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The Best Dracula Ever - Halloween or Anytime

Updated on October 24, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty has successfully reviewed thousands of books, films, products, and vacation/retirement cities around the world.

Bela Lugosi. 1920: There was no male vampire type in existence. Someone suggested an actor of the Continental School who could play any type, and mentioned me.
Bela Lugosi. 1920: There was no male vampire type in existence. Someone suggested an actor of the Continental School who could play any type, and mentioned me.

Bela Lugosi: October 20, 1882 - August 16, 1956

Versatile and Fascinating

The 1927/1931 Dracula role took over Bela Lugosi's entire career.

The submersion into the character was discouraging at times when he felt the character drained him, but he accepted his type casting in a way that he could use to please millions of audience members everywhere with his portrayals, even in bad films.

In fact, Bela accepted roles in many bad films later in his career as well as in higher quality movies, but fans would watch him in anything. He developed a large cult following and a generation living a century after his original work in Hungary, Austria, and Germany are joining the club.

In the 1930s, he reportedly received more fan mail from women and girls than did Clark Gable, who received a lot of mail.

I have never met a vampire personally, but I don't know what might happen tomorrow.

— Bela Lugosi

A Different Sort of Actor

I'd never heard of Dracula until middle school, when on a grocery shopping trip with my mother, I found a book rack in the store with discount books.

One story was a Dell paperback of Dracula with a clipart-style aquiline profile on the cover, blue against darker blue.

Reading the book, I was fascinated with the time period, Bram Stoker's style, and the legends of fascinating regal monsters in Eastern Europe. We did not have the Goth movement at the time, but middle school kids were just becoming aware of vampirism and fascinated with the romantic aspects of it.

More fascinating to me were the actor's Shakespearean theater days, and his accent, mannerisms, and style.

If not for the momentum started by his acting career and the advances in communications via television, print media, and the Internet, Twilight would not now be so popular. Back in school, I read the histories, legends, and gothic novels available and most of them were pretty poorly done. it was skin to experiencing Star Trek® films and novels with bad story lines and unfitting characters. They were bad.

When Bela Lugosi was buried in 1956, it was in full costume for his stage and screen role, Count Dracula. At the funeral, Boris Karloff is said to have approached the coffin, leaned over and asked. "Bela, are you joking?" This was reported by Karloff during The Johnny Carson Show one night.

Bela Lugosi was quite a versatile actor and man, although he was typecast as a villain and a vampire king. He could play any role, good, bad, and funny.

You may be surprised to know that in his native Hungary, he was as well known and respected for his portrayal of Jesus Christ as for that of villains and the whole continuum in between. At the Pearly Gates, Peter may have also asked him if he was joking with the getup. Thinking that makes me smile.

You can't make people believe in you if you play a horror part with your tongue in your cheek.

— Bela Lugosi

Who is this Lugosi? - A Witch Hunt Survivor

Perhaps people in general do not realize that Bela Lugosi helped to organize SAG, the Screen Actors Guild, in the 1930s and was a target of early post-WWII Cold War witch hunts before Joseph McCarthy's search and lynching engine was fully up and running. It came after him, but he stood up to it; he played a demon only on the screen, not in real life and certainly not one set upon the destruction of America. The notion was absurd in its application to an actor that fought long and hard to come to America and find success, much like late night TV host Craig Ferguson today. Bela had fled his own country after wartime, because he had formed an actor's union and that action was seen as Communist. In America, SAG is viewed yet today by some as Communistic, as are all unions. It is an extreme notion.

I cannot forget the section of his biography, written by his son, that describes his speech before a group of citizens and actors, decrying injustice. So overcome by emotion, he reverted from English to Hungarian and the crowd understood him through the emotions he portrayed. This is simply unforgettable and so is Bela.

Life in Hollywood was hard during WWII and the Cold War, and Bela was typecast pretty readily as a villain and began taking any role that came along. His son Bela Lugosi, Jr. reportedly followed his dad's advice to avoid the theater arts altogether. He became an attorney, instead.

Grandson Timothy Lugosi maintains the family tribute site to Bela: The Official Bela Lugosi Website. Done in red and black, it is professionally attractive and offers a Blog and a Mailing List, along with many other features. Please visit ~ ^ ^ ~ HERE.

I look in the mirror and say to myself, Can it be you once played Romeo?

— Bela Lugosi

Out of the Carpathian Mountains

Bela was born in Lugos, Hungary near Romania's Carpathian Mountains in 1882 and modified the town's name as his stage name to replace his family name, Blasko.

Independent and disliking schoolwork, he left home at the early age of 12 to pursue an acting career and was successful in doing so in Hungary.

When World War I later broke out, he volunteered for military duty and frontline action, although actors were exempt, becoming a Captain in the Ski Patrol and earning at least one medal for his wounds in three different battle actions. He was patriotic.

After wartime, Lugosi continued to work to support the actor's union in Hungary and left the country when the government interfered. An actor's union was looked upon as a Communist organization.

Plan Nine from Outer Space
Plan Nine from Outer Space | Source

Bela could speak no English, yet having gone to Vienna and then Germany, he came to America. Here, he formed an acting company of Hungarian expatriates and began to learn English. He learned his entire stage roles phonetically in the meantime and was even successful as a Shakespearean actor. I admire him for this. He also read extensively every day and I admire him as much for this.

In 1927, he accepted the role of the Count in Broadway's Dracula and became history. His accent and high class costume and mannerisms are legend. Since the 1931 Universal Pictures film version of Dracula, Bela Lugosi has been much imitated. Even the Muppets have The Count.

Back in Transylvania in 1903, Bela was in the stage production of The Bat and this was perhaps the first step toward Dracula in 1927. The role lasted his adult life, including in stage productions as late as 1943 in Boston and 1951 in London (He died in 1956).

Above everything else - acting, politics, humanitarianism, education - Bela was dedicated to his family, especially to his wife and son in the 1950s.

For this, I admire him the most.

Martin Landau as Lugosi

© 2009 Patty Inglish MS


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