Lon Chaney Jr. is pound for pound the Universal Monsters’ most valuable player, playing key roles across several of their biggest films. Bela Lugosi kicked off Universal’s first Monster cycle as Dracula in 1931. Meanwhile, Boris Karloff (along with makeup artist Jack Pierce) established Frankenstien’s Monster in 1931 and The Mummy in 1932.
However, Lon Chaney Jr. ushered in a new horror icon in 1941’s The Wolf Man. In the film, he portrayed the tortured Larry Talbot. After being bitten on the chest by a werewolf, played by Bela Lugosi, Talbot transforms into the uncontrollable Wolf Man. Once again, Jack Pierce created the make-up design for the legendary lycanthrope.
Chaney Jr. reprised his role as the Wolf Man in several other films, including Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man with Bela Lugosi as Frankenstein’s monster, House of Frankenstein with Glenn Strange as the monster, and House of Dracula with John Carradine as the Count. His last appearance as Talbot is in 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, joined by Lugosi’s Dracula and Strange’s Monster.
Lon Chaney Jr’s Universal Monster Reign Didn’t Stop at the Wolf Man.
Lon Chaney Jr’s tenure as the Wolf Man alone would grant him a place in the pantheon of horror greats. However, he was tapped early to take over franchises that Lugosi and Karloff had moved on from.
In 1942, Chaney Jr. portrayed Frankenstein’s monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein, alongside Lugosi’s scene-stealing Ygor. Chaney brought a gentle touch to the role of the Monster.
That same year, he also took on the role of Kharis, the titular mummy, in The Mummy’s Tomb. Continuing his involvement with the mummy character, Chaney Jr. reprised the role in The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse in 1944. Chaney’s take on the character, a silent, slow-walking brute, became the template for slashers like Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers in later decades.
However, Chaney wasn’t always under layers of makeup to embody the monsters. In 1943, he portrayed Alucard in Son of Dracula, a character who was revealed to be Count Dracula (his alias simply being Dracula spelled backward didn’t make it a huge mystery). Lon Chaney’s physicality lent an intimidating edge to the normally aristocratic Count.
Overall, Lon Chaney Jr. played four out of the six classic monsters from Universal Studios staple. It only makes sense, as he had something of a legacy to live up to for the studio. His father, Lon Chaney, known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces”, is also an icon of Universal Studios. During the silent era, he had hits for the studio such as 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera and 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
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