Lon Chaney, Jr. was born Creighton Tull Chaney on February 10, 1906 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was the son of silent screen star Lon Chaney and singing sensation Francis Cleveland Creighton (Cleva).
Creighton came into the world prematurely at seven months on a cold winter day. Young Cleva had a very difficult labor and the baby was born lifeless. After repeated attempts by the doctor to resuscitate the infant, Lon grabbed his son, ran outside and submerged him into the icy waters of Belle Isle Lake reviving the dying infant. Cleva’s mother, Matilda Creighton (Mattie), a practical nurse in Oklahoma City, assisted the doctor throughout the birth and helped nurse the infant back to health. Out of necessity, Lon created an incubator from a shoebox lined with cotton for warmth and holes punched in it for air.
By the age of 6 months, Creighton made his first appearance in show business as a prop in one of his father’s stage acts. As a baby and young boy, he traveled with his parents by train in barnstorming vaudeville shows. Often these troupes went broke on the road leaving the family stranded in various parts of U.S. and Canada.
The Chaney’s arrived in California in 1910 and found employment in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Lon and Cleva’s marriage broke apart from years of stress, misfortune and jealousy. They were divorced in 1913. Lon quit stage work and began working as an actor at Universal Film Manufacturing Company. He remarried Hazel Hastings, a former acquaintance from his stage days who occasionally watched young Creighton backstage.
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.” While growing up, Creighton would observe his father creating make-up designs and characters for his film roles.
In 1926, Creighton married Dorothy Hinckley and had two sons, Lon Ralph Chaney born July 3, 1928 and Ronald Creighton Chaney born March 18, 1930. Creighton went to work for his father-in- law at General Water Heater Co. and became Secretary-Treasurer of the firm.
In 1930, his father Lon Chaney, “The Man of Thousand Faces,” died prematurely at the age of 47 from a throat hemorrhage. Although Creighton had steady employment, his subconscious desire and eagerness to act had begun. By 1932, Creighton signed a contract with RKO Studios and began a career that would keep the Chaney name on billboards and newsprint for another 40 years.
In 1935, he reluctantly took the name of his father as Lon Chaney, stating, “I tried for three years to make a go of things without capitalizing upon dad’s name, but the cards have been stacked against me. If I had only myself to think of, I would battle it out to the end. But I’m getting older every year and I don’t think it’s right to make my family suffer just so I can fight for a principal.”
By 1936, Lon met and fell in love with a model, Patricia Beck (Pasty), which unfortunately ended his marriage with Dorothy. Lon and Patsy were married October 1, 1937 in a private ceremony and remained together until his death.
The turning point of Lon’s career came in 1939 when he auditioned for the role of Lennie in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” for the West Coast stage production. Lon’s performance as Lennie was so convincing, it enabled him to secure the film role in Hal Roach’s production of “Of Mice and Men,” earning Lon the New York’s Critics Choice Award.
Lon signed a contract with Universal Studios in 1941 and later that year, delivered another brilliant performance as the tortured Lawrence Talbot in the box office hit “The Wolf Man.” He went on to portray all the classic Monster characters such as Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, Dracula and the Wolf Man several more times.
Lon Chaney, Jr. continued working throughout the 1950′s, 60′s and into the 70’s. He worked with many of the greats in the industry and witnessed first hand; the evolution of show business from their vaudevillian days, watching his father become a box office star, from silence to sound, from black & white to colored television. He has left an indelible mark on Hollywood history.
Before his death, Lon began working on various scripts and short stories, music recordings, a television series, and a book titled “A Century of Chaneys.” His body of work lives on through film, television performances, books, magazines, toys, the loyal fans and his family. His hobbies included fishing, hunting, wrestling, boxing, cooking and story telling.
Lon Chaney, Jr. died on July 12, 1973 in San Clemente, California of a heart attack after many years of poor health. But did he really? We heard Wolf Man sightings are up all over.