Rondo Hatton (April 22, 1894 – February 2, 1946) was an American actor who appeared in various B Movies before his death in 1946.
His striking physical features were caused by a growth hormone disorder called acromegaly, which was also known to affect the late André the Giant and Richard Kiel. It didn't make Hatton as tall as them, since he developed the condition after reaching his full adult height of 5'9".
Hatton was born in Hagerstown, Maryland to a pair of schoolteachers and moved to Tampa, Florida in his teens. A popular athlete and student, he played high school football; attending the University of Florida, he briefly played quarterback for the Florida Gators. The first signs of his acromegaly manifested towards the end of this period, with Hatton's nose and mouth broadening slightly. Hatton served in World War I and it was some time after leaving the service that the symptoms became bad enough to lead to a diagnosis. Studio publicity would later claim Hatton's condition resulted from poison gas, but this is medically implausible as adult-onset acromegaly is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland.
Hatton returned to Tampa after the war, working initially as a high school football coach and freelance writer. As his symptoms worsened, he underwent several painful surgeries in an attempt to arrest his condition's spread (notably, he had metal implants placed in his cheeks, which contributed to his signature appearance and speech patterns) and battled depression and social anxiety. Hatton lost most of his money in a failed real estate deal, which also caused the break-up of his first marriage. By the end of the decade, however, Hatton found steady work as a sportswriter and reporter for the Tampa Herald, his unique appearance and amiable personality making him a well-known fixture in the local social scene.
It was in this capacity that Hatton, in 1930, met film director Henry King while the latter was shooting Hell's Harbor in Tampa. Hatton interviewed King at a press conference; King was struck by the reporter's appearance and offered him a bit part in the movie. Hatton obliged, but declined King's offer to move to Hollywood and act full-time. Like many sufferers of acromegaly, however, Hatton eventually developed severe arthritis which made it difficult for him to walk or stand for long periods of time. When he was no longer able to work as a reporter, Hatton's second wife, Mae, convinced him to relocate to California and pursue acting full-time.
Due to his condition, he'd usually play a thug of some kind. He occasionally appeared in more substantial parts, like a member of the lynch mob in The Ox-Bow Incident, in an attempt to show he possessed range outside of minor horror roles. This led to his role as the backbreaking murderer known as "The Creeper", who appeared in three Universal films late to his career, which cemented his status as a cult actor. Hatton died of a heart attack soon after finishing the last of these films, The Brute Man, at age 51.
Hatton was described by filmmaker Joe O'Connell as "a really normal guy who was weird looking." Hatton was known as a hard-working Nice Guy who made friends easily - he was rumored to be a ladies' man in his younger days - and was Happily Married to his wife Mae from 1934 to 1946. He gained a wide fanbase by making himself accessible to the public: he corresponded regularly with his fans, especially children, and he and his wife would occasionally even entertain Hatton's fans at their home in Beverly Hills. Hatton also engaged in philanthropic efforts; among other causes, he organized fundraisers for disabled war veterans and volunteered at hospitals in L.A. to entertain patients.
Despite his relatively short career, Hatton's appearance and unique screen presence has ensured his continued popularity long after his death. Among other honors, Hatton is the namesake of the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, which annually award research into and preservation of classic horror movies.
Rondo Hatton on TV Tropes:
- In Old Chicago — Body guard
- Alexander's Ragtime Band — Barfly
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) — "Ugly man"
- The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) — Gabe Hart
- The Pearl of Death (1944) — The Hoxton Creeper
- Jungle Captive (1945) — Moloch, the Brute
- The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946) — Mario
- House of Horrors (1946) — The Creeper
- The Brute Man (1946) — The Creeper
The man exemplifies these tropes:
- Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: Characters that look like Hatton have appeared in Swamp Thing (as a psychic), The Rocketeer (as a homicidal former circus strongman) and Judge Dredd (a crooked lawyer).
- Expy: His looks were copied for the brutish Lothar in The Rocketeer, and one of the aliens in Men in Black II.
- Face of a Thug: Hatton's intimidating appearance was caused by acromegaly. The pain and physical limitations that came with it forced him to give up his career as a reporter, but his face opened the door to a movie career for the last decade of his life.
- Pretty Boy: Before he was afflicted with acromegaly, Hatton was boyishly good-looking. He was said to be quite the charmer and ladies' man, too.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: From The Great War. In fact, studio publicity claimed that his disfigurement was due to exposure to mustard gas on the Western front.
- Typecasting: Due to his looks, most of Hatton's roles were thugs and murderers.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: His second wife Mae was a pretty blonde who met Hatton at a Gasparilla event in Tampa, and fell in love with him after a brief conversation. The two were, by all accounts, Happily Married and Mae strongly encouraged Rondo to pursue acting.