Bela Lugosi  

  Béla Lugosi was the stage name of actor Béla Ferenc Dezso Blaskó (October 20, 1882–August 16, 1956). He was born in Lugos, Transylvania, Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania) or The Kingdom of Hungary, the youngest of four children of a banker. He is best known for his portrayal of Dracula in the American stage production, and subsequent film, of Bram Stoker's classic vampire story.



Childhood and Youth

Bela (pronounced BAY-la) Ferenc Dezso Blasko was born in the Town of Lugos, Hungary, on October 20,1882. Lugos was a town of about 12,500, which was located in southern Hungary, in an area which is now part of Romania. Little Bela was the youngest of four children born to Istvan Blasko and the former Paula von Vojnics. Istvan, according to Robert Cremer's authoritative biography, entitled LUGOSI: THE MAN BEHIND THE CAPE, Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1976, had moved from Nyitai in northern Hungary sometime during the 1840's. The first full-length biography of Lugosi, THE COUNT, by Arthur Lennig, New York: G.P.Putnam's Sons, 1974, states that Istvan settled in Lugos in 1859, and both sources agree that Istvan became prosperous as the town's baker.

Many people believe that Lugosi was actually born in Transylvania, and in fact Cremer states that he was born in the province, which, fifteen years later, was to become the setting of Bram Stoker's legendary vampire and Lugosi's alter ego, Count Dracula. But, although Lugosi was born near the western border of Transylvania (Stoker located Dracula's castle near the Borgo Pass, at Transylvania's eastern border), the province in which he was born in was known as the Banat. This is a generic name which refers to a land ruled by a "ban" or feudal lord.

The population mix of the Banat appears to have been very similar to that of Transylvania, in that it was a heterogeneous conglomeration of Hungarians, Romanians, Saxons (who formed the upper classes) and a scattering of other ethnic groups like Jews and Gypsies. The Hungarians were made up of both Protestants and Roman Catholics. Unlike most other areas of Eastern Europe, which tended to be intolerant to minority groups, especially the Jews and Gypsies, Hungary in general and Transylvania in particular were greatly influenced by western ideals of tolerance, and peoples of all ethnic origins and beliefs found havens in communities scattered throughout Transylvania.

Stoker's masterpiece contains many authentic details of life and culture in Transylvania, so much so that many people gained the impression from reading DRACULA that Stoker had actually travelled through Transylvania. In fact, as Leonard Wolf makes clear in his introduction to THE ESSENTIAL DRACULA, Stoker had relied on a number of first-hand accounts of life in Transylvania, including Emily Gerard's vivid THE LAND BEYOND THE FOREST, which described life in Transylvania in about the year 1888. In addition to accurately describing the ethnic mix to be found in Transylvania, Stoker vividly evokes two more elements which were common to both Transylvania and the Banat. One is the power of the superstitions, such as belief in vampires and werewolves, which were commonly held by the people. The second was the tumultuous political history of the region, which had been the subject of countless invasions by wave after wave of nomadic tribes for thousands of years down to the era of the Magyar (Hungarian) invasions in the 10th. Century C.E. Given the location of these territories in the middle of Europe, it is also not surprising that they became the site of numerous armed contests between the forces of the East and the West and between the Muslim armies seeking to conquer Europe in the 15th. and 16th. Centuries and the Christians desparately defending their territory. The incursion of the Ottoman Turks into the Balkans, which lasted for several hundred years, resulted in the conquest of most of present-day Hungary, leaving Transylvania as an island of Christian and Hungarian opposition to the Muslim and Turkish domination of the region. It may be partly due to this relative continuity of the evolution of the Hungarian culture of the region that it has been called the "most Hungarian part of Hungary," making that much more bitter the ultimate loss of the region (along with the Banat) to Romania, which occurred as a result of World War I.

"Why be concerned with all this?" you say, "I want to read about Bela Lugosi." Well, the answer is that in some ways Lugosi was a quintessential exponent of some of the characteristics of the Magyar race, and it is impossible to really understand someone so foreign to the dominant culture of the United States unless one has some understanding of the cultural context from which he sprang.

It is equally important, of course, to understand the context of the family milieu and the community in which young Bela was raised, as it appears that much of his life was a reaction to the forces which impacted upon him as a young child, creating in him a relentless drive to prove himself, to overcome all adversity, and to at last succeed in forging a career in the acting profession to which he chose to dedicate himself through prodigious efforts of willpower, which were alluded to in magazine articles from the start of his career and later on in the United States.

A word of caution at the outset. The main sources of information on Lugosi's life and career are often the magazine interviews and studio publicity disseminated during his career. Lugosi himself, typically for an actor, was extremely insecure, and usually gave out charmingly overblown versions of his formal education and training in the dramatic arts which bore little relation to the facts. Secondly, studio publicists and others who may have been motivated by a desire to exploit his name also gave out a number of stories which had little relation to the facts, such as the claim that his father was a Baron.

Lugosi as far as I can determine from the material available to me, had nothing to be ashamed of in his family background. His father, according to Cremer's book, progressed from simply being a baker to being one of the founders of the Volksbank of Lugos and one of its vice presidents. The Blaskos' first child was a son, Laszlo, born in 1859, who became a lawyer. The second, Lajos, born in 1863, joined the civil service. A daughter, Vilma, who was four years older than Bela, married a lawyer. While some people might view these as being analogous to having family connections with the Mafia, in fact it would appear that his family had a highly respectable station within the small provincial town of Lugos.

As mentioned above, the two full-scale biographies of Lugosi are LUGOSI: THE MAN BEHIND THE CAPE, by Robert Cremer, who had the full cooperation of Lillian Lugosi Donlevy and Lugosi's friends, relations, and former in-laws in the Hungarian community in Los Angeles, and THE COUNT , by Arthur Lennig, who has been described as a "Lugosiphile extraordinaire." Lennig is noteworthy not only because his biography was the first published on Lugosi's life, but because he was an ardent fan of Lugosi's in the late 40's when, as a young boy, he succeeded in meeting his idol on three different occasions. On one of them, Lugosi, together with his wife, Lillian, traveled to the young boy's home and spent about an hour there, touring his subterranean "laboratory," located in his basement, and kindly allowing pictures to be taken of himself with the boy and with Lillian. The description of the decline in Lugosi's professional fortunes over the course of the brief period in the late 40's when Lennig encountered him, a decline which was obvious even to the adoring Lennig, is the most moving part of the book.

Although both books are inaccurate in some particulars, Professor Lennig (he is a professor of film history at the State University of New York at Albany) did endeavor to produce a biography which would be as truthful as it was possible to be. In addition, both Lennig and Cremer did travel to Hungary to research sources on Lugosi's early life. Lennig also traveled to Lugos, and he did interview many of Lugosi's early friends and associates. The book includes pictures of the register of little Bela's christening and of the town landmarks, including the church where he was christened. Lennig also notes young Bela's grades, which were satisfactory but not outstanding, from his first year at the Gymnasium, the Germanic equivalent of high school in North America. As has been noted by other commentators, these two books complement each other quite nicely, as they concentrate on different aspects of Lugosi's life - Cremer on his private life and Lennig on his movie career. However, even these books contain inaccuracies in the information on Lugosi's early career and almost all flat assertions must be read with some caution.

It should not be inferred, however, that Lugosi was fundamentally a dishonest person. He would fudge the facts about things related to his past, which related to defects or deficiencies that he perceived in himself or his background. However, about matters which were really important to him, about his feelings and perceptions, he seems to have been a very forthright and sincere individual. So, if one reads carefully and perceptively, one can come to some pretty clear conclusions about the things which made him tick. For example, Cremer extensively cites an article written and published in July, 1941, by the noted Hollywood writer, Gladys Hall, one of the most respected writers for fan magazines in her day. Called "Memoes of a Madman," the 1941 article was the fourth and last that she wrote about Lugosi in an intermittent series which had begun in 1929.

Both Lennig and Cremer agree that young Bela was a headstrong and willful child who refused to accomodate himself to the precise routine which was demanded by his father, who Cremer indicates was a stern disciplinarian. Furthermore, it appears that Bela's father was a driving and ambitious man, who had managed to overcome his modest roots as the scion of poor farming folk in northern Hungary. Cremer indicates that he had managed to relocate his family to the most prosperous section of Lugos, where the Germans lived, who and he also states that Istvan emulated the Germans in everything ranging from his dress to his stern mustache.

In "Memoires of a Madman," Lugosi describes his relationship with his father in these words:

I had a very severe father. A man who never punished me physically, but something in his way of looking at me and I would get stiff . . . a magnetism . . . I had such respect for him (he was the President of the Bank, the leading citizen of Lugos) I chilled with fear. It was he who gave me, I know, my knowledge that it is not the physical force which inspires the fear that makes men sick of soul so much as that which comes from the eyes, some subtle emanation from the personality as a gas that takes the strength from men's limbs.

We had a household run mathematically strict. One day when I was late for dinner my father said to me, "You know very well that when the big clock in our dining room strikes twelve, you put the spoon in the soup. Not one-half minute before and not one-half minute afterward." He said, "Now, you cannot be late again."

But the next day I was late. He did not say anything to me. I took my place at table. The courses were served . . . to all but me. I did not get one mouthful to eat. When we were done, I was required to kiss the hand of my mother and my father, to thank them for the dinner and - to walk out. That was the kind of punishment he gave. It bit deeper than the lash.

Cremer indicates that young Bela often got embroiled in fights with other boys. He himself commented to Gladys Hall,
I was very unruly as a boy, very out of control. Like Jekyll and Hyde, except that I changed character according to sex. I mean, with boys I was tough and brutal. But the minute I came into contact with girls and women, I kissed their hands, I kissed their hands again. With boys, I say, I was a brute. With girls, I was a lamb.

He told Gladys Hall that he and his fellow schoolmates played a game of stealing hats - they would steal the hats of the Romanian boys, who went to a separate school, and pretend the hats were "scalps." At one time, he said, he had 700 of them. "I gloated over them," he said, "They showed my superiority and leadership. I thought of them as scalps. But that can be ascribed, can it not, to the animal nature, the cruelty inherent in any small boy?" (In another place, Lugosi was quoted as saying that in two years he had collected 1500 "scalps." I tend to think that both of these figures are just a tad exagerrated, as I have my doubts that there were even 700 Romanian boys in a small town of Lugos's size, let alone that Bela could have succeeded in snatching 700 of their hats!)

According to Cremer, young Bela was at best an indifferent scholar, who became entranced with acting when he saw the performance of a touring repertory company, which had stopped in Lugos. He began devoting all his energies to putting on his own homemade productions, and he became determined to pursue an acting career at all cost.

He apparently completed a few months of study at the local Gymnasium, but apparently his lack of motivation to pursue his studies combined with his determination to become an actor came to a head very quickly. Lugosi himself commented to Gladys Hall:

. . . for here, now, for the first time, I shall tell the truth. It was like this: for purposes of publicity, for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell a lie about the early years of my life. I have always told that I was appointed to Hungary's Royal National Theatre in the orthodox way. I have always told that I went to high schools, universities, the Academy of Theatrical Arts, the gymnasium in Budapest. It is the madness of the young, perhaps, to tell boasting lies without the maturity of mind to recognize that to tell the truth is sometimes truer boasting . . .

. . . it is so in my case, I think. For the truth I now tell is that I became the leading actor of Hungary's Royal National Theatre, which was something higher than the Comedie Francaise, similar to the Moscow Art Theatre, in the most unorthodox way; in a way that required of me far more of will and work than if I had attended high schools and universities . . .

Actually, then, I hardly went to school in my life at all. I had six years of the elementary schools, learned only to read and write.

Lugosi vividly commented on his memories of this period to Gladys Hall:
My father died when I was twelve years old and I then ran away from home. I walked 300 miles to a mining town [Resicabanya, now Resita], where coals were mined, and iron; where bridges and machines were built. I worked, first as an apprentice in the mines. There, in the dark bowels of the earth, I did sometimes think I might go mad . . . there we were sub-human men . . . there I learned my horror, now of the darkness . . . of the earth's deep darkness rather than the darkness of another world . . .

In time, I was promoted to be a riveter, making bridges . . . then to the machine shop where they build four and five thousand horse-power machines . . . there was something about the perfectionism of that giant machinery, functioning with the delicacy of a woman's breathing, that is also responsible for my passion for perfectionism today . . . no, not madness, I say . . . but method, a passion for method and for functional perfection.

It must have been a short time after running away from home that Lugosi had his first sexual experience at age 13, which he later described as "Embarrassing, but wonderful" to Dr. Nicholas Langer, his physician in the Metropolitan Hospital. Throughout most of the remainder of his life, sex and romance were of central importance to Lugosi, and in fact he was quoted in an interview in a magazine interview in the 30's as saying that sex was the most important force in the universe.

Thus, passion and willpower, the descendant of his childhood willfulness, were central characteristics of Lugosi's personality, and we will see their influence on his career time and again throughout his lifetime.

Several years passed, according to Cremer, while Lugosi labored in the mines in Resicabanya. Finally, he must have felt some sense of failure, when he went to live with his sister Vilma, who had married and settled in the town of Szabadka (now Subotica), which is located in the Voivodina, now part of Yugoslavia. Lugosi's widowed mother Paula had also gone to live with Vilma at this point.

According to Cremer, Lugosi made a stab at completing his secondary school education, but gave the attempt up after only a few months. He then obtained a job at the local railroad yard. He had never given up his dream of a career on the stage, however, and finally his sister persuaded her brother-in-law to give young Bela a chance - and his first real chance on the stage as a chorus boy in an operetta.


Early career in Hungary

Lugosi started his acting career on the stage in Hungary in several Shakespearean plays and other major roles, and also appeared in several silent films of the Cinema of Hungary under the stage name Arisztid Olt. During World War I he served as an infantry lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian army.

Lugosi left his native Hungary for Germany in 1919 after persecution following his complicity in the forming of an actor's union, and emigrated to the United States in 1921. On June 26, 1931, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.



  On arrival in America, Lugosi worked for some time as a laborer, then returned to the theater within the Hungarian-American community. He was spotted there and approached to star in a play adapted by John Balderston from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. The production was very successful. After the death of silent movie legend Lon Chaney, Sr., Lugosi's stage success led to his being selected to replace Chaney in Tod Browning's movie version of Dracula (1931), produced by Universal Pictures. The film was also a success and Lugosi received a studio contract with Universal.  

An interesting fact: Bela Lugosi did not wear fangs in this portrayal of the count !



  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.

Lugosi declined an offer to appear as The Monster in Frankenstein because the role didn't involve dialogue. The role was taken by the man who became Lugosi's principal rival in horror films, Boris Karloff. Several films at Universal, such as The Black Cat, The Raven and Son of Frankenstein paired Lugosi with Karloff. Regardless of the relative size of their roles, Lugosi inevitably got second billing, below Karloff. Lugosi's attitude towards 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.

Attempts were made to give Lugosi more heroic roles, as in The Black Cat, The Invisible Ray and a small role in the comedy classic Ninotchka opposite Greta Garbo, but did not help him break out of the "type" into which he had been placed.


The Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood

Los Angeles - California

a former hang-out spot of Bela Lugosi
click here for details
  Hollywood Roosevelt Interior   The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel   


  After Universal changed management in 1936, he found himself consigned, along with their entire approach to horror films, to Universal's b-film unit, at times in small roles where he was obviously used for "name value" only. In the early 1940s, Universal did not renew its contract with Lugosi, and he ended up having to contract with the poverty row company Monogram Pictures, where he received star billing in a succession of horror, psycho and mystery B-films produced by Sam Katzman.

Later on, the acting jobs dried up and Lugosi became addicted to morphine, originally prescribed him for severe back pain in the early 1940s, though he did get to recreate the role of Dracula one last time in the film Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948.

Late in his life, he again received star billing in movies when Ed Wood, a would-be filmmaker and fan of Lugosi's, found him living in obscurity and near-poverty and offered him roles in his films, such as Glen or Glenda (in which his role made no more sense than the rest of the movie) and as a mad scientist in Bride of the Monster. During post-production of the latter, Lugosi entered treatment for his morphine addiction, and the premier of the film was ostensibly intended to help pay for his treatment expenses. The extras in the DVD release of Plan 9 from Outer Space include an impromptu interview with Lugosi upon his exit from the treatment center, which provide some rare personal insights into the man.

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 Corp. with an a-film campaign that included several personal appearances. To his disappointment, however, his role in this film was of a mute, with no dialogue.

 1931 Poster for the movie 'Dracula' 

Death and posthumous performance

  Lugosi died of a drug-related heart attack on August 16, 1956 while sitting in a chair in his Los Angeles home. He was 73. The script for Final Curtain, written by Ed Wood, was in his lap. (His role in this film was later given to Kenne Duncan, and shots from that production made their way into Wood's Night of the Ghouls, a sequel of sorts to "Bride of the Monster".)

Truth being sometimes stranger than fiction , Bela Lugosi was buried in his full Dracula costume, as per the request in his will, in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

One of Lugosi's most infamous roles was in a movie released after he was dead. Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space features footage of Lugosi interspersed with a double who looks nothing like him. 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 of Plan 9, Wood wrote the script to incorporate the Lugosi footage and hired his wife's chiropractor to double for Lugosi in additional shots. The "double" can easily be spotted by the fact that he looks nothing like Lugosi and covers his face with his cape in every shot.


Bela Lugosi As Dracula Bela Lugosi As Dracula



  In the postmodern period, Lugosi became the subject of a song by gothic rock band Bauhaus entitled "Bela Lugosi's Dead", and a couple of his worst films turned up for mocking on the televison program Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Bela Lugosi's Dead is an influential Goth Rock song written by the band Bauhaus. The song was the band's first single, released in 1979 with the b-side "Boys". The title references horror film star Bela Lugosi, and is over nine minutes in length. Live recordings are often several minutes longer. David J, the band's bassist, claims on his website to have written the lyrics. The song was featured as the intro music to the Saturday Night Live skit "Goth Talk", which featured Chris Kattan and Molly Shannon as geeky goth students.

The pseudo-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. has stated that Wood was more exploitative and cynical than would appear from Burton's film.

Contrary to Burton's film, Lugosi did not receive top billing for Plan 9. Instead he was listed as a guest-star, below Tor Johnson, Vampira and Kenne Duncan.


Complete Filmography for actor Bela Lugosi

Organized by year and date of release

  Bela Lugosi's Grave Site  
  All information on this site was obtained from various web sources, including the following:
Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia
The Life and Times of Bela Lugosi - by Johanne L. Tournier
Rent Hotels Online

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