Jon Hall: From the Seas to the Bs

Despite his unprepossessing screen name, Jon Hall (1915-79) had a fascinating life and career. When it comes to that, “Jon Hall” was only one of his professional names. He also went by his given name Charles Locher, and Lloyd Crane. If you ask me, he kept trading down! Anyway, it’s kind of hard to be a household name when you keep changing the name. As it happens, he chose the relatively forgettable “Hall” because it connected him to a famous relative, James Norman Hall, who co-wrote Mutiny on the Bounty and other works with Charles Nordhoff.

Hall was the son of Swiss inventor Felix Locher, was raised in Tahiti, and attended boarding schools in England and Switzerland. Like his father, Hall was an inventor, turning out patents for camera and lens innovations, refinements to ship designs, and the like. He was also an accomplished aviator. He preferred this type of activity to acting, which he did primarily for the income. It need hardly be said that such an ambivalent figure was hired for the screen became of his good looks.

When Hall attained majority he began acting in theatre in the Los Angeles area. In 1934 he wed singer and radio star Frances Langford, to whom he would remain married for over two decades. The fact that one of Hall’s first films was the 1935 MGM version of Mutiny on the Bounty is not immaterial, since it was co-written by his uncle. Hall was just an extra in this film. By contrast, most of early efforts were larger supporting roles in B movie fare like Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935), The Mysterious Avenger (1936), The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936), and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Lion Man (1936).

It was John Ford’s film version of Nordhoff and Hall’s The Hurricane (1937) that changed Jon Hall’s fortunes and occasioned the adaptation of his final screen name. As he had in Bounty Hall portrayed a South Seas Islander, though on this occasion he was one of the stars of the film. (Hall was part Polynesian on his mother’s side). In the wake of this film, Hall had similar roles in South of Pago Pago (1940), Aloma of the South Seas (1941), and The Tuttles of Tahiti (1942). He was paired with the similarly “exotic” Dorothy Lamour in two of these films. More famously, Hall was teamed with Maria Montez in no fewer than half a dozen pictures: Arabian Nights (1942), White Savage (1943), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944), Cobra Woman (1944), Gypsy Wildcat (1944) and Sudan (1945). Indian actor Sabu, best remembered for the 1942 version of The Jungle Book, was in three of these films as well.

Hall also starred in films that didn’t specify him as an “ethnic”, such as two Invisible Man sequels, Invisible Agent (1942) and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944); Prince of Thieves (1948), in which he played Robin Hood; and westerns like Kat Carson (1940), in which he played the title character), The Vigilante’s Return (1947), Last of the Redmen (1947), Deputy Marshall (1949), and When the Redskins Rode (1951).

Hall returned to familiar terrain for Zamba (1949, about a boy raised by gorillas), On the Island of Samoa (1950), Hurricane Island (1951), his TV series Ramar of the Jungle (1952-54), and the low-budget Hell Ship Mutiny (1957, by Charles B. Griffith) and Forbidden Island (1958.) In 1959 he married Raquel Torres, well known to Marx Brothers’ fans for her eye-catching turn in Duck Soup (1933). Hall’s last two films were full-bore psychotronic excursions. He directed and starred in The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965) and co-directed The Navy vs. the Night Monster (1966), with Mamie Van Doren and Bobby Van. Some of this B movie horror would have resonated with Hall’s cousin, Ben Chapman, who played The Creature from the Black Lagoon for Universal in 1954!

Hall retired after this but you know who didn’t? HIS FATHER. That’s right. In 1957, 73 year old Swiss inventor Felix Locher made his screen debut as a bit player in his son’s film Hell Ship Mutiny. He amassed another 3 dozen screen credits over the next dozen years, in films like The Curse of the Faceless Man and Frankenstein’s Daughter, both 1958, and on major TV shows like The Munsters and Gunsmoke. He was the second oldest actor to ever to appear on Star Trek: The Original Series. In The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) he plays “Elderly Man Who Touches Jesus”. His last screen credit was a 1969 episode of Love, American Style.

Hall’s cousin Conrad L. Hall, son of James Norman Hall, was a famous cinematographer who shot such well-known films as Cool hand Luke (1967), In Cold Blood (1967), Smile (1975), Day of the Locust (1975), Marathon Man (1976), Jennifer 8 (1992), and American Beauty (1992).

As for Jon Hall, he came to a sad end, though one that was appropriately Hemingwayesque. Suffering from bladder cancer, he blew his brains out in 1979.