Saturday, May 17, 2014
IF LON CHANEY COULD SPEAK
Lon Chaney Sr. spent the last years of his career -- and his life -- under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but not before the scrappy and resilient Universal had him to star in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). With perhaps the only exception being MGM's Tell It To the Marines (1926), Chaney's Quasimodo and Erik were the characters in his two most popular and enduring films.
Having worked for a rival (and much more prestigious and financially robust) studio did not stop Universal from laying claim to his famous name to promote their own productions, "B" that as they may. Chaney was coveted by Junior Laemmle for the leading role in Universal's now-legendary Dracula after starring in his first, not-so-legendary, talkie for MGM, The Unholy Three, in 1930. Unfortunately, The Grim Reaper intervened and Chaney would be dead by the end of August of the year.
File under "What Were They Thinking?", in an issue of their company's promotional magazine, Universal Weekly, ran a two-page ad, presumably written by a company executive (and possibly Laemmle himself) of the most curious kind. Headed with the title, "If Lon Chaney Could Speak", it was a send-up of three Karloff vehicles, Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, and The Mummy, advocating Karloff's acting prowess (and fan appeal) by presenting it in the perspective of Chaney's first-person voice. While Chaney might have indeed approved of Karloff's accomplishments (helped a great deal by Jack P. Pierce's makeup artistry), the editors for Universal Weekly certainly took liberties with Chaney's assumption of opinion. To add a bit of the morbid to the ironic, the ad appeared in the Weekly's November 19, 1932 issue, just before The Mummy was slated for release, and two years after Chaney had passed away from a throat hemorrhage.