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The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi

Arthur Lennig
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 560
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  • Book Info
    The Immortal Count
    Book Description:

    Bela Lugosi won immediate fame for his portrayal of the immortal count in the 1931 film Dracula. After a decade of trying vainly to broaden his range and secure parts to challenge his acting abilities, Lugosi resigned himself to a career as the world's most recognizable vampire. His last years were spent as a forgotten and rather tragic figure. When he died in 1956, Lugosi could not have known that vindication of his talent would come -- his face would adorn theaters, his image would appear on greeting cards and postage stamps, his film memorabilia would sell for more than he earned in his entire career, and his Hungarian accent would be instantly recognized by millions of people.

    Martin Landau's Oscar-winning role as Lugosi in the 1994 film Ed Wood added an ironic twist to a career that had ended in oblivion. In 1974, devoted Lugosi fan Arthur Lennig published a highly regarded biography of the unsung actor. More than twice the length of the original and completely rewritten, The Immortal Count provides deeper insights into Lugosi's films and personality. Drawing upon personal interviews, studio memos, shooting scripts, research in Romania and Hungary, and his own recollections, Lennig has written the definitive account of Lugosi's tragic life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4375-0
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-1)
  4. 1 Bela
    (pp. 3-13)

    Bay’-la Luh’-goush-schee! (It rhymes with “You-go-see.”) What these often mispronounced syllables evoke! For some people he was the embodiment of dark, mysterious forces, a harbinger of evil from the world of shadows. For others he was merely a ham actor appearing in a type of film unsuitable for children and often unfit for adults. After winning immediate fame inDracula(1931), he went on to become a famous horror film star. For someone who had been a matinee idol during certain parts of his Hungarian career and later starred on Broadway, becoming universally known as Count Dracula was a mixed...

  5. 2 The Early Years
    (pp. 15-51)

    The legendary Bela Lugosi entered this world as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882, in the small Hungarian city of Lugos, which is now a part of Romania called Lugoj. It was only when Bela was about twenty that he changed his name by modifYing the spelling of his native town, becoming Béla Lugossy (meaning “from Lugos”). Theyending connotes nobility, something that obviously appealed to this young dreamer. In 1911, perhaps feeling that the aristocratic name was too pretentious, he modified it and so became Lugosi.

    Although American publicity releases claimed that Bela was the son...

  6. 3 Broadway to hollywood
    (pp. 53-73)

    When Lugosi was chosen to play Dracula on the stage, he had little knowledge of the long and gruesome tradition of vampires. To him it was just a good role and not much more. He did not realize that it would prove to be both his salvation and his damnation. Despite his age and thick accent, Bela would find himself a star, one who for all his subsequent troubles would have a longer career than many major Hollywood figures. Although he would eventually fade, even at the end he remained in pictures, humbled and bowed, but—in his own intonation—still...

  7. 4 The Fateful Decision
    (pp. 75-100)

    The future career of Bela Lugosi depended not solely on his own decisions—often not wise ones—but also on a number of complex factors. Among them were the monetary disagreements between Irving Thalberg and Lon Chaney at MGM, the opposing artistic and managerial views of Carl Laemmle Jr. and Sr. at Universal, the complicated and sometimes contradictory desires of the owners of the copyrights of the play and novel ofDracula,and the ramifications of what was proving to be a worldwide Depression.

    On April 28, 1929, the five-foot-three founder of Universal—feisty yet kindly Carl Laemmle—placed his...

  8. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 Dracula—the Film
    (pp. 103-131)

    On screens across the United States in the early months of 1931,Draculafinally arrived, a landmark motion picture that would help establish a new gente—the horror film. Despite the picture’s long gestation, numerous scripts, generous budget, lengthy shooting schedule, and famous director, it was another of Universal’s rough-hewn efforts. Its opening credits misspell Carl Laemmle’s position—he was the company’s “Presient”—and are accompanied by a mysterious sounding passage from T chaikovsky’sSwan Lake.

    Dracula begins with a shot of a coach moving among the precipitous peaks of Transylvania. Needless to day, the actual region is not so...

  10. 6 Fame
    (pp. 133-181)

    Although Lugosi had been featured by Universal inDraculaand was. likely to become an instant star upon its release, he could not live comfortably on the mere $3,500 Universal had paid him. (In 1951, while touring in an English production ofDracula,he remarked ruefully, “If I had one percent of the millionsDraculahas made, I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”) In 1931, unwilling or unable to capitalize properly on having been the lead in an “A” budget production, he took whatever minor parts were offered.

    In January 1931Varietyreported that Lugosi was cast at Fox Studios...

  11. 7 The peak
    (pp. 183-247)

    Back in 1930 Lugosi met the Arch family, traditional old-world Hungarians. They were thrilled by the free-spending, flamboyant actor who often spoke of their homeland and his life on stage and in the movies. Their eighteen-year-old daughter Lillian recalled her first meeting with him: “He clicked his heels and kissed my hand ... and I thought, ‘Oh, so that’s the way it is done. Pretty nice!’ I was impressed. Just the way he did it. He was so noble. I’d heard about it, but I’d never had it done.”¹ She was overwhelmed by the handsome actor and his sense of...

  12. 8 The Comeback
    (pp. 249-281)

    Lugosi often said to Lillian that she should not worry about financial matters, that money should be spent and enjoyed, and that somehow more of it would always arrive when needed. The young girl trusted this attractive, flamboyant, and confident man. True, while dating her, he had gone bankrupt in October 1932, but he assured her that it was only a temporary problem. His optimism had proved correct, for his film work soon picked up again. In the spring of 1935, Lugosi bought a new Buick Straight 8 Deluxe seven-passenger sedan and posed, with one foot on the running board,...

  13. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  14. 9 The War Years
    (pp. 283-347)

    The resurgence of Lugosi’s film career in 1938 and 1939 did not bring him back to the important roles of the early thirties, when he was a relatively major star. From 1940 to 1946 he would appear in numerous pictures, but except for low-budget productions and one modestly priced film(The Return of the Vampire),he played minor roles. With his superb performance as Ygor inSon of Frankenstein,the actor hoped that he had proved he could be more than just Dracula. However, Universal didn’t take up the challenge, and except for a return engagement as Ygor inThe...

  15. 10 The Decline
    (pp. 349-397)

    Life would be different after the war. Everyone in the country said so! And it was. This new national mood stemmed from a growing prosperity—the cursed Depression had finally ended—and from the belief that a great future awaited a world that had defeated the forces of evil. This switch to peacetime affected not only the movie industry, but Lugosi as well. The public no longer wanted the horror films that it had enjoyed, or at least endured, for the previous fifteen years. After all, the atomic bomb of 1945 was a far madder invention than anything Dr. Lugosi...

  16. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  17. 11 The Final Years
    (pp. 399-451)

    Now alone, Lugosi felt that his life was completely empty. There was no work and little possibility of it. He missed Lillian, despite all their difficulties, and, as he said, “I went back on the drugs. My heart was broken.” Thoroughly depressed, he consoled himself with excessive drinking and self-administered injections, which would only cause his condition, both mental and physical, to deteriorate further.

    During this period, said Dolores Fuller, Bela frequently visited Wood’s and Dolores’s apartment: “I would cook his favorite dish, which was Hungarian goulash. See, I’m of Hungarian descent—my grandmother was an opera singer in Budapest....

  18. Epilogue
    (pp. 453-466)

    As the few mourners left Holy Cross Cemetery on August 18, 1956, they could not have known that the Bela Lugosi story had by no means ended. Future events involving his last two wives, his son, his possessions, his loyal fans, various film projects, and legal issues concerning his screen image and its commercial value would ultimately contain enough greed, revenge, and hate intermixed with loyalty, friendship, and love to fill the muddled plot of a “B” movie—except that this real-life drama would last not just an hour or so bur would drag on contentiously for almost five decades....

  19. Filmography
    (pp. 467-490)
  20. Lugosi’s Earnings
    (pp. 491-492)
  21. notes
    (pp. 493-526)
  22. Index
    (pp. 527-549)