Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Lon Day’s Journey Into Nightmare






While cowboys, detectives (public & private), and variety shows pretty much ruled America’s prime time TV airwaves in the late 1950s and early 1960s there were a few exceptions.


Rod Serling’s classic The Twilight Zone ran for 5 seasons on CBS, and continues to be shown on cable stations around the world a half century later.


One Step Beyond, perhaps less well remembered, was a forerunner to The Twilight Zone and sufficiently spooky that many of us still regard it fondly. 

I blogged about that series in Going `One Step Beyond' about 18 months ago, and provided links to numerous episodes.


Another contemporary series called `The Veil’ was hosted by Boris Karloff in 1958, but incredibly, while 10 episodes were produced, they were never aired.


Studio problems led to the cancellation of this project, and with just 10 episodes in the can, no one felt it could be syndicated.   These `lost' episodes languished, largely unseen, for the next 30 years, although they have now been released on DVD.


You can read about (and watch) these `lost’ episodes in my blog Lifting The Veil On THE VEIL.



There were earlier suspense and horror-related offerings, most notably Lights Out and Suspense! back during the live days of televised drama.   You can revisit some very early, classic TV horror I blogged on earlier this year by checking out Tales From The Disembodied Head.


Today, an oddity.


A Swedish horror series (with English speaking actors), hosted by Lon `The Wolfman’ Chaney Jr., and briefly syndicated for a 13 episode run back in 1959.


It’s called 13 Demon Street, and it is – like most of the other horror offerings back then – an anthology show.


Different casts and unrelated story lines were featured each week, introduced and thinly strung together by the narrator (Chaney) who is condemned to live at (you guessed it) 13 Demon Street until he can find a crime more unspeakable than his own.

We never learn what horrendous crime Chaney committed, but it might have had something to do his rather infamous performance in a Live broadcast of Tales of Tomorrow in the early 1950's. 


Over the years, the retelling of the story has embellished it a bit, but it is an example of how things didn't always go as planned during a live broadcast.


Chaney was to play Frankenstein’s monster, which at least kept his lines to a minimum.

The legend is that Chaney, under the influence of alcohol, became confused and thought that they were doing a dress rehearsal, and not a live broadcast.


During his `rampage scene' in the first half of the show, instead of busting up props, he picked them up and then set them down carefully and muttered `break later’.

I’ve seen the episode, and for whatever reason, Chaney does pick up, and set back down, a number of props - particularly in the first half of the show. 



Cheney, the son of Lon Chaney – who is regarded by many as the greatest of all film actors during the silent era – never achieved the stardom of his father. Nevertheless, he appeared in 30 Universal (mostly horror) movies during the 1940s.


In the late 1950s, when Universal released their catalog of 1930s and 1940s horror films to Television, Chaney saw a sudden resurgence in popularity and a whole new generation of fans.


Today, we’ve 3 episodes of this obscure and rarely seen Horror show – plus 3 more episodes that were stitched together (with reworked introductions by Chaney as `The Devil’) into a drive-in movie .

All are available on The Internet Archive.

Three TV episodes.

13 Demon Street (The Black Hand)

13 Demon Street (Fever)

13 Demon Street (The Vine of Death)


And the `moviefied’ version, which was released as The Devil’s Messenger in 1961, consisting of the episodes `The Photograph’, 'The Girl in the Glacier' and 'Condemned in Crystal'.


The Devil´s Messenger (1961)

All guaranteed to be horrible, and all just in time for Halloween.



Chaney, who appeared in some abominable roles late in his career, was actually a fairly effective actor. He appeared in some high profile films during the 1950s, including High Noon, A Lion in the Streets, and The Defiant Ones.

Unfortunately for every `A’ movie, there were 4 or 5 `B’ movies. Chaney did find frequent work in Television, sometimes as a regular on a series (Pistols 'n' Petticoats) but more often as a guest performer (3 appearances on Route 66, including one particularly memorable one playing himself along side Boris Karloff!).



He could also be found guesting on early 1960s TV shows like Adventures in ParadiseWagon Train, and Rawhide.  As the decade progressed, his health, and his  film roles declined.


Chaney died in 1973, at the age of 67.


While never coming close to achieving the acclaim of his father, for a generation that grew up watching `The Wolf Man’ on Friday Night Shock Theatre, Chaney Jr. will be Lon(g) remembered.


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