Meet the Creeper: Who is Rondo Hatton?

 

Meet the man who inspired the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

It has been an exciting week thus far at the Louisville Halloween secret headquarters. As we were packing and fueling up the hearse for a road trip to the TransWorld Halloween & Attractions Show this weekend in St. Louis, we received the ghastly news that we had been nominated for Best Website in the 2014 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

This year marks the 12th annual Rondo Awards, which honor the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation. The Rondos are the brainchild of USA TODAY executive editor, David Colton, who spends his days in the world of serious, grownup journalism but moonlights by night as the Grand Poobah of the biggest monster club in the country where he delights in his childhood obsession with monsters, haunted houses, classic horror movies and Halloween.

He’s one of us.

The Rondos have quickly become a well-respected authority on the best of everything the horror community has to offer among those working in the horror business as well as among the tightknit family of horror fans. Fans can vote for numerous categories including Best Horror Film of 2013, Best TV Series, Best Classic Blu-ray/DVD, Best Horror Magazine, Best Website, Best Horror Convention, Best Toy or Collectible as well as vote for their favorite horror celebrities to be inducted into the Monster Kid Hall of Fame!

You can find the ballet to vote yourself here: http://rondoaward.com/rondoaward.com/blog/?p=32.

But some of you may be wondering about the brutish mug whose sculpted bust sits upon the coveted Rondo Award statues. In classic horror circles he is known as “The Creeper,” and some consider him an unofficial Universal Monster. His career as a Hollywood “boogeyman” was a short one and most of his cultish fame came about long after his sudden and unfortunate death.

His name was Rondo Hatton.

Hatton never really had any ambitions about becoming an actor. Born on April 22, 1894 in Hagerstown, Maryland, Hatton’s first career choice was actually as a journalist in Tampa, Florida. When World War One broke out, Hatton enlisted in the military and was exposed to German mustard gas while involved in trench warfare in France.

Hospitalized with injuries to his lungs, Hatton was medically discharged from service and he returned to civilian life as a journalist in Tampa. Although there is no evidence that his exposure to poison gas had anything to do with his developing disfigurement, Universal Studios’ publicity department decided to play up that angle when promoting Hatton as their latest horror star during the theatrical release of “House of Horrors” in 1946.

The truth is that Hatton suffered from a rare condition known as acromegaly syndrome, a disease of the pituitary gland that causes progressive deformation of the head, hands and feet. The pituitary gland produces excess growth hormones after the body has reached full adulthood and is unable to grow to match the continued expansion of the extremities.

Acromegaly not only caused Hatton’s facial features to become distorted, but soft tissue swelling of his vocal cords also caused his voice to develop a deep, sinister reverberation that made him perfect for casting directors looking for actors to play monsters and menacing characters.

This is the same condition that afflicted actor, Richard Kiel, who has played an almost countless number of monsters in Hollywood, but is probably best known as the steel-tooth killer, Jaws, in the James Bond movies, “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) and “Moonraker” (1979). It’s even suspected that President Abraham Lincoln may have suffered from a mild case of acromegaly.

Hatton was spotted by director, Henry King, on the set of a movie called “Hell Harbor” (1930), while Hatton was covering the filming as a journalist. He was given a bit part in the film because of his unforgettable face and this resulted in Hatton getting many, mostly uncredited, extra rolls in movies playing thugs, gangsters and “undesirables” over the next fifteen years.

His big break came in the Sherlock Holmes film, “The Pearl of Death” (1944), starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as the master sleuth and his faithful sidekick, Watson. Hatton played the mysterious and menacing Hoxton Creeper, an alias that would stick with him forever.

Hatton was quickly contracted with Universal Studios and cast in monstrous roles like in “The Jungle Captive” (1945) where he played Moloch the Brute. To take advantage of Hatton’s infamy in “The Pearl of Death,” Universal built an entire movie around his alter ego, The Creeper, for his most memorable film, “House of Horrors” (1946).

Sadly, Hatton passed away from a heart attack, a result of complications with acromegaly, before “House of Horrors” opened theatrically. Universal had already shot a sequel, “The Brute Man” (1946), as the second in a planned series of Creeper movies, but chose not to release the film out of fear of appearing to exploit Hatton’s condition and resulting death.

Instead they sold the film to PRC (Producer’s Releasing Corporation), which became known infamously as Poverty Row Classics. PRC gave the film a cheap and exploitive release and it went on to become a cult classic through “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

There is a terrific documentary about Rondo Hatton’s life and rebirth as a cult movie icon called “Trail of the Creeper: Making of the Brute Man” by talented director, Daniel Griffith, of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures which premiered last year in Louisville at the Wonderfest Hobby Expo (www.wonderfest.com) and can be seen as an extra on the “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXII” DVD boxed set.

Rondo Hatton’s legacy lives on. Legendary makeup effects wizard, Rick Baker, recreated Hatton’s face with prosthetic makeup, bringing the Creeper back to life as the menacing thug, Lothar, in “The Rocketeer” (1991). Amok Time Toys created a 12 inch action figure of the Creeper for the collector’s market, and of course, the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards keep that unforgeable mug in the conscious of horror fans everywhere.

The Phantom of The Ville

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