Some of the most well-known and respected actors in the history of cinema are men whose faces we barely know. In 1923, Universal Studios began releasing an extensive series of monster movies, featuring creatures that would soon become iconic, including Dracula, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. We know the faces of these monsters, but we’re rarely familiar with the faces of the men behind the masks and makeup who brought them to life.
While action figures and statues immortalizing these men don’t bring us too much closer to knowing their true faces, it’s really the monsters that we love. A handful of toy and collectible companies take a great deal of pride in bringing these characters home to the collectors who want to have a little piece of them on their shelves.
Chaney Sr. as The Phantom of the Opera – Diamond Select Toys
If you want an action figure from the original Phantom of the Opera (1925), you’re looking for Lon Chaney Sr., who also starred as Quasimodo in the original Universal Monsters film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), as well as The Man in the Beaver Hat in the legendary lost film, London After Midnight (1927).
Leonidas Frank “Lon” Chaney was notable in that he did his own makeup, transforming himself into “the man of a thousand faces,” many of which depicted tortured characters. Chaney’s success as a silent film actor is partially attributed to the fact that both of his parents were deaf, so his skill at pantomime as a form of communication developed early. His son, Creighton, would follow in his footsteps and become the life behind other significant movie monsters.
Karloff as The Monster (Frankenstein) – Diamond Select Toys
The unforgettable Boris Karloff was the original Frankenstein’s Monster from Universal’s 1931 film—a role that he fell into after Bela Lugosi refused it on the grounds that he’d have no speaking lines and would have his handsome face covered by makeup.
Karloff was born in London as William Henry Pratt, the son of a diplomat. After traveling to the United States to follow in his father’s footsteps, Karloff began acting instead, adopting his stage name in order to avoid shaming his dignified English family with his monstrous film roles. Fortunately, after a long period away from his parents and eight siblings, Karloff’s family welcomed him back enthusiastically. Peers of Karloff have recalled him as an incredibly gentle and kind person — a contrast to the monstrosities he often played. He’s distinguished as having two separate stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for both film and television.
Chaney Jr. as The Wolf Man – Diamond Select Toys
Lon Chaney, Jr. (born Creighton Tull Chaney) had his road-to-movie monsterdom cleanly paved by his noteworthy father, despite his father’s insistence that Jr. not pursue a career in acting. In accordance with his father’s wishes, Jr. pursued a life in business, and even found some success… until his father died, at which point Jr. almost immediately pursued acting.
Lon Chaney Jr.‘s breakout role was as Larry Talbot, the ill-fated lycanthrope in the 1941 Universal film The Wolf Man. Jr. would go on to play a version of all four iconic Universal monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Alternately described as sensitive and sweet and an uncontrollable alcoholic, Chaney’s extreme lifestyle would culminate in the most macabre display of all: his heart and lungs were kept for medical science as examples of the results of severe alcohol and tobacco abuse. Lon Chaney Jr. has no headstone to mark his passing.
Rains as The Invisible Man – Diamond Select Toys
Claude Rains wasn’t a monster actor, and actually enjoyed a successful career without a makeup-slathered face, but his name comes up often when discussing the world of Universal Monsters. His first major motion picture role was in The Invisible Man (1933), despite the fact that his invisibility kept his face out of sight for almost the entire film. Rains would also play Lon Chaney Jr.’s father in The Wolf Man, as well as The Phantom in Universal’s 1943 Phantom of the Opera, giving him a notable presence in the world of monsters.
Like Karloff, Rains was also from England and suffered from a speech impediment early in life. During WWI, Rains enlisted and suffered an injury in a gas attack that would render his eye nearly sightless for the rest of his life. None of these things, nor his six marriages, stood in the way of his successful acting career, however.
For more info on these action figures and other collectibles, visit Collectors Quest at collectorsquest.com.