Béla Lugosi

Béla Lugosi (October 20, 1882 - August 16, 1956), was an iconic Hungarian stage and film actor best known for his portrayal of Count Dracula in the American Broadway stage production (1927), and subsequent film (1931), of Bram Stoker's classic vampire story.

Béla LugosiEarly life

Lugosi, the youngest of four children, was born as Béla Ferenc Dezso Blaskó in Lugos, at the time part of Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania), to Paula de Vojnich and István Blasko, a baker. He was raised in a Roman Catholic family, and had a sister, Vilma. Lugosi started his acting career on the stage in Hungary in several Shakespearean plays and in other major roles. He began appearing in Hungarian silent films under the stage name Arisztid Olt. During World War I, he served as an infantry lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Army.

Early films

Lugosi's first film appearance was in the 1917 movie Az ezredes (known in English as The Colonel). Lugosi would make twelve films in Hungary between 1917 and 1918 before leaving for Germany. Following the collapse of Béla Kun's Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, left-wingers and trade unionists became vulnerable. Lugosi was proscribed from acting due to his participation in the formation of an actor's union. In exile in Germany, 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 ill-fated Jewish actress Dora Gerson. Lugosi left Germany in October 1920, intending to emigrate to the United States, and illegally entered the country in New Orleans in December 1920; he was finally legally inspected at Ellis Island in March 1921.

On his arrival in America, the 6 foot 1 inch (1.85 m), 180 lb. (82 kg) Béla worked for some time as a laborer, then entered the theater in New York City's Hungarian immigrant colony. His first major American role came in the 1923 J. Gordon Edwards directed melodrama The Silent Command opposite actors Edmund Lowe and Carl Harbaugh.

Lugosi was approached to star in a stage production adapted by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. The Horace Liveright production was successful. Despite his critically acclaimed performance on stage Lugosi was not the Universal Pictures first choice for the role of Dracula when the company optioned the rights to the Deane play and began production in 1930.

A persistent rumor asserts that silent-film actor Lon Chaney was Universal's first choice for the role, and that Lugosi was chosen only due to Chaney's death shortly before production. Chaney had been under long-term contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer since 1925, and his home studio was hesitant to release him to Universal for this project, although they had previously loaned him out to Universal for The Phantom of the Opera in 1925.

Chaney and Browning had worked together on several projects (including four of Chaney's final five releases), but Browning was only a last-minute choice to direct the movie version of Dracula after the untimely death of director Paul Leni, who was originally slated to direct. In reality, Universal's initial choice was probably Conrad Veidt, who had some acclaim at the studio after appearing in their 1928 production of The Man Who Laughs.

Following the success of Dracula (1931), Lugosi received a studio contract with Universal. On June 26, 1931, the actor became a naturalized citizen of the United States.


Through his association with Dracula (in which he appeared with minimal makeup, using his natural, heavily accented voice), Lugosi found himself typecast as a horror villain in such movies as Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Raven, and Son of Frankenstein for Universal, and the independent White Zombie. His accent, while a part of his image, limited the roles he could play.

It is an erroneous popular belief that Lugosi declined the offer to appear in Frankenstein. Despite the fact that Lugosi was not interested in the role of Frankenstein's monster due to the onerous makeup job and the role's lack of dialogue, James Whale, the film's director, replaced Lugosi and would do this again in Bride of Frankenstein (Lugosi was supposed to play the role of Dr. Pretorius). A recent Lugosi scrapbook surfaced with a news clipping listing both Lugosi and Boris Karloff in the film together. This gives credence to the possibility that Lugosi was going to play the role of Dr. Frankenstein. Also, a cinematographer who shot test footage of Lugosi for the role of the monster said that Lugosi was happy with the role, and had given him a box of cigars.

In a recent discussion, it has also been speculated Lugosi wanted out of the role because he and James Whale had different interpretations of the monster. There is speculation that Lugosi wanted to play the monster closer to Shelley's original, who had dialogue. Whale's interpretation allowed for no dialogue. Lugosi was quoted as saying the role "did not have meat enough."

Regardless of controversy, the role was taken by the man who became Lugosi's principal rival in horror films, Boris Karloff. Several films at Universal, such as The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939) (and minor cameo performances in 1934's Gift of Gab) paired Lugosi with Karloff. Regardless of the relative size of their roles, Lugosi inevitably got second billing, below Karloff. Lugosi's attitude toward Karloff is the subject of contradictory reports, some claiming that he was openly resentful of Karloff's long-term success and ability to get good roles beyond the horror arena, while others suggested the two actors were -- for a time, at least -- good friends.

Attempts were made to give Lugosi more heroic roles, as in The Black Cat (1934), The Invisible Ray (1936), and a romantic role in the adventure serial The Return of Chandu, but his typecasting problem was too entrenched for those roles to help. And unlike with fellow Hungarian actors Peter Lorre and Paul Lukas, Lugosi's thick accent also hindered the variety of roles he was offered.

Career path

A number of factors worked against Lugosi's career in the mid-1930s. Universal changed management in 1936, and per a British ban on horror films, dropped them from their production schedule; Lugosi found himself consigned to Universal's non-horror B-film unit, at times in small roles where he was obviously used for "name value" only. 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 Boris 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 given a second chance by Universal's Son of Frankenstein in 1939, when he played the plum character role of Ygor, a sly hunchback, in heavy makeup and beard. The same year saw Lugosi playing a straight character role in a major motion picture: he was a stern commissar in MGM's Greta Garbo comedy Ninotchka. This small but prestigious role could have been a turning point for the actor, but within the year he was back on Hollywood's Poverty Row, playing leads for Sam Katzman. These horror, comedy, psycho, and mystery B-films were released by Monogram Pictures. At Universal, he often received star billing for what amounted to a supporting part. The Gorilla had him playing straight man to Patsy Kelly, in a role she told Bose Hadleigh was her finest.

Ostensibly 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. In 1943, he finally played the role of Frankenstein's monster in Universal's Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. Lugosi's dialogue was edited out of the released film, making it a mute role. He also got to recreate the role of Dracula a second and last time on film in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948. By this time, Lugosi's drug use was so notorious that the producers weren't 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 relatively obscure, low-budget features. During the early 1950s he made personal appearances and did stage work, including a theatrical engagement in England. While there he co-starred in a lowbrow comedy, Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (also known as Vampire over London and My Son, the Vampire). Upon his return 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. Another opportunity for comedy came when Red Skelton invited Lugosi to appear in a sketch on his live CBS program. Lugosi memorized the script for the skit, but became confused on the air when Skelton began to ad lib. This was depicted in the Tim Burton film Ed Wood, with Martin Landau as Lugosi. Though Burton did not actually identify the comedian in the biopic, the events depicted were correct.

Late in his life, Bela Lugosi again received star billing in movies when filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr., a fan of Lugosi, found him living in obscurity and near-poverty and offered him roles in his films, such as Glen or Glenda and as a Dr. Frankenstein-like mad scientist in Bride of the Monster. During post-production of the latter, Lugosi decided to seek treatment for his addiction, and the premiere of the film was said to be intended to help pay for his hospital expenses. According to Kitty Kelley's biography of Frank Sinatra, when the entertainer heard of Lugosi's problems, he helped with expenses and visited at the hospital. Lugosi would recall his amazement, since he didn't even know Sinatra.

The extras on an early DVD release of Plan 9 from Outer Space include an impromptu interview with Lugosi upon his exit from the treatment center in 1955, which provide some rare personal insights into the man. During the interview, Lugosi states that he is about to go to work on a new Ed Wood film, The Ghoul Goes West. This 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 at his home and in a suburban graveyard. This footage ended up in Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Lugosi married Hope Linninger in 1955. Following his treatment, 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.

Death and posthumous performance

Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956 while lying on a couch in his Los Angeles home. He was 73. Rumor has it that Lugosi was clutching the script for "The Final Curtain" a planned Ed Wood project, at the exact moment of his death.

Lugosi was buried wearing one of the many capes from the Dracula stage play, per the request of his son and fifth wife, in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Contrary to popular belief, Lugosi never requested to be buried in his cloak; Bela Lugosi, Jr. has confirmed on numerous occasions that he and his mother, Lillian, made the decision. At his funeral it is reported that Peter Lorre looked over at Vincent Price and asked, "Should we stick a stake in his heart just to be sure?"

One of Lugosi's roles was in a movie released after he was dead. Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space features footage of Lugosi interspersed with a double. Wood had taken a few minutes of silent footage of Lugosi, in his Dracula cape, for a planned vampire picture but was unable to find financing for the project. When he later conceived Plan 9, Wood wrote the script to incorporate the Lugosi footage and hired his wife's chiropractor to double for Lugosi in additional shots. The double is thinner than Lugosi, and in every shot covers the lower half of his face with his cape, as Lugosi sometimes did in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. As Leonard Maltin put it in early editions of his movies guide book, "Lugosi died during production, and it shows."


In 1979 the Lugosi v. Universal Pictures decision by the California Supreme Court held that Bela Lugosi's personality rights could not pass to his heirs, as a copyright would have. The court ruled that any rights of publicity, and rights to his image, terminated with Lugosi's death.

Lugosi is mentioned prominently in the song "Celluloid Heroes" by The Kinks. In 1979, Lugosi became the subject of a song by gothic rock band Bauhaus titled "Bela Lugosi's Dead". In 2006, French bossa nova band Nouvelle Vague released their version on their second album Bande à Part. Voltaire has produced a song called "Vampire Club" which mentions "Béla Lugosi's still undead". The German musician Bela B. was inspired by Bela Lugosi to his pseudonym.

The biographical film Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994) is a sentimental interpretation of the relationship between Lugosi and Wood. Lugosi is played by Martin Landau in a good-natured and sometimes moving interpretation for which Landau received an Academy Award for best supporting actor. Lugosi's son, Bela Lugosi, Jr. initially disapproved of his father's portrayal in the film, despite never having seen it. After a long correspondence with Landau, Lugosi, Jr. was persuaded to view the film in Landau's company, after which he declared that Landau had 'honored' his father with his portrayal, and the actor and the late star's son became friends as a result. Contrary to Burton's film, Lugosi did not use excessive profanity. Richard Sheffield and Forrest Ackerman have spoken out against this. Also, Lugosi did not receive top billing for Plan 9. Instead, he was listed as a guest star, below Tor Johnson and Vampira.

A musical about Ed Wood, called The Worst, created and recorded by American humorist, songwriter, and author Josh Alan Friedman, features two songs about Bela Lugosi, namely Bela Lugosi and Bela's Funeral Dirge. Both pieces feature Texas-based gypsy jazz combo Cafe Noir.

Three Lugosi projects were featured on the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000. The Corpse Vanishes was used in episode 105, the serial The Phantom Creeps was used throughout season two and the Ed Wood production Bride of the Monster appeared in episode 423. An episode of Sledge Hammer titled Last of the Red Hot Vampires was an homage of Béla Lugosi. At the end of the episode, it was dedicated to "Mr. Blaskó". One of the members of Mistula is named Bella Lugosi. In 2006, British rock band The Jalapenos included "For Bela" and "Hubcaps Over Hollywood" (about the Ed Wood films) on their CD "Go Ape!". They had contacted Lugosi Jr. with a view to using a Lugosi portrait on the album cover, but were told that they would have to pay Lugosi Jr.'s agent. Also the Dutch industrial glamrock band "Outerspace Overdose" has made a tribute to Bela Lugosi by quoting one of his lines from the movie Glen or Glenda in their song Disco Bloodbath on their album "Pull the stringk".

In 2001 BBC Radio 4 Broadcast "There Are Such Things" A play about Lugosi and his struggle to escape from the role that had typecast him. The play went on to receive The Hamilton Dean award for best dramatic presentation from the Dracula Society.

Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula was the inspiration for the Sesame Street character Count von Count.

A statue of Lugosi can be seen today on one of the corners of the Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest.

The cape Lugosi wore in the 1931 film "Dracula" still survives today in the ownership of Universal Studios.



  • Nászdal (1917)
  • Az Ezredes (1917)
  • A Régiséggyüjtö (1917)
  • Leoni Leo (1917)
  • Casanova (1918)
  • Lulu (1918)
  • Álarcosbál (1918)
  • Küzdelem a létért (1918)
  • Tavaszi vihar (1918)
  • Lili (1918)
  • Az Élet királya (1918)
  • A 99-es számú bérkocsi (1918)


  • Die Frau im Delphin (1920)
  • Die Fluch der Menschheit (1920)
  • Die Teufelsanbeter (1920)
  • Hypnose (1920)
  • Der Tanz auf dem Vulkan (1920)
  • Nat Pinkerton im Kampf (1920)
  • Der Januskopf (1920)
  • Der Wildtöter und Chingachgook (1920)
  • Der Im Rausche der Milliarden (1920)
  • Auf den Trümmern des Paradieses (1920)
  • The Last of the Mohicans (1920) (German film)
  • Die Todeskarawane (1920)
  • The Last of the Mohicans (1920) (US film - uncredited)
  • Die verschwundene Million (1921)
  • Ihre Hoheit die Tänzerin (1922)
  • The Silent Command (1923)
  • The Rejected Woman (1924)
  • He Who Gets Slapped (1924) (uncredited)
  • The Midnight Girl (1925)
  • Daughters Who Pay (1925)
  • Punchinello (1926)
  • How to Handle Women (1928)
  • The Veiled Woman (1929)
  • Prisoners (1929)
  • The Thirteenth Chair (1929)


  • Such Men Are Dangerous (1930)
  • Wild Company (1930)
  • Renegades (1930)
  • Viennese Nights (1930)
  • Oh, For A Man (1930)
  • Dracula (1931)
  • 50 Million Frenchmen (1931)
  • Women Of All Nations (1931)
  • The Black Camel (1931)
  • Broadminded (1931)
  • Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
  • White Zombie (1932)
  • Chandu the Magician (1932)
  • The Death Kiss (1932)
  • Island of Lost Souls (1933)
  • The Whispering Shadow (1933)
  • International House (1933)
  • The Devils in Love (1933)
  • The Black Cat (1934)
  • Gift of Gab (1934)
  • The Return of Chandu (1934)
  • The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934)
  • Chandu on the Magic Island (1935)
  • The Best Man Wins (1935)
  • Mark of the Vampire (1935)
  • The Mystery of the Marie Celeste (1935)
  • The Raven (1935)
  • Murder by Television (1935)
  • The Invisible Ray (1936)
  • Postal Inspector (1936)
  • Shadow of Chinatown (1936)
  • S.O.S. Coast Guard (1937)
  • The Phantom Creeps (1939)
  • Son of Frankenstein (1939)
  • The Gorilla (1939)
  • Ninotchka (1939)


  • The Dark Eyes of London (1940)
  • The Saint's Double Trouble (1940)
  • Black Friday (1940)
  • The Devil Bat (1940)
  • You'll Find Out (1940)
  • Invisible Ghost (1941)
  • The Black Cat (1941)
  • Spooks Run Wild (1941)
  • The Wolf Man (1941)
  • Black Dragons (1942)
  • The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
  • S.O.S. Coast Guard (1942)
  • The Corpse Vanishes (1942)
  • Night Monster (1942)
  • Bowery at Midnight (1942)
  • The Ape Man (1943)
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
  • Ghosts on the Loose (1943)
  • The Return of the Vampire (1944)
  • Voodoo Man (1944)
  • Return of the Ape Man (1944)
  • One Body Too Many (1944)
  • Zombies on Broadway (1945)
  • The Body Snatcher (1945)
  • Genius at Work (1946)
  • Scared to Death (1947)
  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)


  • Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1952)
  • Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)
  • Glen or Glenda (1953)
  • Bride of the Monster (1955)
  • The Black Sleep (1956)
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Other films

This includes unfinished films and declined or cancelled roles.

  • Karl May/Saharan Adventure film series (1920)
  • The Right to Dream (1924)
  • Luxury (1930)
  • Dracula(vaudeville version) (1930)
  • Frankenstein (1930)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1931)
  • Thrillers (1932)
  • The Invisible Man (1932)
  • The Suicide Club (1932)
  • The Empty Cahir (1932)
  • Conception (1933)

Further reading



Fanged Films

Spain, 1972
Blood Castle / Bloody Fiancée / The Blood Spattered Bride / Till Death Do Us Part
USA, 1983
The Keep

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?