Best known for portraying Count Dracula in the original 1931 film, the Hungarian-American actor Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó better known as Béla Lugosi, was born 20 October 1882. He had been playing small parts on the stage in his native Hungary before making his first film in 1917, he also had roles in several films in Weimar Germany before arriving in America as a seaman on a merchant ship. Lugosi’s first film appearance was in the movie Az ezredes (The Colonel, 1917). When appearing in Hungarian silent films, he used the stage name Arisztid Olt. Lugosi made 12 films in Hungary between 1917 and 1918 before leaving for Germany in 1919, where he began appearing in a small number of well received films, including adaptations of the Karl May novels, Auf den Trümmern des Paradieses (On the Brink of Paradise), and Die Todeskarawane The Caravan of Death), opposite the Jewish actress Dora Gerson (who was murdered at Auschwitz).Lugosi left Germany in October 1920, intending to emigrate to the United States, and entered the country at New Orleans in December 1920. He made his way to New York and was legally inspected for immigration at Ellis Island in March 1921, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1931.
upon his arrival in America, the 6-foot-1-inch (1.85 m), 180 pounds (82 kg) Lugosi worked for some time as a laborer, then entered the theater in New York City’s Hungarian immigrant colony. With fellow Hungarian actors he formed a small stock company that toured Eastern cities, playing for immigrant audiences. He acted in his first Broadway play, The Red Poppy, in 1922. Three more parts came in 1925–1926, including a five-month run in the comedy-fantasy The Devil in the Cheese. In 1925, he appeared as an Arab Sheik inArabesque which premiered in Buffalo, New York at the Teck Theatre before moving to Broadway. His first American film role came in the 1923 melodrama The Silent Command. Several more silent roles followed, as villains or continental types, all in productions made in the New York area.Lugosi was approached in the summer of 1927to star in a Broadway production of Dracula adapted by Hamilton Deaneand John L. Balderston from Bram Stoker’s novelthis ran for 261 performances before touring. He was soon called to Hollywood for character parts in early talkies.
In 1927, he appeared as Count Dracula in a Broadway adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, where he was talent-spotted as a character actor for the new Hollywood talkies. He would appear in the classic 1931 Dracula talkie by Universal Pictures.Through the 1930s, he occupied an important niche in popular horror films, with their East European setting, but his Hungarian accent limited his repertoire, and he tried unsuccessfully to avoid typecasting. he was often paired with Boris Karloff, Among his pairings with Karloff, were the Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939) .By this time, Lugosi had been receiving regular medication for sciatic neuritis, and he had become addicted to morphine and methadone. This drug dependence was noted by producers, and the offers eventually dwindled down to a few parts in Ed Wood’s low-budget movies
Despite his critically acclaimed performance on stage, Lugosi was not first choice for the role of Dracula and that Lugosi was chosen only due to Chaney’s death shortly before production. In 1927, Lugosi accepted the titular role in the American theatrical run of Dracula, a play based on Bram Stoker’s gothic novel of the same name. Lugosi’s Dracula was unlike any previous portrayals of the role. Handsome, mysterious and alluring, Lugosi’s Dracula was at once so sexy and so haunting that audiences gasped when he first opened his mouth to speak. After a half-year run on Broadway, Dracula toured the United States to much fanfare and critical acclaim throughout 1928 and 1929.The Dracula of Lugosi did not look like the previous representations. His portrayal of Dracula was so successful that Universal decided to make a movie of Dracula starring Lugosi. The film, The Strangest Passion The World Has Ever Known, forever immortalized the portrayal of Lugosi’s Dracula.
During the mid 30’s Lugosi found himself consigned to Universal’s non-horror B-film unit, in small roles. Throughout the 1930s, Lugosi, experiencing a severe career decline despite popularity with audiences (Universal executives always preferred his rival Karloff), accepted many leading roles from independent producers like Nat Levine, Sol Lesser, and Sam Katzman. These low-budget thrillers indicate that Lugosi was less discriminating than Karloff in selecting screen vehicles, but the exposure helped Lugosi financially if not artistically. Lugosi tried to keep busy with stage work, but had to borrow money from the Actors’ Fund to pay hospital bills when his only child, Bela George Lugosi, was born in 1938. His career was boosted by Universal’s Son of Frankenstein (1939), when he played the character role of Ygor, who uses the Monster for his own revenge, in heavy makeup and beard. The same year saw Lugosi playing a stern commissar in MGM’s comedy Ninotchka, starring Greta Garbo. Five years later he was appearing in horror, comedy and mystery B-films. At Universal, he often received star billing for what amounted to a supporting part. The Gorilla (1939) had him playing straight man to Patsy Kelly.
Due to injuries received during military service, Lugosi developed severe, chronic sciatica. Though at first he was treated with pain remedies such as asparagus juice, doctors increased the medication to opiates. The growth of his dependence on pain-killers, particularly morphine and methadone, was directly proportional to the dwindling of screen offers. He was finally cast in the role of Frankenstein’s monster for Universal’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). He also portrayed Dracula a second and last time on film in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). By this time, Lugosi’s drug use was so notorious that the producers were not even aware that Lugosi was still alive, and had penciled in actor Ian Keith for the role. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was Bela Lugosi’s last “A” movie. For the remainder of his life he appeared — less and less frequently — in obscure, low-budget features.
From 1947 to 1950, he performed on stage in Dracula or arsenic and Old Lace, and made personal appearances in a touring “spook show” and on television. While inEngland to play a six-month tour of Dracula in 1951, he co-starred in a lowbrow movie comedy, Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (also known as Vampire over London and My Son, the Vampire). After returning to America, Lugosi was interviewed for television, and revealed his ambition to play more comedy, though wistfully noting, “Now I am the boogie man.” Independent producer Jack Broder took Lugosi at his word, casting him in a jungle-themed comedy, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla starring Jerry Lewis lookalike Sammy Petrillo. Another opportunity for comedy came in September 1949 when Milton Berle invited Lugosi to appear in a sketch on Texaco Star Theater. Lugosi memorized the script for the skit, but became confused on the air when Berle began to ad lib. His only television dramatic role was on the anthology seriesSuspense on October 11, 1949 in the episode The Cask of Amontillado
Late in his life, Bela Lugosi again received star billing in movies when filmmaker Ed Wood, a fan of Lugosi, found him living in obscurity and near-poverty and offered him roles in his films, such as an anonymous narrator in Glen or Glenda and a Dr. Frankenstein-like mad scientist in Bride of the Monster. During post-production of the latter, Lugosi decided to seek treatment for his drug addiction, and the premiere of the film was said to be intended to help pay for his hospital expenses. a new Ed Wood film, The Ghoul Goes West. was one of several projects proposed by Wood, including The Phantom Ghoul and Dr. Acula. With Lugosi in his famed Dracula cape, Wood shot impromptu test footage, with no storyline in mind, in front of Tor Johnson’s home, a suburban graveyard and in front of Lugosi’s apartment building on Carlton Way. This footage ended up in Plan 9 from Outer Space, which was mostly filmed after Lugosi’s death. Wood hired Tom Mason, his wife’s chiropractor, to double for Lugosi in additional shots. Mason was noticeably taller and thinner than Lugosi, and had the lower half of his face covered with his cape in every shot, as Lugosi sometimes did in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Lugosi made one final film, in late 1955, The Black Sleep, for Bel-Air Pictures, which was released in the summer of 1956 through United Artists with a promotional campaign that included several personal appearances. To his disappointment, however, his role in this film was of a mute, with no dialogue.
Lugosi was 73 when he died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956, in his Los Angeles home. He married five times, and had one son, Bela George Lugosi. He was buried wearing one of the Dracula Cape costumes, per the request of his son and fifth wife, in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. In Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Lugosi is played by Martin Landau, who received the 1994 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Three Lugosi projects were featured on the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000.The Corpse Vanishes, the Phantom Creeps and Bride of the Monster. An episode ofSledge Hammer titled “Last of the Red Hot Vampires” was a homage to Bela Lugosi. A statue of Lugosi can be seen today on one of the corners of the Vajdahunyad Castlein Budapest. The cape Lugosi wore in Dracula is at Universal Studios. The theatrical play Lugosi – a vámpír árnyéka (Lugosi – the Shadow of the Vampire)is based on Lugosi’s life, telling the story of his life and He was played by, Ivan Darvas. Lugosi he is also mentioned in “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, by Bauhaus, and was a charter member of the American Screen Actors Guild.