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Stepping out of the shadows

More than 60 years after his death, B-movie actor Rondo Hatton still has fans

More than 60 years after his death, B-movie actor Rondo Hatton still has fans

October 26, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

He wasn't the most talented actor, nor was he the most handsome.

But to portray a menacing stalker who remains mostly silent, Rondo Hatton was the kind of guy who could give a girl nightmares.

Hatton, who lived during his youth in Washington County and Jefferson County, W.Va., stumbled on a career portraying creepy characters after covering the filming of "Hell Harbor" for the Tampa Tribune. He ended up portraying a dance hall bouncer in the 1930 movie, according to Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Today, a film award bears his likeness.

When Hatton entered Hollywood, film was black and white. Bad guys didn't have to say much. They just needed to be able to lurk and look scary.

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"What Rondo Hatton represented was the quintessential B-horror movie actor. He didn't need makeup because his medical condition had given him such a fierce appearance," said David Colton, a member of the Classic Horror Film Board, an online community.

"He just seemed to be a man of shadows and eerie light. He was just menacing without really trying and, you know, B movies didn't try that hard. He took the audience halfway there just with his appearance," Colton said.

"While some say he was ... exploited, in those roles, he gave it everything he could and he really was a terrifying presence on-screen," said Colton, who also is page one editor for USA Today.

The best movie in which Hatton had a sizable part was 1944's "Sherlock Holmes in Pearl of Death," said Tom Weaver, of Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., a leading scholar in the horror genre. He is a film researcher and historian, and author whose titles include "Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes."

Hatton portrayed the Hoxton Creeper, leading him to play similar Creeper roles in 1946's "House of Horrors" and "The Brute Man."

Both "Pearl of Death" and "The Brute Man" are part of Washington County Free Library's DVD collection.

Short stop in life

Hatton's stay in Hagerstown was brief and it was during the first few years of his life so there's not much to say about his life here.

Rondo Hatton was born in Maryland on April 22, 1894, to Stewart P. Hatton and his wife, according to records at Ancestry.com and U.S. Census records. The mother's name appears as either Emma or Emily L. in Census records. Rondo was the eldest of two sons, the other named Stewart.

Some newspaper and online accounts state Rondo Hatton was born in Hagerstown, though birth records from that time are hard to come by. Modern birth certificates in Maryland counties began in 1898 and some birth records are available up to 1884 from church and civil sources, according to the Maryland State Archives' Web site.

But there's a good chance Hatton was born here as both his parents - Stewart Price Hatton and Emma L. Hatton - were listed as teachers at Kee Mar College in Hagerstown in the 1894-95 and 1895-96 catalogs and his father was listed as a teacher during the 1893 summer school.

"Randall's General Directory of Hagerstown, MD, 1895-96" lists the Hattons as teachers who resided at Kee Mar College's dormitory. Kee Mar was a Lutheran Church-sponsored female academy at the time and was located on what is today the campus of Washington County Hospital.

According to U.S. Census records, Stewart P. and Emma Hatton, along with sons Rondo and Stewart, lived in Hickory Township, N.C., in June 1900. At the time the April 22, 1910, census was taken, Stewart, wife Emily L., and their two sons, lived in Charles Town, W.Va.m Rondo was 16 and Stewart was 11.

Rondo, and at least his mother, Emily L., moved to Tampa, Fla., where Hatton attended high school and continued to live there afterward, according to a high school picture and the 1920 U.S. Census.

Pictures from Hillsboro High School's 1913 yearbook and an Army photo show a rather handsome Hatton, though his large ears tended to stick out a bit.

A "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" feature in the July 25, 1939, Nebraska State Journal notes that Hatton won a prize as the "handsomest youth" during his school days.

Sometime during adulthood his facial structure changed, leaving him with an elongated face, jutting chin, large nose and sunken eyes.

Some published reports linked this to a condition known as acromegaly, which according to Medline Plus online, is "a chronic metabolic disorder in which there is too much growth hormone and the body tissues gradually enlarge." Symptoms can include enlarged facial bones, hands, and jaw as well as thickening of the skin and widened fingers. It is possibile the condition had been caused by exposure to mustard gas during World War I, however that is not known with certainty.

Iconic horror figure

Hatton's film career spanned from 1930's "Hell Harbor" to 1946's "The Brute Man" and included 23 films, according to IMDB. His roles included one of the men in a lynch mob in "The Ox-Bow Incident" and portraying an ugly man in the 1939 version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." In the latter movie, Hatton's character lost an ugliest man contest to the hunchback, Weaver said.

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