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Bela Lugosi original name BÉLA BLASKO, motion-picture actor famous for his sinister portrayal of the elegantly mannered vampire, Count Dracula, in the horror classic Dracula (play 1927, film 1931).

Lugosi studied at the Academy of Theatrical Art, Budapest. He made his stage debut in 1902 and from 1913 to 1919 was a member of the National Theatre in Budapest, where he also acted in several Hungarian films under the name Arisztid Olt. He went to Germany in 1919 and acted in films there until he immigrated to the United States in 1921. There he organized and was a producer, director, and star in the Hungarian dramatic company that presented a stage version of Dracula in New York and on tour in 1927. He made his Hollywood film debut in The Silent Command (1923) and became internationally famous as the star of Dracula, the picture that was the prototype of Hollywood vampire films and that typecast Lugosi as a portrayer of monsters. His better-known films include The Black Cat (1934), Mark of the Vampire (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), and The Ape Man (1943).

What was Lugosi doing before Dracula made him an international star and a Universal vampire? He came up the long and hard way. In 1902, he began his long, strange trip trodding the boards in scores of plays - including Shakespeare in the Hungarian theatre, no less. He played supporting roles in the classics Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. He even starred as Jesus Christ in a Passion play in 1916, which is illustrated with an incredible photo featuring a crown of thorns on the actor's handsome Magyar brow. He entered films in the Hungarian production The Leopard (Star Co., 1917), where he played a suave aristocrat - a role that would serve him well again and again. After making several films in Hungary and Germany, he started making films in the U.S. in 1923. In all, he made 28 silent films, seven in his adopted country. His first film was The Silent Command (Fox Film Corp., 1923), starring Edmund Lowe. The other silent films in made in the U.S. were: The Rejected Woman (Distinctive Pictures, for Cosmopolitan/Goldwyn, 1924), starring Alma Rubens and Conrad Nagel; Daughters Who Pay (Banner Productions, 1925), starring Marguerite De La Motte and John Bowers; The Midnight Girl (Chadwick Pictures, 1925), starring Lila Lee; How To Handle Women (Universal, 1928), starring Glenn Tryon; The Veiled Woman (Fox Film Corp., 1929), starring Lia Tora; and Prisoners (First National, 1929), starring Corrine Griffith.

Lugosi was a hit from the moment he stepped on the stage as Bram Stoker's Count Dracula in 1927. He toured with the play across the U.S. His success was underscored by the tributes and pilgrimages that celebrities made to witness his unique characterization. In 1930, Lugosi was tapped by renowned director Tod Browning to star in the film version of Dracula after the death of Lon Chaney, who was originally assigned to the role. (Lugosi had made his first talkie with Browning - The Thirteenth Chair (M-G-M, 1929), starring Conrad Nagel and Leila Hayms.) One could stop here and say the rest is history. However, Béla Lugosi was a multifaceted individual. He was an intellectual who involved himself in political issues - his activism eventually contributed to the destruction of his career.

After 1945, Lugosi never worked for a major studio again, except in 1948, when he made the highly successful Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal International) and again in 1956, when he made The Black Sleep for United Artists. The films he made during this last phase of his career included such "classics" as Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (Renown Pictures, 1952), Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (Realart Pictures, 1952), Bride of the Atom (Banner Productions, 1955) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (D.C.A., 1959), widely considered to be his last film. [However, there is evidence that he may have appeared in a film called Lock Up Your Daughters (New Realm, 1959), with the Bowery Boys, that was only released in Britain.] According to Rhodes, it cannot be ascertained whether or not Lugosi was officially blacklisted, but his postwar career is a powerful testament to suggest the worst.

Lugosi was a lover of style, sports, good living and women. Rhodes provides exhaustive examples of his exploits, both publicized and private. The wealth of photos alone display Lugosi out of his cape as a sociable creature, playful, enthusiastic, an avid reader and a cigar aficionado. A ladies' man, he was married five times. All five marriages are covered in detail - after all, there is curiosity about the love life of a vampire! There is documentation of his stage, screen and even court appearances; critical analysis of his career; and quotes and articles about or by Lugosi. The light side and the dark side are equally exposed. He was a man of strengths and weaknesses - perhaps the most notable and depressing of the latter was his long-term drug addiction. All of these elements are integrated to present a fascinating portrait of a complex artist. Those who are obsessed by the great Hungarian actor will find a sumptuous feast to satisfy their hunger. Even the mildly intrigued will be drawn into this unique individual's world. Lugosi never lost his dignity nor his offbeat sense of humor. His proud Magyar heart kept his spirit intact despite efforts to break it. Rhodes' book unflinchingly sees all and tells all - with intelligence, compassion and devotion.

Lugosi's decline into poverty and obscurity was accompanied by a growing dependence on narcotics. In 1955 he voluntarily committed himself to the state hospital at Norwalk, Calif., as a drug addict; he was released later that year. At his death, according to his expressed wishes, Lugosi was buried wearing the long black cloak that he used in Dracula.


Lugosi married Ilona Szmik on June 25, 1917. He began appearing in Hungarian films, became a Communist (and, consequently, politically unpopular), and moved to Germany. By 1920 he was acting in German films and watching his marriage unravel. He divorced Ilona, moved to the United States, and married another Ilona—Ilona von Montagh. This marriage also ended in divorce, but at the same time Lugosi's acting career was taking off. In 1923 Lugosi appeared in his first American film, "The Silent Command." Through the 1920's he balanced stage work in New York with film work in Hollywood, appearing in such films as "Daughters Who Pay" (1925) and "How to Handle Women" (1928). The titles were appropriate, for during this time Lugosi earned the reputation as a ladies man. In between affairs and films, he also worked on his English.

Lugosi broke through in 1931, ironically the same year he became an American citizen, by playing a bloodsucking Transylvanian count. He had played Count Dracula on the stage in 1929 and won rave reviews. But when Universal Studios planned a movie version, they opted for Lon Chaney, Sr. to play the lead. But Chaney died of throat cancer, and Lugosi played the title role for only $500 a week, a total of $3,500 for the seven week shoot. "Dracula" (1931) was a box-office success and Bela Lugosi was, amazingly, a household name.

Lugosi's broad acting style and heavy accent made casting him in anything other than horror films problematic. Consequently, his greatest cinematic roles during the 1930's were in such films as "White Zombie" (1932) and "The Raven" (1935). The notable exception to these films was Lugosi's role as Comrade Razinin in Ernst Lubitsch's classic comedy, "Ninotchka" (1939).

By the 1940's Lugosi was hopelessly typecast in horror films, and Universal, the studio most known for these films, was making fewer of them. Also, the ones they did make often starred Lon Chaney, Jr. rather than Lugosi, or Bela's good friend Boris Karloff, who created the role of Frankenstein. Perhaps this was poetic justice, as Lugosi had snatched the role of Dracula from Chaney, Sr. after his death. The decade soon found Lugosi a staple of schlock horror films like "Spooks Run Wild" (1941).

The 1950's were even worse than the 1940's for Lugosi. His 20-year marriage to Lillian Arch ended in divorce in 1951. Lugosi couldn't find work and hooked up with infamous auteur Edward Wood, Jr., with whom he made the schlock classic "Glen or Glenda?" (1953) and the so-called "worst film of all time," "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (1959). Maybe it was merciful that Lugosi never saw "Plan 9" released. After being hospitalized for an addiction to morphine, he died on August 16, 1956.


Béla Lugosi plays psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast; in the horror classic The Black Cat (Universal, 1934)- a tidy tale of mayhem, necrophilia, satanism, sadism and embalmed women.

Something Wicked This Way Comes. Béla Lugosi is Dracula (Universal, 1931).

Béla and Boris. Lugosi and Karloff, in 1934. Both Lugosi and Karloff (1887-1969) began their screen careers during the silent era. Karloff appeared in his first film in 1916 and for years played ethnic bit parts until Frankenstein (Universal, 1931).

Doctor Mirakle (Béla Lugosi) and Janos, The Black One (Noble Johnson)murder their third victim, "Woman of the streets" (Arlene Francis); from Murders in the Rue Morgue (Universal, 1931).This was one of many character parts in which Johnson specialized.

Goodnight, Dear Béla.