Classic Hollywood #88 – Dracula, Bela Lugosi Wants To Be “Good”

What Bela Lugosi’s Life Was Like In 1936

Bela Lugosi Dracula in street clothes

Bela Lugosi was not always Dracula

With today being Halloween we thought we’d do a story about Bela Lugosi and Dracula. Not many children dress as Dracula on Halloween anymore. You are not allowed to wear the cape and put fangs in your mouth unless you are a real vampire. This is because of the very vocal beyond-the-fringe maniacs who go into an uproar about “cultural appropriation.”  So, Dracula is off limits as a costume as far as certain groups have told us, such as ORVIL (Only Real Vampires In Life) .

For those who don’t realize it, I’m not serious, but sometimes it feels as if this is where mainstream society is headed unless somebody speaks up.

Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) the actor most identified with Dracula, loved and loathed the role at the same time. Dracula made Lugosi famous, but in the process it typecast him as being a horror star. Most people do not realize that prior to Lugosi being cast in Dracula in 1931, he had starred in the Broadway production of the play for three years. Previous to that he was a leading man with strikingly handsome features.

So who was the real Bela Lugosi?

This 1936 profile of Lugosi by writer Paul Harrison tells us a lot even if some of it was supplied by the studio publicity department.


HOLLYWOOD, Feb, 21.—Dracula is dead, and the chief celebrant at the obsequies is Bela Lugosi. Dracula is dead, and Lugosi, who created the monster, hopes that all memories of Dracula will die, too. Dracula made Lugosi famous and then, in true Frankenstein fashion, ruined him. The actor hopes now that he can go on being just an actor, and not a horror-master.

With the movies genius for reincarnation, nobody was sure that Dracula had drawn his last evil breath until Universal began filming “Dracula’s Daughter.” Lugosi isn’t even in it. The picture will show a Draculanean dummy on its bier, deader than a doornail.

So Lugosi looks ahead, as he did in the days when he was a leading man In the Hungarian National theater, playing Ibsen, Shakespeare and such. At 48, his days as a romantic star are over, but at least he can-do a variety of roles —most of them sympathetic ones. He wants to justify the fan mail Dracula used to receive. A sample: “We women. Can see in your eyes that you are really a good man… You should play sympathetic parts, too.”

Own Life a Trial

There has been horror enough in his own life. When the war interrupted his acting he was wounded, gassed, shell-shocked and invalided home a captain. Later he became identified with the wrong side of one of the several revolutions which followed the collapse of the Central Powers, and fled for his life.

He appeared in German movies and sailed for America on a ship that tried its best to sink all the way across the Atlantic. He knew scarcely a word of English when he landed in New York and started out to rebuild his career. His heavy accent might have been an insurmountable handicap if producer hadn’t seen him in a Hungarian play and recommended him for the role of “Dracula.” It played three years, grossed $3,900,000, and later was made on the screen.

But the play typed Lugosi as a heeby-jeeby man. His part in the English “Mystery of the Marie Celeste” was his first return to straight drama. Recently came his part as the “good” actor, opposing Boris Karloff in’ “The Invisible Ray,” and two more sympathetic roles will follow. So Lugosi seems to have shaken off Dracula’s ghost.

Well Guarded

He lives in a big house surrounded by a wall and five menacing dogs. To see them and, the master’s private arsenal, you’d think he still feared reprisal by his Hungarian political enemies of 1919.

He doesn’t, though. Lugosi is an American citizen, and really a very friendly fellow, He’ll show you his stocks of Imported wine, and the nauseous sulphur water that he drinks, and his treasured books and oil paintings. His fourth wife is a pretty girl of Hungarian descent who formerly was his secretary. She washes his shirts.

Keeps In Condition

The actor’s remarkable physical condition wasn’t attained without a good deal of self-discipline. He rises early, at 5 or 6 a.m., drinks fruit juice and sulphur water. Calls his dogs and hikes 10 or 15 miles in the hills. Returning, he has a bit more fruit juice, or maybe some raw vegetable juice. No solid food until night; then he has raw vegetables and a pound of meat, rare.

Lugosi is a cover-to-cover reader of a dozen leading national magazines. He’s one of the few Hollywood men who take citizenship seriously; conscientiously registers and votes in every election. Methodical too: his days are charted to the minute.

Not Like Hollywood

His parties consist mostly of music, a little rare wine, and conversation. Lugosi hasn’t a single close friend In the movie business. He’s voluble about his love for America, but doesn’t care much about Hollywood.

Recently, on the occasion of their fourth wedding anniversary, he took his wife to the Trocadero. It was their first turn at night clubbing.

Skeleton Career

Outline for a movie biography: Ambitions in Dubuque, Ingenue in stock. Broadway. Film contract. A stateroom on the Chief, Being met at Pasadena. Once-overs at the studio. Bathing suit pictures. Interviews. Conferences, Supporting roles. Stardom, Free-lancing. Character parts. Bits. Bankruptcy. Benefits.

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