Monday, October 13, 2008


In continuing my showcase of Hollywood's greatest stars and this month particularly, horror film stars, let us learn a little more about Bela Lugosi.

Best known for his role of Dracula, Bela actually began his acting career far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Bela was born Be'la Ferenc Dezso Blasko in Lugos, Austrian-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania) in 1882. He began his stage career in 1901 and became the number one ranked actor in Hungary. It was at this time that he changed his name to Lugosi. He toured with the National Theater of Budapest and was well known for his versatility. With the onset of WWI, he volunteered to fight for his country, even though actors were exempt from military service. It was after his military service that he first began appearing in films and he was also active in the actor's union. With the change of the regime during the Hungarian Revolution, he was forced to flee to Germany where he made a few films before coming to America.

In America, he pursued his acting career in the theater with a Hungarian stock company since he did not speak English. In his first English speaking role he learned all his lines phonetically, and received rave reviews. He continued working both theater and film through the twenties and received his big break when he played the part of the Count in the Broadway production of Dracula in 1927.

When Universal Studios was looking to cast the film version of Dracula, they wanted Lon Cheney to play Dracula. His death forced them to look for a replacement and they settled on Lugosi who made the part his own. Dracula (1931) was the first talking horror movie. It launched Lugosi as a star in the horror genre. He went on to appear in several horror movies, a few of which include Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), White Zombie (1932), Island of the Lost Souls (1933), The Black Cat (1934), Mark of the Vampire (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Devil Bat (1940), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), The Return of the Vampire (1944), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1949), and posthumously in Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).

With his role of Dracula, Lugosi personified evil and defined our image of the vampire. This was not a grotesque, misshapen monster, but an aristocratic, sophisticated one. An interesting fact is that Lugosi did not wear fangs in this original portrayal of the Count. Lugosi became so associated with the part that he was not able to break out of the horror genre, despite his obvious ability to play other roles. Lugosi died in 1956 and was even buried wearing the Dracula cape (this was at the request of his wife and son). While viewing the body, it is said that fellow Hungarian actor Peter Lorre quipped to Vincent Price "Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart, just in case?"

Enjoy this tribute to Bela Lugosi and his work.

To see my post on Lon Cheney, click here.


Alyson (New England Living) said...

I saw a biography of him. He had a really interesting life. He's the reason we still think of Dracula as having that thick accent.

Love your Halloween-themed tributes!

Cindy said...

Alyson ~ I'm so glad you like these Halloween posts because they will be continuing. There are at least 5 more actors my husband wants me to post on. He's just loves these old horror pics.

Sarah Laurence said...

Now this seems just right before Halloween. The story behind the actor is interesting, especially his name. Can you imagine a time when people were eager to join up to fight a war? Poor guy- vampire for life.

Bee said...

I've never seen one of his movies, and yet I can remember, as kids, saying, "I vant to bite your neck!"

Cindy said...

Sarah - I find stories about people so interesting, so it's been neat to find out about some of these old Hollywood actors. Blogs also give insight to other people's lives and maybe that's part of why I find them interesting as well.

Bee - It's funny how phrases and mannerisms persist into pop culture and the origin was a random event, long ago.