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'So welcoming:' Documentary 'Rondo and Bob' about horror film icons filmed in Taylor

Claire Osborn
Austin American-Statesman
Kirk Hunter on camera and Joe O'Connell directs a scene set in 1934 with Rondo Hatton (Joseph Middleton) and Mae (Kelsey Pribilski). The 120Art gallery in Taylor is in the background.

Joe O'Connell shot many scenes in Taylor for his documentary about the obsession an art director for horror movies had with a disfigured actor who played villains and monsters in the 1930s and '40s. 

"Taylor has a neat post office that looks like that period and I got permission to shoot there," said O'Connell, a Hutto resident. "They were so welcoming." 

The movie, called "Rondo and Bob," has received several awards at film festivals, including best documentary at the Atlanta Horror Film Festival and best feature at the Midwest Monster Film Revival in Illinois. 

The movie will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Howard Theater at 308 N. Main St. in Taylor. Admission is free but only 100 seats are available. Viewers are asked to bring canned goods to help a food bank in Taylor.

The 'Rondo and Bob' movie has several scenes shot in Taylor. It is about the obsession that late horror movie art director Robert Burns had with a disfigured actor Rondo Hatton, who was in more than 100 movies in the 1930's and the 1940's.

The documentary is about the intense interest the late Austin horror movie art director Robert  A. Burns — known for his work in the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "The Hills Have Eyes," "Re-Animator" and "The Howling" — had in an actor named Rondo Hatton, who was in more than 100 movies.

A former journalist for the Tampa Tribune and a World War I veteran, Hatton was diagnosed with acromegaly in a war hospital, O'Connell said. The disease, caused by excess growth hormone during adulthood, caused his face, hands and feet to grow out of proportion to the rest of his body. 

After Hatton married his second wife, they went to Hollywood in 1936 and Hatton later used his unique facial features to become "the Creeper" in a series of films, starting with the Sherlock Holmes story "The Pearl of Death."

Hatton died of a heart attack in 1946 at age 51. Burns never knew Hatton but started watching his movies in college at the University of Texas in the 1960's, O'Connell said. 

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Burns tracked down Hatton's widow, interviewed her and became an expert on Hatton's life, said O'Connell, a former film columnist for several newspapers, including the Statesman.

"My belief is that he (Burns) saw something of himself in him," said O'Connell. "He saw Rondo's outer ugliness as a manifestation of his (Burns) inner ugliness."

Rondo had a happy marriage while Burns felt incapable of love, said O'Connell. 

The late Statesman humor columnist John Kelso also appears in the film because he knew Burns and interviewed him. O'Connell said he also interviewed Burns for a film column he wrote in 2000. 

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"He handed me a script called 'Rondo and Mae' (Rondo's wife) and it was a love story," O'Connell said. O'Connell said he didn't use the script from Burns but ended up writing, directing and producing his own script.

Burns died by suicide in 2004.

Several scenes from both of Hatton's and Burns' lives were shot at many locations in Taylor, including at an art gallery called 120Art, a former antique store called Amy's Attic, the old Taylor High School and Pecan Manor Bed and Breakfast,O'Connell said. 

He said he used the antique store to film a scene from a World War I hospital and used the bed and breakfast to shoot scenes from Burns' childhood.

Taylor resident Janetta McCoy, who owned the bed and breakfast when the scenes were filmed, said she was just pleased that someone admired the house — built in 1890 — enough to shoot a film there. 

"One of the appeals of this town is its historic nature," she said. 

City Council Member Robert Garcia was able to help O'Connell when he heard the filmmaker was looking for cars from the 1920's for the movie. 

Garcia said that because he belongs to more than 200 car clubs, he was able to get five Model T's and Model A's for a scene.

"Taylor, with its downtown historic district, is easily turned back into the 1920s," Garcia said. "I can't wait to see the film so I can say 'I was there and I remember that.'"