As I researched each one, I became surprised by how often their careers crossed each other. I have listed them below in their individual sections, but let me give you a quick summary.
Lon Chaney was the first well-known actor to play horror characters. When the film Dracula (1931) started production they had hoped to use him in the lead. Sadly, he passed away before they began work on it, and the studio turned to the Broadway Dracula star, Bela Lugosi. With the success of the film, Universal Studios began work on another project called Frankenstein (1931). Offering the role to their new star, Lugosi, he surprisingly turned it down upon discovering that there was no dialogue and that his face would be covered in makeup. This is when Boris Karloff came up for the lead.
All the while, Lon Chaney's son reached success under his fathers name and was found working along side Lugosi multiple times throughout each others career. There most notable pairing was in Abbott & Costello's Monster film Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
Now onto the men that gave us real nightmares.
LON CHANEY (1883-1930)
Leonidas Frank Chaney
If you love the scary movies of the past, then you'll love Lon Chaney. His portrayals of abnormal creatures made him the name you looked for in films. Without the aid of our modern technology or even color he could transform himself into whatever figure that was asked of him. Not only could he shift his facial features with painful wires and elastic, he would also bend his limbs in order to look like the character.
As impressive as his shape-shifting talents were, it was his acting abilities that really made him popular for the screen. Through his sometimes painful posture, he could show you the soul of a beast and have you feeling sorry for that character. This created a different element to the Horror genre that is used even in our day with films like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) & King Kong (2005).
Chaney had etched a name for himself in the history of Hollywood, while also setting a high standard for others to reach for in the future. Sadly, I feel that noone has been able to surpass it.
LON CHANEY JR. (1906-1973)
Creighton Tull Chaney
Born under the banner of Chaney, he quickly desired to reach the success of his father and become a legend in Hollywood. His talent in shape-shifting was good, but the world had changed from the one his father knew. The Horror franchise had been dead, no pun intended, and the musical genre was champion in the studios.
His biggest role in the Horror world was that of the Wolf Man. No matter how many times I watch him change into the wild animal, I still find it difficult to see the same man under the costume. Just like his father, his talent of changing his characteristics was even more impressive than his makeup.
Sadly, he was never able to reach the success that his father had in the silent years of Hollywood. Regardless of this setback, he was the first to break ground on the Wolf Man and will forever be seen as the name connected with this creature.
BELA LUGOSI (1882-1956)
Béla Ferenc Dezsõ Blaskó
Mr. Lugosi and his Dracula uniform are inseparable. In fact, he was buried in full Dracula attire. Though you may think of him only as the vampire, he has quite the history with other monsters of the silver screen. The other day I watched The Wolf Man (1941) for my first time. In the beginning of the film I noticed a familiar face behind a gypsy mustache. Sure enough, it was Bela Lugosi in full gypsy fashion. This made me wonder what other films he was in. Below I have compiled images of some of the other horror-ific parts he has played.
There are a few interesting facts that I want to mention about Lugosi, one of which is that he was born just west of the real-life Transylvania. Then in 1927, Lugosi first started his depiction of Dracula on the Broadway stage. But it wasn't until 1931 that Universal Studios was ready to start working on a film for Dracula. Lon Chaney was set to be the lead but died of lung cancer the year before it's release. Lugosi had just moved to Hollywood a few years before and was the perfect pick for the part.
I discovered a website created by his son in honor of his father. Here is the link.
BORIS KARLOFF (1887-1969)
William Henry Pratt
In 1931, Universal Studios had begun working on a project for Frankenstein. With it's successful depiction of Dracula (1931), released earlier that year in February, they hoped to place Bela Lugosi as the lead. When Lugosi discovered that his face would be almost completely covered in heavy makeup and that there was no dialogue, he turned it down. Just by chance, Karloff had begun work with the studio only a year before.
His height and already distinct features made him the perfect candidate for the mindless monster. But these features would not be the only memorable part of his role. With his humble and kind demeanor, he gave the creature an added element of gentleness that the public had never seen before. For the first time, you saw that Frankenstein not only had feelings but was just wanting to understand the world around him.
With his great talents, Karloff has been able to reach out of the Halloween season and touch the Christmas one as well. With his horror-ific voice in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), he showed us another side of him that was more true to home. In life, he was loved by children and admired for his humility by those who knew him. I would go on to talk about this great man, but I have a clip below that can do that for me. My mom mentioned that she saw this episode live and encouraged me to look it up, I'm glad I did. It is a three part segment and can be accessed fully on YouTube.
OTHER CREEPY MEN
CLAUDE RAINS (1889-1967)
William Claude Rains
Very few actors have been able to be in a successful Horror film and move back into other projects. Rains Hollywood career had started with The Invisible Man (1933) as a direct result of his talented voice. But studios quickly discovered that his talents were beyond this role and he found himself in some of the best films of his time.
In 1943, he returned to the Horror genre with The Phantom of the Opera making it another classic. When you compare these two roles with each other you can not only see the ten year growth of Rains, but also his talented ability to make each part completely separate from the other.
VINCENT PRICE (1911-1993)
Vincent Leonard Price Jr.
Vincent Price has become synonymous with the Horror genre. His long figure with his lean face and shrill voice have made him a Halloween legend for spooky stories. He didn't need to wear as much makeup as the other actors, he was a character in himself.
Just like the other men mentioned above, he too was as different from his screen characters as you can get. Described as sweet, kind and almost boyish in real life, you realize that his acting was truly a gift.
There they are, my favorite scary men of the screen. Two other men that I wish to list as honorable mentions are Peter Lore & John Carradine.