Rondo Hatton was born with a genetic condition, that of acromegaly which affects the pituitary gland (not the last actor to be afflicted – Richard Kiel – most famous as ‘Jaws’ in two James Bond films – was also a sufferer). Hatton’s looks were altered later in his life, indeed stories tell of him being voted ‘most handsome’ whilst at school.
His worsening condition caused a distortion of his face, head, hands, feet and more worryingly, the heart, as he approached his twenties, becoming more accentuated as years went by. Because the symptoms developed in adulthood (as is common with the disorder), the disfigurement was incorrectly attributed later by film studio publicity departments to his exposure to a German mustard gas attack during service in World War I.
Hatton was an intelligent man – after the war and the onset of his illness, he worked as a reporter in Tampa, Florida where he was eventually spotted and invited over to Hollywood to act, his face even at this early stage grabbing attention (it had already allegedly cost him his marriage upon his return home from the War). Though reluctant to be traipsed in front of a huge audience when already name-calling – his nickname was ‘Monster Man’ – and sideways glances were an everyday event, the doctors had suggested a warmer climate may help – no small consideration – the acromegaly wasn’t just a visual effect, Hatton himself described the pain as ‘a migraine throughout my body’. However, the was never a rags to riches nor ashes to phoenix story – Hatton’s career in film is slight, having only two lead roles, House of Horrors and The Brute Man, which was released after his death, the rest being simple-minded oafs, at best sly and conniving, at worst playing against Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in an ugliest man competition (Laughton obviously swamped in makeup, Hatton appearing with barely any make-up beyond that needed to blend in with the rest of the scene).
Further operations were necessary to deal with the increasing speed at which his condition attacked his body. His cheekbones were removed completely and replaced with metal. His teeth were replaced at least four times, not enough to stop his lower jaw jutting way beyond his upper, his features now almost a caricature of his past self. His studio, Universal, pin-pointed Hatton as a potential major player after a string of background parts had caused enough of a stir to prompt such reviews as one from Variety that claimed his appearance ‘came a close second to that of Frankenstein’s Monster’.
Thus, in 1944, he was cast as the back-breaking killer “The Hoxton Creeper”(aka The Hoxton Horror) in the Sherlock Holmes vehicle The Pearl of Death. Universal’s plan was to use Hatton’s face as the vehicle for the horror films they had planned, an undisguised exploitation of his looks to make money.
Hatton’s biggest roles were that of ‘The Creeper’, a recurring role in which he played a shadowy murderer, though the characters were only linked together by name. There is little need for Hatton to act, which is possibly a good thing, every appearance he makes in the movies he made are drenched in shadow, camera angles accentuating his gigantic features.
Reviewers, the studio and the public were merciless in their critique of Hatton; he was a real life monster, not just confined to the screen but ‘out there’. To make matters worse, his acting was often ridiculed, critics oblivious to the fact that his condition made it difficult to remember his lines. In one scene in The Brute Man he shakes his head whilst saying ‘yes’, a heart-wrenching faux-pas.
He never lived to see the circus that was waiting for him, his heart giving out before Universal had the chance to break it. We can only guess the effect his employer’s plans would have had on him. It is known that the acromegaly was not only painful but mentally challenging to Hatton, perhaps the best reverse analogy being ‘it is better to have loved once than never to have loved at all’. Universal quickly sold The Brute Man to Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) for $125,000 for fear that they would be seen to have been exploiting an ill man at his lowest ebb (they were right to be scared). Today Rondo Hatton’s name lives on as an award for contribution to the world of horror cinema.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia
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- 1939 The Hunchback of Notre Dame (uncredited)
- 1944 The Pearl of Death (as the Hoxton Creeper)
- 1945 The Jungle Captive
- 1946 Spider Woman Strikes Back
- 1946 House of Horrors
- 1946 The Brute Man