|Lon Chaney, Jr (February 10, 1906 – July 12, 1973)|
February 10, 2013 -- Lon Chaney, Jr., son of famous silent film actor, Lon Chaney, an American actor known for playing such characters as The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster and Count Alucard for Universal, was born born Creighton Tull Chaney, 107 years ago today, on February 10, 1906 in Oklahoma City.
Joel Allegretti recalls his own adolescent transformation and the famous wolf man in this excerpt from "The Wolf Man of St. Mark’s Place" from his latest book "Europa/Nippon/New York:: Poems/Not-Poems" (Poets Wear Prada, 2012):
Thanks to Universal Pictures, the werewolf relocated from superstition to celluloid. The studio’s initial offering, Werewolf of London (1935), left nary a paw print at the box office. The second, The Wolf Man (1941), transformed the creature into a genre matinee idol who joined the rarefied movie-monster pantheon, taking his distinguished place next to Dracula, Frankenstein’s creature and the Mummy. Objects associated with the werewolf — full moon, silver bullets — entered the popular lexicon in the picture’s wake.
My personal experience was considerably less picturesque than that of Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney the younger). There was nightfall, but no machine-generated fog, no gypsy’s portentous utterances, no Béla Lugosi in one of his progressively lesser roles. I roomed with two other New York University graduates in a tiny apartment three floors above a record shop on St. Mark’s Place in East Greenwich Village. In the summer of ’75, I had the itch to leave the reek of Manhattan. Instead of going home to Minneapolis, I decided a long weekend upstate was the ideal prescription and bought a bus ticket to Monticello, where my mother’s cousin lived.
On Saturday night — I think it was close to midnight (how appropriate) — while the family was in bed, I took a walk in the backyard along the edge of the woods. Yes, the moon was full and as bright as a klieg light. Out from the trees a German shepherd puppy bounded up to me. Laughing out of surprise as well as glee, I wiggled my fingers in the critter’s snout. It thanked me for my playful gesture by closing its callow jaws on my hand and bolting back into the forest. Under the moonshine, I saw the miserable animal had broken skin. I rushed into the house and treated the wound with hydrogen peroxide, a gauze pad and adhesive tape. The next morning, I was in the local emergency room for a rabies shot.
I was dying to abbreviate my trip and late in the afternoon boarded the bus to New York — this in spite of Cousin Maria’s protests. Did I mention she had the same first name as the actress who played the gypsy woman in The Wolf Man? Don’t you love coincidence?
Back in the city and feeling weak from the needle, I sprawled on the sofa by the living room window. One roommate stepped out to buy me a falafel sandwich. The other was somewhere.
The full moon spilled itself on me, and I learned the little German shepherd was neither German nor shepherd.
Chaney Jr.’s shape-shifting scenes are colorful. They had to be if the film was going to lure moviegoers. I’m sorry to report the real-world transmutation is removed from the fanciful worlds of cinema and village beliefs. No, I don’t sprout hair like a sideshow freak, although my eyebrows do acquire a Vlad the Impaler bushiness (pardon the mixed metaphor) and a day’s five o’clock shadow takes on the look of two days’ worth. My canine teeth don’t gain a couple of inches. My voice is my voice, but with a dash of Louis Armstrong. I don’t feed on human biceps; raw pot roast fits the bill. The profound shift is in my personality. The closest analogy is Mr. Hyde. Still, werewolf or plain old were, I’m an American, damn it. Derring-do fills my bones as much as marrow. My father was a Minnesota state assemblyman who always taught me the following: Whether fortune blesses you or misfortune befalls you, ask yourself, “How can I capitalize on this?”
The Bowery was only a hop, skip and a lunge away, so I loped to CBGB, called myself Lou Garou and formed a punk-rock band with a trio of like-minded fellows. I was the lead singer.
Our name? The Larry Talbots.
[First published in "KNOCK"]
Pop culture chronicler Allegretti leads readers of his latest book on a cinematic journey through time and space replete with airplanes, submarines, the expected cathedral stops, plus surprise encounters with marquee idols and urban legends. “Come, children, and take your seat for ‘Europa/Nippon/New York,’ where Joel Allegretti spans the globe with ears to the ground and eyes toward the stars,” Daniel Nestor, author of “How to Be Inappropriate,” urges. Commends Peter Covino, winner of the 2007 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry, “Everything instructs, engages, and delights us through the wide-angle lens of this wonderful new collection where ‘the next world is the next movie.’”