When it comes to the Universal Monsters franchise, we often remember those who portrayed the monsters themselves. While the main stars such as Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff were important to the movies, the supporting cast were just as vital to the story. In Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, Mina Seward is the fiance of protagonist Jonathan Harker. She was brought to life on screen in 1931 courtesy of Helen Chandler.
Helen Chandler was born February 1, 1906 in Charleston, South Carolina. She started acting at nine years-old in New York City. By age eleven, she was acting in such Broadway productions as Richard III with John Barrymore and Macbeth with Lionel Barrymore. She would go on to star in over twenty Broadway productions before she was cast in her first on-screen role as Jenny in the 1927 silent film, The Music Master. In 1930 she would star alongside the likes of Leslie Howard, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Beryl Mercer in the film version of the play Outward Bound.
In 1931, she was cast in what would become her most famous role, Mina Seward. While Dracula became a huge success, Helen Chandler’s career took a nosedive. Although she would star in numerous movies after Dracula, she would succumb to substance abuse. Chandler was in and out of hospitals and other facilities as she tried to overcome alcoholism and an addiction to sleeping pills. In 1950, she was severely burned and disfigured after she fell asleep with a lit cigarette, setting her home on fire. Helen Chandler died on April 30, 1965 in Hollywood after she went into cardiac arrest following surgery to repair a stomach ulcer. Chandler was married three times: Cyril Hume (1930-1934), Bramwell Fletcher (1935-1940) and Walter Piascik (until her death).
Bram Stoker wrote a tragic love story when he wrote “Dracula” and Helen Chandler gave us a tragic story of a promising starlet who was defeated by her inner demons.
However, we will always have her performance in the 1931 classic Dracula and remember her fondly as the woman that caught The Count’s eye. Truly Dracula’s love at first bite.
(Joe Grodensky – @JoeGrodensky)