Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Bela Lugosi
1882 - 1956

Holy Cross Cemetery

Bela Lugosi is best known as for his performances as Dracula, and for his many horror film roles.

Lugosi was a classically trained actor in his native Hungary, appearing on stage and in films as a romantic leading man from 1901 to 1919. Lugosi was also politically active and helped to organize an actors' union. When the Hungarian monarchy was dissolved and Communists took power in 1919, Lugosi fled to Germany, where he continued to act on stage and in films. Two years later, Lugosi came to the United States, where he first played the role of Count Dracula for a year on Broadway in 1927, and for two years on the road. Lugosi's Dracula was a high-powered, magnetic mix of smoldering sexuality and terror, and critics compared him to Rudolph Valentino. But when Universal Studios decided to make a filmed version of Dracula, Lugosi wasn't their first choice for the role. Lon Chaney was first offered the part, but he died in 1930 before filming began. Several other actors were considered for the role, including John Carradine and Paul Muni, before Lugosi finally signed the contract. For this career-defining role of a lifetime, Lugosi was paid $500 per week for seven weeks, with no considerations for future royalties. When "Dracula" was released in 1931, it was an instant hit, and Lugosi was Hollywood's new King of Horror. (Perhaps due to his feelings that he was short-changed in his Dracula contract, Lugosi helped organize the Screen Actors Guild in 1933.)

Lugosi turned down the role of the monster in "Frankenstein" (1931), but continued with a series of horror film roles, including "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1932), "White Zombie" (1932), "The Death Kiss" (1932), "Chandu the Magician" (1932), "The Island of Lost Souls" (1933), "Night of Terror" (1933), "The Black Cat" (1934), "Mark of the Vampire" (1935), "The Raven" (1935), "Son of Frankenstein" (1939), "The Gorilla" (1939), "The Phantom Creeps" (1939), "Black Friday" (1940), "The Devil Bat" (1940), "The Wolf Man" (1941), "The Ghost of Frankenstein" (1942) and "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" (1943), in which he finally played the role of the monster.

By the early 1940s, the public's interest in horror films began to fade, and so did Lugosi's career. He was forced to take roles in low-budget, low-quality films that typically took advantage of Lugosi's reputation more than his limited acting ability, including "Spooks Run Wild" (1941), "Ghosts on the Loose" (1942), "The Corpse Vanishes" (1942), "Zombies on Broadway" (1945), "Scared to Death" (1947), "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" (1952), "Mother Riley Meets the Vampire" (1952) and "Bride of the Monster" (1956).

In 1955, Lugosi checked himself into a drug-treatment center, admitting to a 20-year addition to morphine and other narcotics. Lugosi is credited as being one of the first celebrities to publicly seek help with chemical dependency. When he was released following treatment, he teamed up with producer Ed Wood to appear in "Plan 9 From Outer Space" (1958), generally considered by most critics to be the worst film ever made. Lugosi died during production, and his scenes were completed by a stand-in -- reportedly Wood's dentist -- holding a cape over his face.

Lugosi was buried wrapped in his Dracula cape, as he had requested. At his funeral service, a couple of other actors well known for playing spooky characters in films, Peter Lorre and Vincent Price, approached his open coffin. When they saw Lugosi in his cape, Lorre reportedly asked Price, "Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart, just in case?"

Martin Landau played Lugosi in "Ed Wood" (1994), for which he won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor.

Lugosi was born Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko on Oct. 20, 1882, in Lugos, Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania). He died on Aug. 16, 1956, in Los Angeles, CA.

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