Thursday 10 Jul
 
 

 

OKG Newsletter


Topic: blogs

VOTD: Me, myself and JT

Timberlake + Fallon = another hilarious hip-hop medley.

From here on out, it’s a pretty safe bet that a Justin Timberlake late-night appearance equates to another installment in the “History of Rap” series, which, as of last night, is now up to three. I think “Part I” will always remain the best just because: 

1. it was completely unexpected,
2. that two white guys slipped from Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” straight into Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” each with its little nonsense-isms, and
3. they capped it with the crowd spontaneously singing the chorus to Jay-Z’s love letter to New York.

De La Soul, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Young MC, House of Pain, Coolio, The Fugees, OutKast, Snoop, Kanye, Nicki Minaj and “H.O.R.” mainstays Beastie Boys all get the treatment here. Decide which one you like best:





by Matt Carney 11.01.2011 2 years ago
at 08:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

Sterlin’s sterling work

Harjo to be honored with state film award Saturday.

Oklahoma City Museum of Art has a slew of interesting documentaries, both shorts and feature-length, lined up between Thursday and Saturday for its American Indian Cinema Showcase.

If you can attend only one night, why not Saturday, when the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle will honor state filmmaker Sterlin Harjo pictured with an award? Here are the full details in the form of a press release, complete with quotes of things I didn’t really say. (Oh, those PR peeps!) —Rod Lott

Oklahoma Film Critics Circle Honors Sterlin Harjo with Award for Achievement in Film
 
Oklahoma City, Nov. 1, 2011 — The Oklahoma Film Critics Circle has honored filmmaker Sterlin Harjo with the 2011 Tilghman Award celebrating achievement in cinema in the state.
 
The OFF will present Harjo with the Tilghman Award in a short ceremony Friday, Nov. 5, after a screening of his most recent works, a series of documentary shorts for Tulsa’s This Land Press. The screening, which begins at 5:30 p.m., will be at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art as part of the museum’s American Indian Cinema Showcase from Nov. 3 to Nov. 5.
 
Harjo, a 31-year-old member of the Seminole and Creek Nations, has earned international acclaim for films examining contemporary life of Native people. But his feature-length narratives – “Four Sheets to the Wind” in 2007 and “Barking Water” in 2009 – are emotionally rich motion pictures populated by complex characters.
 
“Sterlin’s films are invested with a humanity and depth of emotion that eludes many of his older, more experienced peers,” says OFCC President Rod Lott. “In a short period of time, Sterlin has really raised the bar for Oklahoma filmmakers. He more than deserves the Tilghman for his commitment to his art.”
 
OFCC’s 19 member critics choose as recipients of the award those individuals who have made significant contributions to film, advanced awareness of film in Oklahoma or highlighted Oklahoma as the home of talented and productive filmmakers, actors and others in the industry.
 
Raised in Holdenville and now living in Tulsa, Harjo began his filmmaking career while he was an art student at the University of Oklahoma. He credits a film class of Misha Nedeljkovich there with introducing him to the motion pictures of John Cassavetes and other independent-minded directors.
 
“It really opened my eyes to foreign films and independent films,” Harjo says. “He (Nedeljkovich) introduced me to all these different filmmakers and … the fact that you could make your own kind of film and it didn’t have to be like the stuff you see coming out of Hollywood.”
 
After launching into film, Harjo was selected to the Sundance Institute Filmmaker Lab. There he met producer Chad Burris, a Weatherford native, and the pair collaborated on a short film, “Goodnight Irene,” before tackling a larger project based on Harjo’s screenplay.
 
That resulting work, “Four Sheets to the Wind,” premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. The film tells the story of a young man named Cufe Smallhill (Cody Lightning) who goes to live with his troubled sister after the death of their father. The movie drew strong critical acclaim and earned a Sundance Special Jury Prize for Tamara Podemski, who portrayed Cufe’s sister. The actress later earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance.
 
In 2009, Harjo wrote and directed “Barking Water,” a haunting road film about a dying man and his ex-lover traveling across Oklahoma to visit the man’s estranged son. The movie also premiered at Sundance and has been screened around the world.
 
“I just don’t see myself making films about any other place,” Harjo says. “I mainly tell stories about contemporary Native people from specific tribes — usually Seminole and Creek — and the history of those tribes are that they were displaced from their homeland and put in Oklahoma. There’s a whole dynamic there that’s already created; it’s already complex, and it’s already going to influence my storytelling.”
 
Previous Tilghman Award recipients are documentary filmmaker Bradley Beeseley, Oklahoma City Museum of Art film curator Brian Hearn and Circle Cinema Foundation president Clark Wiens.
 
The Tilghman Award is named for William Matthew “Bill” Tilghman, widely credited with being the first individual to make a feature-length movie in what is now Oklahoma. He served as a deputy U.S. marshal and police chief in Oklahoma City, among other law-related positions. Tilghman also served as a state senator. In 1908, he made “A Bank Robbery,” which starred real-life bank robber Al Jennings recreating one of his crimes.
 
It was the first of several films Tilghman set in the state. In 1915, the lawman-turned-filmmaker made “Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws,” again starring actual criminals and the good guys who chased them. He is known for his attempts to deglamorize the outlaw villain and for striving to prove there are no outlaw heroes.
 
by Rod Lott 11.01.2011 2 years ago
at 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

VOTD: Girls aplenty

Watch eight beautiful, grainy videos of Girls’ Christopher Owens at an SF gallery.

Stereogum pointed out late Tuesday that a bunch of videos of mushy-gushy bedroom songwriter Christopher Owens of Girls performing songs both released and unheard showed up on the openingceremony.us blog this weekend.

“I wrote this song a coupla days ago, hadn’t played it for anybody yet,” he said before dedicating “Key to My Heart” to his girlfriend. The song (and several others here) didn’t appear on last year’s “Broken Dreams Club” EP, nor on this year’s fantastic “Father, Son, Holy Ghost,” suggesting he’s probably got a wealth of scribbled-in notebooks full of lyrics stashed away somewhere.

The filters on the video (it’s almost exclusively black-and-white, except for “Cold Again,” with splices of sepia color), Owens’ jean jacket and the folkie setup make these performances seem really timeless. Watch for yourself:

“Solitude”


“Mr. Blue”


“Saying I Love You”


“Nobody’s Business”


“Keys to My Heart”


“End of the World”


“Cold Again”


“Back to London”
by Matt Carney 11.03.2011 2 years ago
at 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

Master Folds

Miss Ben Folds’s ACM@UCO master class last night?

Worry not, for OKSee was there taking notes for you.

The quick hits: ACM@UCO head honcho Scott Booker tossed open-ended questions Folds’ way for about an hour, which he spent detailing his start and several of the early business decisions he made. About 500+ sat in rapt attention, cheering and occasionally even gently heckling the two men on stage. Wayne Coyne sat front row, which Folds acknowledged during the interview.

Booker ended his bit, opening the floor to questions from the audience. The line formed long quickly, and OKSee took off for the Ra Ra Riot show a few questions in. However, it was more than enough time to hear some great, enlightening banter from Booker and Folds, particularly the nature and function of the artist within the modern music business. Also, he made a buncha funnies.

I’ve gone through my notes and assembled a highlight reel of sound bites that are below. Enjoy.

On growing up singing in the South, where the stereotype that musically minded boys were all homosexuals:

“My father said I had a terrible voice.”


On breaking his hand while defending his roommate from bullies at the University of Miami, and subsequently flunking a test and losing his music scholarship:

“I threw my drums in the lake.”


On his experience working on a music publishing deal in Nashville:

“I enjoyed it, sort of. I didn’t get any royalty money for three or four years because of the bad contract. ... Ben Folds Five happened because I got so scared of the Nashville thing.”


On the transfer from working on a Nashville hit-making assembly line to his own solo project:

“Suddenly I realized all the things that were getting me rejected were suddenly valued. ... Then I heard Liz Phair’s ‘Exile in Guyville’ ... and that set me off. I knew about The Replacements, but I didn’t really know about indie stuff.”


On the piano he lugged around during those earlier BF5 years:

“I borrowed a lot of money to pay for that first piano. It was in constant danger of getting repossessed.”


On the business end:

“We got a business manager who explained we needed to borrow money to pay taxes.”


On 550 Music’s (a division of Sony Music Entertainment) promotion of the single “Brick”:

“They treated ‘Brick’ like ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’: Release two rockers, then a power ballad. And it worked.”


On signing to a major label:

“It was a relief. It meant I didn’t have to move my piano anymore.”


On working as a producer:

“I like being the producer when I’m brining to life something that wouldn’t be music otherwise. The Nick Hornby collaboration, for instance.”


On certain of his works being considered “novelty” or a joke:

“My biggest frustration is the words ‘novelty song.’ I don’t know what that means.”


On Elliott Smith, with whom he toured (and whom Booker briefly managed):

“He’s such a great songwriter technically. He was trying to write Beatles songs, and people heard him for what he was, which was desperate.”


Odds and ends:

“I was writing waltzes about Howard Cosell and stuff.”

“We got a tour manager who’d worked for Slayer.”

“We spent money on a producer; we liked his name, Stiff Johnson.”

“After ‘Brick,’ I started pulling favors. Like, ‘OK, I want to make a spoken-word record with William Shatner.’”

“Rivers [Cuomo, of Weezer] was off on an island somewhere, laying in the sun. I think that’s where he got the song.”

“[‘Weird Al’ Yankovic] is the most not-weird man I’ve ever met.”

“One of my best friends is Bob Saget.”

Folds performs tonight with the OKC Philharmonic at the Civic Center. Tickets are still available at the box office and online at okcciviccenter.com. “The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective” is out now.



by Matt Carney 11.03.2011 2 years ago
at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

OKS Chatter: Future Islands

The indie-lit popsters’ singer talks songwriting, Wye Oak and pent-up aggression.

In case it isn’t clear from Future Islands singer Sam Herring’s unabashedly outward and dramatic performances, he recently underlined the fact that his band is all about applying their art-school convictions to infectious music over the phone.

“We’re a synth-pop band,” he said. “And yet we’re trying to add our own voice to the conversation. What do we as artists have to put into this?”

While there’s nothing in contemporary pop music that can claim similarity to Herring’s guttural, direct register, Gerrit Welmer’s keyboard melodies float high and clear above the guitars and drum machine sounds, just the way you’d expect from a great New Wave band that pours emotive, literary lyrics over pulsing, Joy Division rhythms (see “Vireo’s Eye”).

They’re playing at Opolis tonight, but OKSee caught up with Herring last week to discuss fellow Baltimoreans Wye Oak, songwriting and just why they sound so aggressive.

OKS: Where are you guys on the road right now?

Herring: We’re just leaving Pittsburgh right now on our way to Cleveland. It’s a short drive, so we got an amazing breakfast and we just actually got out of the Warhol Museum.

OKS: Tell me about the music scene in Baltimore right now, because it seems to be teeming with experimentation in a whole lot of different styles, not just one or two. There are guys like you, Wye Oak and band I happened across a couple of months ago called Small Sur that are all just wonderful and fearless and different.

Herring: One of the things that’s beautiful about the scene there is the variation in the music people are making. In our group of friends, it’s not like people are making music that’s comparable to us necessarily. The thing that unifies everybody the most is the want to play and support each other, to see what others are doing, and to get inspired off of that. We’ve been told that by a lot of musicians and friends.



That’s the beauty of the community. There’s a lot of genuine curiosity. In some scenes they’re known for a certain sound, but in Baltimore ... if you look at the band’s coming out of there, it’s all very different and I think what runs common through them is their hard work.

I don’t know if it’s because it’s a small enough city that there’s a collective consciousness-type thing — like in New York where you’ve got 10 bands doing this sound, 10 bands doing that sound, and 10 bands doing another sound — maybe there is a bit of that art-school mentality where people are adding to the conversation instead of canning things. It’s a healthy competition. Everybody’s very supportive. It makes us a stronger scene.

OKS: I saw Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak contributed vocals to your album. She’s played here in the OKC area like three times in the last five or six months, and I still wish I could see them more.

Herring
: They’re amazing. They play real hard.

OKS: Agreed. What’d she bring to “The Great Fire” that you can’t hear on the track?



Herring: The song was written and then, after playing it live a few times, we decided that it might be nice to bring in a female vocal as a new dynamic. I got the guys’ blessing to ask Jenn if she was up for it. She was really excited.

I sent her the song and said, “I want you to sing the second verse and then follow me on the choruses. Do you want to rewrite the second verse? What works for you?” and she said, “No, I like the verse, I like the words.” It was her idea to intertwine the vocals so it’d sound like they were shadowing each other, which I think was beautiful. She brings a softer side to what I think people imagine we’re like. I toned down my vocals to let her be the strong character.

She lifted that song with her vocals. We went into the studio, she sang it a couple times and I asked if she could do a sonic scale at the end and she just blew it away. I think she did five or six takes and me and Chester, our producer, were sitting in the other room just jumping up and down, high-fiving each other like “This is gonna be awesome!”

Now I kinda sing the lines the way she sings them, ’cause I like the way she does it better. It was a lot of fun.

OKS: It doesn’t sound too much to me like you guys write lyrics while strumming a guitar or playing a piano. Walk me through your process.

Herring: Some songs come along easier than others. Right now, we’re working on a new song and I’m workshopping it and playing with melodies, but that’s only one out of three songs where I take a couple days on it to try to figure out what I’m trying to say. 

Oftentimes, it is pretty much just us sitting in a room, with Gerrit playing keyboard or piano or organ, and William plucking a bass, with me just sitting back and seeing if anything happens, seeing what words pop up. Sometimes Gerrit will come up with a really strong song structure and then William and I will work on our respective parts to go with it.

I enjoy writing like that because I feel like it’s a really solid process. It’s however they pop up, and they yield different results. I think it’s good to have variations in writing styles and seeing what happens.

Usually, I’ll feel out the music for myself, see where it takes me and freely write fine melodies that speak to me. And like I said, sometimes they come really easy — I’m like, “How did I write that?” — and then there’s other songs where I’m like, “I know exactly how I wrote that: I fought over those two lines for days and days and days trying to decide if it was bullshit or not. Or if it was worth it, or if I was taking a chance, or if I was taking too much of a chance, those kinds of things.” 

You have to be a critic as well as an artist. You have to trust it when you’re right on point, questioning if you’re doing something new, or if you’re using a cliché for yourself or against yourself. I think there’s a lot to be said for talking about clichés. I love to flip a cliché. Like, “I’m going to make this mine.”

OKS: All these songs on “In Evening Air” sound really tense in that all the aggression and drama seems subterranean. It’s not always easily evident, and it’s not angry either. Why is that?

Herring: In telling a good story and allowing a buildup of tension, then breaking that ... the punk aesthetic’s a big part of us, from way back. We’ve always made music with whatever means were possible, and we’ve done it hard, done it sweaty and done it dirty.

There is that force, but I’d chalk it up to building tension within a song, because it’s gripping. I really want to grab people onstage. Not physically, but I want the performance to be gripping and to affect. We want to move people physically and emotionally. If we can get one of those it’s great, and if we can get both, it’s amazing. Having that catharsis is the goal.

Long Flight” is the perfect example of that, where it’s just kinda smooth, there’s this repetition, then the second verse which is a little bit heavier, some repetition, then the third verse and the last chorus just breaks everything — it’s all out. While it builds to this climax of force and anger, we’re also letting go of it all. That’s what it’s like in writing — especially for me — writing a song so you can understand certain aspects of myself, so I can put it out, I can perform that song and build to that release.

Or I don’t know, maybe Gerrit and William have a lot of rage inside of them that I don’t know about.

Future Islands play Opolis Friday, supported by fellow Baltimoreites Ed Schrader’s Music Beat and Mike and Mike. Their third full-length album, "In Evening Air," is out now.
by Matt Carney 11.04.2011 2 years ago
at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

Celebrate boys, b-days and 'staches

This month, give cancer the middle finger.

Do you like boys? I do.

You've probably noticed your Facebook and Twitter feeds filled with the pleas of your men who are growing 'staches in honor of “Movember.”

They want you to donate to their cause. Now, if you're like me, you are generally inundated with the pleas of many for some sort of financial support. After the budgeting and balancing of that hard-earned paycheck, sometimes there's only a meager sum left for the good of mankind.

I urge you to consider the Movember Madness. This movement funds awareness for men's health, specifically prostate cancer.

Think about your favorite man. Who is it?

Well, I'll tell you who mine is.

It's this guy right here – my grandfather, who the family lovingly refers to as “Pawpaw.”

You might be wondering what this has to do with 'staches and such. I'll tell you:
1. He's a man.
2. He's a prostate cancer survivor.
3. It's his 75th birthday today.

Without the amazing research done, my Pawpaw might not be here today. And I wouldn't have pictures like this:





As you can see, I'm not the only person who would miss him. His honey of 53 years (and counting) would, too.

The point is: Cancer sucks and research costs money. So, get involved if you love your men as much as I love mine!

Though Pawpaw doesn't have a Facebook and isn't growing a 'stache in honor of the cause, there are many people who are. Find yourself a participant and give a little love so we can have more moments like this:


Oklahoma boys growin' 'staches:
• musician Ryan Lawson
• OK native Johnny Perkins
• the Oklahoma City Barons
by Jenn Scott 11.04.2011 2 years ago
at 09:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

Pole position

This wild local video is just what Dr. ordered.

Many a restless night, I’ve wondered what would happen if I were wearing a Batman T-shirt and awakened by a whispered line from “Field of Dreams,” and then while I was brushing my teeth, a floating head would appear, but I’d go about my business anyway and finish installing that stripper pole in the bedroom.


Now that we were tipped to local rock band Dr. Smith’s eight-minute, gotta-watch-it-all-twice video for “The Time Is Right,” I have the answer: A bespectacled man with a gray beard that splits into two would start playing his flute, whose notes would magically transport you to a dream world otherwise known as Teaze Dance & Fitness, 1112 N. Broadway, where the lithe, scantily clad ladies would perform around me in provocative slow motion and sometimes using boas, all of which the teenage me would have been totally into.



And then I’d probably have a pizza delivered. —Rod Lott
by Rod Lott 11.10.2011 2 years ago
at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 
theadventuresoftintin

’Tin man

A classic cartoon character, without the creepy-eyed look of motion-capture technology.

Because Steven Spielberg’s first animated film as director, “The Adventures of Tintin,” doesn’t open until Dec. 21, you still have ample chance to arm yourself with answers to the sure-to-be-asked question of, “What the hell is a Tintin?”

Huge in Europe (like, 350 million copies huge), Tintin is a classic comic-book character, created by Belgian artist Georges Rémi in 1929, and reprints are readily available for purchase. Movies and cartoons have been made before of the young investigative reporter, too, but American audiences will find them tough to locate.  

Except for the “The Adventures Of Tintin”  animated series of the 1990s, come Nov. 22. On that day, Shout! Factory will release the show’s first season on a double-disc DVD.

Until then, enjoy this colorful, advance look of Conan O’Brien, Boy Detective — er, Tintin. I meant Tintin. —Rod Lott

by Rod Lott 11.11.2011 2 years ago
at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

R&R Q&A with Jason Segel

It’s felt up, as the Muppets prime for a comeback.

Anticipation is high for “The Muppets,” Disney’s reboot of the Jim Henson crew, opening just in time for Thanksgiving. Its star and screenwriter, Jason Segel, is much too busy to talk to outlets like lil’ ol’ us, so the Mouse House sent a canned interview to me. Rather than be a corporate puppet and run it as is, I thought it’d be more fun to change the questions, but leave Segel’s answers intact, so I feel like I actually contributed.

Personally, I think it makes for a better read. The studio should be paying me. Enjoy. 

R&R: Jason — if I may call you Jason — can you please discuss the inception of this film, but using a phrase that a woman might use to let others know that she’s pregnant?

Segel: The Muppets were my first comic influence and I was in love with puppetry. I just thought it was an amazing art form. We ended “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” with a lavish puppet musical, and The Jim Henson Company designed the puppets. Something started growing in my belly, and Nick (Stoller) and I came up with this idea and pitched it to Disney. Disney liked the idea, so we wrote the script.

R&R: “Belly,” good one! I also would’ve accepted “I was craving raw meat” and “Oops, I missed my period.” Now, whenever you tell anyone about taking on characters as beloved as these Muppets, what is their response? Scratch that: What are two of their responses?

Segel: Whenever I tell anyone, the response is always twofold: “Oh my God, that's awesome.” And then, “You better not mess it up.”

R&R: How about that Amy Adams? She seems super-sweet and super-innocent, and with credits like “Enchanted,” she seems just perfect for this role. You really lucked out.

Segel: Amy Adams is super-sweet and super-innocent, and with credits like “Enchanted,” she was just perfect for this role. We really lucked out.

R&R: If you could compare Kermit to ... oh, I don’t know, say an iconic Gregory Peck character, who would he be?

Segel: Kermit's the everyman. He's like Atticus Finch. He just wants to be an upright citizen and be kind. It’s all about laughter and love and doing what's right.

R&R: Let’s cut to the chase. Miss Piggy: She’s a diva, am I right?

Segel: Miss Piggy is the ultimate diva.

R&R: Do you think you could talk about Animal while making a Shakespeare reference that no one but English-lit majors will get? Bonus points for a Freud reference, too. You realize that if you pull this off, the academic world may stop thinking of you simply as the guy who wiggled his wang around in “Sarah Marshall.”

Segel: Animal is the part of all of us that is unhinged. Animal is like our Id. He's like Caliban from “The Tempest.”

R&R: Touché, Segel, touché.  —Rod Lott

by Rod Lott 11.15.2011 2 years ago
at 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
 

Lon in the tooth

Before he was the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. was an Okie.

By popular demand — OK, one person’s feedback from this week’s cover story on Herschell Gordon Lewis — I resurrect our feature on another master of horror with Sooner State ties: Lon Chaney Jr. The below was part of a cover story I wrote for the Oct. 25, 2006, issue of Gazettethe same story that profiled “Children of the Corn” director Fritz Kiersch, if you want to read that, too.

LON CHANEY JR.: WEREWOLF OF OKC
In 1941’s “The Wolf Man,” legend has it a full moon causes Lon Chaney Jr.’s character to transform into a werewolf. Equally as apocryphal is the legend of Chaney’s birth right here in Oklahoma City.

Chaney Jr. — in a story perpetuated by himself — was born two months premature on Feb. 10, 1906, “black and dead,” until his father, Lon Chaney Sr., dunked him into the icy waters of Belle Isle Lake to revive him.

According to Chaney Jr.’s grandson, Ron Chaney, he was then kept alive in a homemade incubator made out of a shoe box lined with cotton.

But Michael F. Blake, the author of three books on the elder Chaney, said “according to (other) family members, the story is complete fiction.”

“(Chaney Jr.) started it himself, because it got him attention. There’s no other proof that it happened,” said Blake, an Emmy-winning makeup artist currently at work on “Spider-Man 3.”

Oklahoma City remains about the only undisputed element of the story, as Chaney Sr. — not yet the famed silent-film actor — met his wife, Cleva Creighton, in OKC during a 1905 tour of the Columbia Musical Comedy Repertoire Co. He performed; she, only 15, auditioned as a chorus girl despite the protests of her mother, a local nurse. She didn’t get the dancing job, but she won his heart, and state court records reportedly show the couple as having married on May 31 of that year when she was 16.

Less than nine months later, their son — dubbed Creighton Tull Chaney — was born. According to a 1907 city directory, they lived at 312 W. Washington. Chaney Sr. made $15 a week in the rug department at Grand Rapids Furniture Co., until they left Oklahoma for good in 1908.

Hollywood followed. And, after Chaney Sr. died in 1930, Creighton dumped plumbing to take his father’s career path … and, reluctantly, his name.

“He was starved to take the name Lon Jr., essentially forced to by the studios,” Blake said. “Unfortunately, like many children of famous actors, he had to bear the brunt of being compared to Daddy. It was hard for him. He wanted to make it on his own.”

Said Ron Chaney, a swimming-pool contractor in California, “He knew his father was a tremendous star, but wanted to make it under his own name. It upset him at the time, but that’s the way it is.”

With one of Chaney Sr.’s most famous roles being 1925’s frightfest “The Phantom of the Opera,” it perhaps was inevitable that Chaney Jr. eventually find his way to horror as well.

After scads of cheap Westerns, that opportunity came in 1941, when he was cast in the title role in Universal Pictures’ “The Wolf Man.” The film was a massive hit for Universal’s horror machine, and Chaney Jr. was tapped to reprise the role in 1943’s “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” (and again in 1948’s “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein”).

But the studio wasn’t content with having him just sprout facial hair. Within two years, he was called upon to sport neck bolts, bandages and fangs in the title roles of the sequels “The Ghost of Frankenstein,” “The Mummy’s Tomb” and “Son of Dracula,” respectively. According to the Internet Movie Database, this gave Chaney Jr. the distinction of being the only actor to portray all four of Universal’s classic monsters.

But “The Wolf Man” is the film with which he will be forever linked. The role earned him pop-culture placement, being name-checked in Warren Zevon’s 1978 hit song “Werewolves of London” and having his visage on a 32-cent stamp in 1997 — albeit under tufts of hair.

“Like (Bela) Lugosi’s Dracula and Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, even if you don’t know Lon Chaney’s name, you can show people a picture and they know he’s the Wolf Man,” said film scholar Gary D. Rhodes. “He has an iconic status.”

Chaney Jr. parlayed that success into a series of six “Inner Sanctum” mysteries for Universal, but as the years went on, the quality of his films plummeted. Witness “Indestructible Man,” “The Alligator People” or “Hillbillys in a Haunted House.” Or rather, don’t.

“Horror geeks like to think he was as big a star as his dad, but he wasn’t,” Blake said. “I think Creighton always resented or regretted horror films, really, because he got trapped in them, and then couldn’t do good work. He got stuck in a rut. You get typecast. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Blake said this was unfortunate, because if one looks at Chaney Jr.’s attempts at drama — most notably, the screen adaptation “Of Mice and Men” or the classic Western “High Noon” — he proved himself rather adept as a character actor.

“There’s solid supporting work there, but he was trapped in all this other garbage. And unfortunately, he had a battle with the bottle and didn’t quite win it,” Blake said.

Substance abuse problems plagued Chaney Jr. A 1948 article in The Oklahoman reported the actor was rendered unconscious and in serious condition from an overdose of sleeping tablets, but alcohol was his lifelong demon, particularly in his later years.

“There were drinking exploits with (actor) Broderick Crawford. He got into trouble here and there,” Ron Chaney said. “He was a very complex person, I believe. He saw an awful lot in his lifetime.”

His final film was 1971’s “Dracula vs. Frankenstein” (aka “Satan’s Bloody Freaks”), but being a no-budget schlockfest, it was a far and rather desperate cry from his Forties heyday. While his late-career star may not have shone as bright, it didn’t matter to his family.

“He was just Gramps to me,” said Ron Chaney, who was a teenager when Chaney Jr. died on July 12, 1973. “I knew he was the Wolf Man, but it didn’t really occur to me. He loved to cook and he wrestled with us — those were my memories of him. He was a gentle giant.” —Rod Lott
by Rod Lott 11.16.2011 2 years ago
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