Rondo Hatton was born in Hagerstown, Maryland on April 22, 1894 to Missouri-born teachers. Young Rondo spent much of his youth travelling the East Coast of the United States with his parents his father passed away and his mother finally settled in Tampa.
As a teenager Rondo was not only regarded as an intelligent young man by his teachers, he was also quite handsome. In fact he was so handsome that he was even voted most handsome by his high school peers. Following high school Rondo became a sportswriter for the local Tampa Tribune newspaper and remained a journalist until just after World War one, when his fortune changed.
Shortly after the war, Rondo’s handsome features began to change. The changes were subtle at first, little more than swollen eyes, but Rondo quickly became alarmed and sought a diagnosis. Eventually Rondo was diagnosed with a fairly rare pituitary disorder known as acromegaly.
Symptoms of acromegaly generally develop during adulthood and Hatton’s head, face and extremities gradually but consistently became bulbous and disfigured. Severely disfigured, Rondo was understandably upset by his situation. While he continued to work at the Tribune Rondo spiralled into depression and those close to him worried that his state of mind was fractured and he was possibly becoming a danger to himself. But in 1930, while covering the filming of Hell Harbour, his fortune changed once again.
Director Henry King spotted Rondo Hatton and immediately cast him in Hell Harbour as a burly tavern keeper. During the experience Rondo’s was amazed to be praised for his unique physical features and was flattered by the attention. Rondo surmised that he could parlay his freakish face into a prolific acting career and he quickly moved to Hollywood.
For most of the 1930’s, Rondo played the part of background goon in several films. In fact, until the mid 1940’s his acting was limited almost entirely to bit part silent roles. His unique appearance still drew attention from the studio executives and in 1944, at the height of his physical disfigurement, he signed a deal with Universal Studio. He made his first appearance for the studio in the Sherlock Holmes movie The Pearl Death, again playing a mute back-breaking hulk villain named Hoxton Creeper. Rondo expected little from the role as he had practically played the part many times before. However, those roles had been background characters and Creeper was front and center. The public devoured the character and they demanded to see more of the physically gifted Rondo.
Universal threw their considerable weight behind Rondo Hatton and initiated an impressive campaign championing their latest movie monster. The promotion took on Barnum-like qualities when press released claimed Rondo’s disfigurement was due to wartime mustard gas exposure. Over the next year and a half, Rondo Hatton played supporting Creeper-like roles in three more Universal films. In his final film, The Brute Man, Rondo was cast as the star. The plot of the film was semi biographical as the story revolved around a handsome college athlete scarred and turned into a monster by an accident.
Rondo Hatton died on February 2, 1946 nearly eight months before the theatre release of his final film due to heart issues brought on by his acromegaly.
Interestingly enough, Rondo’s death did little to curb his fame. In fact his popularity reached its greatest heights during the 1960s and 1970s when a booming interest in Universal’s classic horror movie monsters led numerous film buffs to Hatton’s body of work. Rondo’s unique visage gained something of an iconic cult status.
Rondo Hatton’s famous face lives on in all manner of cinematic, comic book and pop culture tributes. Most notably, the main henchman in Disney’s The Rocketeer is visually based on Rondo as are characters in both Judge Dredd and The Goon comics. Furthermore, The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards represent Hatton in both name as well as in likeness. The physical award is a cast bust of Hatton’s exceptional features.