Most Famous Monsters in Film History
Bela Lugosi was born on October 20, 1882 in Lugos, Austria-Hungary (now Romania). He distinguished himself on the stage growing up in Hungary. When World War I broke out, Bela volunteered and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Hungarian infantry where he was wounded three times in battle.
After the war ended, Bela moved to New York and began work again where ever he could get it. After seven years as a character actor he landed the role of Count Dracula from Bram Stoker's novel for the Broadway stage in 1927. He instantly shot to fame and the production lasted three years on Broadway.
In 1931, his first Dracula film released with the simple title of Dracula with Bela in the title role as the evil Count Dracula, a nobleman by day, a vampire by night that could only be destroyed by driving a wooden stake through his heart. When the sun came up, Count Dracula had to return to his coffin where he slept in total absence of light. It was imperative that his enemies of the right find his coffin and thus drive the stake into his heart while he slept.
Bela's first film was in Hungary in 1917 and he would continue to make 113 films. Ironically, his final film was released in 1959, three years after his death. He would play many other villainous roles throughout his long career, but always returned to the role best suited for him, Dracula. He would personify evil from that point on and is still the first image that comes to mind when one thinks of evil on the big screen.
My personal favorite was actually a comedy titled, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948 in which the zany characters of Abbott and Costello actually have run-ins with Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man. It was hilarious and still gave the children in the audience a few scares including myself. Here lies the first realization that the three villains that have withstood the sands of time were the three mentioned above.
Bela became an American citizen in 1931 and helped fulfill the dream of the Screen Actors Guild in the mid 30's by becoming member number 28. He continued to accept any role offered to him and eventually they were pretty pathetic depictions of himself. His popularity declined over the years and he turned to drugs.
His final film was Plan 9 From Outer Space which was directed by the man known as the worst director in Hollywood, Ed Wood. Many years later, a film about Bela and Mr. Wood hit the silver screen and was a huge success. Johnny Depp who portrayed Ed Wood in the film actually purchased Bela's home in Los Angeles.
Bela was a pauper when he died from a heart attack on August 16, 1956. He was buried in his full Dracula outfit including the cape in Los Angeles, California. He married five times and had one son, Bela Lugosi, Jr. who became an attorney in Los Angeles.
Frankenstein was actually the scientist that created the Monster. Most of my young life, I continued to think, as did others, that the giant with the corkscrews running through his neck was called Frankenstein when in fact the Monster had no name. It was simply, the Monster. Others would play the Monster, but the fact remains that only Boris Korloff exemplifies that role just as Sean Connery will always be James Bond.
Boris Korloff was born on November 23, 1887 in Camberwell, London, England, UK. He was educated at London University and then emigrated to Canada in 1909 where he would join a touring company and spend ten years doing the circuit across the United States. He eventually wound up in Hollywood and began films in the silent era. His first film was in 1919 and he would go on to make over 200 films.
In 1931 alone, he would make fifteen films, one of which was the movie that made him a household name, Frankenstein. He played second lead as the Monster to Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein. A bit of trivia, Mae Clarke would play Elizabeth, the intended bride of Dr. Frankenstein. She made film mortality in another film, Public Enemy in 1931 when James Cagney pushed a grapefruit in her face.
Boris was 5' 11" tall and yet looked 10' tall on the screen as the Monster with the aide of lifts in his shoes. He was 44 years old when the movie premiered. Away from the screen, Boris was considered a true gentleman. He never spoke as the Monster except for a few grunts, but in other films we learned to appreciate his deep flowing soft voice.
He would make other films in which he portrayed evil villains including one that almost stands up there with the likes of the three I am writing about today, The Mummy in 1932. In this role, Boris was wrapped from head to toe in tape. He would play the Monster just three times and actually portrayed the lead, Dr. Frankenstein in 1970's Frankenstein.
Boris was married six times and had one child. He passed away February 2, 1969 in England from emphysema.
Lon Chaney, Jr.
Just as Lugosi will always be remembered as Dracula and Korloff will always be remembered as the Monster, Lon Chaney, Jr. will always be remembered as both the Wolf Man and Lon Chaney's son.
The Wolf Man was about a man by the name of Lawrence Talbot who is attacked by a wolf-like creature and begins to turn into a wolf man when the full moon appears. The character is one of three including the Frankenstein Monster and Dracula that remain constant on the memories of movie goers.
Junior was born on February 10, 1906 in Oklahoma City, OK while his parents were on a theatrical tour. His dad, Lon Chaney was known in the industry as The Man of a Thousand Faces because of his unique ability to change his appearance for the roles he played. He not only changed his facial appearance, but his entire body when called for as in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923 in the role of Quasimodo. James Cagney would make a film about Lon in later years.
Lon Chaney, Jr. went on stage with his parents very early in life and was in his first film in 1922 as a teen. He went on to perform in 195 films with the last one ironically being Dracula vs. Frankenstein in 1971 in which he played the assistant to Dr. Frankenstein.
However, other than his famous role in Of Mice and Men in 1939 (a great year in movies), he would always be remembered as the Wolf Man which he made in 1941. He would appear as the Wolf Man in many more films which normally would include Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy. Of the three icons of horror, Bela Lugosi, Boris Korloff and Lon Chaney, Jr., Chaney is the only one that can claim to playing Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, Dr. Frankenstein, The Mummy and Count Dracula.
Lon Chaney, Jr. died on July 12, 1973 from liver failure. He never achieved the stardom of his father before him, but in his own right lives on in the films he made as his father did and remains one of the Three Icons of Horror.
He was married twice with two children from his first marriage. Junior was buried in San Clemente, California.