hours for the few minutes on the screen in which the dying
wolfman became an ordinary citizen.
Played Count Dracula
He had also appeared as Count Dracula, a role usually
associated in the late nineteen-forties with Bela Lugosi,
as Dracula and himself as the Wolf Man, in "Abbott and
Costello Meet Frankenstein."
he also appeared in support of Bob Hope in "My
Favorite Brunette," with Jerry Lewis in "Pardners" and
with Gary Cooper in "High Noon." The last named, a
1952 film in which he portrayed an arthritic old marshal,
won Mr. Cooper an Academy Award.
Mr. Chaney once told an interviewer" "All the best of
the monsters were played for sympathy. That goes for
my father, Boris Karloff, myself and all the others. They
all won the audience's sympathy. The Wolf didn't want to
do all those things. He was forced into them."
Born on Feb. 10, 1906, in Oklahoma City, Mr. Chaney
was named Creighton Tull Chaney. He made his first
stage appearance when he was only 6 months old.
He did not become Lon Chaney Jr. until after he had
achieved considerable recognition on his own. As a
youngster, despite his father's fame, he worked in
various jobs - as a butcher boy, a boilmaker, a plumber
and a fruit picker.
He did watch his father making up for his roles, and so
learned the art himself. Like his father, he would spend
six or seven hours in make-up preparation and became
known as a perfectionist in make-up detail.
Took Small Roles
Mr. Chaney first appeared in stock companies in the
Middle West and then began playing small roles in the
movies as Creighton Chaney.
Some of the early films were "Man-Made Monster,"
"Northwest Mounted Police," "One Million B.C." "Billy
the Kid," "Son of Dracula," "Calling Dr. Death," "The
Mummy's Curse," "Strange Confession," "Cobra Woman"
and "Here Come the Co-eds."
More often than not he was the hero's sidekick or the
heavy - rarely the one who got the girl.
It was not until "Of Mice and Men," made in 1939 and
released in 1940, that he achieved full stardom.
In 1937, he married Patsy Beck, a former photographic
model, who survives him. He also had two sons, Ronald
and Lon Jr., by a former marriage, and nine grandchildren.
His home for many years was in the San Fernando
Valley, later at Warner's Hot Springs in San Diego County
and then in San Clemente.
Lon Chaney Jr. in art: