Saturday, October 22, 2022
Friday, October 21, 2022
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BELA!!! 💓💓💓💓💓💓💓
(one day late)
He was born Béla Blaskó in Lugos, Hungary on October 20, 1882 (or possibly 1884).
His parents sent young Bela to the Budapest Academy of Fine Arts where he developed his dramatic talent. In a few years he caught the eye of theater producers and starred in many productions at the Royal National Theater in Budapest, among them Romeo and Juliet- appearing as Romeo.
|in the 1920's|
|onstage circa 1915, as Jesus Christ|
Inevitably, film work followed and Bela appeared in his first film in 1910. He was by that time known professionally as Bela Lugosi, his last name a tribute to the town of his birth.
|in a 1917 Hungarian film|
Film actors at the time were often unbilled or were credited under assumed names. Bela was credited in many of his early films as "Arisztid Olt".
At the start of WWI Bela enlisted in the Hungarian army. He quickly advanced to the rank of officer and showed great courage under fire. He served for two years on the Serbian front and later in Russia. Bela was wounded three times and eventually was discharged at the rank of captain with honors for bravery and "action above and beyond the call of duty" winning the Hungarian equivalent of the Purple Heart.
In 1917 Bela returned to the Budapest theater and also married his first wife, Ilona Szmik.
In 1919 Bela supported the Communist Bela Kun who overthrew the current Hungarian government. Unfortunately, the future of freedom and economic fortune promised by the new regime did not come to pass and the Kun government itself was overthrown. Bela found himself on the wrong side of the political tracks and so he fled to Vienna and later to Germany. His marriage ended in divorce.
Bela found some film work in Germany, including the role of the Native American Uncas in "The Last of the Mohicans". F. W. Murnau cast him in a 1920 adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde entitled "Der Januskopf". That film starred Conrad Veidt and saw Bela in a small part of the butler. (As with Murnau's film "Nosferatu" which ran into legal problems due to the neglect of his company to secure the rights to the novel Dracula, Murnau also changed the plot of Jekyll enough to avoid royalty issues with the estate of author Robert Louis Stevenson.)
|Lugosi in Der Januskopf|
When work dried up in Germany Bela earned passage to America by working as an assistant engineer on a freighter. Landing in New Orleans, Bela identified himself as a political refugee and soon made his way to New York and the Hungarian community there. He established himself as an actor and founded a small theater company of other Hungarian émigrés. The company toured the U.S. playing for Hungarian communities (Bela still could not speak English). During this time Bela married again, to Ilona Montagh de Nagybanyhegyes.
In 1922 he was noticed by producers and was offered a part in The Red Poppy in New York. The legend is that in the early days Bela learned his parts in English phonetically. At any rate, he achieved good notices for his work and made his first American film in 1923. After many other theater and film roles his was cast in the 1927 stage version of...Dracula.
Dracula opened in New York in late 1927 receiving critical disdain but huge public success. Bela continued with the role in New York and later on tour. In 1928 he met and married his third wife, Beatrice Woodruff.
|onstage as...well...you know|
In spite of the unique stamp he put on the role, Universal Studios did not consider Lugosi when they were casting their film version of the story. Bela campaigned hard for the role, even going so far as contacting Bram Stoker's widow Florence in an attempt to lower her asking price for the rights. The studio did not show its gratitude for Lugosi's work, and after considering almost every actor in Hollywood with the possible exceptions of Laurel and Hardy and Rex the Wonder Horse, they finally offered the role of Dracula to Lugosi for the ridiculous sum of $500 per week. David Manners who played the very small role of Jonathan Harker, received $2,000 per week.
"Dracula" and Bela Lugosi were a smash and saved Universal's bacon in 1931.
|with Helen Chandler as Mina|
|with Dwight Frye as Renfield|
Bela received thousands of fan letters, mostly from women. Can you blame them?
|as Dr. Verdegast in "The Black Cat" , with Boris Karloff|
Among his many other film roles:
|as Dr. Mirakle in "Murders in the Rue Morgue". The lady he is tormenting is Arlene Francis. "That's two down and eight to go. Over to you Bennet Cerf." Oh god, I'm so old.|
|as Dr. Dearborn in "The Human Monster"|
|as Murder Legendre in "White Zombie"|
|as Dr. Vollin in "The Raven". with Boris Karloff|
|as Dr. Benet in "The Invisible Ray"|
|the Sayer of the Law in "The Island of Lost Souls"|
|as Tarneverro in "The Black Camel" with Warner Oland|
He was considered for the role of the Creature in Universal's 1931 production of "Frankenstein" but either turned down the role (because it was a badly written non-speaking part under heavy make-up) or was not cast by Universal (because the film test was not very good) - take your pick. Either way, if Bela had taken the part he might just possibly have remained the top horror star at Universal and his future may have been very different.
Lugosi was a much more talented actor with a wider range than he is remembered for today. A man of great personal charisma, charm and integrity.
I love you, Bela. Rest in peace.
|relaxing on "Dracula" set|