Lon Chaney Jnr, Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Robert Quarry: five noted 20th Century actors who all, at one time or another in their careers, became associated with horror film roles; and who all faced restrictive typecasting and had their own, more personal demons to battle.
In this fascinating and authoritative book, researcher Mark Iveson presents insightful biographies of the five actors, whose lives all had tragic aspects – almost as if they themselves were somehow cursed by their most famous roles.
Five amazing, intersecting and often shocking life stories, involving tales of vampires, werewolves, child murderers and other assorted monsters, not to mention Sherlock Holmes – and, behind the scenes, devastating alcoholism, drug addiction, family scandal and financial ruin.
Horror films have always thrilled cinema goers. From early efforts like Nosferatu to modern horror series such as Insidious and Paranormal Activity the horror genre has terrified and intrigued us. Part of the appeal of many of these films are the stars themselves; Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney being a handful of famous examples. Yet the lives of many horror stars were in some ways as horrific as the characters they portrayed on screen as Mark Iveson stunningly reveals.
Iveson begins his series of biographies by looking at Lon Chaney Jr, son of the actor who encapsulated films of the period and was called The Man of a Thousand Faces. Beginning by talking about Chaney Jr’s father, the whole piece reflects the problem that the young Lon felt throughout his whole life; that it was blotted out of any position in Hollywood by his better known father. Born Creighton, Chaney changed his name because he became so desperate for work that he felt it best to ride out on the name of Chaney Snr than to not get any work at all. Ivenson depicts Chaney as a troubled and relatable figure; the child of a star who never achieved the recognition he desired.
Equally fascinating is Ivenson’s biographies in the rest of the collection. Basil Rathbone’s extraordinary early life fleeing the Boers is detailed very vividly and feels like one of his Sherlock Holmes films. His ultimate and eventual hatred of the character that he is most famous for is as the author suggests comparable to the situation that faced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Another highlight of the book is Ivenson’s biography of the tragic Robert Quarry. Ivenson beings with Quarry’s sorry end before going back to his first film role in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, a financial disaster but one that set Quarry on his path to stardom. Quarry’s is the most tragic of the collection as he wasn’t “cursed” as such unlike Chaney or Peter Lorre (if you want know more about Lorre, then you have a further incentive to read the book); he was just very unlucky, which makes his eventual departure from the world stage all the more tragic.
Cursed Horror Stars is a fascinating book that delves into the heart of horror films during what was known as the “golden age”. It is a tragic yet intoxicating book that is a must read for anyone who enjoys the creepy going on near a crypt or who wants to know more about the lives of some of horror’s great names.
You can purchase a copy of the book here. With thanks to Telos Books.