Florence Balcombe

Florence Balcombe (17 July, 1858 – 25 May, 1937) was the wife of Bram Stoker, whom she married in 1878. She had previously been courted by the author and playwright Oscar Wilde.

Balcombe, a celebrated Victorian beauty, is chiefly remembered as being responsible for the destruction of most of the prints of the 1922 horror film "Nosferatu", which was based without attribution or permission on Stoker's novel "Dracula". She was unaware of the existence of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's "Nosferatu" until she received an anonymous letter from Berlin [As detailed in David J. Skal's book, "Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula From Novel to Stage to Screen"] . The document included the program of a lavish cinematic event held in 1922, complete with full orchestral accompaniment, that had taken place in the Marble Garden at Berlin Zoological Gardens. The German film was described in the handbill as "freely adapted from Bram Stoker's Dracula." ("Nosferatu" screenwriter Henrik Galeen had changed the names of the main characters - otherwise, the story was faithful to Stoker's novel.)

Balcombe was struggling financially and, as Stoker's literary executor, had never given permission for the adaptation, nor received payment for it. Her furious response to this copyright infringement was prompt and uncompromising - not only did she want the financial reparation she felt was due to the estate, she demanded that the negative and all prints of the film (which she would never actually see) be immediately destroyed.

Balcombe launched a lawsuit in which she was represented by the lawyers of the British Incorporated Society of Authors. The suit took some time to resolve; at one point, the German production company Prana-Film declared bankruptcy to avoid paying for the adaptation. Finally, she won the case, with the final ruling in July 1925 stating that the negatives and all prints of the film should be handed over to her to be destroyed.

Despite this ruling, prints of the film slowly began to resurface in the late 1920s, with the first American screenings taking place in New York City and Detroit in 1929.

Florence Balcombe outlived her husband by 25 years and died in 1937.

References

David J. Skal's book, "Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula From Novel to Stage to Screen"


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