Bela Lugosi. We all remember him as Universal’s most famous and iconic of monsters – Count Dracula. But now it’s time to meet the man behind the “monster.”
As we approach our second year and the release of The Mummy, Universal Monsters Universe will once again be showcasing the actors and actresses who donned the makeup of the classic monsters that started it all. From Boris Karloff to Elsa Lanchester to Lon Chaney, these talented men and women paved the way for an enduring movie franchise. We hope you enjoy the series, starting with Bela Lugosi.
*This article first appeared on Universal Monsters Universe on February 24, 2016.
We here at Universal Monsters Universe are excited about all of the new developments coming out Universal’s reboot of its Monsters franchise. We have Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella attached to The Mummy and Johnny Depp associated with The Invisible Man. At the same time, we would to like to celebrate those who paved the away for this new generation of films. We will be doing a series called “Meet the Monsters” which will profile the actors and actresses from the original classics (and some from the new series). Our first profile will feature Bela Lugosi, the star of Universal’s 1931 film Dracula.
Bela was born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugos, Kingdom of Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania) and was the youngest of four children. He dropped out of school to pursue acting but could never land a major role while in Hungary. He served for the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I, moving up to the rank of Captain and was awarded the Wound Medal for combat wounds he suffered in Russia. He fled Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution of 1919 and wound up in Vienna and Berlin before he arrived in New Orleans, LA in 1920 where he adopted the name Lugosi as a tribute to his birthplace, Lugos. In 1931, he officially became a United States citizen.
Lugosi’s acting career took off in America and in 1927 he would don the cape and fangs for the first time. Lugosi starred in a Broadway rendition of Dracula and it was a success eventually becoming a touring production. When the show reached Los Angeles, Lugosi decided to stay behind. Universal loved his performance so much, they decided to make a movie, starring Lugosi as Dracula. Dracula was Lugosi’s biggest movie but would also become his undoing. He would appear as the fortune teller Bela in The Wolf Man. Universal would go on to typecast Lugosi as a horror film villain in various films alongside Boris Karloff. Lugosi’s health was beginning to suffer as he was taking painkillers to ease the effects of his combat wounds. His last on-screen appearance as Dracula was in 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Lugosi ended his career in poverty and addicted to drugs. Lugosi checked into rehab and Frank Sinatra even helped with expenses and visited him frequently. Lugosi died of a heart attack in August 1956. He had married five times and had one son, Bela George Lugosi, Jr. Bela Lugosi is buried in California where he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Even though he only portrayed Dracula a total of three times, he will always be the most remembered of actors that have played Bram Stoker’s mythic vampire.
(Joe Grodensky – @joegrodensky)