YDK: Rondo Hatton

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

YDK: Rondo Hatton

Rondo Hatton (April 22, 1894 – February 2, 1946) was an American actor who had a brief but prolific career playing thuggish bit parts in many Hollywood B-movies.  He was known for his brutish facial features which were the result of acromegaly1, a disorder of the pituitary gland.

Hatton was born Rondo K. Hatton in Hagerstown, Maryland to Stewart Price and Emily Zarring Hatton, a pair of Missouri-born teachers.  The Hatton family moved several times during Rondo's youth, to Hickory, North Carolina, and to Charles Town, West Virginia, and at last to Tampa, Florida, where family members owned a business. Following his father's death, Hatton, his mother, and his younger brother Stewart moved in with his maternal grandmother in Tampa.  There he obtained work as a sportswriter for the local newspaper.  He worked as a journalist until after World War I when the symptoms of acromegaly developed.

Acromegaly distorted the shape of Hatton's head, face, and extremities in a gradual but consistent process. Hatton, who reportedly had been voted the handsomest boy in his class at Hillsborough High School, eventually became severely disfigured by the disease.  Because the symptoms developed in adulthood (as is common with the disorder), the disfigurement was incorrectly attributed later by film studio publicity departments to his exposure to a German mustard gas attack during service in World War I.  Hatton served in combat and served on the Mexican border and in France with the United States Army.

Director Henry King noticed Hatton when he was working as a reporter with The Tampa Tribune covering the filming of Hell Harbor (1930) and hired him for a small role.  After some hesitation, Hatton moved to Hollywood in 1936 to pursue a career playing similar, often uncredited, bit roles.  His most notable of these were as a contestant in the "ugly man competition" (which he loses to a heavily made up Charles Laughton) in the 1939 RKO production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and as Gabe Hart, a member of the lynch mob in the 1943 film of “The Ox-Bow Incident”.

Universal Studios attempted to exploit Hatton's unusual features to promote him as a horror star after he played the part of The Hoxton Creeper (aka The Hoxton Horror) in its sixth Sherlock Holmes film, “The Pearl of Death” (1944). He made a half dozen minor films playing variations of the Creeper character, including “The Brute Man” (1946). Hatton died of a heart attack (a direct result of his acromegalic condition) in 1946.

Hatton's name - and simple but brutish face - have become recurring motifs in popular culture.  In season 6, episode 4 of the 1970s television series, The Rockford Files ("Only Rock-n-Roll Will Never Die, part 1"), Jim Rockford, exasperated at a friend who dismisses himself as unattractive, exclaims "You're no Rondo Hatton!" Hatton's physical likeness appears as the Lothar character in Dave Stevens' 1980s Rocketeer Adventure Magazine stories, as well as Disney's 1991 film version, The Rocketeer, where the character is played by actor Tiny Ron in prosthetic make-up.

The 2000 AD comic book character Judge Dredd, who is rarely seen without his helmet on, used "face-changing technology" to make himself look like Rondo Hatton in a 1977 issue - the first time the character's face was shown.  As the artist Brian Bolland revealed in an interview with David Bishop: "The picture of Dredd’s face – that was a 1940s actor called Rondo Hatton.  I've only seen him in one film."  Additionally, the character "The Creep" in the Dark Horse Presents comic-book series strongly resembled Hatton.

Hatton is regularly name-checked in the novels of Robert Rankin, (often referred to as "the now-legendary Rondo Hatton") and credited as appearing in films which are either fictional, or which he clearly had no part in, such as the “Carry On”2 films.  Rankin's references to Hatton routinely occur in the form of "he had a Rondo Hatton" (hat on).  Another namecheck occurs in Rafi Zabor's PEN/Faulkner-award winning 1998 novel The Bear Comes Home, where the name is used as a nickname for good-natured but unrefined minor character Tommy Talmo.  In the 2004 Stephen King novel, The Dark Tower VII, a character is described as looking "like Rondo Hatton, a film actor from the 30's, who suffered from acromegaly and got work playing monsters and psychopaths..."  The episode of Doctor Who entitled "The Wedding of River Song" features Mark Gatiss as a character whose appearance (achieved through prosthetics) is based on Hatton's, credited under the pseudonym "Rondo Haxton" for his performance.

The play with music entitled The Return of Dr. X written by Welsh playwright Chris Amos contains a dedication to Rondo Hatton and the story (of a horror star named Gabriel Haydon) is loosely based on the life of Rondo Hatton. The show has been produced in several UK regional theatres and was nominated for the Cameron MackIntosh Award in 2000.

The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards were created by David Colton and Kerry Gammill at the Classic Horror Film Boards in 2002.  The awards are fan-based, and have no connection to any commercial sponsor.  Anyone in fandom can vote or propose nominees.  The 'Rondo' award itself features a bust sculpted by illustrator Kerry Gammill, and cast by modelers Tim Lindsey and Byron Salisbury.  The statuette is a miniature version of the bust of Hatton seen in the Universal film, HOUSE OF HORRORS (1946).  The Rondos have been praised by recipients for their quiet beauty and evocation of classic horror.

Nominees for the Rondo are selected from suggestions by horror fans, pros and enthusiasts offered all year at the CHFB. Each year's nominees are finalized by classic horror fan David Colton, with the help of more than 20 classic horror fans from around the world, and with expertise in all parts of fandom.

 

The Films You Might Know Him From:

The Captive Wild Woman trilogy ("Captive Wild Woman", "Jungle Woman" and "The Jungle Captive") is the story of what happens when scientists try to transform Cheela the ape into a beautiful woman, named Paula Dupree.  The story of converting animals to humans is not new. H.G. Wells wrote "The Island of Dr. Moreau" which was first filmed as "The Island of Lost Souls" in 1933.  Apes and gorillas have often been used as killers, under the spell of evil men and mad doctors in many movies.  In 1943, Bela Lugosi starred as "The Ape Man" for Monogram Pictures, a half man-half ape creature.  In 1942 Paramount released "Dr. Renault's Secret" starring J. Carrol Naish as an ape turned into a man.

But it was Universal, looking to add a new monster to it's already crowded roster of classic monsters, that came up with the idea of a female ape woman; one transformed from a female ape into a beautiful woman who would revert to a creature with makeup similar to that of Lon Chaney's Wolf Man.  Jack Pierce created both makeups. Acquanetta (born Mildred Davenport) won the role of the exotic looking Paula Dupree and portrayed the character in the first two films.  She left Universal before the third film was made so Vicky Lane was chosen as her replacement.

The three Ape Woman films were grade "B" chillers with the first one being the best.  Stock footage of Clyde Beatty from a previous film, "The Big Cage" was used.  Milburn Stone was chosen as the star, a lion tamer named Fred Mason, because of his resemblance to Clyde Beatty.  The second film, "Jungle Woman" used flashbacks from the first film to continue the story with Dr. Fletcher (played by J. Carrol Naish), accused of murdering Paula Dupree, who was not quite dead after being shot in the first film, and he revived her.  When Paula attempts to kill his daughter, Fletcher must put an end to the ape woman's life.  One interesting aspect of "Jungle Woman" is when Fred Mason reveals to Dr. Fletcher that the natives believed that there was a doctor who experimented with turning humans into animals and Cheela was a result of such an experiment.  That would make Paula Dupree a human who was turned into an ape and then back to a human again, who when she became upset or jealous, turned into an "ape woman" (or "gorilla girl" as she was called on the posters to "Captive Wild Woman."

The third film finds another scientist trying to bring the ape woman back to life with the help of Moloch the brute (played by Rondo Hatton).  All three films only last about an hour and so are fast paced and are guilty pleasures among many horror film fans.

The Jungle Captive (1945)

  • Genre: Horror 
  • Directed: Harold Young
  • Produced: Morgan Cox
  • Written:
    • Dwight V. Babcock 
    • M. Coates Webster
  • Starring: Otto Kruger, Vicky Lane, Amelita Ward, Phil Brown, Jerome Cowan, Rondo Hatton, Eddie Acuff, Ernie Adams, Charles Wagenheim
  • Music: Paul Sawtell
  • Cinematography: Maury Gertsman
  • Editing: Fred R. Feitshans Jr.
  • Studio: Universal Pictures
  • Distributed:
    • Universal Pictures 
    • Realart Pictures Inc.  
    • Screen Gems 
    • MCA/Universal Home Video
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 29 June 1945 (US)
  • Running Time: 63 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

Dr. Stendahl, a biochemist, performs a series of reanimation experiments on rabbits using electronic charges and blood transfusions.  Much to the amazement of his secretary, Ann Forrester, and medical student, Don Young, Stendahl is finally able to restore life to a once-deceased animal.  That night, Moloch, a deformed brute, arrives at the city morgue with a note requesting the release of Paula Dupree's body, a hybrid creature better known as The Ape Woman.  When Fred, the attendant, states that he must call the police first, Moloch strangles him, then steals the body and a morgue ambulance.  After placing Paula's body in his wagon, Moloch drives the stolen vehicle off a cliff and heads off to an isolated country house. 

The next day, police inspector W. L. Harrigan of the homicide squad visits Stendahl's medical office, as a surgical smock was found near the crash scene and laundry marks indicate that it belonged to Don.  Harrigan questions the medical student about his whereabouts that evening, but the newly engaged Don and Ann state that they were together all night.  Later, Stendahl asks Ann to run an errand with him, and the two soon arrive at the country house.  The mad scientist then exposes himself as the mastermind behind the theft of Paula's body and pronounces his intention to use a blood transfusion from Ann to bring the Ape Woman back to life.  As a concerned Moloch watches, Stendahl nearly kills Ann during the medical procedure, but is successful in reanimating Paula.  Still unaware of how to return Paula to her human form, Stendahl sends Moloch to steal the medical records of Dr. Sigmund Walters and Dr. Carl Fletcher, the physicians who had previously brought Paula back from the dead. 

The next morning, a concerned Don questions Stendahl about Ann's disappearance, only to have Harrigan arrive at the medical office and accuse him of murder.  Later, with Walters and Fletcher's research in hand, Stendahl uses some of Ann's glandular secretions to change Paula back into her beautiful human form.  Unfortunately, the Ape Woman's brain has been damaged, so the mad scientist decides to transplant Ann's brain into Paula's head. 

Meanwhile, Harrigan questions Dan about Stendahl's research, leading the police inspector to suspect the biochemist of the murders.  With Stendahl in town doing research for the upcoming operation, Paula manages to escape her imprisonment and wanders into the nearby woods.  Moloch then goes to Stendahl's medical office to inform the scientist of her escape, at which time Don recognizes his fraternity pin, which he had given Ann in lieu of an engagement ring, on Moloch's lapel.  Don follows the disfigured man to the country home, but is soon captured by Stendahl.  After a brief escape, Don is tied up and forced to watch as Stendahl prepares to begin the brain surgery.  When Don informs Moloch that the operation will mean Ann's death, the brute becomes enraged and attacks Stendahl.  The mad scientist is then forced to shoot and kill Moloch.  Stendahl is soon killed himself, however, as Paula, having transformed back into the Ape Woman, rises from the operating table and strangles him.  The Ape Woman then heads for Ann with the same intent, but Harrigan arrives in time and shoots her.  With the case solved, Harrigan releases Ann and Don from their bonds, and the couple looks forward to a happy future together.

The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946)

  • Genre: Horror
  • Directed: Arthur Lubin
  • Produced: Howard Welsch
  • Written: Eric Taylor
  • Starring: Gale Sondergaard, Brenda Joyce, Kirby Grant, Milburn Stone, Rondo Hatton, Hobart Cavanaugh
  • Music: Milton Rosen
  • Cinematography: Paul Ivano
  • Editing: Ray Snyder
  • Studio: Universal Pictures
  • Distributed:
    • Universal Pictures 
    • Screen Gems
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 22 March 1946 (US)
  • Running Time: 59 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

Jean Kingsley arrives in the rural town of Domingo, Nevada, to take up a new job as companion to blind scientific researcher Zenobia Dollard.  At the train station Jean is surprised to run into Hal Wentley, a college beau, who still cherishes hopes about a relationship with her.  Hal drives Jean out to Zenobia's isolated house, and once there introduces Jean to Mario, Zenobia's disfigured, mute servant.  Although Zenobia graciously welcomes Jean, the younger woman finds herself inexplicably uneasy about her new post.  Unknown to Jean, a sleeping draught has been placed in the glass of milk Zenobia insists that she drink before retiring, causing her to sleep heavily.  The next night Jean is again unknowingly dosed with the sleeping draught and is oblivious when Zenobia, who has feigned her blindness, comes to her room and draws blood from her.

Afterward, Zenobia and Mario go to the greenhouse, where they feed spiders to several varieties of carnivorous plants and Jean's blood to Zenobia's prize drochenema (Made up word BTW) plant.  Zenobia then takes some of the drochenema's petals and makes a mysterious paste from them.  The following morning Jean awakens exhausted and achy, but is nevertheless curious about the abrupt departure of her predecessor, Betty Sanders, and writes her a letter. 

While running errands for Zenobia in town, she learns from the general store owner, Bill Stapleton, that several of Domingo's cattlemen are upset because their cattle have been inexplicably stricken.  Speculation abounds that some form of weed poison is causing the cattle to die and the townspeople are also concerned about a child who became ill and died after drinking milk from the local cows.  Some days later at the general store, Mr. Stapleton tells Jean that her letter to Betty has been returned as undeliverable and that the town remains in an uproar over the strange cattle deaths.  He adds that several disgruntled cattlemen are leaving Domingo as their cattle continue to die without apparent cause and land prices have plummeted sharply since their deaths.  On her way out of the store, Jean runs into Hal, who introduces her to Mr. Moore of the Department of Agriculture, who is investigating the cattle deaths.

Later at the Dollard house, Jean comes into a room unexpectedly and finds her employer feeding a bug to a spider and, realizing she is not blind, faints in terror.  Upon reviving, however, Jean is careful not to let Zenobia know she is aware she can see.  Meanwhile in town, the cattlemen gather to angrily demand that Moore solve the mysterious cattle deaths.  When Moore finds out from Hal that Zenobia's family used to own all the land surrounding Domingo, the two go to the Dollard house.  Just before their arrival, Zenobia, realizing Jean is aware of her deception, reveals to her that she has created a poison from her drochenema flowers to drive everyone off the land she considers her inheritance, but which her father had gambled away.  She admits to murdering Betty when she grew too weak to supply her venomous plant and tells Jean that she, too, will soon die.

Just then Hal and Moore arrive and Zenobia greets them alone.  She tells them that she knows of no indigenous poison weeds in the area and adds that Mario has just driven Jean to the train station.  After taking their leave, Hal remains suspicious and, looking about the property, discovers the car still in the garage.  Zenobia, watching from the window, realizes both men will return shortly and hastily orders Mario to help her burn all the evidence of the poison.  The fire quickly burns out of control, attracting Hal, who bursts in and saves Jean, while Zenobia and Mario perish.

 

House of Horrors (1946)

  • Genre: Horror – Thriller
  • Directed: Jean Yarbrough
  • Produced: Ben Pivar
  • Written:
    • George Bricker 
    • Dwight V. Babcock
  • Starring: Rondo Hatton, Robert Lowery, Virginia Grey, Bill Goodwin, Martin Kosleck, Alan Napier, Howard Freeman, Virginia Christine, Joan Shawlee
  • Music:
    • William Lava 
    • Paul Sawtell 
    • Frank Skinner 
    • Dimitri Tiomkin
  • Cinematography: Maury Gertsman
  • Editing: Philip Cahn
  • Studio: Universal Pictures
  • Distributed:
    • Universal Pictures  
    • Realart Pictures Inc.  
    • Screen Gems  
    • MCA/Universal Home Video
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 29 March 1946 (US)
  • Running Time: 65 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

As impoverished Greenwich Village artist Marcel de Lange is about to sell one of his sculptures to a wealthy man named Samuels, vitriolic art critic F. Holmes Harmon denounces the piece as "tripe," scaring off Samuels. Despondent and broke, Marcel walks to a bridge, intent on suicide.  When he notices a man struggling at the river's edge, however, he rushes to the rescue.  Marcel drags the man from the water and, awestruck by his hulking, hideous appearance, takes him home.

The next morning, the newly inspired Marcel asks his grateful guest if he will pose for a bust, and the surprised man agrees.  Soon after Marcel begins work on the bust, the man slips out and brutally kills a prostitute.  When the coroner reveals that the woman's spine was broken, homicide detective Lt. Larry Brooks comments that the murderer's methods resemble those of The Creeper, a notorious serial killer who escaped a dragnet by diving into the river and was presumed drowned.  Later, Marcel reads a newspaper account of the woman's murder and, realizing that his guest is The Creeper, declares that Harmon deserves to die for the terrible things he has written about him.  At Harmon's newspaper office, meanwhile, fellow art critic Joan Medford tries unsuccessfully to convince Harmon not to print a scathing review of her boyfriend Steven Morrow's new art show.  As soon as Joan leaves Harmon's office, The Creeper appears and murders the critic.

Aware that Steven had fought with Harmon, Larry questions him at his studio, but Joan provides Steven with a false alibi.  Looking for a story, Joan then visits Marcel, but he refuses to show her his half-finished bust of The Creeper. While Marcel is in another room, however, Joan peeks at the bust, unaware that The Creeper is watching her from a hiding place.  Later, Larry, who now knows that Joan lied about Steven's alibi, asks Harmon's rival critic, Hal Ormiston, to help bait Steven by writing a searing review of his show.  When Steven reads the review, in which Ormiston snidely compares his work to Marcel's, he goes to confront Ormiston at his apartment.  Steven rails against Ormiston and grabs him when he starts to call the police.  At that moment, Larry bursts in the room and stops Steven.  Larry believes he has caught the killer until, a few moments later, he discovers Ormiston dead in the kitchen, his spine broken.  Unknown to Larry, The Creeper snuck into Ormiston's apartment and killed the critic because Marcel, having also read the review, was upset.  With Ormiston's murder, the newspapers announce that The Creeper is alive and print a sketch of his distinctive face.  Determined to get her story, Joan returns to Marcel's and steals his sketch of the bust, which he has signed.  Then, not having seen the drawing of The Creeper in the newspaper, she instructs her printer to publish a copy of it.

After completing her article, Joan telephones Steven and tells him that she is sneaking the original back to Marcel's.  The Creeper, meanwhile, informs Marcel that he saw Joan take the sketch, and Marcel, worried that she now knows the identity of the bust's model, sends The Creeper to kill her at Steven's, where he believes she has gone.  Instead, The Creeper murders Stella, one of Steven's models, who was alone in the studio.  Joan, meanwhile, startles Marcel when she appears at his door and marvels at the now completed bust.  Sure that she is feigning ignorance about the model's identity, Marcel informs her about The Creeper and tells her she is about to die.  At the same time, Steven goes to Joan's office and discovers the printer's copy of Marcel's sketch on her desk.  Back at Marcel's, The Creeper overhears the artist inform Joan that he will turn The Creeper over to the police if they should connect him to the killer.  Enraged by the artist's easy betrayal, The Creeper kills Marcel, then goes after Joan.  Just as The Creeper is about to grab Joan, Steven pounds at the door, and Larry, who also saw the sketch on Joan's desk, arrives in time to shoot the murderer.  Later, a relieved Joan tells Steven that she is finally ready to quit her job and marry him.

The Brute Man (1946)

  • Genre: Drama – Horror – Thriller
  • Directed: Jean Yarbrough
  • Produced: Ben Pivar
  • Written:
    • Dwight V. Babcock 
    • George Bricker 
    • M. Coates Webster
  • Starring: Rondo Hatton, Tom Neal, Jan Wiley, Jane Adams, Donald MacBride, Peter Whitney, Fred Coby, Janelle Johnson Dolenz
  • Music: Hans J. Salter
  • Cinematography: Maury Gertsman
  • Editing: Philip Cahn
  • Studio: Universal Pictures
  • Distributed:
    • Producers Releasing Corporation  
    • NTA  
    • Image Entertainment  
    • Cheezy Flicks Entertainment  
    • Admit One Video  
    • Columbia TriStar Home Video  
    • Fox Lorber Classics Associates 
    • Republic Pictures Home Video  
    • Sony Corporation of America
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 1 October 1946 (US)
  • Running Time: 58 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

A mysterious murderer known as "The Creeper" stalks a college town, killing first Professor Cushman and then socialite Joan Bemis.  Hiding from the police, The Creeper, a frighteningly deformed man, takes temporary refuge in the apartment of Helen Day, a blind piano teacher.  Because Helen shows no fear of The Creeper and treats him kindly, he spares her life.  Later, Jimmy, a grocer's clerk, delivers groceries to the dockside room where The Creeper lives.  Hoping to earn the reward for the killer's capture, Jimmy spies on him and is killed when The Creeper discovers him.  When Jimmy fails to return, the police investigate and find a photograph of three college friends. 

The police then visit Clifford Scott, one of the two men in the photograph, and his wife Virginia, the third person in the snapshot.  Clifford identifies the other man as Hal Moffat and tells his story: In college, Clifford and Hal are both in love with Virginia Rogers.  Clifford tutors Hal, a football star, and one day, gives Hal a series of incorrect test answers so that he will not be able to keep a date with Virginia.  In order to further torment Hal, Clifford walks Virginia by the laboratory, where Professor Cushman has given Hal an extra assignment, and the furious Hal drops a test tube and is badly burned in the ensuing explosion.  Afterward, Hal disappears from the hospital.

Convinced that Hal is The Creeper, the police warn Clifford and Virginia that they may be in danger and post a guard outside their house.  When The Creeper again visits Helen, he learns that an expensive operation might restore her sight.  He then evades the police guard outside the Scott's house and demands that Virginia give him her jewels.  After Clifford pulls a gun on The Creeper, the two men struggle.  Although he is slightly wounded, The Creeper strangles Clifford to death.  The Creeper then returns to Helen's apartment and gives her the jewels to finance her operation.  When Helen tries to sell the jewels, however, the police are notified, and horrified to learn that her friend is a murderer, she helps the police capture him.  Later, the police arrange for Helen to have the operation.

Notes:

1.  Acromegaly is a syndrome that results when the anterior pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone (GH) after epiphyseal plate closure at puberty.  A number of disorders may increase the pituitary's GH output, although most commonly it involves a GH-producing tumor called pituitary adenoma, derived from a distinct type of cell (somatotrophs).  Acromegaly most commonly affects adults in middle age, and can result in severe disfigurement, complicating conditions, and premature death if unchecked.  Because of its pathogenesis and slow progression, the disease is hard to diagnose in the early stages and is frequently missed for years until changes in external features, especially of the face, become noticeable.  Acromegaly is often associated with gigantism.

2.  The Carry On franchise primarily consists of a sequence of 31 low-budget British comedy motion pictures produced between 1958 and 1992, but also includes three Christmas specials, one television series of thirteen episodes, and three West End and provincial stage plays.  The films' humor was in the British comic tradition of the music hall and seaside postcards.  Producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas drew on a regular group of actors, the Carry On team, that included Sidney James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, Peter Butterworth, Hattie Jacques, Terry Scott, Bernard Bresslaw, Barbara Windsor, Jack Douglas and Jim Dale.  The “Carry On” series contains the largest number of films of any British series, and next to the James Bond films, it is the second longest continually running UK film series (with a fourteen-year break between 1978 and 1992). From 1958 to 1966 Anglo Amalgamated Film Distributors Ltd produced 12 films, with Rank Organization making the remaining 19 between 1967 and 1992.  All the films were made at Pinewood Studios.

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