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Bela Lugosi, Horror Icon - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

March 2008

Films starring Bela Lugosi on (re)Search my Trash


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Over the decades, there have been many horror stars, starting with Lon Chaney, and Boris Karloff [Boris Karloff bio - click here], Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price immediately come to mind, maybe also Barbara Steele [Barbara Steele bio - click here], Lon Chaney jr [Lon Chaney jr bio - click here], John Carradine [John Carradine bio - click here], Tod Slaughter [Tod Slaughter bio - click here], George Zucco [George Zucco bio - click here], Lionel Atwill [Lionel Atwill bio - click here], Dwight Frye [Dwight Frye bio - click here], Paul Naschy [Paul Naschy bio - click here] and Robert Englund [Robert Englund bio - click here].

However none of these people was quite as iconic in sheer appearance as Bela Lugosi, whose simple appearance seemed to spell horror, whose mere features seemed to be quite as demonic, and who seemed to be quite so much at ease with playing malevolent characters.


Bela Lugosi's Dracula was pretty much the definite article, no other actor would play the Transylvanian nobleman quite as convincingly, charmingly, seductively and menacingly and brought the same East European flair to the role as Bela Lugosi (who interestingly enough was born not far away from Dracula's imagined home). And despite the over hundred actors who have played the character since, none has reached the same cult status as Lugosi - with only Christopher Lee coming close, but he always played the count more British than Eastern European to begin with. That said, Lugosi played Dracula in a mere two films, with a stretch of 17 years between them (a time during which both Lon Chaney jr and John Carradine tried their hands on the role), and he played vampires in only two more films besides his Dracula outings (and in one of these films he is even revealed to be a mere actor impersonating a vampire in the end) - yet Bela's performance as the king of vampires went down with the audiences incredibly well.


But even besides Dracula, Lugosi created some memorable villains, like Murder Legendre in White Zombie (1932, Victor Halperin), Ygor in Son of Frankenstein (1939, Rowland V. Lee) and Ghost of Frankenstein (1942, Erle C. Kenton) and any number of mad scientists from The Phantom Creeps (1939, Ford L. Beebe, Saul A. Goodkind) and The Devil Bat (1941, Jean Yarbrough [Jean Yarbrough bio - click here]) to Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952, William Beaudine) and Bride of the Monster (1955, Ed Wood [Ed Wood bio - click here]).


Despite the success Bela Lugosi had as Hollywood's leading horror villain though it should be noted that he began his acting career in his native Hungary as a romantic lead and matinee idol, and despite the fact that he has become some kind of horror icon even when he was still alive, he was pretty much out of work towards the end of his career and died a poor man ...



Early Life, Early Career


Bela Lugosi was born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó in Lugos, Austria-Hungary (later Lugos, Hungary, now Lugoj, Romania) in 1882. Publicity during his high times in Hollywood was quick to exploit the (relative) closeness of Lugos to Transylvania and would claim that he was of aristocratic origins and his family even owned land in Transylvania - both of which was not the case, the Blaskós had actually been farmers for generations, and Bela's father broke with family tradition to become nothing more glamourous than a baker.


Anyways, young Bela got bitten by the theatre bug very early in his life, according to some sources even in his pre-teens, and allegedly he ran away from home at age 11 to join a theatre group, but this did by far not go as well as planned and young Bela spent most of his youth doing menial jobs. And as a result of this, Bela, when he was finally accepted into the theatre world in the early 1900's, found his own lack of education quite embarassing and soon started to do some massive reading to make up for the years (literally) of formal education he had missed out on.


Bela's first appeance as a professional theatre actor might have been somewhen around 1902, when he was working for a repertory company travelling the country, and he was playing all sorts of roles, sometimes even sinister ones (like that of Svengali's assistant in the play Trilby in 1903). During that time, too, his stagename was born. Initially, he performed under a number of different names, but soon saw the futility of this and settled for Bela Lugosi, which means nothing more than Bela from Lugos.

Lugosi might not have had much of an education, but as actor he was a natural, so eventually, he rose in the ranks, and by 1910, he could be seen as the male lead in Shakespeare's Rome and Juliet in Szeged, then one of Hungary's top theatre cities.

Lugosi soon moved to Budapest and played several stages, but was usually relegated to supporting parts, which was not to his liking. Eventually though, Lugosi, was admitted to the Budapest National Theatre, the most prestigious state subsidized theatre of Hungary. Here he was not cast in leading roles either, but he saw work on this stage as a sort of apprenticeship - plus it was a very secure job with definite career prospects.


Everything, you could say, was perfect, but then disaster struck in the form of World War I. Bela volunteered to serve and defend his country and was commissioned as an infantry lieutenant. He was wounded three times during his service, and was honourably discharged from the Army in 1916. He returned to the National Theatre, but again being relegated to nothing more than supporting roles no longer left him satisfied, and when he married (for the first of five times) in 1917 and needed a bigger income, he entered the Hungarian film industry - which was by then a mere five years old ...



European Silents


During his Hungarian film career, short as it was, Lugosi appeared in quite a variety of roles, like the romantic (secondary) hero in Küzdelem a Létért/The Leopard, the role of Lord Henry Wotton in Az Élet Királya/The Royal Life, an early film version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, a young suitor of a rich man's daughter in Casanova, or a red herring role  - something he would play again and again in his Hollywood years - in Álarcosbál/Masked Ball (all four 1918, Alfréd Deésy).

During his days in the Hungarian film industry, Bela would also make a handful of films with director Mihály Kertész - the man who would later become famous in Hollywood as Michael Curtiz -, namely Az Ezredes/The Colonel (1917) - in which he played a crook -, Lulu - in which he played the romantic lead - and 99 (both 1918).

Most of Lugosi's films from that time (1917 - 1918) were produced by the company Star Film, and early in his film career, Bela went by the name Arisztid Olt, before he figured going by his real name - well his original stage name - would get him better roles and dropped his new alias.


After World War I though, Hungary, one of the successor countries of the defeated Austrian-Hungarian Empire, was thrown into political turmoil, and after revolution and counter-revolution, Lugosi suddenly saw himself on the wrong side of the ruling class which tended to imprison and  execute sympathizers of the previous regime - so Bela saw no other way out than to flee the country in 1919 - as did other later film greats like Michael Curtiz and Alexander Korda.


At first, Bela Lugosi relocated to Vienna, Austria, but as he was not able to find work there, he moved on to Berlin, Germany, where several directors, aware of his filmwork in Hungary, offered him parts.


His most interesting films from his German era are:

  • Sklavin fremden Willens/Hypnose/Hypnosis (1920, Richard Eichberg), in which Lugosi plays a malicious hypnotist using his powers to corrupt a young woman - which anticipates many of his roles he would later play in American horror movies, from White Zombie onwards.
  • Der Januskopf/The Head of Janus (1920, F.W.Murnau), an early version of Jekyll & Hyde, with Conrad Veidt playing the good doctor and Lugosi his butler.

  • Lederstrumpf, 1. Teil: Der Wildtöter und Chingachgook/The Deerslayer and Lederstrumpf, 2.Teil: Der Letzte der Mohikaner/The Last of the Mohicans (both 1920, Arthur Wellin), adaptations of the Deerslayer stories by James Fenimore Cooper in which Lugosi can be seen as Chingachgook to Emil Mamelok's Deerslayer. These two movies hit American cinemas in a condensed version in 1923.
  • Bela Lugosi played an evil Sheik in Die Teufelsanbeter/The Devil Worshippers (1920, Marie Luise Droop), Auf den Trümmern des Paradieses and Die Todeskarawane/Caravan of Death (both 1920, Josef Stein), films based on Kara Ben Nemsi novels by popular German author Karl May.
  • In Der Tanz auf dem Vulkan, 1.Teil: Sybil Young/Dance on the Volcano: Sybil Young and Der Tanz auf dem Vulkan, 2. Teil: Der Tod des Grossfürsten/Death on the Volcano: The Death of the Grand Duke (1920, Richard Eichberg), an espionage two-parter, Lugosi can be seen playing the romantic lead - who eventually sacrifices his life for a bolschewik spy - for possibly the last time on screen.


Coming to America


It was in 1920 that Lugosi learned for a fact what he had thus far only suspected: That he was a political outlaw in his home country Hungary. He was 38 by then and decided to move to the USA, a country that promised opportunities aplenty. Not able to afford the journey, he saw himself forced to accept a job as an engineer on a ship, and without any papers, he later had to illegally enter the United States - but he was granted temporary political asylum thanks to the influence of some countrymen of his residing in New York.


Lugosi himself arrived in New York in 1921, where he soon got in touch a the Hungarian cultural organisation and formed a theatrical troupe to perform plays by Hungarian playwrights for fellow emigrés in New York and neighbouring cities - exclusively in Hungarian language, since Lugosi did by that time not speak any English. And his involvement with the theatre troupe - where he was producer, director and star - certainly didn't help in learning English either.


Eventually though in 1922, Lugosi was discovered by theatre producer Henry Baron, who wanted him for an off-Broadway production of The Red Poppy by André Picard. Despite the language barrier, Lugosi accepted the job and learned the role phonetically - and despite his obvious linguistic shortcomings, Bela was reportedly convincing enough as the play's romantic lead as he brought just the right dose of old world dignity and passion to the role. This opened the doors for more and more engagements on English language stages, even though on the rarest of occasions as romantic lead.


Eventually, Lugosi was also discovered for silent cinema, where language barriers played less of a role. Bela's first film was The Silent Command (1923, J.Gordon Edwards), a film about enemy spies wanting to blow up the Panama Canal. Bela plays the lead villain (anitcipating the actor's future, one wonders) to hero Edmund Lowe, and he meets a gruesome fate in the end.


A handful of other silent films followed The Silent Command, with Lugosi mostly playing continental types of roles, like that of another foreign spy in Daughters Who Pay (1925, George Terwilliger). Of more interest might be The Midnight Girl (1925, Wilfred Noy) in which Lugosi competes for the affection of an aspiring opera singer (Lila Lee) with his own son, or the role of Harlequin in Duncan Renaldo's Punchinello (1926), a short based on an Italian folk tale.



Dracula: From Stage to Screen - and Beyond


During his early career in the movies, Bela Lugosi never forgot his first love, the stage, and with various meaty parts in quite a number of plays (not necessarily leads), he garnered quite a reputation, until a play arrived in New York in 1927 after playing for four years in the UK that Lugosi just seemed to be cut out for. The play of course is Dracula, written by Hamilton Deane adapted from the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker. The play (which was re-written for American audiences by John L.Balderston) required a Dracula a tad different from the one that Stoker had envisioned, inasmuch as he was a more suave and even seductive character, a character that looked good in evening clothes and who had a certain old-world charm to him, but who also had a domineering presence on stage - a description that fits Bela Lugosi to the t. And for once, even Bela's Lugosi's Hungarian accent fitted his role.


The play, which also featured Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Herbert Bunston as Doctor Seward (both later in Tod Browning's Dracula from 1931), opened on Broadway in October 1927 and became an instant smash hit, playing on Broadway, then touring the country until eventually settling in Los Angeles in 1928, and it also was the first big success for Bela Lugosi.


Interestingly though, despite his success in theatre, his film roles during that time were relatively small, his comparatively larger roles were in Such Men are Dangerous (1930, Kenneth Hawks), in which he plays a plastic surgeon who transforms ugly millionaire Warner Baxter into a new man, Renegades (1930, Victor Fleming), a foreign legion yarn starring Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy in which he plays an Arab chieftain, and The Thirteenth Chair from 1929, Lugosi's first collaboration with Tod Browning, a murder mystery in which Bela plays an inspector trying to solve a murder by spiritualism.


Eventually, Carl Laemmle and Carl Laemmle jr, then heads of Universal, bought the film rights of the play Dracula, and reportedly, Bela Lugosi himself was involved in the acquiring process, haggling with the Stoker-estate over the price. To his surprise however, when it came to casting the film, Bela's name was at first not even mentioned, according to rumours the role was first to go to John Wray, fresh from his success in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930, Lewis Milestone). Eventually though the studio decided to go for a bigger name for the lead, and Conrad Veidt, Paul Muni, William Courtney and Ian Keith were all on the studio's shortlist ... and Bela Lugosi.


For some reason, the Laemmles decided on Bela Lugosi in the end, and thank God they did. Reportedly, Lugosi learned about this when he was touring the country with Dracula once more and had almost given up on getting the role in the film. 

Regarding salary though, Universal proved to be less than generous, paying Lugosi just $ 500 per week for a seven week shoot (that's a total of $ 3,500, in case you don't want to do the maths), and no share whatsoever in the film that would prove to be a smashing success if there ever was one, and would be Bela's career-defining movie, even though he was already 48 (!) by the time Dracula was filmed.


Dracula, released in 1931, was directed by Tod Browning, and starred, besides Lugosi, Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Herbert Bunston as Doctor Seward, who were both also in the play (as mentioned above), plus Dwight Frye giving an impressive performance as Renfield [Dwight Frye bio - click here], David Manners as the rather pale romantic lead Jonathan Harker and Helen Chandler as a rather subdued damsel-in-distress Mina Harker.

The film became an instant success (which many film historians quickly linked to the Depression Era as such even though the play was playing successfully throughout the country before the Great Depression), which is in large parts probably thanks to Lugosi's performance, because critically viewed, the movie is far from a masterpiece: Its second half drags on considerably and is quite stagey in direction, and a tad too much in the film is just hinted at. However, a great and subtle performance by Bela Lugosi (who had to relearn the role which he basically hammed up on stage), greatly supported by especially Dwight Frye and Edward Van Sloan, inventive direction by Tod Browning (during the first half of the film at least) and lavish sets (which Universal would re-use again and again) helped to make this film worthwhile after all.


Besides being a box office success, the film also secured Lugosi a contract with Universal and launched Universal's much celebrated horror cycle and had Bela Lugosi typecast for the rest of his career - for better or worse ...


After the success of Dracula, Universal were quick to link Lugosi to another gothic horror property they had just bought, Frankenstein, and initially Lugosi was quite thrilled by the idea of playing the monster in that one, which was to be written and directed by Robert Florey, and together with make-up wizard Jack Pierce, he was reportedly already working on a suitable monster make-up - but ultimately he bailed out of the project, reportedly either because he didn't want to become typecast as a horror actor (too late for that) or because he thought the role wasn't meaty enough (and he was wrong on that account). Other sources claim though that the Laemmles removed him from the film after the screentests proved to be less than adequate.

Eventually, Frankenstein was directed in 1931 by James Whale (Robert Florey bailed out as well) with Boris Karloff [Boris Karloff bio - click here] in the role of the monster, and Karloff, a relative unknown until then, showed the world just how meaty the role was by turning in his own iconographic performance and suddenly challenging Lugosi for the throne of king of horrors - a throne that Lugosi had easily usurped with Dracula due to lack of competition.


While Frankenstein was still in preparation with Lugosi as its proposed star, Universal lent him out to Fox Film to play a mystic in The Black Camel (1931, Hamilton MacFadden), an early film of the Charlie Chan series starring Warner Oland. Essentially, his role in The Black Camel is a red herring role, but it is clearly modeled after Dracula, relying again on Bela Lugosi's aura of mystery and his exotic charms. Plus it can't be conincidence that Bela's Dracula-co star Dwight Frye is also in the film (as mad butler who turns out to be the killer in the end.

After his excursion to Fox Film, Bela went on loan to First National, where he played the small part of a Latino baddie in the Joe E.Brown comedy Broadminded (1932, Mervyn LeRoy), which must have been to Bela's liking inasmuch as he always felt the desire to play comedy - even if Broadminded didn't turn out all too well.


Finally, Lugosi returned to Universal to fulfill his contractual obligations, and he was given the starring role in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932, Robert Florey), a shocker only vaguely based on Edgar Allen Poe's famous genre-defining detective story while having all the more to do with penny dreadfuls from later years. The thing it does have to do with Poe's story is a killing gorilla in Paris, France, but the plot about a mad scientist called Mirakle (Bela Lugosi of course) wanting to inject women with gorilla blood is pure pulp. Silly as Murders in the Rue Morgue might be concerning plot though, it's beautifully photographed, features some lavish sets, and Lugosi as the villain is impresive as ever.



The Boogeyman of the 1930's


After Murders in the Rue Morgue, Bela Lugosi left Universal for the time being, even though the studio could have promised him a lucrative future inside their horror cycle (to which Lugosi returned every now and again). Lugosi though wanted to break away from horror, play straight roles, comedies even. However, Lugosi had to notice that the film industry had little interest in Bela the romantic hero or Bela the funnyman - which wasn't too bad (at least financially) because following the success of Dracula and Frankenstein, pretty much all studios big or small had started making horror films or at least horror-ish films.


And how did Bela react to all of this?

In 1932, he made his maybe best ever horror film, White Zombie (Victor Halperin), a shocker independently produced by brothers Edward and Victor Halperin and released by United Artists. In this Haiti-set shocker, Bela plays the mystic Murder Legendre who uses his voodoo powers to turn people into walking dead and who is asked by a spurned lover (Robert Frazer) to make the girl he adores (Madge Bellamy) his - with most gruesome results.


Interestingly, for decades White Zombie was considered old-fashioned even for its time, its box office success notwithstanding, and only in the past few years it became celebrated for the horror masterpiece it really is, with its eerie landscapes, long silent scenes, superimposed pictures and many for the time unusual close ups. And Victor Halperin's direction makes even the familiar Universal-sets (White Zombie was shot on the Universal-backlot) seem fresh and uncanny, and he manages to turn the (decidedly non Haitian) sets into a nightmare version of Haiti.

And Bela Lugosi?

Of course, he totally hammed up his role, but his acting style fits his character perfectly, so his performance comes across as one of the best of his career, and thanks to Halperin's direction, that takes up much time examining the eerie actor's facial features (accentuated of course by make up courtesy of Jack Pierce), his Murder Legendre has turned into an iconic character almost rivalling his Dracula.


Of course, Lugosi could not expect to star in genre masterpieces all of the time, but his next few films, made for quite a variety of production outfits, were not too bad either:

  • The campy Chandu the Magician (1932, William Cameron Menzies, Marcel Varnel) has Bela playing a supervillain with a deathray fighting the titular hero (Edmund Lowe) in Egypt. The film, produced by Fox Film, was based on a popular radio show of the same name. Interestingly, when this show was adapted for the big screen once again in serial-form, Bela was promoted to titular hero (but more about that later).
    As for Chandu the Magician, the film is not perfect or anything but fun to watch as an old fashioned fantasy adventure
  • Something similar can also be said about said about The Death Kiss (1932, Edward L. Marin), a low budget yet rather enjoyable murder mystery set in the film industry itself (and therefore parodying it rather charmingly) produced by little KBS Productions. On first look the film obviously tries to cash in on Dracula by its suggestive title and poster, and even by having Edward Van Sloan and David Manners in the cast - but that doesn't make the film as such any less entertaining.
  • Paramount-produced Island of Lost Souls (1932. Erle C.Kenton) was at best a so-so adaptation of H.G.Welles' famous novel The Island of Doctor Moreau (but according to many, the film was the best adaptation of the novel still) with popular screen heavy Charles Laughton as the evil doctor who turns animals into human, and Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law, leader of the animal-men.

  • The Whispering Shadow (1933, Colbert Clark, Albert Herman) was Lugosi's first serial, produced by serial-specialist Mascot [Mascot history - click here] - and it's pretty much your typical Mascot-serial: Not exactly high on logic, but with many chases, fights and shoot-outs to make up for it. Lugosi plays the owner of a wax museum in this one who is also a scientific genius, and also a logical suspect for all the murders that occur in the course of the proceedings - which is of course reason enough for him to be revealed as not to be the killer in the end but an undercover agent. (The killer, by the way, turns out to be the comic relief Karl Dane, while Malcolm McGregor plays the heroic lead and Viva Tattersall his love interest and Lugosi's daughter.)
  • Columbia produced Night of Terror (1933) is a rather disappointing murder mystery of the old dark house-variety that's a little too convoluted and too far-fetched for its own good. Lugosi, though top-billed, plays little more than a typical red herring role.
  • Paramount's International House (1933, A.Edward Sutherland) is an all-star movie featuring talent as diverse as W.C. Fields [W.C. Fields bio - click here], Cab Calloway, George Burns and Gracie Allen, socialite Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Rudy Vallee, and - yes - Bela Lugosi among others, all playing in a comedy about the introduction of television and a variety of international agents who want to get their hands on it, Bela in a rare non-horror role being one of them.
  • The Devil's in Love (1933, William Dieterle), a Fox Film-produced Foreign Legion drama starring Victor Jory, Loretta Young, Vivienne Osborne and David Manners, has Lugosi in another non-horror role, but this time around his role is so small he's not even mentioned in the film's opening credits.

Bela Lugosi's next bona fide classic was Edgar G.Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934), but not so much because it marked his return to Universal (he had just signed a three film deal with the studio) or its classic horror series, nor because it marked the first collaboration between Lugosi and the other horror great of the time, Boris Karloff [Boris Karloff bio - click here], but because of director Ulmer's exceptional directorial effort. When the rest of Hollywood was still strictly thinking in period terms regarding horror (especially concerning sets), Ulmer adapted art deco and gave the film a modern yet entirely eerie look. Bela plays a former prisoner of war in this one and Boris Karloff his former warden, with David Manners and Julie Bishop caught in between them. In the end, Bela turns out to be one of the good guys who is allowed to die a hero's death, even though everyone in the cast has suspected him of being a baddie at one point of the film or another. That said though, in this film Lugosi is easily upstaged by Boris Karloff, quite simply because Karloff has the far meatier role.

By the way, The Black Cat has even less to do with the Edgar Allen Poe short story it is supposed to be based on than Murders in the Rue Morgue.


Universal was quick to reunite Lugosi and Karloff, their horror dream team, in Gift of Gab (1934, Karl Freund), but this film with Edmund Lowe carrying the feeble main plot about a writer trying to save a radio station, is little more than a revue show, and the roles of both Lugosi and Karloff are comparatively small, unimportant and unimpressive.


With his next two Universal-films to fulfill his deal (Gift of Gab was not part of the three-picture-contract) still in preparation, Lugosi was once again sent wandering, and he once again accepted work from all kinds of studios, both big and small, and the outcome is therefore very uneven:

  • Above-mentioned The Return of Chandu (1934, Ray Taylor), produced by Sol Lesser's Principal,  is another film (this time a serial to be precise) based on the Chandu the Magician radio show, only this time Bela plays the magician himself instead of his nemesis.
    And truth to be told, Lugosi is quite good as the good guy for a change, even though the serial as a whole suffers from uneven pacing and from too much magic involved to solve everything (that said of course it has to be mentioned tas well that Bela really comes into his own only when he's doing magic).

  • In Monogram's Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934, William Nigh), it was back to bad guys for Lugosi as in this one he plays the titular Chinese villain opposite Wallace Ford's nosey reporter and his girlfriend Arline Judge. Some sentiments that might nowadays no longer be seen politically correct aside, this is an entertaining if not all that special little thriller, even though Lugosi's thick Hungarian accent can't fool anyone into thinking he's Chinese.
    (By the way, this film has nothing to do with the Mister Wong-series Monogram produced years later with [mostly] Boris Karloff in the title role, which was [mostly] also directed by William Nigh.)
  • In the Columbia-melodrama The Best Man Wins (1935, Erle C.Kenton), Lugosi has little more than a cameo appearance in a tale of two friends (Edmund Lowe once again and Jack Holt) in love with the same woman (Florence Rice) - a situation not made any easier by an arm-amputation.

  • MGM's Mark of the Vampire (1935, Tod Browning) marked the third and final collaboration between Bela Lugosi and Dracula-director Tod Browning and it marked Bela Lugosi's return to the role that made him famous, that of a vampire. However, while not entirely bad, Mark of the Vampire is also less than convincing, with Lugosi in the end being revealed to be nothing but an actor playing a vampire to scare some baddies out of hiding rather than the real thing. Actually the film was a(n inferior) remake of Tod Browning's own Lon Chaney-starrer London After Midnight (1927), but with Chaney's role split in two, Lugosi's fake vampire and Lionel Barrymore's investigating inspector.
  • The Mystery of the Marie Celeste/Phantom Ship (1935, Denison Clift) even took Lugosi to the UK, to star in one of Hammer Film's very first films, a very fictional recounting of the mysterious goings-on on the Marie Cleste, turning the whole thing into a murder mystery. Lugosi turns in a very nice, unusually subtle and nuanced performance though.

  • Another murder mystery is Murder by Television (1935, Clifford Sanforth), a film by small-time studio Cameo Productions, which has very little to go for itself, it's a terribly muddled, terribly directed and terribly acted whodunnit with sci-fi-touches, and even Bela Lugosi (in a dual role) gives one of his lesser performances in this one, with only Hattie MacDonald left with the insurmountable task to liven things up a bit.

Finally, Universal had its next two projects for Bela Lugosi ready, both co-starring Boris Karloff [Boris Karloff bio - click here]: The Raven (1935, Lew Landers) and The Invisible Ray (1936, Lambert Hillyer). 

The former is a shocker which is, much like The Black Cat before it, only allegedly based on something by Edgar Allen Poe. In the film, Lugosi plays a Poe-obsessed doctor who is also obsessed by leading lady Irene Ware, whose life he once saved. But when her father Samuel S.Hinds forbids them to see each other, he plans his cruel revenge on all of them and coaxes cutthroat Boris Karloff into helping him. In a reversal from The Black Cat, this time around it's Bela Lugosi who is allowed to upstage Karloff.

While The Raven was a typical gothic by all means, The Invisible Ray on the other hand is almost pure sicence fiction, a story involving time travel, a meteor, radiation poisoning and the like - and while the film is anything but intelligent, it's much fun on a pulp level. Contemporary audiences though were a little disappointed that it lacked the typical Universal's horror-touch.


Even less horror was Postal Inspector (1936, Otto Brower), an Universal-produced crime drama of the B-variety starring Ricardo Cortez. In this one Lugosi plays a nightclub owner who becomes a crook because he is indebted to a bunch of gangsters. The film also includes some musical numbers.


In the second half of the 1930's, things took a less than fortunate turn for Bela Lugosi, his role was dropped from the Dracula-sequel Dracula's Daughter (1936, Lambert Hillyer), he himself dropped out of the White Zombie-sequel, (the ultimately disappointing) Revolt of the Zombies (1936, Victor Halperin) - his role was then given to Dean Jagger -, and the film he wanted to make (and also produce) instead, Cagliostro, didn't find a backer. At around the same time, a two-picture deal with a British company fell through when Bela learned to go to the UK, his dogs would have to be quarantined for 6 months (!). Then, in 1937, the British censorship board decided on a ban on horrorfilms, and since the UK was then America's biggest foreign market by far, many studios, first and foremost Universal, decided to cease producing shockers altogether ... and despite his talents in other fields, shockers were Bela Lugosi's stock-in-trade.


Accordingly, Bela Lugosi's output soon turned less than stellar:

In late 1936, he played another baddie - a Eurasian who wants to start a war between Caucasians and Asians in Chinatown - in the (rather weak) Sam Katzman-produced serial Shadow of Chinatown (Robert F.Hill), with the later Bruce Bennett Herman Brix playing the hero, and in his sole 1937 cinematic effort S.O.S. Coast Guard (Alan James, William Witney [William Witney bio - click here]), an early Republic-serial [Republic history - click here], Lugosi plays a mad munitions inventor called Boroff opposite Ralph Byrd's hero.



To what an extent the decline of the horror genre hurt Bela Lugosi's career in particular is best demonstrated by the fact that he did not make one single film in 1938. During that time, Bela lost pretty much all of the fortune he made in better days, and when his son, Bela jr, was born in early 1938, he, a big star just a few years ago, had to relie on actors relief to at least pull through, as even his theatrical career was dwindling down.

1939 started less than promising as well, with Bela Lugosi playing the villain in yet another serial, Universal's The Pantom Creeps (Ford L. Beebe, Saul A.Goodkind), a science fiction chapterplay in which he plays yet another mad genius. But even though stills from that serial turn up virtually everywhere, it is not one of  Universal's better cliffhangers and not one of Lugosi's better efforts, despite the fact that it seems to have everything a pulp fan craves for in it, from suspended animation and poisonous gasses to a stupid looking robot and a devisualizer (basically just a belt that makes its wearer invisible - but just imagine Bela saying devisualizer repeatedly ... great). Edward Van Sloan from Dracula is also in this one by the way.


With his last three films, all serials, it seems that Bela Lugosi had found his future, a one-dimensional villain in chapterplays, not really a satisfying career move for an actor of his calibre and experience. But then, Universal decided to re-release its horror classics Dracula and Frankenstein .. and everything would change for the better ...



The Return of Horror


Universal  re-released Dracula and Frankenstein in late 1938 - and was almost overwhelmed by how well they were doing at the box office, so much so that the studio bosses quickly came up with a plan to revitalize their horror cycle, with a big budget film featuring an all-star cast to be shot in colour: And the idea for Son of Frankenstein (1939, Rowland V.Lee) was born, a film starring not only Universal-horror regulars Karloff (as the monster of course) [Boris Karloff bio - click here] and Lugosi but also Basil Rathbone [Basil Rathbone bio - click here] - then a popular A-movie villain - in the title role and Lionel Atwill [Lionel Atwill bio - click here]. And even though the idea to shoot the film in colour was soon dropped, the film still had a lavish look to it and showed Universal could still make swell chillers (even if it loses out in comparison to either of James Whale's two Frankenstein efforts). The best thing about Son of Frankenstein though is its swell performances: Basil Rathbone is good as ever, Lionel Atwill as chief of police with a wooden arm gives one of the most amusing performances of his career, Karloff simply is the monster - but Bela Lugosi manages to steal the show as mischievous and cunning hunchback Ygor who uses the monster as a tool for his personal vendetta - and despite heavy makeup, something Lugosi was normally not too fond of, Bela was on top of his game. He was so good actually that the originally very small role of Ygor was constantly extended during filming until he was one of the lead characters.


Ygor also caught on with the audience, since besides the monster he was the only character to return in Son of Frankenstein's sequel Ghost of Frankenstein (1942, Erle C. Kenton). However, Ghost of Frankenstein is no match to Universal's previous Frankenstein-efforts, just a quickly made and badly scripted B-movie to cash in on former glories and to give Lon Chaney jr [Lon Chaney jr bio - click here], the new face of Universal horrors a chance to cement his reputation - Chaney jr had landed an extraordinary success just the previous year with The Wolf Man (1941, George Waggner), a film in which Lugosi had a small role as a lycanthropic gypsy. In Ghost of Frankenstein however, Chaney jr proves that as the monster, he is no match for Boris Karloff, and Lugosi as Ygor, totally hamming it up this time, is the most entertaining thing to watch in the whole movie.


Eventually, Bela Lugosi gets to play Frankenstein's monster, a role he turned down 12 years earlier, in 1943 after all, when he was already in his early 60's. The movie in question is Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (Roy William Neill), a movie with a title that is pretty much self-explanatory and a film which started the trend to - due to lack of inspiration on the screenwriters' behalf one is led to believe - just let the Universal-monsters meet each other, and this time it's Bela as the monster and Lon Chaney jr as the Wolf Man. The film is pretty much as silly as I make it to be, and unfortunately Bela - not at all helped by a bad script that leaves him little room to develop his role - proves to be as little a match for Karloff in the monster-role as Chaney jr was.


For whatever reason, Bela Lugosi did not take part in Universal's next two monster-all-star movies, House of Frankenstein (1944, Erle C.Kenton) and House of Dracula (1945, Erle C.Kenton), but he did return to the series one more time - and in his role, Dracula, too - in the spoof Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948, Charles Barton), which was little more than a swansong to the Universal horror cycle as such, but at least decent, straight performances by Lugosi as Dracula and Lon Chaney jr as Wolf Man outbalance the rather unfunny comedy of Abbott & Costello.


Even besides these series-horrors though, Bela Lugosi was keeping pretty busy in the time frame from Son of Frankenstein in 1939 to 1948, the time Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was produced - which also marked the end of Universal's horror cycle, incidently.


1939 also saw Bela playing a red herring-role in The Gorilla (Allan Dwan), a rather atrocious Ritz Brothers-vehicle also starring Lionel Atwill [Lionel Atwill bio - click here]. In this horror comedy of the murder mystery/haunted house variety neither Lugosi - playing your typical sinister butler - nor anybody else can do much to save the film from so-so comedy and realyl bad scriptwriting.


Another movie comedy in which Lugosi had a supporting part fares much better in that respect, the Greta Garbo-starrer Ninotchka (1939, Ernst Lubitsch), which was nominated for four Academy Awards (none for Lugosi though) and which gave Lugosi an opportunity to act in a film outside of the horror genre - a rare treat at this point of his career.

However, Ninotchka was pretty much the last A-movie Bela Lugosi was in, from now on it was all B's for him - even if some of them were quite good ...


  • The Dark Eyes of London/The Human Monster (1940, Walter Summers) is a British film based on an Edgar Wallace-novel in which Bela Lugosi plays a villain called Doctor Orloff. In all, the film is pretty enjoyable and Bela gives one of his better performances.
  • The Saint's Double Trouble (1940, Jack Hively) is the third film in RKO's The Saint-series starring George Sanders (before Sanders, Louis Hayward played the role in one film for RKO). However, the film is little more than a routine (if entertaining) series movie, with Bela in one of his last attempts to break away from his horror image, rather wasted in a supporting role.
  • Black Friday (1940, Arthur Lubin) is another Universal-production that teams Bela Lugosi up with Boris Karloff [Boris Karloff bio - click here], but for some reason, the two do not have a single scene with each other and Lugosi, despite second billed, is a mere supporting character in this one (even if his performance is fine as usual). In all though, Black Friday is an enjoyably silly mix of horror-, science fiction- and gangster-motives co-scripted by Curt Siodmak [Curt Siodmak bio - click here] that simply should not be taken too seriously.

  • RKO's You'll Find Out (1940, David Butler) is a horror comedy that unites Lugosi and Karloff with fellow screen villain Peter Lorre [Peter Lorre bio - click here], but basically the film is little more than a showcase of popular bandleader Kay Kyser and his band.

In 1941, Bela starred in a film that would over the years become a recognized B-horror classic, and a film, that is actually better than its reputation: The Devil Bat (Jean Yarbrough [Jean Yarbrough bio - click here]), a low budget cross between gothic horror and science fiction of the mad scientist variety produced by PRC [PRC history - click here]. In this film, Bela plays a plays physician who thinks the bosses of a perfume company have tricked him out of the gains for a shaving lotion he has developed - and thus develops another shaving lotion that drives the giant bat he keeps in his basement mad and makes it kill whoever wears the lotion. Of course, the plot is silly as can be, but Lugosi plays his role with an absolute gusto, and makes simple lines like "Rub it here, at the tender part of your neck" memorable and a simple "good bye" even menacing. Now this is one film no Bela Lugosi- and/or 1940's horror fan should miss out on !


The Devil Bat was the only film Bela ever did with poverty row studio PRC, unfortunately, judging from the film, but with another poverty row studio, Lugosi had a way longer association: Monogram.

In all, from 1941 onwards, Bela made 9 films with the studio, which were overall of varying quality, but none of them was too good:

  • Invisible Ghost (1941, Joseph H.Lewis) featured Bela as a man who believes his wife (Betty Compson) has died many years ago, while actually she is kept in his own basement by his gardener. And time and again, she visits him, and he, believing she's a ghost, goes bananas everytime and kills someone. Confused ? To be honest, so was I, but weird plot aside, this is one of the more atmospheric Monogram-shockers.
  • Spooks Run Wild (1941, Phil Rosen) on the other hand is a horror-comedy that pits Lugosi against the East Side Kids (later Bowery Boys) and that paints everything in broad strokes. And essentially the film isn't very funny. Bela Lugosi merely plays a red herring role in this one.

  • Black Dragons (1942, William Nigh) is a rare departure from the horror genre (of sorts), actually, as this film is an espionage drama made as a World War II propaganda effort. In this one, Bela plays a plastic surgeon getting revenge on a group of Fifth Columnists. The whole thing is pretty weak though, an uneven mix of murder mystery, old dark house story and espionage tale. Reportedly, the film was rushed into production to producer Sam Katzman could be the first to make a propaganda movie - and it shows.
  • The Corpse Vanishes (1942, Wallace Fox) is pure horror again. In this one, Bela plays a scientist who needs to kidnap brides about to be married and kill them to restore the beauty of his wife. As stupid as this film is, it's quite enjoyable in a trashy sort of way though.

  • Concerning pure outrageousness, Bowery at Midnight (1942, Wallace Fox) might take top honours: In it Bela plays a benign doctor by day - who is a philanthropist by night who feeds the poor. But on the side, he also runs a crime ring and routinely kills his accomplices at crime scenes. And unbeknowest to even himself, he also has a bunch of zombies in his basement (!). A bad film, sure, but also a laugh riot.
  • The Ape Man (1943, William Beaudine) sees Bela playing a mad scientist who has injected simian spinal fluid into his body, which causes him to slowly turn into a gorilla, which is why he looks himself into a cage with a real gorilla. But Bela figures he can get his own human self back if he injects human spinal fluid into his own body to counteract the simian spinal fluid - but spinal fluid can only be obtained by way of murder ...

  • Ghosts on the Loose (1943, Willliam Beaudine) pits Bela against the East Side Kids once again, and again the film is a rather lame horror comedy. An early part for Ava Gardner might be the most interesting thing about this film as such, while Lugosi is rather wasted as the leader of a Nazi spy ring.
  • In Voodoo Man (1944, William Beaudine), Lugosi tries to revive his long-dead wife by a combination of voodoo and hypnotism, and to make the film more horror-like, he also needs the corpses of several young women. Horror regulars John Carradine [John Carradine bio - click here] and George Zucco [George Zucco bio - click here] also in this one.
  • John Carradine is also Return of the Ape Man (1944, Phil Rosen), which is a sequel to The Ape Man only in title. Here, Lugosi plays a scientist (mad, of course), who wants to revive an ape man (Frank Moran) found in the Arctic via brain transplantation - though it eludes me why.

Generally speaking, Monogram in the 1940's had some of the most muddled up horror screenplays out there. What the films lacked in the script department though - and indeed in the budget department - they tried to make up with sensationalist plot ideas and colourful casting, like Lugosi as mad scientist of course, midget actor Angelo Rossitto in various sidekick roles, and Minerva Urecal playing some old hag or other, no matter if the plot demanded it. This all made Monogram's horror output enjoyable in a trashy sort of way, even if all their shockers were far from being classics. Bad movie lovers like myself though have fond memories of them ...


Films Bela made in the first half of the 1940's not yet mentioned above also included yet two more efforts for Universal - the horror comedy The Black Cat (1941, Albert S.Rogell) and the shocker/murder mystery Night Monster (1942, Ford L.Beebe) -, and a film produced by Columbia, The Return of the Vampire (1944, Lew Landers).

The Return of the Vampire deserves special attention because it returned Bela to the role he has become most famous for and - if I dare say so - he plays the best, that of the vampire. The vampire he plays in this movie is essentially Dracula in all but name, an Eastern European nobleman who seems to be seductive and dangerous at the same time and who has a very commanding aura. And even though Bela was visibly scarred by arthritis and drug addiction and was by now (at 62) a bit too old for the part, he still pulled off his performance like a charm and smoothed out the weaker parts of the film, like plotholes, leaps of reason and a silly looking werewolf.


While Lugosi's role in The Return of the Vampire had an almost iconic quality to it, his part in One Body too Many (1944, Frank McDonald) was a mere supporting character, a butler who also serves as the film's running gag. On the whole though, this Paramount-produced film is actually pretty entertaining, a horror/murder mystery leaning strongly towards comedy starring Jack Haley and Jean Parker.


While One Body too Many has comedic undertones, RKO's Zombies on Broadway (1945, Gordon Douglas) is an outright comedy starring Wally Brown and Alan Carney as sort of ersatz-Abbott & Costello (who in turn were of course nothing more than ersatz-Laurel and Hardy), with Lugosi playing it straight as a mad scientist (yes, another one) relishing in putting people into suspended animation.


Another RKO-film from 1945 featuring Lugosi was much more serious and subtle than Zombies on Broadway, the Val Lewton-production The Body Snatcher (1945, Robert Wise). In this one, which is based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson, Boris Karloff (in his last film with Lugosi) [Boris Karloff bio - click here] plays a soft spoken and benevolent cabman, who to augment his pay in order to help a crippled kid, doesn't shy away from graverobbing and eventually even murder. Compared to Karloff's meaty role, Lugosi's supporting character of the blackmailing servant of the Doctor Karloff delivers his corpses to is relatively small, and actually it was created especially for him as it isn't crucial to the plot. But still, Lugosi makes the most of it (even if he does not manage to upstage Karloff as it is).


While Val Lewton's contributions to the horror cinema in general are cherished by genre fans even today (and with good reason), Bela's next film, Genius at Work (1946, Leslie Goodwins), another movie starring Wally Brown and Alan Carney is less so. Actually, the film is only memorable because it starred horror great Lionel Atwill [Lionel Atwill bio - click here] in his last role before his death, playing a crime lord Brown and Carney as inept detectives try to track down. Lugosi has the rather thankless role of Atwill's sidekick.


Scared to Death (1947, Christy Cabanne) is Bela Lugosi's only colour film - but apart from that and a nice framing plot, the film, a horror/murder mystery in which Bela plays a weird Doctor whose main function seems to be to attract suspicion, has little to offer, it's as routine on one hand as it's badly written on the other, and not even Bela and fellow horror star George Zucco [George Zucco bio - click here] can do all that much to save it.


As mentioned above, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein effectively ended the Universal's horror cycle, and when Universal stopped producing shockers, other studios were quick to follow, and for Bela Lugosi it was pretty much history repeating, as just like in 1937/38, when horror had fallen out of favour with the audiences, he once again found it impossible to find cinematic work. Add to this the fact that Bela turned 66 in 1948, his health was failing and he was by then addicted to morphine, and you get an idea about his situation.



The Long Good-Bye


With no filmwork coming his way, Bela turned to television for occasional appearances, starting with the Edgar Allen Poe-adaptation A Cask of Amontillado (Robert Stevens) for the series Suspense in 1949, in which Lugosi gave quite a memorable performance. Guest spots on other then popular shows like the Colgate Comedy Hour, You Asked for It and the Red Skelton Show soon followed, but Bela's image as a horror man combined with his way of (over-)acting prevented him from ever getting regular work on TV. Instead he appeared in a few more plays on stage and in 1950, he was doing a horror act in movie theatres around the country where he would do a little routine with a man in a gorilla suit in the intermission of a Bela Lugosi Double Feature (usually these double features consisted of his lesser films).


Finally, in 1952, he was stranded in England after a tour of Dracula through the country had failed commercially. Desperate for work and money, Lugosi landed another film role, that of a mad scientist in Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire/My Son the Vampire (1952, John Gilling), in which he is pitted against Arthur Lucan, then a popular comedian in his native England who has played his character Old Mother Riley, an elderly woman who just can't help getting into trouble, in a total of 16 films from 1937 onwards, and always in drag. Lugosi tries his best to keep his dignity in the rather broad comedy, but the film as such might suggest how desperate Lugosi really was.

(Truth to be told though, despite the humiliating turn it provided Bela Lugosi's career with, Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire is actually slightly amusing in all its silliness.)


Back in the US, Lugosi starred as another mad scientist in another horror-comedy, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952, William Beaudine). Basically the film was supposed to be a launching pad for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis impersonators Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo (and truth to be told, while Mitchell ain't no Dean Martin, Sammy Petrillo is every bit as annoying as Jerry Lewis), but their career quickly faltered when they were sued for plagiarism by the real Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The film itself is a badly written South Seas comedy with Bela Lugosi as mad scientist turning Mitchell into a gorilla thrown into the mix, nothing to write home about, really.


In the 1950's, Bela Lugosi found it increasingly hard to get screen work not so much because there were no more horror flicks, but because horror has taken a different form and direction, that of the science fiction thriller, produced primarily for drive-ins. And films of this kind, be it of the alien invasion or the mad scientist variety, did not need stars of Lugosi's charisma and ham acting style. The film were more down-to-earth (also for budgetary reasons), and despite of often silly and utterly unbelievable scripts, they were more rooted in current events (namely the Cold War as such) than shockers from any previous period.


In the light of this, Bela must have been grateful when he was hired by notorious director Ed Wood [Ed Wood bio - click here] for his first feature film, Glen or Glenda (1953), a film about cross-dressing - something Wood was very much into in private life. In the film, a wonderfully messed up story about a crossdresser (Ed Wood) and the people around him (especially his wife Dolores Fuller) trying to come to terms with his predilection, Lugosi plays a godlike character, the pseudo-narrator of the film, who mumbles all sorts of weird lines as the movie proceeds, including "Beware of the green dragon that sits on your doorstep, he eats little boys, puppy dog tails, and big fat snails."

Basically, Bela took the role in Wood's film because he needed the money - badly -, and it is not known what he thought about the content of the film (you must remember, when he made this little film about transvestitism, a pretty much taboo subject in the 1950's, Bela was already in his early 70's), it is however a fact that Bela Lugosi and weirdo director Ed Wood quickly grew rather fond of each other, and eventually in 1953 Wood would produce, write and direct The Bela Lugosi Review, a Las Vegas show playing at the Silver Slipper that at the same time celebrated and spoofed Lugosi's Dracula image and that was quite a hit with the audiences. Wood would also help out Bela in many other capacities (besides directing him in films) over the last years of his life, including management duties and dialogue coaching.

In later years, many people including Bela's own son Bela jr claimed that Wood just exploited Lugosi, but in my eyes that's not entirely true since Wood during Lugosi's last years was one of the few people who saw that he had (paid) work when big-name Hollywood almost uniformly turned its back on him.


In 1955, Ed Wood directed Lugosi in yet another film, Bride of the Monster, in which Bela Lugosi plays the more familiar role of a mad scientist, and this time his thing is growing humans into giants, with only limited success though. Lugosi's assistant is played by Swedisch wrestler Tor Johnson [Tor Johnson bio - click here], a quite impressive and scary guy in his own right, but the most memorable thing about Bride of the Monste is a giant octopus sitting in a puddle which Bela has to fight in the movie's finale - despite the fact that the octopus is totally inanimate, and poor Bela has quite a hard time making the tentacles seem alive while fighting it ... and of course he ultimately fails, simply because not all the acting talent in the world could have brought this thing to life.

Compared to the at times almost surreal Glen or Glenda, Ed Wood's most personal film, Bride of the Monster was much more down-to-earth and stayed firmly within genre confines, and apart from Bela's octopus fight and a round of wrestling with Tor Johnson (in which Bela wears platform shoes to appear to be a giant), it is no better or worse than your average underbudgeted drive in sci-fi flick from its time. However, generally speaking, Wood's films are usually much more entertaining (if for all the wrong reasons) than films from the competition.


In 1955, Bela underwent treatment for his morphine addiction, and he came out of rehab not only a healed man, but also with a new woman at his side, Hope, his (already) fifth wife, a longtime fan of his who was 34 years his junior.

After rehab, Lugosi was anxious to start working again as soon as possible, and Ed Wood already had him lined up for a new project of his, The Ghoul Goes West, a horror Western with a decent budget to be shot in colour which would pit Lugosi against legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry ... but then Autry backed out for dubious reasons, leaving the film without its main selling point, and thus the movie never saw the light of day.


Instead, Bela started working on yet another Ed Wood film, Graverobbers from Outer Space, but this film ran into continuous difficulties and wasn't completed and released until 1959, well after Lugosi's death. By then, the film's title had changed to (the notorious) Plan 9 from Outer Space, and in many scenes, Bela - who plays a vampire-like being - is doubled by one Tom Mason, who sonstantly covers his face with his cape to look more like Lugosi. 

To this day, Plan 9 from Outer Space, which also stars bad taste-populars Tor Johnson [Tor Johnson bio - click here] and Vampira, can be found on many a worst movie list, but that's neglecting the film's unbeatable (if unintentional) entertainment value. Simply put, Plan 9 from Outer Space is a laugh riot from start to finish, not so much because of Wood's ineptitude as a director (as is commonly believed) but because of his failure to see the discrepancy between what he wanted to achieve and what the limited budget would allow him to achieve - which provides the film with some of the funniest special effects in movie history.


However, for once fate was good to Bela Lugosi, as it allowed him one more decent production before his death, The Black Sleep (1956, Reginald Le Borg), a decently budgeted old school gothic horror film with quite a stellar cast, including Basil Rathbone [Basil Rathbone bio - click here], Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney jr [Lon Chaney jr bio - click here], John Carradine [John Carradine bio - click here], and Tor Johnson [Tor Johnson bio - click here]. In this respect, it's just such a shame that the film as such turned out to be such a boring piece of genre cinema ...


In 1956, Bela Lugosi also made his final appearance on stage in Devil's Paradise by James B. Leong, a play about the evils of drugs. 

Bela Lugosi died from a heartattack later that year while shooting some more scenes for Plan 9 from Outer Space. He was 74 years old, but not yet ready to slow down as the script for his next film, The Final Curtain by Ed Wood, a movie about an aging horror actor, was already waiting on his night table. Eventually, Wood filmed the script as a TV-pilot with Duke Moore in the Lugosi-role, but it soon vanished into obscurity.


A ham to the last, Bela was buried - according to his own wishes - in his Dracula-cape, the role that brought him so much fame, but that eventually also proved to be a curse. Due to lack of work in the later years of his life, Bela died a poor man, and allegedly it was Frank Sinatra who quietly paid for his funeral (though that might be nothing more than a rumour).


Lugosi was married five times and had one son, Bela Lugosi jr, who was born in 1938 with his fourth wife Lillian Arch, with whom he was married from 1933 to 1953, when she could no longer bear his morphine addiction. 

It should also be mentioned that Bela Lugosi was one of the charter members of the Screen Actors Guild, and he also did much charity work - until he needed charity himself.



The Legacy

Even though Bela Lugosi has died more than half a century ago, he is still with us in many ways, almost all of his films from Dracula onwards, even the lesser ones, have been released on DVD, many a box set even use his name as a sales point, numerous books have been written about him, Halloween masks with his iconic Dracula-image are sold to this day, snippets from his old movies have made it into the B-horror-hommage/spoof Terror in the Tropics (2005, A.Susan Svehla), in 1997 the US-mail issued a commemorative stamp bearing his image (as Dracula of course) as part of their Famous Movie Monsters-line, and in 1995, Martin Landau got an Oscar for his role in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994) - playing Bela Lugosi ... it's almost ironic in that respect that nowadays, Bela seems much more popular than at the tail end of his career, but it is also proof of his charisma as an actor and the strengths of his performances, and it also proves his status as the horror icon.



© by Mike Haberfelner

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