Béla Lugosi

Béla Lugosi

Infobox actor
name = Béla Lugosi

imagesize =
caption = circa 1920
birthname = Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó
birthdate = birth date|1882|10|20
location = Lugos, Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania)
deathdate = death date and age|1956|08|16|1882|10|20
deathplace = Los Angeles, California, United States
othername =
homepage = http://www.lugosi.com
notable role = Count Dracula in "Dracula"
Dr. Vitus Werdegast in "The Black Cat"
Ygor in "Son of Frankenstein"
academyawards =
emmyawards =
children = Bela G. Lugosi
spouse = Lillian Arch (m. 1933–1953)cite news |title=Divorced. |url=http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,936129,00.html |quote=Bela Lugosi, 68, veteran Hollywood cinemonster (Dracula); by his third wife, Lillian Arch Lugosi, 41, on the ground that his 'unfounded jealousy' constituted mental cruelty; after 20 years of marriage, one son; in Los Angeles. |publisher=Time (magazine) |date=July 27, 1953 |accessdate=2008-03-21 ]

Béla Lugosi (October 20, 1882 – August 16, 1956) was an iconic Hungarian stage and film actor best known for his portrayal of Count Dracula in the American Broadway stage production (1927), and subsequent film (1931), of Bram Stoker's classic vampire story, "Dracula".

Early life

Lugosi, the youngest of four children, was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó in Lugos, at the time part of Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania), to Paula de Vojnich and István Blasko, a banker. [IMdb and Biography Channel] He and his sister Vilma were raised in a Roman Catholic family. [cite book |last=Rhodes |first=Gary |title=Lugosi: His Life in Films, on Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers |year=1997 |publisher= |url=http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0786402571&id=Aueo3mOrIKIC&pg=PA38&lpg=PA38&ots=PFzGZNPZXt&dq=%22Bela+Lugosi%22+CATHOLIC&sig=y0MXm3vsaiq-PqF0p8odUBBA5Bo |isbn=0786402571 ] Lugosi started his acting career on the stage in Hungary in several Shakespearean plays and in other major roles. He began appearing in Hungarian silent films under the stage name Arisztid Olt. During World War I, he served as an infantry lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Army.

In 1917, Lugosi married Ilona Szmick. The marriage ended in 1920 in divorce, reputedly over political differences with Szmick's parents.

Early films

Lugosi's first film appearance was in the 1917 movie "Az ezredes" (known in English as "The Colonel"). Lugosi would make twelve films in Hungary between 1917 and 1918 before leaving for Germany. Following the collapse of Béla Kun's Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, left-wingers and trade unionists became vulnerable. Lugosi was proscribed from acting due to his participation in the formation of an actor's union. In exile in Germany, he began appearing in a small number of well received films, including adaptations of the Karl May novels, "Auf den Trümmern des Paradieses" ("On the Brink of Paradise"), and "Die Todeskarawane" ("The Caravan of Death"), opposite the ill-fated Jewish actress Dora Gerson. Lugosi left Germany in October 1920, intending to emigrate to the United States, and illegally entered the country at New Orleans in December 1920. He was finally legally inspected at Ellis Island in March 1921.

On his arrival in America, the 6 foot 1 inch (1.85 m), 180 lb. (82 kg) Béla worked for some time as a laborer, then entered the theater in New York City's Hungarian immigrant colony. His first major American role came in the 1923 J. Gordon Edwards directed melodrama "The Silent Command" opposite actors Edmund Lowe and Carl Harbaugh.

In 1929, Lugosi took his place in Hollywood society and scandal when he married wealthy San Francisco widow Beatrice Weeks, but divorced 3 days later. Weeks cited actress Clara Bow as the "other woman".

Lugosi was approached to star in a stage production adapted by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston from Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula". The Horace Liveright production was successful. Despite his critically acclaimed performance on stage Lugosi was not the Universal Pictures first choice for the role of Dracula when the company optioned the rights to the Deane play and began production in 1930.

A persistent rumor asserts that silent-film actor Lon Chaney was Universal's first choice for the role, and that Lugosi was chosen only due to Chaney's death shortly before production. Chaney had been under long-term contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer since 1925, and his home studio was hesitant to release him to Universal for this project.

Chaney and Browning had worked together on several projects (including four of Chaney's final five releases), but Browning was only a last-minute choice to direct the movie version of "Dracula" after the untimely death of director Paul Leni, who was originally slated to direct. In reality, Universal's initial choice was probably Conrad Veidt, who had some acclaim at the studio after appearing in their production of "The Man Who Laughs" (1928).

Following the success of "Dracula" (1931), Lugosi received a studio contract with Universal. On June 26, 1931, the actor became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1933 he married Lillian Arch, his third wife. They had a child, Bela G. Lugosi. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Friedemann O’Brien Goldberg & Zarian Names Bela G. Lugosi Of Counsel |url=http://www.metnews.com/articles/bela021402.htm |quote=Bela G. Lugosi, a well-known Los Angeles trial and entertainment lawyer and son of the actor famed for his portrayals of Count Dracula, has become of counsel to the downtown office of Friedemann O’Brien Goldberg & Zarian.|publisher=Metropolitan News-Enterprise |date= |accessdate=2008-04-20 ] Lillian and Bela would divorce 20 years later in 1953.


Through his association with Dracula (in which he appeared with minimal makeup, using his natural, heavily accented voice), Lugosi found himself typecast as a horror villain in such movies as "Murders in the Rue Morgue", "The Raven", and "Son of Frankenstein" for Universal, and the independent "White Zombie". His accent, while a part of his image, limited the roles he could play.

Lugosi did attempt to break type by auditioning for other roles. He lost out to Lionel Barrymore for the role of Rasputin in "Rasputin and the Empress (1932 film)"; C. Henry Gordon for the role of Surat Khan in "Charge of the Light Brigade"; Basil Rathbone for the role of Commissar Dimitri Gorotchenko in "Tovarich (film)" (a role Lugosi had played on stage).

It is an erroneous popular belief that Lugosi declined the offer to appear in "Frankenstein". Lugosi may not have been happy with the onerous makeup job and lack of dialogue. Nonetheless, James Whale, the film's director, replaced Lugosi and would do this again in " Bride of Frankenstein" (Lugosi was supposed to play the role of Dr. Pretorius). A recent Lugosi scrapbook (see external link below) surfaced with a news clipping listing both Lugosi and Boris Karloff in the film together. This gives credence to the possibility that Lugosi was going to play the role of Dr. Frankenstein, as envisioned by Robert Florey (a contender to direct the film).

In a recent discussion,clarify it has also been speculated Lugosi wanted out of the role because he and James Whale had different interpretations of the monster. There is speculation that Lugosi wanted to play the monster closer to Shelley's original, who had dialogue. Whale's interpretation allowed for no dialogue. Lugosi was quoted as saying the role "did not have meat enough."cite quote Cinematographer Paul Ivano, who shot test footage of Lugosi for the role of the monster, said that Lugosi was happy with the role, and had given him a box of cigars. Ivano and Robert Florey both noted that Lugosi's performance was not dissimilar to that of his replacement, Boris Karloff.

Regardless of controversy, several films at Universal, such as "The Black Cat" (1934), "The Raven" (1935), and "Son of Frankenstein" (1939) (and minor cameo performances in 1934's "Gift of Gab") paired Lugosi with Karloff. Regardless of the relative size of their roles, Lugosi inevitably got second billing, below Karloff. Lugosi's attitude toward Karloff is the subject of contradictory reports, some claiming that he was openly resentful of Karloff's long-term success and ability to get good roles beyond the horror arena, while others suggested the two actors were — for a time, at least — good friends. Karloff himself in interviews suggested that Lugosi was initially mistrustful of him when they acted together, believing that the Englishman would attempt to upstage him. When this proved not to be the case, according to Karloff, Lugosi settled down and they worked together amicably (though some have further commented that Karloff's on-set demand to break from filming for mid-afternoon tea annoyed Lugosi).

Attempts were made to give Lugosi more heroic roles, as in "The Black Cat" (1934), "The Invisible Ray" (1936), and a romantic role in the adventure serial "The Return of Chandu", but his typecasting problem was too entrenched for those roles to help. And unlike with fellow Hungarian actors Peter Lorre and Paul Lukas, Lugosi's thick accent also hindered the variety of roles he was offered.

Career path

A number of factors worked against Lugosi's career in the mid-1930s. Universal changed management in 1936, and per a British ban on horror films, dropped them from their production schedule; Lugosi found himself consigned to Universal's non-horror B-film unit, at times in small roles where he was obviously used for "name value" only. Throughout the 1930s Lugosi, experiencing a severe career decline despite popularity with audiences (Universal executives always preferred his rival Karloff), accepted many leading roles from independent producers like Nat Levine, Sol Lesser, and Sam Katzman. These low-budget thrillers indicate that Lugosi was less discriminating than Boris Karloff in selecting screen vehicles, but the exposure helped Lugosi financially if not artistically. Lugosi tried to keep busy with stage work, but had to borrow money from the Actors' Fund to pay hospital bills when his only child, Bela George Lugosi, was born in 1938.

His career was given a second chance by Universal's "Son of Frankenstein" in 1939, when he played the plum character role of Ygor, a sly hunchback, in heavy makeup and beard. The same year saw Lugosi playing a straight character role in a major motion picture: he was a stern commissar in MGM's Greta Garbo comedy "Ninotchka". This small but prestigious role could have been a turning point for the actor, but within the year he was back on Hollywood's Poverty Row, playing leads for Sam Katzman. These horror, comedy, psycho, and mystery B-films were released by Monogram Pictures. At Universal, he often received star billing for what amounted to a supporting part. "The Gorilla" had him playing straight man to Patsy Kelly, in a role she told Bose Hadleigh was her finest.

Ostensibly due to injuries received during military service, Lugosi developed severe, chronic sciatica. Though at first he was treated with pain remedies such as asparagus juice, doctors increased the medication to opiates. The growth of his dependence on pain-killers, particularly morphine and methadone, was directly proportional to the dwindling of screen offers. In 1943, he finally played the role of Frankenstein's monster in Universal's "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman", which this time contained dialogue (Lugosi's voice had been dubbed over Lon Chaney, Jr's, line readings at the end of 1942's "The Ghost of Frankenstein" because Ygor's brain had been transplanted into the Monster). Lugosi continued to play the Monster with Ygor's consciousness but with groping gestures because the Monster was now blind. Ultimately, all of the Monster's dialogue and all references to his sightlessness were edited out of the released film, leaving a strange, maimed performance characterized by unexplained gestures and lip movements with no words coming out. He also got to recreate the role of Dracula a second and last time on film in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" in 1948. By this time, Lugosi's drug use was so notorious that the producers weren't even aware that Lugosi was still alive, and had penciled in actor Ian Keith for the role.

"Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" was Bela Lugosi's last "A" movie. For the remainder of his life he appeared — less and less frequently — in relatively obscure, low-budget features. During the early 1950s he made personal appearances and did stage work, including a theatrical engagement in England. While there he co-starred in a lowbrow comedy, "Mother Riley Meets the Vampire" (also known as "Vampire over London" and "My Son, the Vampire"). Upon his return to America, Lugosi was interviewed for television, and revealed his ambition to play more comedy, though wistfully noting, "Now I am the boogie man." Independent producer Jack Broder took Lugosi at his word, casting him in a jungle-themed comedy, "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla". Another opportunity for comedy came when Red Skelton invited Lugosi to appear in a sketch on his live CBS program. Lugosi memorized the script for the skit, but became confused on the air when Skelton began to ad lib. [cite book|last=Weaver|first=Tom |title=Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks: Conversations with 24 Actors, Writers, Producers and Directors from the Golden Age|publisher=McFarland|date=2004|pages=160|isbn=0-786-42070-7] This was depicted in the Tim Burton film "Ed Wood", with Martin Landau as Lugosi. Though Burton did not actually identify the comedian in the biopic, the events depicted were correct.

Late in his life, Bela Lugosi again received star billing in movies when filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr., a fan of Lugosi, found him living in obscurity and near-poverty and offered him roles in his films, such as "Glen or Glenda" and as a Dr. Frankenstein-like mad scientist in "Bride of the Monster". During post-production of the latter, Lugosi decided to seek treatment for his addiction, and the premiere of the film was said to be intended to help pay for his hospital expenses. According to Kitty Kelley's biography of Frank Sinatra, when the entertainer heard of Lugosi's problems, he helped with expenses and visited at the hospital. Lugosi would recall his amazement, since he didn't even know Sinatra. [cite book|last=Kelley|first=Kitty |title=His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra|publisher=Bantam Books|date=1987|pages=248|isbn=0-553-26515-6]

The extras on an early DVD release of "Plan 9 from Outer Space" include an impromptu interview with Lugosi upon his exit from the treatment center in 1955, which provide some rare personal insights into the man. During the interview, Lugosi states that he is about to go to work on a new Ed Wood film, "The Ghoul Goes West". This was one of several projects proposed by Wood, including "The Phantom Ghoul" and "Dr. Acula". With Lugosi in his famed Dracula cape, Wood shot impromptu test footage, with no storyline in mind, in front of Tor Johnson's home, a suburban graveyard and in front of Lugosi's apartment building on Carlton Way. This footage ended up in "Plan 9 from Outer Space".

Lugosi married Hope Linninger in 1955, as his fourth wife. Following his treatment, Lugosi made one final film, in late 1955, "The Black Sleep", for Bel-Air Pictures, which was released in the summer of 1956 through United Artists with a promotional campaign that included several personal appearances. To his disappointment, however, his role in this film was of a mute, with no dialogs.

Death and posthumous performance

Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956 while lying on a couch in his Los Angeles home. He was 73. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Bela Lugosi Dies. Created Dracula. Portrayer of Vampire Role or Stage and Screen Was Star in Budapest Began Career in 1900 |url= |quote=August 16, 1956 Bela Lugosi, who won, international stage and screen fame in the title role of Bram Stoker's mystery, "Dracula," died tonight. |publisher=New York Times |date=August 17, 1956, Friday |accessdate=2007-07-21 ] Rumor has it that Lugosi was clutching the script for "The Final Curtain", a planned Ed Wood project, at the exact moment of his death. However, this is not true. [cite book|last=Rhodes|first=Gary Don |title=ugosi: His Life in Films, on Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers|publisher=McFarland|date=1997|pages=36|isbn=0-786-40257-1]

Lugosi was buried wearing one of the "Dracula" stage play costumes, per the request of his son and fifth wife, in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Contrary to popular belief, Lugosi never requested to be buried in his cloak; Bela Lugosi, Jr. has confirmed on numerous occasions that he and his mother, Lillian, made the decision.

One of Lugosi's roles was released posthumously. Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from Outer Space" features footage of Lugosi interspersed with a double. Wood had taken a few minutes of silent footage of Lugosi, in his Dracula cape, for a planned vampire picture but was unable to find financing for the project. When he later conceived "Plan 9", Wood wrote the script to incorporate the Lugosi footage and hired his wife's chiropractor to double for Lugosi in additional shots. [cite news|url=http://www.lostmag.com/issue18/lugosi.php|title=Bela Lugosi's Legacy|last=Nuzum |first=Eric |publisher="Lost"|accessdate=2008-10-08] The double is thinner than Lugosi, and in every shot covers the lower half of his face with his cape, as Lugosi sometimes did in "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein." As Leonard Maltin put it in early editions of his movies guide book, "Lugosi died during production, and it shows."


In 1979, the "Lugosi v. Universal Pictures" decision by the California Supreme Court held that Bela Lugosi's personality rights could not pass to his heirs, as a copyright would have. The court ruled that any rights of publicity, and rights to his image, terminated with Lugosi's death.cite web |url=http://library.findlaw.com/1998/Feb/1/130405.html |title=Lugosi v. Universal Pictures, 603 P.2d 425 (Cal. 1979). |accessdate=2007-02-14 |quote=In this decision preceding (and precipitating) the Legislature's enactment of Section 990, the California Supreme Court held that rights of publicity were not descendible in California. Bela Lugosi's heirs, Hope Linninger Lugosi and Bela George Lugosi, sued to enjoin and recover profits from Universal Pictures for licensing Lugosi's name and image on merchandise reprising Lugosi's title role in the 1930 film, "Dracula." The California Supreme Court faced the question whether Bela Lugosi's film contracts with Universal included a grant of merchandising rights in his portrayal of Count Dracula, and the descendibility of any such rights. Adopting the opinion of Justice Roth for the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, the court held that the right to exploit one's name and likeness is personal to the artist and must be exercised, if at all, by him during his lifetime. Lugosi, 603 P.2d at 431. |publisher=FindLaw ] [California's descendibility statute for rights of publicity, Civil Code Section 990, was enacted in 1988, and Lugosi's estate now licenses the commercial use of his name and image. The right of publicity in some states endures for 50, 70, 75, or 100 years past the death of the celebrity.]

Lugosi is mentioned prominently in the song "Celluloid Heroes" by The Kinks.In 1979, Lugosi became the subject of a song by gothic rock band Bauhaus titled "Bela Lugosi's Dead". In 2006, French bossa nova band Nouvelle Vague released their version on their second album "Bande à Part". Voltaire has produced a song called "Vampire Club" which mentions "Béla Lugosi's still undead". The German musician Bela B. was inspired by Bela Lugosi to his pseudonym.

The biographical film "Ed Wood" (Tim Burton, 1994) is a sentimental interpretation of the relationship between Lugosi and Wood. Lugosi is played by Martin Landau in a good-natured and sometimes moving interpretation for which Landau received an Academy Award for best supporting actor. Lugosi's son, Bela Lugosi, Jr., initially disapproved of his father's portrayal in the film despite never having seen it. After a long correspondence with Landau, Lugosi, Jr. was persuaded to view the film in Landau's company, after which he declared that Landau had "honored" his father with his portrayal.

A musical about Ed Wood, called "The Worst", created and recorded by American humorist, songwriter, and author Josh Alan Friedman, features two songs about Bela Lugosi, namely "Bela Lugosi" and "Bela's Funeral Dirge". Both pieces feature Texas-based gypsy jazz combo Cafe Noir.

Three Lugosi projects were featured on the television show "Mystery Science Theater 3000". "The Corpse Vanishes" was used in episode 105, the serial "The Phantom Creeps" was used throughout season two and the Ed Wood production "Bride of the Monster" appeared in episode 423. Screener Frank Conniff also championed the use of Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla for the show, but the remaining producers and writers rejected it for its poor quality. An episode of "Sledge Hammer" titled "Last of the Red Hot Vampires" was an homage of Béla Lugosi. At the end of the episode, it was dedicated to "Mr. Blaskó". One of the members of Mistula is named Bella Lugosi. In 2006, British rock band The Jalapeños included "For Bela" and "Hubcaps Over Hollywood" (about the Ed Wood films) on their CD "Go Ape!". They had contacted Lugosi Jr. with a view to using a Lugosi portrait on the album cover, but were told that they would have to pay Lugosi Jr.'s agent. Also the Dutch industrial glamrock band "Outerspace Overdose" has made a tribute to Bela Lugosi by quoting one of his lines from the movie Glen or Glenda in their song Disco Bloodbath on their album "Pull the stringk".

In 2001 BBC Radio 4 Broadcast "There Are Such Things" by Steven McNicoll and Mark McDonnell. Focusing on Lugosi and his well documented struggle to escape from the role that had typecast him, the play went on to receive The Hamilton Dean award for best dramatic presentation from the Dracula Society in 2002.

A statue of Lugosi can be seen today on one of the corners of the Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest.

The Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City features a live, 30 minute play that focuses on Lugosi's illegal entry into the country and then his arrival at Ellis Island to enter the country legally. [cite web|url=http://www.ellisisland.org/genealogy/ellis_island_visiting.asp|title=Visiting the Ellis Island Immigration Museum|publisher=ellisisland.org]

The cape Lugosi wore in the 1931 film "Dracula" still survives today in the ownership of Universal Studios.


Further reading

*"Bela Lugosi: Dreams and Nightmares" by Gary D. Rhodes, with Richard Sheffield, (2007) Collectables/Alpha Video Publishers, ISBN 0977379817 (hardcover)
*"The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi" by Arthur Lennig (2003), ISBN 0813122732 (hardcover)
*"Bela Lugosi (Midnight Marquee Actors Series)" by Gary Svehla and Susan Svehla (1995) ISBN 1887664017 (paperback)
*"Bela Lugosi: Master of the MacAbre" by Larry Edwards (1997), ISBN 188111709X (paperback)
*"Films of Bela Lugosi" by Richard Bojarski (1980) ISBN 0806507160 (hardcover)
*"Sinister Serials of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr." by Leonard J. Kohl (2000) ISBN 1887664319 (paperback)
*"Vampire over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain" by Frank J. Dello Stritto (2000) ISBN 0970426909 (hardcover)


External links

* [http://www.lugosi.com/ Official Bela Lugosi website, maintained by the Lugosi family]
*imdb name|id=0000509|name=Béla Lugosi
*PORT.hu-person|4948|Lugosi Béla
*amg name|B43690
* [http://www.archive.org/details/white_zombie Watch Bela Lugosi in "White Zombie" (1932)]
* [http://www.lugosidvd.com/ Lugosi: Hollywood's Dracula]
* [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2041663135822344194&q=Bela+Lugosi/ Bela Lugosi Honored]
* [http://www.horror-wood.com/scrapbook.htm Lugosi Scrapbook]
*Find A Grave|id=652

NAME= Lugosi, Béla
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Blaskó, Béla Ferenc Dezső
DATE OF BIRTH= October 20, 1882
PLACE OF BIRTH= Lugos, Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania)
DATE OF DEATH= August 16, 1956
PLACE OF DEATH= Los Angeles, California, United States

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