Rondo Hatton: Not Just Another Pretty Face

The most startling thing I encountered about Hollywood bit player Rondo Hatton (1894-1946) this morning was that he never appeared in any of the Dick Tracy pictures with Ralph Byrd, whose birthday it also is today. And I wish I could claim him for the sideshow, but though he brings a whiff of that freakish forum to the movies, he was able to bypass the sawdust grind entirely, his striking condition not afflicting him until adulthood when we was far along in an another career, that of journalist.

In fact, Hatton was initially quite a handsome young man, viz, this high school photo:

As a young man, Hatton wrote for The Tampa Tribune. But then he began to develop the condition known as acromegaly, which results in gigantism, including outsized facial features and extremities. In publicity materials Hatton’s case is sometimes blamed on a gas attack in World War One, but while he did serve with bravery in the war, and was exposed to mustard gas, it has not been known to cause acromegaly.

Hatton was still working as a reporter in 1930 when he interviewed director Henry King about his feature Hell Harbor. Perhaps none too flatteringly, KIng cast him in a small role in the film. Six years later, Hatton’s condition had progressed to the point where it was impractical to be a journalist any more, and he moved to Hollywood to be an actor full time. Normally he was cast as thugs, monsters, bouncers, and assorted rough characters. He had the sort of face that in and of itself was a special effect — you’d cut to it at the climax of a sequence to emphasize the fact that the hero had got into some very hot water indeed. Some of the more significant of his two dozen credits include turns in Wolves of the Sea (1936), In Old Chicago (1938), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Ox-Bow Incident (1942), The Pearl of Death (1944), The Princess and the Pirate (1944), The Jungle Captive (1945), The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946), House of Horrors (1946), and The Brute Man (1946). In the last two films, his villainous character was called “The Creeper”.

In 1946, Hatton died of the last of a series of heart attacks caused by his acromegaly. But like any good movie monster he returned from the grave. The make-up for “Lothar” a villain the Disney film The Rocketeer (1991) was based on his frightening visage.