From July 14 to 19, 1948, Lobero Theatre audiences were treated to an enthralling portrayal of one of the great tragic figures of American literature – the character of Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
Appearing in the role was Lon Chaney Jr., who years earlier had starred in the original, Academy Award-nominated film version of the story.
John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella “Of Mice and Men” is the story of two men – intelligent and quick-witted George, and big, lumbering Lennie, who was mentally challenged “on accounta he’d been kicked in the head by a horse.” The two are farm laborers in California’s Salinas Valley during the Great Depression, hustling for day jobs on valley ranches, and dreaming of a time when they can own a small piece of land and a simple shack and not have to live hand-to-mouth – when disaster strikes.
Lon Chaney Jr. was born in 1906 and was the son of the famous silent film star Lon Chaney. In the 1920s Lon Chaney had brought to life two of the most haunting and unforgettable characters in cinema history – Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and the Phantom in “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Lon Chaney Jr. struggled his entire life to escape the shadow of his father’s fame, and only began to act in films after his father’s death. Chaney Jr. was 33 years old and had appeared in bit parts in more than 50 films when he finally won his first major, career-making role as Lennie. Appearing alongside Burgess Meredith as George, Variety Magazine wrote, “Lon Chaney Jr. dominates throughout with a fine portrayal of the childlike giant.”
While Lon Chaney Jr.’s portrayal of Lennie in “Of Mice and Men” was his most acclaimed role, his most popular and iconic came two years later with his casting as the werewolf in 1941’s “The Wolf Man.” Unfortunately, playing the Wolf Man would largely typecast Chaney Jr. as a horror film actor for the rest of his career, and he would go on to star in other movies as Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, and Dracula. Lon Chaney Jr.’s cinema legacy – and his enduring and terrifying memory to baby-boomer TV viewers – is that from the 1940s–1960s when he portrayed many classic horror characters in movies.
While we wait in the wings for things to return to normal, we hope you enjoy a peek into the Lobero archives.
We hope you’re staying safe and enjoying the arts from the comfort of your own home. Go ahead and read more stories below.