Actor and Illusionist Eric Lidsay Dies at 91

Eric Lindsay


The actor and illusionist Eric Lindsay peacefully passed away at midday on Friday, June 18 at the Royal Free Hospital in London after a short illness. He was 91. Eric had the distinction of being the last actor to play Renfield opposite Bela Lugosi when they toured the UK in a revival tour of Dracula from from April 30 – October 13, 1951.

Born within the sound of Bow Bells in London’s City Road Hospital on November 13th, 1929, Eric discovered that he had the theatre in his blood at an early age. Making his first tentative steps onto the stage in a Salvation Army production of Aida while still a schoolboy, Eric went onto enjoy a long and varied career in the entertainment industry.

At the height of the Blitz during the Second World War, Eric Joined the Angel Players at the age of 12 before being accepted at the Marion Ross Drama School. He made his professional debut at the age of 17 as Octavious in The Barretts of Wimpole Street with the Barnstable Repertory Company in Devon. In 1949, he got his first big break when he played opposite Ruth Dunning as Dude in the West End production of Tobacco Road. During the play’s run at the Playhouse Theatre, Eric caught the eye of French director Henri Marchal, who invited him to France, where he appeared in the kitchen sink drama Metro Pigalle. On his return to England, Eric found that far from enhancing his reputation, his year in France merely meant that he had lost ground through his absence from the English stage.

Eric and Ruth Dunning in the West End production of Tobacco Road

In 1951, he won the role of Renfield in Dracula. With the prospect of a West End run with a Hollywood star, it seemed the ideal vehicle to get his career back on track. When I interviewed in 1997, he described the part as “the best role apart from his (Lugosi’s) in the play. It was a gift, because although the roles of Dracula and Renfield are the smallest in the play, whenever we were not on stage they are talking about us.” Throughout the tour, Eric’s performance drew an enthusiastic response from audiences and praise from critics across the country. Of Bela Lugosi, he said, “The man was a star. He was a gentleman in every way. He was great and very funny. He was generous in all ways.”

Eric as Renfield and Arthur Hosking as Van Helsing in Dracula

Through a combination of bad luck and under financing, the production never made it to the West End. It toured the provinces for six months waiting for an opening in a West End theatre, but the rigours of life on the road and twice-daily performances took a heavy toll upon the 68-year-old Bela Lugosi. Exhausted, he told producer John C. Mather, “John, I can’t go on, it’s taking too much out of me. Please finish it quickly.” With his irreplaceable star unable to continue, Mather brought the tour to an end. After a few weeks recuperation, Lugosi filmed the horror spoof Mother Riley Meets the Vampire before returning to America. As for Eric, it was back to the typical life of a jobbing actor. Periods of work were punctuated by non-theatrical jobs to make ends meet while trying to secure a new role. While “resting”, Eric filled in as a salesman for non-slip floor polish at the Ideal Home Exhibition and a ladies hairdresser. His dream had been to break into films, but with little prospect of making progress, he decided to use the money he had earned from Dracula on a new venture.

With his partner, the theatre and film actor Ray Jackson, Eric decided to invest in on the 1950s coffee bar boom. The couple opened the Heaven and Hell coffee bar next door to the famous 2I’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street in the Soho area of London. The 2I’s featured live music in the basement and was a training ground for future successful British skiffle and rock ‘n’ roll musicians. Heaven and Hell had a Heaven theme on the ground floor and a Hell theme in the basement. Despite the success of Heaven and Hell and a second coffee bar called The Regency Coffee Bar, Eric continued acting on stage and television. In 1956, he played Antoine in the Antoine and Antoinette episode of The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a television series starring Marius Goring in the title role.

Eric in The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel

In 1958, Eric and Ray took advantage of a new law which allowed striptease to be performed in private members clubs. They opened the Casino de Paris at 5-7 Denman Street, Piccadilly Circus. W.1, one of London’s first strip clubs. The club was a sensational success, prompting Eric to retire from acting to devote himself full-time to the club’s management. When the lease on the building which housed the club expired in 1977, Eric decided that it was time to embark upon the next stage next stage in his colourful career.

During the Dracula tour, Bela Lugosi had told Eric that he had “the eyes of a magician.” Lugosi’s words proved to be prophetic. The shows at the Casino De Paris had often featured magicians, including the first nude male magician, Malcolm Vadell. It was at this time that Eric met the celebrated magician Robert Harbin. Under his guidance, Eric bid farewell to the Casino de Paris and began a career as an illusionist. Under the name of Zee and Co., Eric enjoyed great success in the UK, both on the stage and TV, and in Las Vegas. Eric’s act featured Scorpio, a leopard which he and Ray had raised from a two-week-old cub after it was abandoned by its mother. The magic circle described Zee and Co. as the greatest illusion show in the UK. After appearing at the London Palladium, Eric took the act to America in 1982. He performed at the Sheraton Bal Harbour Hotel in Miami for 6 months, Las Vegas, where he rented Juliet Prowse’s house for a year, and the Reno Hilton as Entertainer of the Month.  The Miami Sun-Tattler reported that he was “as impressive as his American, David Copperfield and Doug Henning.” After America, he toured Europe.

Eric as Zee

While starring in review built around Zee and Co. at the Scala Melia Castilla in Madrid, Eric and Ray decided to move permanently to Spain and build their own villa in Marbella for themselves and their parents. By the time that the lengthy construction was finished, a series of tragedies had change the course of Eric’s life. Both his and Ray’s parents died and on October 25th, 1989, Ray himself died prematurely at the age of 58. While living alone, depressed and drinking heavily, in the large empty villa, one final tragedy unfolded. On October 18th,1991, Scorpio the leopard attacked Eric, seriously damaging his neck and had to be put down. Eric blamed himself. He could no longer live with his memories in Spain and moved back to London, where I met him in 1997 to interview him for Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain. As for his career as an illusionist, Eric said, “After Ray died I never really properly worked again. It was as though all my amazing luck had gone.”

Eric eventually retired to Thailand. During this time he began a popular blog, which recounted the many adventures of his colourful life and indulged in his love of travel. He occasionally emerged from retirement to perform again as Zee and Co. His last public engagement was in a command performance for the Sultan of Dubai in 2001.

I last met Eric when he dropped into Tokyo and spent a few days with my family in 2011. Three years ago, he returned to the UK and spent his contented final years living at the historic Charterhouse in London. Although a very sprightly and active nonagenarian, his penchant for travel was checked by the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in him spending most of his last year in reflection and corresponding with his many friends around the globe.

It would take the average person several lifetimes to pack in the adventures and achievements which Eric chalked up during the course of his remarkable life. But despite all of that, Eric’s greatest achievement was to simply be a wonderful human being. He enriched the lives of so many people, mine included, earning in return their fierce, undying loyalty. He will be truly missed by all who were lucky enough to have known him. (Andi Brooks)

Related articles

From A To Zee: Eric Lindsay, Bela Lugosi’s Last Renfield, Interviewed by Andi Brooks

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

1951 British Dracula Tour – Exclusive Interviews With The Cast & Company

Bela Lugosi’s Iconic Dracula Cape Acquired by The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Dracula Still l

On Monday, October 21, 2019, The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced the acquisition of  the iconic cape worn by Bela Lugosi in Dracula (Universal 1931). A partial gift from the Lugosi family, the cape joins the museum’s collection of 3,500 items encompassing costume design, movie technology, production design, makeup and hairstyling, promotional material, memorabilia, and awards. 

Jessica Niebel, the museum’s Exhibitions Curator, said, “This outstanding acquisition simultaneously represents the character of Count Dracula as a cultural icon and the life and career of an extraordinary actor, Bela Lugosi. It is important to us as a museum to be able to restore and safeguard this artifact, especially knowing that much of the material history of the classic horror cycle has been lost forever. We are deeply grateful to the Lugosi family for entrusting us with a treasure that means so much to them.”

Bela's 1931 cape

Contrary to popular legend, the cape in which Bela Lugosi was famously buried was not the one he wore in the classic film, but one of several others which he had worn on stage and at public appearances during his long career. Speaking of the cape which his father wore in Dracula, Bela Lugosi’s son, Bela G. Lugosi, said, “My father’s screen-worn cape has had a very special place in my life and in the lives of my children and grandchildren. In fact, it has been a part of my mother’s household and then my household since I was born—for over 80 years. After several years of discussions with Founding Director Kerry Brougher, who showed such care and appreciation of its important role in film history, it became clear that there is no better home for the cape than the Academy Museum, allowing movie lovers to view a piece of classic horror film history and enjoy Bela Lugosi’s acclaimed performance for years to come.”

Lynne Lugosi Sparks, Bela Lugosi’s granddaughter and Chief Executive Officer of LUGOSI LLC., added, “It has been our pleasure to work with Kerry Brougher and Exhibitions Curator Jessica Niebel as we navigated the emotional journey of transferring my grandfather’s treasured Dracula cape from our family collection to the Academy Museum.”

Dracula Still 4

Located at 6067 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036, The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is scheduled to open to the public in 2020. For more details, visit

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In an article in the online edition of The Hollywood Reporter by Gregg Kilday entitled “Why Bela Lugosi’s Family Donated Iconic Dracula Cape to Academy Museum” (posted online 7:00 AM PST 2/15/2020), Bela Lugosi’s granddaughter, Lynne Lugosi Sparks, said that the family “was actually thankful” that the cape failed to sell when put up for auction at the Icons of Hollywood auction at Profiles in History on December 16th, 2011. With hindsight, she feels that the decision to place a high starting price of $1.2 million was subconsciously made to ensure that it didn’t leave the family for “some collector’s closet for the world never to see.” She added that the family “took a sigh of relief” when they learned that it was returning home from the auction. 

The heavy, floor-length black fulled wool opera cape is currently being restored by Beth Szuhay of Chrysalis Art Conservation to prepare it for the museum’s December 4th, 2020 opening. Although the overall condition of the cape is reported to be good for its age, the taupe-colored silk crepe lining requires attention for some tears due to humidity causing the wool of the cape and the silk lining to expand and shrink at different rates over its life. The restoration process will include “attaching a new backing to the silk layer and re-patching any missing bits of lining with silk dyed to match the original.”


You can read Gregg Kilday’s full article at:

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Arthur Lennig, Bela Lugosi, Jr. and Lillian Lugosi on The Mike Douglas Show

(The Count: the Life and Films of Bela “Dracula” Lugosi – Putnam 1974)

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The Mike Douglas Show was a syndicated, afternoon talk show that played in many American television markets, 1963 through 1980. The format had Douglas and his co-host of the week interviewing a panel of guests. On October 9, 1975, the guests were Arthur Lennig, Bela Lugosi, Jr. and Lillian Lugosi. The filming was done in Philadelphia. Lennig had just published The Count, the first book-length biography of Bela Lugosi. He came on the show first. After a commercial break, he was joined by Bela, Jr. and Lillian.
Also on the show was Dick Cavett, a popular late-night talk show host. Cavett is very annoying in the first segment, with bad puns and macabre jokes (some not transcribed below). Douglas and his off-stage producer, Woody Fraser, pretty much tell Cavett to stop, and after the commercial break (when someone may have given Cavett a good talking to), he is much more subdued. Unfortunately, by then, Lennig’s portion of the show was compromised.
Douglas’ co-host for the show is impressionist Frank Gorshin, perhaps best remembered today as the Riddler of the 1960s Batman television series. When he is talking in his natural voice, he and Mike Douglas sound alike, and some of the comments in the transcript below attributed to Douglas may have been made by Gorshin. (Frank Dello Stritto)

Mike Douglas (MD), Frank Gorshin (FG), Dick Cavett (DC), Arthur Lennig (AL), Bela Lugosi, Jr. (BL), Lillian Lugosi (LL).

FG: (imitating Claude Rains): Good afternoon and enchanted welcome. Join us as Mike Douglas meets the monsters. Mike’s co-host for this week is that man of 1,000 voices, Frank Gorshin, a very good friend of mine, nice chap. My name is Claude Rains, incidentally. Mike’s guest will be television host Dick Cavett. We shall meet Henry Winkler and Donny Most of Happy Days. Arthur Lennig will tell us about the life and films of Bela Lugosi. And we shall also meet Bela Lugosi, Jr. and Mrs. Bela Lugosi. We shall see a live vampire bat enjoy his favorite snack. And now, here’s the vampire bat’s favorite snack, Mike.

MD: Thank you. Aren’t you nice? Thank you. Bela Lugosi was a fine actor, who has been immortalized for his portrayal of the infamous Count Dracula. He had a magnetic delivery and uncanny charm, that led him to be one of the recognizable actors in the history of film. With us today, we have the author of this new book, The Count – The Life & Times of Bela ‘Dracula’ Lugosi. Would you please welcome college professor Arthur Lennig? You were just saying that there’s no way to fall asleep in these chairs. Your posture is absolutely perfect in these.

AL: It looks like something Lugosi could have invented in one of his torture devices.

DC: He willed us this furniture.


Arthur Lennig

(The Count: the Life and Films of Bela “Dracula” Lugosi – Putnam 1974)


MD: In the book you mention the extensive research that you did into Bela Lugosi’s beginnings. Where and when and how did he begin?

AL: Well, he began by being born, and that would be in…

DC: That’s a good start.

AL: For him, and we’re grateful. In October 20, 1882. And I went over to Rumania because, to find out what happened, because I ran over all kinds of dates—1880, 1882, 1888, and he lied a little bit and made it 1892—and I was curious to find really what happened. So, I drove around in a rented Volkswagon throughout the wilds of Transylvania, and found all my information: when he was baptized and all the other things.

DC: He was Rumanian, then, and not Russian?

AL: He was actually born in Hungary. After the First World War the border was moved, so what was Hungary is today Rumania.

MD: There’s a picture of you in Lugoj.

AL: Yes, I’m standing there so oddly. I didn’t put that picture in the book. It looks like I’m stuffed, and here I am interviewing some people. Bela was born originally as Bela Blasko. And I’m interviewing a local resident in the town of Lugoj, and I got all of it.

MD: Is that where his name came from?

AL: He was born Bela Blasko, and he changed his name to “Lugosi,” which means “from Lugoj.” And I spent a whole day and a half getting all these anecdotes about the Blasko family, and found out eventually that I was dealing with the wrong Blasko family. So, we had to cross the line through that and start all over again. There were apparently more than one Blasko.

DC: And they weren’t worth a book, probably.

AL: No, no.

DC: The Blaskos always let you down that way.

AL: Well, we had some of these problems. Somebody said his father was a baker, and the other one said that he was a banker. Did somebody leave an “n” out or what? Then I found out that he was a baker, who in the last years of his life had become a banker.

DC: So, he was involved in bread and dough.

MD: Woody just gave you a review on that.

DC: The producer just made an insulting gesture. I don’t have to be treated this way. I always think that I’m the host. I guess that I have been out of work too long.

AL: You may be.

DC: I’m obsessed with Lugosi, really. I want to know everything there is to know about him, and I tried to pick up a copy of your book last night on the way in, The Count.

AL: Well, you’re lucky if you can find a copy of it.

DC: Yes, publishers notoriously–as soon as they find out you’re going to be on television, they grab you’re books up so people can’t buy them.

AL: We only sell them at night.

DC: Did he feel dragged by the role? Did he get sick of playing it? I’m sorry, Mike, I keep jumping in here.

AL: Well, he was typecast. What happened, he left Hungary. He had been a star in the National Theatre there, and he played lots of role there. And you can’t imagine really Bela playing Romeo. But he played Romeo and he played a lot of other such roles. And then there was a revolution over there in 1919, and he went to Germany. And from Germany he went to America in 1921. And then he starred on the Broadway stage. And he played very romantic roles: Fernando the Apache in a play called The Red Poppy. And they liked him because he had this Continental bearing, very straight and very aristocratic. And he was also very sexy. He was a very handsome man in his younger years, and remained rather nice looking all the way through.

DC: He had incredibly graceful hands. You know, when they would do those hypnosis things, and the fingers would flutter, and they moved like a ballet dancer around the hands. It was amazing.

MD: What was the first film he made in the United States?

AL: He made a film called The Silent Command, in 1923. It had to do with the American navy, and as a foreign spy. He was chosen for the part not only because he looked perhaps a little strange and aristocratic.

MD: Excuse me, we’re showing a still…


Bela Lugosi, Martha Mansfield and Henry Armetta in a scene from The Silent Command


AL: Yeah, there he is to the left, holding—I hope—a champagne glass, but probably being a low budget production, it was ginger ale. And he was trying to steal the Naval secrets. And since he came from Hungary, and there’s no Hungarian navy, he thought that was rather funny. But in any case, there’s…

DC: Transylvanian humor, there.

AL: Right , yeah, well, we can’t all win. So in any case he started out as a heavy here because of the accent, even though they were silent pictures.

DC: Sure.

MD: Was it always so pronounced, the accent…

AL: Yes, very much.

MD: I don’t recall him, doing… I mean, he didn’t look like Gab Dell in the movies. He didn’t do the tongue thing, which all the other impressionists, “Belcome, bleh, bleh…”

AL: No, never. He had a deep voice and a strange inflection.

DC: Very good.

AL: He was able to say “you have very strange…throat.” And he would always put that little pause in there.

MD: He put that the bite on that.

AL: Right, right.

DC: Mike!

MD: In 1930 is when he made Dracula, the first Dracula.

AL: Well, what happened: in the summer of 1927 they decided to import a play, called Dracula, from England. And they needed a Continental type. And they said why not use Bela Lugosi—he’s been playing all these parts on Broadway, and maybe we can make him into kind of a villain. So, the play was a great success. And he was typecast as Dracula, and he played it on Broadway from about a year. And he did a lot of touring throughout the country. And then Universal, in the summer of 1930, was going to do the film of Dracula. But they originally wanted to use Lon Chaney, but Lon Chaney died in the summer, and obviously that left an opening. And they…

MD: Yeah, that’s right.

AL: It was a grave problem. Oh, so…

MD: You really dug for that one.

DC: Look at the producer…

MD: You gonna play that game boy, that’s my old game.

DC: I still try to imagine him as Romeo, though: the idea of “What light from yonder window breaks.” Somehow…

MD: Can you talk later, Romeo?

AL: It was a scene in the crypt at the end that he really liked. He made cryptic remarks, too. Capulet, Capulet (imitating Lugosi).

DC: Did he die broke?

MD: We have a clip from the original Dracula. Let’s see this.

Plays scene of Renfield’s arrival at Castle Dracula, ending with “Listen to them, children of the night. What music, they make.”


Bela Lugosi delivers his famous “children of the night” speech in Dracula


AL: So, in a sense, that’s the movie that started it all for me, too. I saw that movie as a kid, and that made a very frightening impression. I think, you never have the same effect when you see a movie on television really as you do when you–years ago, you’d go to a theatre. And that thing played with a green tint, and you sat there like this. And you know, you’d sleep with the light off, for years and years because it made such an effect.

MD: One of the films that he made that won critical acclaim was White Zombie in 1932. What part did he play in that movie?

AL: Well, he plays an evil sorcerer, who meets a girl on the boat on the way to Haiti—or is a friend of somebody who meets the girl. He decides that the best way to have her would be to give her a potion and make her into a zombie. So, the other man, who also wants her, they have a deal made together, and Bela decides to double cross him. And so he takes this special potion and you will see him as he has the wine glass, and how his hand will slip in over the glass and slips it in there.

MD: We’re going to show that right now.

Plays clip of White Zombie, in the Zombie Master’s drugging Beaumont, ending with “I have taken a fancy to you, Monsieur.”


Madge Bellamy, Bela Lugosi and Robert Frazer in White Zombie


AL: Needless to say, the butler is thrown off the cliff in just a moment, and the other fellow turns into a zombie, and at the last moment, and, of course, throws Bela off the cliff as well. The trouble with the horror films is that the villains finally got it in the end. They’re so much nicer than those real good hero people.

MD: In a moment we’re going to meet Bela Lugosi, Jr. and his mother.

DC: Really!

Commercial break

MD: We have just been talking about the chilling effect that the name Bela Lugosi has on everyone. But to his family, Bela Lugosi meant husband and father. We have two people here with us today who can tell what Bela Lugosi was really like. Would you please welcome, Mrs. Bela Lugosi and Bela Lugosi, Jr.? What was he like away from the cameras? What was he like at home? Around the house?

BL: Well, he could be chilling as well. He was a very powerful man. He did everything in a big way. And everything that he did was very impressive to me. When I was small, and through my adolescent years when I lived with him, he was a dedicated man, and very forceful in his manner of presenting anything, whether it was a lesson in geography or some lesson in life.

MD: Had you seen all the pictures at a very tender age, or not? Did he have them around the house, or did you know that he was Dracula on the screen? When did you find that out, by the way?

BL: Well, I was taken along with some of my very young contemporaries to see his movies. And of course, my friends would all hide under the seats, because they’d be very much afraid of him. Of course, to me, this was Dad. My parents had decided that it was time for me to meet Santa Claus one year, and guess who dressed up as Santa Claus.

MD: Oh, No don’t mean it!

BL: No, I mean it, and I saw right through that disguise.


Bela Lugosi, Jr. and Bela Lugosi


MD: You look very much like your dad. Which is a complement, he was a handsome man.

BL: Yes, he was, thank you.

MD: Look straight ahead, right at that monitor, that camera. It’s amazing, amazing.

LL: I’m glad you said that. I always said that, and nobody believed me. That he resembled his father.

DC: Oh, instantly.

MD: Mrs. Lugosi, did that character of Dracula carry on in his personal life?

LL: Oh, yes to a degree. The mannerisms, the noble attitude. Oh, and he was lord and master of the household, no doubt about that.

FG: Did he enjoy that? Was he ever upset about it? The reason I ask is I know what I’m like when I’m home with my wife. You know, and I’m always concerned about my career. And it takes some doing if I’m in one particular bag, meaning one particular area in this business, like doing impressions and I want to get out of it. I get very concerned, and I share my problems with her. You know, tell her about it. Was he that way? Was he upset about playing the monster?

LL: No, no, no. But then he’d try things out on me. (audience laughs) No! No! No!

MD: Let me see your neck.

BL: Mike, I remember being with him a number of times, and people have asked if he was Dracula himself, on and off the stage. And I would like to say that many times, we’d be in a store, a drug store, talking to the clerk and in order to get his way with the clerk, I mean, he would be Dracula. And that man would get the look.

MD: He’d look at him that way. What would he say?

BL: I almost did it, but I can’t. Let me invite your attention to a picture that I brought with me of Bela Lugosi in a business suit. And tell me, if you were the clerk in a drug store, what would you do if the man on the other side of the counter made a reasonable request of you? That’s not the one, that’s not the picture.

FG: I think I see the picture.

MD: Yeah That’s it. “Yes, sir—you look like you need it.” What do you do for a living? I’m curious.

BL: Well, I’m a lawyer in Los Angeles, primarily litigation.

DC: And your letterhead says “Bela Lugosi”?

BL: That’s what it says.

DC: And do you get a lot of jokes.

BL: Oh, double takes, triple takes.

DC: Didn’t he get sick of the jokes. I would think he would. You know, people coming up saying can I bite your neck.

LL: Bela, Sr.?

MD: Bela, Sr., yes.

LL: Well, no, no. We’d be walking down a dark street, and we’d be talking and people would stop and take a double look. And Bela would say, “What’s the matter with me? Why are they doing that? Am I so awful?” I’d say, “No, it’s just your voice. It’s just the way you speak.”

MD: You know, somebody on my staff tried to call you at the hotel, today, and have you paged. And when we asked for them to please page Mrs. Bela Lugosi, maybe the operator thought it was a big joke.

BL: Well, I place a lot of calls, including long distance calls, and you know how long distance operators are. They give me the “you’re kidding” all the time. I just get it every place I go.

MD: Your father’s life reads like a movie script. Is it true that he left home at the tender age of 12?

BL: Yes. I don’t know how many people could conjure up doing such a thing. His father was a banker, and believed in formal education, and school was a very strict matter around the house. My dad always wanted to be an actor, even at that age. So, he left at 12 years old, because he didn’t think that formal education was necessary to be an actor. He went to a nearby town and started working, I think, as a machinist apprentice at the age of 12.

MD: Good night. And how did he get with the acting company in Hungary?

BL: Well, bit by bit, hanging around the stage door…

MD: Bite by bite. He could really get his teeth into a role.

DC: You can’t resist it. Did he feel successful, you know what I mean? Was he proud of the role and the part? You often hear of people who play a legendary role and they hated it, or they didn’t like it, or.

LL: Oh, he liked Dracula, yes, and the other one was the part of Ygor. He was most satisfied with that role.

DC: He was marvelous in that, when he had the broken neck. Did he know that he had a cult following of people who just adored him?

LL: Oh, he was quite aware of that, yes.

BL: I think that this cult is something that grew much more rapidly after his death, which often happens to people.

LL: Oh, that’s for sure.

DC: Was he one of those people, I seem to remember reading this, who did not get the benefits of those films in residuals? Millions were made for other people, like Laurel and Hardy.

LL: That’s true, very true.

MD: So sad, and there’s nothing that can be done about that.

LL: No. It was probably in fine print at the bottom, but who thought of television in those days.

DC: Yeah, it was just a gimmick. Is it true that he was scared to death of Shirley Temple movies?

LL: I don’t so, no. But he was an avid moviegoer, though. There’d be times when he decided that “oh, hey, we’ve missed too many pictures.” And he’d go to the paper, and say “well, we’ll see this one, and we’ll see this one.” And we’d go from one to the other. So, he was quite an avid moviegoer.

MD: I’d love to get into the more intimate details of his life, and we shall do that following these messages.

Commercial break


Bela and Lillian Lugosi returning from England aboard the S.S. Magestic on-August 27, 1935


MD: Mrs. Lugosi, you were married to Bela for how many years?

LL: Twenty years. And they were happy. There were some stormy weathers, like there is in every marriage. But there were an awful lot of good things.

MD: Tell me about your reaction the first time you saw him.

LL: Well, I met him at a party. And I was introduced to him. And he clicked his heels and kissed my hand. I thought—I was only 18 years old—I thought “oh, so that’s the way it’s done.” Hmm, pretty nice.

MD: Were you impressed?

LL: I was impressed. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Just his whole…the way he did it. It was so noble, and I thought, well, I’ve heard about it, but I had never had it done.

DC: How’d you happen to be at a party with him? Were you in the movie colony?

LL: No, no. My father was always interested in the Hungarian colonies. And it was at a Hungarian party.

MD: Were the Gabors there? Bela, Jr. was born in 1938, and your father was in his late…

LL: Fifty six. And Bela was his pride and joy because it was his only child.

MD: Yeah, but that is beyond the diaper stage for a father, I would say. Was he a good father?

BL: You’re asking me? Yes, he really was. And this is a story, you know, that has never been told. But the loss of my father to me was very traumatic thing because he was a good father. You know, he told me many times that I was very fortunate to be the son of a man that old, because I could benefit from all of this wisdom. And he was always trying to tell me something.

FG: Did you buy that?

BL: No, not at the time. But I realized that…

LL: Many times he’d speak to Bela as a grown-up, and the little kid looked at him, and think like “eek!—I don’t know what he’s talking about.” You know, he’d be overly fatherly, and he wanted to cram…

BL: I went one summer to summer stock with him, and we are in Connecticut at a lake. And he thought, by golly, his son ought to know something about canoeing. He liked water and water sports. And we rented a canoe. And he was proceeding to show me how to—you know—be in the boat, and all the strokes and everything. And I just about dumped him out. And, of course, my mom thought that was very funny, because he was very serious about everything he did. And I wasn’t being serious at all.


Bela Lugosi, Jr.  with his father outside the Famous Artists Country Playhouse, Fayetteville, New York, July 1949


MD: What about discipline? Did he do it by just simply a look, or did he do it by …

BL: Yes. That’s all he had to do.

LL: He didn’t even have to lay a hand on him. His look was enough.

BL: He never did.

MD: He became addicted to drugs.

LL: Yes, he did.

MD: When, in the fifties?

LL: Well, there actually is a pre-history to it. He was a lightning pain that manifested itself in his leg. And the doctor said he should not suffer these pains and he should get shots because he developed ulcers. Because he didn’t even believe in aspirins.

MD: What did they give him? Morphine?

LL: At that time, they did. And then we were going to go on a summer tour. And the doctor said, “Now, Lillian, you going to have to give him—it was Methadone and Demerol, a derivative–and he said, you’re going to have to do it. And I’m a chicken. “Doc, I can’t do it.” And he said, “you’re going to have to, or he’s just going to have ulcers again.” So, he proceeded to show my how to do it. Oh, I tortured Bela many times, because the needle would move on me and I’d stick him a couple of times. And he was just said–“That’s alright, Lillian, it doesn’t hurt. That’s alright.” But then I noticed the time limits between the things got shorter and shorter, and they were getting a little bit too short. And I thought, ho-ho, I have a feeling he’s becoming used to this. So, whenever he need—oh, he’d start getting these lightning pains. “Oh, Lillian, I have to have a needle.” I’d say OK, so he got the needle, but I’d squirt it on the floor, I’d squirt it on the ceiling, and he got a little smidgling of it. And he started to think, “Hey, is she doing it right?” So, I got him off of it.

MD: You did?

LL: Oh, yeah.

MD: I understand you’ve seen Frank Gorshin, my co-host, do an impression of him.

BL: I’ve seen him a number of times. The last time was Magic Mountain in California.

FG: Magic Mountain, yeah. I got a note, and it was signed Bela Lugosi, Jr.

BL: Well, it was a very good performance, and I don’t do these kind of things. But I went back stage and left a note for Frank, I liked him so much.

FG: I was really…I thought somebody was putting me on.

MD: You have something very special that you want Frank to try on, don’t you Bela?

BL: I don’t think Frank knows about this, but–this is the cape that my Dad wore in Dracula, the movie.

MD: The real cape!

FG: Oh, you’re kidding. Something’s happening to my image. Well, he was just about my height, huh?

BL: Well, I guess so.

LL: No, Bela was 6’1”.

BL: Well, 6’ 1”—that’s close (audience laughs).

DC: Lift your arms, once.

MD: Lift your arms—that’s it.

FG: I vant…a bottle of aspirins


A 15-year-old Arthur Lennig photographed outside his home with Bela Lugosi

(The Count: the Life and Films of Bela “Dracula” Lugosi – Putnam 1974)


MD: Dr. Lennig, we have one minute left, and you have something that you wanted to bring up a moment ago.

AL: Well, you were talking before about the cult figure. I was 15, I met Mrs. Lugosi and I met Bela, first backstage, when he was doing Dracula in summer stock, then on later in Arsenic & Old Lace. And I told them that I had this shrine in my cellar of my house, and I had always worshiped him. And he was just as pleasant off-screen as he was unpleasant onscreen. So, I was delighted about that. He said “I’d like to see what you have at home.” And so, he made Mrs. Lugosi drive. The great Bela could invent all kinds of things as a mad scientist, but he couldn’t drive a car. And so they drove about eight or nine miles back to my house. And he came in and—there was my mother—and said “Hello, mother,” and he shook her hand. And we went down the cellar, and I had all my photos on the wall. He was kind of proud of me, and patted me on the back, and we had our photos taken. Mrs. Lugosi took the two of us together, and I took them together. And it’s in my book, I have those pictures.

MD: What a marvelous story. Thank you, Mrs. Lugosi, and thank you, Bela.

The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi, a rewritten and expanded edition of Arthur Lennig’s 1974 The Count: the Life and Films of Bela “Dracula” Lugosi, was published by University Press of Kentucky in 2010. 

The book is available in various formats directly from:

University Press of Kentucky:


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Suspense Original Radio Broadcast LP

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Suspense Album Sleeve

Originally released in 1973 by Mark 56 Records, this LP features Bela Lugosi’s only appearance on the famous CBS radio mystery series Suspense. The Doctor Prescribed Death was first broadcast on February 2, 1943 with Lugosi as Professor Antonio Bacile, a psychologist who believes that someone who has decided to commit suicide can be persuaded instead to kill another person. When his theory is mocked by his editor, the professor decides to prove it and exact revenge upon his detractor. The script by J. Donald Wilson was reused for an episode of The Whistler radio show broadcast on June 11th 1944 with William Conrad in the title role.

Known as “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills”, Suspense was one of the premier drama programs during the Golden Age of Radio. On the air for twenty years, from 1942-1962, the series employed the talents of Hollywood’s leading actors in its 947 episodes, many of which are acknowledged classics of radio drama. When Suspense was adapted for television in 1949 Lugosi starred in an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s A Cask of Amontillado. (See Suspense (1949))

Based on what we currently know of Lugosi’s radio career, despite having a distinctive voice ideally suited to the medium, he seems to have appeared in surprisingly few radio dramas. Details of his known credits can be found on our Bela Lugosi On The Radio page.

In addition to a complete transcription of The Doctor Prescribed Death, the Mark 56 release features a “narrative introduction” by Bela Lugosi, Jr., who shares his memories of his father to the accompaniment of a musical backing. The following transcription of his introduction was provided by Frank J. Dello Stritto, author of A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore, I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It, and, with Andi Brooks, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain (

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Bela and Bela Jr

Bela Lugosi and his son pose outside the County Playhouse in Fayetteville, New York, between July 11-16, 1949.

‘I remember—I think it was when I was age 12—I had one of the most wonderful summers of my life, when my dad took me on a summer stock tour with him around the East, and I remember almost every moment of that during that summer. And during that summer is when I learned more about my Dad, I suppose because I was older I was more cognizant of him. I remember him being very conscientious with his work, very demanding of himself as an artist, taking pride in his work, being impatient with those who flubbed scenes and did not bring themselves up to the quality of the acting that he thought ought to be given by performers. My dad never did compromise his quality. He was a great artist, a great actor in my estimation.

I think he realized his powers over people, his magnetism. I just remember observing him. I was fascinated with the reaction of others to my father. Everybody remembered him, they had to. I could just see his influence over people. Although I wasn’t too aware of what was happening at the time, I think now that he had probably a tremendous appeal to women. He had a powerful voice, a style about him, which I wish I had. What a tremendously strong-willed individual, and brave individual my father was, and how much he knew. He read constantly in all fields: areas of medicine, law, film making, astronomy, almost any area you could name.

He had phrases in almost every common language—I mean German, French, Italian. He had a saying in almost every language for any occasion that presented itself. He had a working knowledge of many languages. In other words, he wouldn’t starve to death. He’d have food on the table and a place to sleep in almost any country that you’d want to put him in. He could talk to people.  

He regretted the fact that he had become typecast. He wished that he would have had the opportunity to give the world all that he had to offer. I mean, here was a man who had a gift, the ability to entertain by portraying various roles. And the industry in the United States gave him the opportunity with very little exception to play just one role, and that was a horror character. In Europe, it was utilized. In America, it was a mere potential that never was developed except to the extent that he was allowed to play horror roles, with, as I say, very few exceptions. And by the way, those exceptions were refreshing breezes in the night.’


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Suspense Album Sleeve Rear


In addition to impressive artwork featuring Lugosi as Dracula, the Suspense album sleeve contains an appreciation of the actor by Jim Harmon (21 April 1933-16 February 2010). A noted editor and writer of science fiction, Harmon was a pioneer in documenting the Golden Age of Radio. His The Great Radio Heroes (Doubleday, 1967; revised edition by McFarland & Company, 2002), was the first of several volumes he wrote on the subject.

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‘To America in the thirties, Bela Lugosi was Dracula, the vampire. Even today, after many more later films of the vampire legend, Lugosi’s image persists due to television, books and magazines. The exclusive club of movie prototypes has selective entrance requirements indeed and few are the stars who have lived up to them. Valentino, the Latin lover; Tom Mix, the Cowboy (in the silent era); John Wayne, the Cowboy (modern era); Boris Karloff, the Frankenstein Monster; Lugosi, Dracula.

Of course, Lugosi was not always the vampire, and perhaps at times he regretted having become one. In his native Hungary, he was a romantic leading man on the legitimate stage. He came to the United States in the twenties, not completely familiar with the English language. In a recent interview with actor-writer-director Duncan Renaldo I learned that Renaldo produced a short silent film with Lugosi as Punchinello, the tragic clown – a showcase for Lugosi’s commanding body movements (also used as a live model for the animated demon in Walt Disney’s Fantasia many years later).

When he played Dracula (before turning down the monster’s role in Frankenstein) Lugosi’s English was still stiff, unpracticed, but highly distinctive. He seemed rightly to be of another world, the Land of the Undead. The audience was attracted by the representation of Man’s greatest fear, death. Instead of being repelled, we want to look closer into the eyes of the empty skull, to make it seem less awful by making the unknown more familiar. It was Lugosi who assured us “There are worse things awaiting Man than Death!”

There were dark moments ahead for Bela Lugosi. He considered himself a working actor, and took whatever role offered him – a red-herring butler suspect in a murder mystery, mad scientist, villains in serials (such as The Phantom Creeps), a serial hero in one case (Return of Chandu the Magician) but usually some variation of Dracula even if not by that name (Mark of the Vampire). It was a career providing steady employment but not the financial security and status such a unique screen personality deserved.

He left a legacy of chills and solid fun for film freaks of all ages with a few bright moments for fans of vintage radio drama as well.

Jim Harmon

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Founded by musician and producer Georģe Garabedian (born Marcus W. Garabedian) in Anaheim, California, the Mark 56 label specialized in releasing recordings of vintage radio shows, sponsored compilations and novelty records. The album was re-released by the Tin Toy label with its original sleeve artwork on October 14, 2013, and digitally with new artwork on February 3, 2014.

The Doctor Prescribed Death

Tin Toy’s 2014 digital re-release sleeve.

The Doctor Prescribed Death was also released on vinyl by Command Performance Records with a performance of Arsenic and Old Lace featuring Boris Karloff, and by Radiola Records in 1967  under the title Bela Lugosi Meets Alfred Hitchcock (on the radio!), complete with Jim Harmon’s sleeve notes. The Hitchcock story, broadcast in 1945 on the ABC Blue Network, was entitled Once Upon A Midnight.

Command Performance


Bela Lugosi Meets Alfred Hitchcock (on the radio!)

Courtesy of

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Listen to the complete radio broadcast of The Doctor Prescribed Death

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Big Bad Bela: An Interview With Bela Lugosi

Picture Play July 1934


Picture Play, July 1934

Published in the July, 1934 issue of Picture Play, “Big Bad Bela” followed a by-then established format for interviews with Bela Lugosi. In an obligatory set-up, a shuddering reporter fearfully anticipates coming face-to-face with the living embodiment of the horrific characters the actor had become famous for portraying. When the two actually meet, Lugosi is either portrayed as living up to the reporter’s expectations by relating an allegedly true dark and mysterious episode from his life or, as in the case of  Big Bad Bela, as actually being an urbane and charming individual. Writer Joe Mackey spoils his own set-up by revealing that any fears he may have had about Lugosi had already been dispelled when the two met earlier in the year after a performance of Murder at the Vanities in New York. On that occasion the actor proved that he was both “human and humane” by his kindness towards a young disabled fan.

Another staple of interviews with Lugosi, and one which would continue for the rest of his life, was the actor lamenting his typing as a “heavy” and the Hollywood system’s reluctance to allow him to demonstrate the versatility he had displayed as an actor in his early career. Although he was occasionally given the opportunity to appear in non-heavy roles, they were inevitably as supporting characters rather than the starring roles which he craved. Perhaps his career would have taken a much more artistically satisfying direction if he had been prepared to turn his back on the starring roles in the horror films he claimed to despise and instead carve out a niche as a character actor. His unwillingness or inability to do this may have stemmed from something more than just his reluctance to relinquish his star status. Lugosi’s financial footing was always precarious. He was forced to file for bankruptcy at the height of his stardom in 1932. His need for ready cash led to him accepting every role which he was offered. Despite this, he continued to live for the day with little or no thought for the future, a philosophy he would come to rue. During a bleak period of unemployment during the late 1930s, Lugosi lost his house and was forced to apply for financial assistance from the Actors’ Fund when his son was born in 1938. 

That scenario would have been  unimaginable in early 1934. At the time of Joe Mackey’s interview, The Black Cat, Universal’s first star pairing of Lugosi with Boris Karloff, was about to be released. The film would be the studio’s biggest box office hit of the year. With Universal already talking about teaming him with Karloff in two further films, The Suicide Club (which was never made) and The Return of Frankenstein (which was filmed as The Bride of Frankenstein without him), the future must have looked very bright for Big Bad Bela Lugosi.

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Close up Portrait of Bela LugosiHa, Count Dracula himself giving you the evil eye! But don’t be fooled. He’d rather play Don Quixote or something jolly so you can see him as he is in the larger photo.


By Joe MacKey

Lugosi, the screen madman and ogre, is tracked to his home and found to be a humorous, good-natured chap with a pretty wife and three pampered pups.

LUGOSI, the fiend!

I anticipated our meeting with forebodings. Although Lugosi’s residence in Manhattan was a modern apartment house, not even remotely resembling his Castle Dracula, I was certain that the interior would shame a sorcerer’s chambers.

With a vision in my mind of Bela, the master of terror who has chilled millions with his screen demons, I pictured rooms with heavy black hangings, skulls perched atop the piano, and a host barely able to restrain himself from leaping at my throat.

When my fearful forefinger touched the bell, a tall genial gentleman ushered me into a cheery suite of rooms. Surely this was not the home of the weird Bela Lugosi! (Pronounced Bayla Lu-go-see.)

Bela stood looking down at me. The features were those of the man who has raised the blood pressure and lowered the sleeping average of the nation, but the expression was actually benevolent. Benevolence on the face of Count Dracula was an amazing sight.

The Hungarian actor is a muscular chap with twinkling, intelligent blue eyes and an attitude that puts one at ease immediately. There are lines on his face, but they are not from the scowls of monsters. They are from smiling.

And strangely enough, the man who has become celebrated as a film madman and ogre ardently dislikes horror in all its forms. He would rather play Romeo or Don Quixote or comedy parts than creeping menaces.

He describes himself as a heavy by circumstance, not by nature. He bemoans his screen fate and says, “I am definitely typed, doomed to be an exponent of evil. But I want sympathetic roles. Then perhaps parents would tell their offspring, “Eat your spinach and you’ll grow up to be a nice man like Bela Lugosi.” As it is, they threaten their children with me instead of the bogy-man.

“This typing is overdone. I can play varied roles, but whenever some nasty man is wanted to romp through a picture with a wicked expression and numerous lethal devices, Lugosi is suggested. Why, they even wanted to cast me as the Big Bad Wolf in ‘The Three Little Pigs’!”

Big Bad Bela 2

The actor’s tastes are in no way as outré as his film parts would lead one to believe. an example of his quite normal – and quite excellent – taste is Mrs. Lugosi. I had expected to meet an exotic with Machiavelian eyebrows and all the characteristics of a female Dracula, but she proved to be a charming. cultured woman who seems scarcely beyond her teens.

He is too busy for many hobbies but is an animal lover and is devoted to his dogs, Pluto, Hector, and Bodri, which he raised from pups. When his favorite, Dracula, a black Alaskan husky, died he could not work for days,

He is not a movie fan but chooses Mickey Mouse as his favorite screen player.

He considers his portrayal as Cyrano de Bergerac in the Royal National Theater in Budapest his best stage work, and the part that skyrocketed him to fame, that of the vampire count in “Dracula,” best of his film impersonations.

I asked him if he, not being a horror addict, could explain the continued demand for horror pictures.

Lugosi laughed, not the bone-chilling rasp of his movie self, but a pleasant chuckle. “Although I do not relish having my hair stand on end, the popularity of horror pictures is understandable. The screen is the ideal medium for the presentation of gruesome tales. With settings and camera angles alone, the suspense that s so essential in this type of story can be built up.

“Supernatural themes, if deftly handled, are better entertainment for the average moviegoer than love stories or comedies. They are unusual, unique – a departure from hackneyed formula. And they have an almost universal appeal.”

Bela began his movie career in the pretalkie days of 1923, as the villain in “The Silent Command,” and has been playing increasingly heavy heavies ever since.

His current role is opposite that other film fiend, Boris Karloff, in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat.” Following this it is planned to costar the two in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Suicide Club,” and “The Return of Frankenstein.”

“Incidentally,” said Lugosi, “I was originally signed as the monster in “Frankenstein,” but I convinced the studio that the part did not have meat enough.”

It was this role that made Boris Karloff his principal rival for the throne of King of Horror.

Lugosi, however, considers Karloff primarily a make-up artist, and a man inwardly too gentle and kind to be suited for grisly portrayals.

It is an interesting fact that Bela Lugosi was born in Lugos, Hungary, not far from the district where, in bygone centuries, vampires had been horrific realities to the peasants, and more than once a stake had been driven through the heart of a supposed member of the Undead.

One of Bela’s ancestors was the first to settle in Lugos which grew into a thriving village and even today retains the family name of its first citizen.

In New York when he was starring in “Murder at the Vanities” I visited him unexpectedly. A little incident backstage, which he never dreamed would reach print, revealed the true Lugosi.

A youthful paralytic had been waiting to see his idol, Bela, at the stage door. Some one told him after the show and he immediately had the lad carried to his dressing-room. He not only introduced the boy to members of the cast and autographed a photo, but broke a dinner engagement to stay and talk with him. And when the crippled fan left, he told Bela he was no longer just a shadow on celluloid, but a wonderful man. And he meant it.

Lugosi! Human and humane to a fault. I had heard of a huge bat ring with ruby eyes that had been presented to him by the “Dracula” cast, and asked to see it.

“Oh, my ring. Some one stole it.” His eyes became sad for a moment. “I loved that ring. But if whoever has it now will get more pleasure from it than I did, he is welcome to it.”

That is typical of the man who wants to forget horror, and the vampires of Transylvania, the zombies of Hati, voodoo doctors, monsters, maniac scientists, and live here as an American citizen.

And what do you think is the ambition of this premier fiend? It is, in his own words, “To own a dude ranch and live a natural, simple, wholesome life.”

Lugosi – the man!

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NotesPicture Play, July 1934 3

Joe Mackey’s interview contains several inaccuracies:

The Silent Command was Lugosi’s first American film, but he began his film career in Hungary in 1917. See Bela Lugosi Filmography for a complete list of all of his known films.

The Hungarian town of Lugos was not named after one of Bela Lugosi’s ancestors. Born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó, his stage name was derived from that of his home town.

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Bela Lugosi’s Plan 9 From Outer Space Cane Sells For $10,000 Dollars At Auction

Bela's Cane

On Monday, November 23, 2015, a cane used by Bela Lugosi in footage filmed by Ed Wood and later incorporated into his famous science-fiction film Plan 9 From Outer Space sold for $10,000 in the “TCM Presents… Treasures From The Dream Factory” auction at Bonhams in New York.

Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 From Outer Space 1

Bela Lugosi in a scene from Plan 9 From Outer Space

Lot 388 in the auction, the 35 1⁄4 inch faux-bamboo wood cane, along with a copy of Plan 9 From Outer Space, had a projected estimate of $1,000-$1,5000, but keen interest from collectors drove the price up tenfold. The successful bidder was Jason Insalaco, the great-nephew of actor Paul Marco, one of Ed Wood’s ensemble of actors who appeared as the character “Kelton the Cop” in the Ed Wood films Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 From Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls.

Ed wood, Criswell and Paul MarcoEd Wood, Criswell and Paul Marco on the set of Plan 9 From Outer Space

Insalaco, the noted collector of Ed Wood artifacts who located and had restored a long-lost Ed Wood TV pilot called Final Curtain, was quoted as saying, “This treasure will not be stowed in prop purgatory. I look forward to exhibiting this exceptional piece of Hollywood history along with other never-before-seen memorabilia from ‘Plan 9’ and Ed Wood’s personal collection. The fact that Bela personally used this cane provides unique appeal beyond its movie prop prominence. This item has an emotional and historical resonance for Lugosi, Wood, and cinema enthusiasts from around the world. I am honored to be its new caretaker.”


Bela Lugosi in a scene from Plan 9 From Outer Space

The footage in which Bela Lugosi is seen using the cane was shot by Ed Wood in August of 1956 outside the Los Angeles house of actor Tor Johnson. Also a professional wrestler, Johnson appeared with Lugosi in the films Bride of the Monster and The Black Sleep. He also had roles in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls.

Plan 9 From Outer Space Lobby Card 1Tor Johnson in a scene from Plan 9 From Outer Space

Although it is not known which film this and other footage of Lugosi shot by Wood around the same time were originally intended for, both the actor and the director had mentioned proposed projects titled Tomb of the Vampire and The Ghoul Goes West prior to the filming. Bela Lugosi’s death in August, 1956 put paid to whatever plans they had and Wood instead incorporated all of the footage into Plan 9 From Outer Space, which was scripted after Lugosi’s death.

Bela prepares to testify with new cane.Bela Lugosi preparing to give voluntary testimony at a Senate subcommittee on drug trafficking

The cane is said to have been Bela Lugosi’s personal property rather than just a prop. He did own at least one other cane, which he bought to add a theatrical touch to his voluntary testimony at a Senate subcommittee on drug trafficking in November 1955, two months after his discharge from Metropolitan State Hospital where he was successfully cured of his addiction to prescribed drugs.

After Bela Lugosi’s death, the cane resided in the collection of Forrest J. Ackerman. It was later sold as lot E5 by Guernsey’s in the “Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror: The World of Forrest J. Ackerman” auction in 1987. Ackerman had personally known both Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi, acting as the former’s literary agent.

Bela, Wendayne Ackerman and Forrest J. AckermanBela Lugosi visiting Wendayne and Forrest J. Ackerman at their home

Other Lugosi-related items which at one time formed part of Ackerman’s famous collection included his Dracula ring, the robe he wore in The Raven, a cape made in 1932, which he wore in both stage productions of Dracula and some of the footage used in Plan 9 from Outer Space, and a first edition of Dracula signed by Bram Stoker, Bela Lugosi and many other personalities with a link to Dracula.

FJA 1st Edition

Among the other 397 lots in the auction were a gingham dresses worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, which sold for $1,565,000 and the “Rosebud” sled from Citizen Kane, which sold for $149,000.

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Bela Lugosi and Dracula Return To The Big Screen

Dracula Double Bill 2Bela Lugosi will return to cinemas in his signature role in a Dracula double feature on October 25th and 28th. Part of the “TCM Presents” series, the presentation of both the 1931 English and Spanish language versions of Dracula will give fans a unique chance to see the two films side by side on the big screen.

Both versions were shot on the same sets with the same script. Director Tod Browning filmed the English language version during the day, while director George Melford, who did not speak Spanish, shot the Spanish language version through the night.

It was common practice for Hollywood studios to produce foreign language versions of their films in the early days of sound production, but many of these alternative versions are now considered lost. Melford’s Dracula was itself thought lost until a print was discovered in the 1970s and restored.

Dracula Edward Van Sloan and Bela LugosiEdward Van Sloan and Bela Lugosi in the English language Dracula

Although Bela Lugosi’s performance is acclaimed as the definitive portrayal of the vampire Count Dracula, Melford’s film is considered superior to Browning’s by many critics. While Carlos Villarías, who was encouraged to imitate Lugosi, was unable to match Bela Lugosi’s performance, the Spanish crew were able to create a more artistic film by studying Browning’s dailies and trying to use better camera angles and more effective lighting. Interestingly, the Spanish language version contains some long shots of Bela Lugosi and some alternate takes from the English version. Lupita Tovar, the female star of the Spanish language version of Dracula is, at 105, perhaps the last living connection to Universal’s twin productions of Dracula.

Spanish DraculaCarlos Villarías and Lupita Tovar in the Spanish language Dracula

Dracula was re-released several times during Bela Lugosi’s lifetime. The actor himself claimed in a 1952 TV interview that it was “the only picture in existence in all the world…which seems to be revived in every city in America every year.” Its most spectacular revival came in 1938 when it was re-released as a double feature with Frankenstein. The pairing caused such a sensation that Universal rushed Son of Frankenstein into production, ushering in a new cycle of horror films and restoring the career of Bela Lugosi, who had found himself practically unemployable when horror films fell out of fashion a few years earlier.

The Dracula double feature will be screened in select cinemas at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time on both days. For details of participating cinemas and to purchase tickets, please visit

Dracula Double Bill 1

Dracula double feature trailer

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The Girl Who Burned Bela Lugosi’s Capes – Anne Croft Interviewed By Marcus Brien

Ann CroftAnn Croft
(Courtesy of
During our research for Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain (Cult Movies Press), Frank Dello Stritto and I were fortunate enough to be able to trace and interview many key members of the cast and crew of Bela Lugosi’s 1951 revival tour of Dracula. When our book went to press in August 2000, however, there were still several who had defeated our efforts to locate them.
We continued our research into Bela Lugosi’s British film and theatre work after publication, and eventually amassed enough new information to warrant producing a revised and expanded second edition. As we were preparing the new edition, we were contacted by writer Marcus Brien. He had been introduced to Ann Coupland, a member of the Dracula company who had continued to eluded our efforts to locate her. Ann was the effects manager during the early stages of the tour.
Although Ann seemed to have vanished into thin air after leaving the company, she was in fact in plain view. One of the difficulties we had tracing the female members of Dracula’s cast and company was that we often had no idea if they had married and therefore changed their surnames. Thanks to Marcus, we learned that not only had Ann married David Croft, one of Britain’s most famous TV sit-com writers, in 1952, but she was also used the name Ann Callender (Her mother’s maiden name) professionally. After Dracula, Ann continued working as an actress in the theatre and on television for several years before becoming a  TV presenter. She later embarked upon a successful career as an agent.

Marcus interviewed Ann at her home in Suffolk on a crisp winter’s day in December 2013. The study where the interview took place was the very room where David Croft created his numerous award-winning sit-coms. Marcus recalled that he was reasonably relaxed until he realised he was sitting three feet away from a BAFTA!  He found Ann to be warm, interesting and frank with her recollections of the 1951 tour. What stood out for him was the admiration she had for Bela Lugosi as a professional and above all as a human being. He was kind enough to ask Ann some questions on our behalf and generously shared his complete interview with us for our second edition, which was published in July, 2015. After the interview he presented Ann with a copy of the first edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain, which now sits proudly in her study alongside her signed version of Dracula, signed by the cast and crew of the 1951 tour, including Bela and Lillian.

Bat Head 3

British TourA publicity photo by Editta Sherman used throughout the British tour of Dracula

Bat Head 3

MB: Mrs Croft, thank you again for seeing me. Sorry, I don’t want to sound like David Frost as I’d rather just have a conversation. It’s so much easier…

AC:  (Laughs) Not at all I am delighted to see you.

MB:  Thank you. Do you mind if I start by asking how you got into theatre. What did you do when you had left school?

AC: I went to RADA…I went to P-RADA…which was the Proprietary Academy and then I went to RADA. And then when I left RADA I was lucky enough to be signed up by a very good agent at the time called Betty Farmer. And, erm, Dracula was probably my first professional job. They thought I ought to go out on tour a bit because I was a bit big-headed. I’d done quite well at RADA. When they said Bela Lugosi was coming over to do the tour, Betty sent for me as she was a great friend of John Mather’s, who was the, erm….one of the managers, and said, “You’ve got to learn about the business from the real end.” The metaphorical equivalent of sweeping the stage! Had I done a few weeks with the Old Vic before that? Carrying a spear and understudying Peggy Ashcroft, I think. We got £3 a week I think….£4.10d….and he said this tour was going out and they were going to pay £7.50…£7 10d….I went along to audition because I was going to understudy Lucy as well. And..I got the part. Turned up for rehearsals as I say and we had a big meeting, with a cup of coffee, and all the cast. As I was saying previously, Bela took one look at me and came straight across, hugged me and said, “My ideal Lucy!” , which immediately put me in the…. not very good books with the leading lady really and truthfully. (Laughs)

MB: (Laughs) No wonder Sheila finished the tour and never went sick I wouldn’t imagine after that…

AC: (Laughing.) She used to get very angry. It was nothing to do with Bela really, but when we used to leave by the stage door, people used to come and queue up for autographs. For whatever reason, they would always be queuing for Bela and all the rest of it, but as soon as I left, they always asked for my autograph as well, (Laughs) that didn’t help. Bela thought that was very, very funny. (Laughing) The fact that I was the lowest person in the cast that there possibly could be, well maybe other than the stage-hand…and er…..maybe I carried myself like a star! (Laughing)

MB: I think you’re…well you’ve still got an air about if you don’t mind me saying….you have.

AC: But anyway, he was very nice and I don’t think really obviously that they had any children of their own and I would have been about nineteen I suppose….and he was very, very kind….I had no knowledge of stage management whatsoever. Joan…Joan…I can’t remember who it was who was the….Peter Whelpton was the General sort of Manager and he became a travel agent…travel writer afterwards. We got on very well. I think it was an experience which I am very glad I had. However I wasn’t entirely sure I was learning a great deal about what I thought about as show business, which was very much. The National didn’t exist in those days, so it was The Old Vic or whatever or Comedie Francaise, which I’ve done as well.

MB: What would you say, that at that time I mean we were literally what six years after the war, was theatre, was entertainment, was it a much needed release or was it a self-indulgence at that time in terms of people being able to afford to go to theatre?

AC: I don’t know….it did quite well. Golders Green was actually a very good week. Finsbury Park was a good week. Lewisham as I explained earlier was certainly not a good week.

(Ann refers to a conversation we had before the recording in which she explained that Bela was approached by John Mathers and told of the three people in the audience at an afternoon matinée in Lewisham. Mathers said he would cancel the performance. Bela asked only if they had paid, which they had. ‘In that case we play’ he insisted. Editor’s note: Dracula did not play in Finsbury Park. Ann told Andi Brooks that it was “probably Wood Green.” )

Three artist, I mean three members of the audience and a cast of oh I don’t know what it was…ten or eleven. The other members of the cast were not in agreement with Bela, about playing, they thought that was absolutely ridiculous. ‘Give them their money back’ is what was generally said by the others. But he was the Star and what he said – went. I was actually in great sympathy with him, because I thought of these poor three people sitting in the front row. I did ask permission not to have to go and scream but I didn’t get it. (Laughs) I still had to go and do it.

MB:  You still had to do the scream and faint and…(Laughs.)

AC: And all that business yes. (Laughing)

MB:  Can I just recap as well….so you joined the tour and you would have had the rehearsals Mid-April probably time?

AC:  Yes.

MB: And then when did you actually leave the tour?

AC: I don’t know…..I was out for about ten or twelve weeks I think.

MB: And would you mind recounting the story again of how you left the tour?

AC: (Laughing) Oh well if it’s of any interest (Laughing)

MB: Of course it is.

AC: I kept my contract for years which, cause it was very amusing or at least I thought it was and it said if I was going to work for my £7 a week or whatever it was…to do the effects managing which involved the use of the….can’t remember what they called it……The Gun! I said that I didn’t know much about effects managing, but I thought I was a quick learner and thought I would do well there. I’m trying to think if that was…..did we open at Theatre Royal Brighton?


Ann Coupland ContractAnn Croft’s contract

(Courtesy of Ann Croft)


MB: Yes. Yes you did. The tour started in Brighton on April 30th.

AC: Because I had to….in those days Equity wasn’t all that strong and it did take a lot of rehearsal so we did run over our rehearsal time a lot. Then on one occasion they weren’t very happy with some parts of the scenery and John Mather came and said, ‘Well you can’t go back. You are going to have to paint a bat on a drop sheet.’ I said, “What?” So he says “The big drop sheet that comes down. It’s got to have this big bat on it.” So I said, well I didn’t really know what a bat looked like, a mouse with wings! So they gave me some sketches and then they all left me alone in a haunted theatre, to paint a bat on a……they were called gauzes, that’s right. The only trouble was nobody had explained to me that, erm, if you put water on the gauze…it shrinks! So I had painted this large bat, which wasn’t too bad. Went and made myself a cup of tea in the dressing room, came back and the bat was like all this…all twisted up. Because, of course, I hadn’t weighted. What you had to do was weight the gauze before you painted the bat which I hadn’t done and of course it had dried off half…it was no good me putting weights on back onto the thing. John Mather was not very pleased, he said it had cost him a lot of money. The other thing I had to do (laughing) was to throw bats on stage on sticks on wire.

MB: I’ve heard of that (laughing) there’s a few stories of that in the book (Vampire over London).

AC: It had a bat on a wire on a stick and you had to stand on the side and when the bat used to come round, its head used to go like this and it would come in and go shhhhheewww and off. Only one night I wasn’t very quick and I got it wrong and the big four poster bed that Lucy was in, this bloody bat flew round and round the four poster bed and died and stopped! (Laughing) when the wire ran out it couldn’t go any further.

MB: Well it was a dead bat at that stage you know.

AC: Again, Bela thought that was very funny and Lillian was in hysterics.

MB: Was she?

AC: Peter Whelpton was not amused at all because the audience could tell there was something not quite right about this. So they just had to play the rest of the scene with this bat, hanging like this on the four poster bed. (Laughing) It had obviously died. That was quite a funny memory actually.

MB: I mean, what an education for you.

AC: We learnt an awful lot. This gun thing you had to fill with glycerine. You plugged it in, left it on the side of the stage and heated it to a certain level when a little red light would just come on. Then you unplugged it, pressed this button and these puffs of smoke came out. And gosh it’s a funny thing to remember….I was very nervous on the opening night, I had a lot of difficulty with this gun, I had too little smoke or I had too much smoke. They were getting a bit impatient with me, but unfortunately on the actual opening night and Bela was making his first appearance. The arms are out like this and I was behind, up his cloak at the back, and I’m puffing this smoke you see that went all around. So he went on but you could hardly see him. Because there was an awful lot of smoke. I was very worried about this so I put the gun down but I didn’t switch it off. So the smoke kept on coming (laughing). The first five rows of the audience (laughing) couldn’t see anything at all. They had to open windows. John Mathers was not very pleased about that either, that was the actual opening night. I think that’s why they grew so found of me, because there were so many little silly things that happened. It did cause a lot of amusement.

MB: I think he probably admired in you, what he did; just got on with things and acted.

AC: That was the start of the show. As a cast we got on quite well. The one who played Van Helsing – wasn’t very good. He wasn’t a very good actor, I mean and Bela thought he wasn’t a very good actor either.

MB: I think it was David Dawson (incorrect, it was Arthur Hosking) at the start and then Ralph Wilson took over.

AC: And I was a bit disappointed to be perfectly honest. It’s one of the lead roles and it’s terribly important, and it was, in my opinion, as if he was reading from his script all the time and not giving Bela the build-up that he required.

MB: Where you aware at that time that his vision and hearing wasn’t the greatest?

AC: I knew his hearing wasn’t very good because my father happened to be deaf from the First World War. So of course I had a big voice and Bela never had any trouble hearing me. Not that that happened on the stage as I didn’t appear on the stage with him as such….other than under his cloak! (Laughing) But I did know his hearing was bad, I did not know…you say his sight was bad as well?

MB: His sight, yeah I mean he never let anybody see him in his glasses, and he always apparently had a script. Always read the Dracula script apparently, even before a show, I don’t know if you recall that? But literally during rehearsals he would be dependent on people’s movements for his cues, at times. So he would know when they had finished saying something, rather than the actual words.

AC: I don’t remember that on that tour at all. I know he always used to say, as I had to cue him a few times on various things, he used that he was a little hard of hearing and he was very grateful that I had a voice that carried. So that’s rather…not pronunciation…what do they call it…projection that’s it.

MB: Did he ever discuss acting with you personally?

AC: Yes, yes on a couple of occasions. He asked me what I wanted to do and I said well I suppose what I really wanted to do was go back to the Old Vic, but not as a spear carrier or understudy. And play in the West End Theatres. I understudied Vivien Leigh in (inaudible) something like that. Well I was a what they used to call a walking understudy for Tenants who were the big producers at the time. It was a regular job, I’d just had a child. And I think I never played….I played for Barbara Braiden in…what on earth was it called…all about commercial television, was a big success on tour. It was by Jerome Chodorov and Joseph Fields….Anniversary Waltz. It was a massive success on tour. When we came into the West End we under-ran 25 minutes, on the opening night. No laughs! The critics and the West End audiences those days, they often came to the theatre in Dinner Jackets and those things. They just didn’t think it was funny. It was wrongly timed. It was all about jingles and commercial television and we didn’t have jingles and commercial television in this country. So the rather smarter people, the other people saw it for what it was, which was a rip-roaring farce. But the smart people who came to the opening night, they didn’t, they all said what the hell was it all about? You know there was lots of laughs at Persil washes not only clean but white and that sort of thing. But before anybody had heard it here.

MB: So it was a bit before its time?

AC: Yes it was before its time. He came to my Dressing Room, Jerry, after the opening night. And it was Joan Winmill who was playing…..she also played the sort of little friend in Anniversary Waltz as well. That was a Tenants Production.

MB: Joan Winmill was the maid in your tour of Dracula.

AC: Yes she was. Anyway, talking about Bela: that’s what I told him I had wanted to do. I didn’t want to be a walking understudy, but I wanted to work for Tenants.

MB: Did he encourage you? Did he offer you any tips or advice?

AC: Oh very much so. But he said you must always remember that acting is a job, like any other job, and you bring your best attention to it. It was a phrase actually that David used many years later – Work comes first. If work doesn’t come first, nothing else comes afterwards. And I think that’s absolutely true. Because you can’t pay your digs, because if you’re not doing any acting you’re not going to….

MB: There’s a lot to be said for that…nothings for free?

AC: I think that also…..because he could hear me….I hadn’t really realised that particularly at the time. He and Lillian used to spend a lot of time with me. Which again I don’t think the rest of the cast…thought it was a bit strange.

MB: Did you know at that time that they had a son that they had to leave back in America? Bela Jr, and he was in a Boarding School. But literally one of the reasons they came over (to the UK) was to make sure….

AC: Was to make sure he could pay his fees….

MB: Yeah…you know work…work comes first. And obviously that caused a lot of heartache I would imagine for both of them.

AC: That’s why they probably liked a 19-year-old – still a very young person to them. So they used to take me out for coffee and things like that.

MB: Yeah…would you mind me asking how did you see their relationship? Did she mother him….

AC: I have to say that you surprised me, when you said they divorced about two years later?

MB: Yes it was in 53 I believe.


Bela and Lillian at the premiere of ScroogeBela and Lillian Lugosi at the premiere of Scrooge in London


AC: The impression that I got, was that they were absolutely devoted. She was very…mother hen towards him. She was always in the dressing room. Peter Whelpton used to say, “Lillian’s absolutely marvellous, she helps with the dressing and everything else. But he said she’s hardly going to let you do it is she!”but I’m not quite sure what he meant by that, whether she thought he might pat me on the head or something like that. He was never left alone with me, except on one occasion when we hadn’t got a spare cloak handy as I burnt this damned great hole in the first cloak. Lillian went off to find a replacement cloak. He was so nice about it, but he bought his own cloaks you see.

MB: How many did he have then?

AC: Three. He had three and I burnt two of them. I’m not sure if I didn’t burn three and they had to get another one from America? Cause he always, that cloak was very special.

MB: It’s well documented and whether or not the documents are true…that he did have an eye for the ladies…

AC: (Laughs)

MB: At the end of the day he was a film star, he was very handsome, you know and you were a very attractive young lady at that time……cough cough! (laughs)

AC: Well Lillian didn’t leave us alone very much I have to admit.

MB: There are also lots of stories of him being very controlling over her, as in he used to tell her what to wear as well. But I think it was very much to do with his Hungarian background.

AC: I have to say I never noticed that particularly. Not that we spent any great length of time when we went for a coffee, would be forty minutes at the most you know. You didn’t have coffee bars like today, it was some American ice cream parlour type things, particularly in Brighton. I didn’t notice him being authoritative with her at all.

MB: In public, I think a lot of people say that she was mother hen, she would even cut his food up for him and you know…I think it got to the point where they had that type of relationship where…well I think…the opinion that I’ve formed is that I think she saw a lot of people take advantage of him throughout the years. He wasn’t a good businessman when it came to money, he would just do work for the sake of it, just to keep working. I think she saw that and she tried to keep him away from people like that? And I believe from the book that you’ll read there, Ann, (Vampire over London) is that John Mathers had great issues with her. The rest of the cast loved her, but her and John Mathers didn’t get on at all.

AC: That’s interesting.

MB: So I think she felt he was being taken advantage of. He was an old man, he wasn’t well…he..

AC: I must say she fought very hard, not to get me dismissed. And I think the main reason why and he won’t like this story coming out either. The main reason why John Mathers did sack me, although they were perfectly within their rights for drinking during the show; unforgivable, was the fact that he chased me around the prop room a couple of times and hadn’t got anywhere. Well I think that came into it as well. (Laughs)

MB: You were Non-Compliant let’s say. (laughs) This is turning into a book about something else here Mrs Croft. What a fascinating period for you. Can you remember of hearing when Mr Lugosi passed away?

AC: No I only read it in the papers. I think it may have been Peter Whelpton rang me, and said had I heard and at that time I hadn’t, but it was then in that day’s paper. So he said to me at that time; well he (Bela) was still working. I don’t know what he was doing, he was half way through a movie or something?

MB: He was working with a gentleman at the time called Ed Wood.

AC: Oooo…he had the reputation for making the worst movies that were ever made. Some are shown at the Film Institute now, as examples of what not to do.

MB: I think they’re really good myself (laughs).

AC: I don’t think I have ever seen any of them. And of course he kept Bela in for the first half didn’t he? And then had a stand in for the other bits, you never saw Bela’s face again at the end of the movie it was always the shadow and the arm.

MB: That’s right and the cloak up at the eyes and the height difference was amazing too. In 55 I believe he checked himself, I believe he was one of the first ever celebrities, if you like, to ever check himself into rehab because he was addicted to painkillers, and again I believe that it was because of sciatica. He got addicted to morphine and he admitted bringing a pound of morphine or methadone back from here (the UK) back into the US, but he got off it. I think he took it so he could work, not as a recreational drug so it would make him feel good, I think to take away the pain. Do you recall any sort of images of him being on-stage as an upright Dracula figure and then off-stage as a……

AC: Yes…I remember one day mostly. I’m trying to think of the dressing room. He had an armchair, quite a high one, but you didn’t see him struggle to get out of it or like that and it wasn’t a chair like this. I’m trying to remember….there was slight tendency to suffer from headaches. Or Lillian….oh how interesting it never occurred to me in anyway whatsoever….Lillian had the phrase, “Oh Dear I think Bela may have one of his headaches.” Well maybe that was so if I saw him taking pills I would think it was for a headache. Or if he was not looking so good and I thought and now you’ve mentioned it, God it takes me right back. I just dismissed it as migraine. I thought a lot of actor’s suffered from migraine. So I never noticed the difficulty with the moving, because on stage it didn’t show at all. And off stage by the time he had struggled out of the cloak, you wouldn’t have noticed either. And as we never went out for dinner after the show, I mean on our own, we had a couple of occasions when the cast went. Well, again I wouldn’t have noticed, but if we had gone on our own I would have noticed if he’d limped or something, but we never did, so….

MB: I think they used to call them “the lightning pains” where it would come and go and like I said there was one scene where he grabbed Eric Lindsay around the throat and couldn’t let go. And I think he put everything into….

AC: That sounds more like rheumatoid arthritis because sciatica is in the main sciatic nerve. It shouldn’t affect the hands.

MB: I think he was in that much pain as he hadn’t had any medication for it that everything just froze up, everything froze up in his body in the middle of a performance.

AC: That probably frightened him, he wouldn’t have liked that. Because the audience was everything you know.

MB: Do you ever remember him talking to any of his younger fans? There’s a great story in the book about a gentleman called Derek Pickering who came to see him and he said he treated children like adults. Bela himself has worked from the age of 12 and I think his young fans were, he would treat them like adults. He would listen to them, he would show interest in them.

AC: Never noticed that particularly. But we didn’t have a lot of young people in the main. I don’t know whether it was John Mather or not, but nobody was allowed back stage. You were talking earlier about people bringing in programmes to be signed or the effects manager or the stage manager bringing them in to be signed. I don’t remember that at all. I only remember the stage door where people, well I suppose it all depended on your stage door keeper. But I never actually saw him talking to young fans, but I can well imagine as he was extremely kind, well at least I thought he was. So I can well imagine that was the truth but I never personally saw it, because I know Lillian would try and get him back to the hotel as quickly as she could. Which is one more reason why you didn’t have dinner after the show as much as anything, but he was obviously in pain.

MB: I believe so.

AC: I didn’t, I thought, it was just Lillian not letting him get too tired and the cold in Middlesbrough or somewhere like that. He wouldn’t want to be standing outside signing autographs, or having a conversation. I’m not saying he didn’t, he always signed autographs for anybody. If he was in the street or anything else, nothing was too much trouble in that respect at all. It never occurred to me but I did wonder sometimes, why we didn’t go and have meals after the show, because most people need that hour and a half to wind down. Because Lillian mothered me, I suppose, it’s funny, it never crossed my mind, they used to take me for tea, but they’d never take me to dinner. But I think she would be fussing around him and saying “enough now, enough now, get back to the hotel because you must rest.” I can remember that quite distinctly, but remember I was nineteen and he was sixty-nine. So sixty-nine at the time was very old indeed, in fact actually it was quite old for the period of time. People now live into their 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s, so sixty-nine doesn’t sound very old. People now start new careers at that age now, but to me at that time in the 1950s, or just in the 1950s, it was considered quite old.

MB: And that’s what fascinates me, is that, how he kept going and I think 280 shows in a five month period, and he never missed one. And you know I really do think the pain, it was pain management I think and I think she was doing that for him.

AC: I didn’t know, obviously, but now that you’re coming to talk about it, these were things that happened or didn’t happen, I never gave it any thought at all but I put it down to the fact that he was not a young man. And he needed plenty of rest if he was going to do a show that took out as much out of him as it did.

MB: I believe for other personal appearances, fetes, summer fetes, he used to ask other cast members to go on his behalf. He did a few but like you say the rest in between was obviously vital to him. Can I just recap on a couple of things you mentioned earlier on? You are the only person in the world who has burnt two Bela Lugosi capes….possibly three (Laughs), you used to have your hand between his legs (laughs) under his cape. When he performed can I ask did he frighten you, I know it’s a huge jump, did he have that look, the eyes that a lot of people talk about? Did he, could you see a change in him?

AC: Oh you would see the change. But Alec Guinness was the same, he used to come down and if I was standing back stage, he would look, he always had a mirror near the top corner and he used to come down and stand and look in the mirror. He always came down three minutes before he went on. And he would go and stand for a full minute, in front of the mirror, staring at himself. And I asked him once why? So he said you’re having conversations in the dressing room and depending on the type of role, you need to become that person. That’s what being a true cypher actor is all about. And the way I could do this was taking just a moment or two, to get out of myself and into the character that I’m playing. Now to think of it, Bela in a way did that, not staring at himself in a mirror but he always, because I was always with him for about five minutes before he went on, whilst we were testing these damn things (smoke gun.) And yes he did change, he started to stand up properly, the eyes did narrow. But as far as I was concerned it was just him getting ready to the job. So I was never ever frightened.

MB: And you studying acting would know it was just a character change anyway. I think for the likes of me as a fan, I think I would have been there wide-eyed in the audience if you know what I mean.

AC: Oh yes well I’m quite sure it was from the other side, unfortunately I never really saw it from the other side, except for a few seconds when I was mostly being carried out! (Laughs.)

MB: That’s the amazing part of being involved as you were. You’ve got your perspective on it, when the rest of the world, we see it what everybody else sees. Where you had a one unique perspective on that and I’d rather your perspective on that. What happened to you afterwards then, after the tour?

David and Ann Croft and childrenAnn with her husband David and two of their children

(Courtesy of

AC: I got married, I did, as I said I did the walking understudies. I had two children by the time I was twenty-two. Then my husband went up to open Tyne-Tees Television, so I went with him. I used to do a programme with Kenneth Horne called Trader Horne. I did that for a couple of years, then I had three more children in quick succession and I started coaching for Associated British (inaudible) – starlets and things like that because I was qualified to do that. So I never really acted again, then in 1964, my husband’s agent which was man called Richard Stern, had been Chief of Combined Services actually, coming back to what we were talking about before and he heard me talking about a singer that we had Chris Langham up in Tyne-Tees. He said to me have you ever thought about being an agent? And I said no, I hadn’t. So he said think about because, I’d quite like you to come and work with me and I think you would be rather good at it. So I said thank you very much, anyway I then had a contract with ATV in Birmingham. I was a television presenter and I did this programme up in Newcastle, I was on fifteen shows a week. I did the one o’clock show, all the historical shows, Guess Who, used to share a dressing room with Jimmy Saville.

MB: One question sorry I forgot to ask earlier, but for yourself it was 1951, a young lady, on tour, working. How was that seen by your family or other people was it…?

AC: Nobody worried about it at all.

MB: I can’t thank you enough for talking to me, before I go can I just mention one other gentleman who Gary Don Rhodes who has written this book here. No Traveler Returns. He is a Professor of Film Studies in Belfast. He is an American guy and he has written everything there is to know about Bela Lugosi. He is currently writing a book about his theatre tours and when I mentioned that I may have the opportunity to go and speak to you, he would be delighted, if he could ask you to write, if you would be willing, a Foreword for his future book. Because you are one of the few who are left that actually toured with him.

AC: How many are left of the original cast?

MB: I believe Eric Lindsay is still alive, Richard Butler who was in Four Weddings and a Funeral, he was the vicar in that. John Mather passed away but he went into a talent agency.

AC: He was mostly in management, I think, he went back to being an actor…did he?

MB: No I don’t think he acted, he became part of a talent agency.

AC: Yes became an agent; those that do; do and those that don’t become agents!

MB: One of the things he was involved with was casting Clint Eastwood who was out of work at time in the spaghetti westerns I think.

AC: Really. Well I can’t say I’m thrilled as I never liked him and he never liked me, so I’m not worried (Laughs.)

MB: What was he like? Obviously he tried to chase you a few times.

AC: Aggressive! Ambitious! Didn’t like anybody, whether it was Bela or not, saying no. He was trying to put the show on for not enough money. That I did know enough about show-business to realise.

MB: Trying to do it on the cheap?

AC: Very much so and I used to get talking to the stage door keepers, he was not a popular man with the managers of the theatres either. Very brusque.

MB: So from that would you say that him and Lillian probably wouldn’t have seen eye to eye?

AC: No they wouldn’t have done in fact they didn’t, I do know that. I think he meant very well but thought he would make a lot more money than he actually did. Everything was done on the cheap. There was no way, and really and truly in this day and age it wouldn’t be allowed, that they should have let me as a girl virtually straight out of RADA, work that gun. That gun was dangerous. But there should have somebody who just dealt with the gun. The person who dealt with the gun shouldn’t have been running around, pulling strings for pictures and throwing bats. It wasn’t, I didn’t mind but he expected everybody…a pint of blood you know literally.

MB: One final question if I may and it’s probably a terrible question. It’s about Mr Lugosi. If you could describe him in a couple of words, what springs to mind?

AC: Absolutely delightful. Yes I think so…well I know so actually. I was very sorry that his career had its strange ups-and-downs. I used to sort of watch out for the odd movies and things.

MB: Just incidentally had you seen the screen version of the Dracula the 1931 film before you worked with him?

AC: Yes. To John Mather’s credit, I think it was he who suggested that we did. That was his idea and it was the correct thing to do. It also built up the star image so that we all thought we were touring with a big, well we were, touring with a big star. It was the advice.

MB: This has been fascinating and it has been a pleasure for me to meet you, full stop. I can’t thank you enough.

AC:  Not at all, an absolute pleasure.

MarcusMarcus lives in Suffolk, UK with his wife Karen and baby daughter Orla. He is currently writing a screenplay on the life of Bela Lugosi. His friends Martin and Harvey Clarke thoughtfully arranged for him to meet their family friend; Ann Croft. Without them the interview would never have happened.

Marcus’ earliest memories of Lugosi are in the 1970’s with his regular appearances in the BBC2 Horror Double Bills on Saturday nights. These evenings are also some of the only memories Marcus recalls of his own father, so his interest in Lugosi provides it’s own personal nostalgia.

During his research for his screenplay Marcus has come to understand Lugosi as a person who always acted.

Extraordinary Tales: The Voice Of Bela Lugosi Features In A New Animated Horror Anthology

Extraordinary Tales

The voice of Bela Lugosi features in a new animated anthology of classic Edgar Allan Poe stories. Directed by Raul Garcia, Extraordinary Tales contains versions of The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, The Masque of the Red Death, and The Pit and the Pendulum, each animated in a unique style.

The 70-minute film features the voices of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Roger Corman, Guillermo del Toro and Julian Sands. Each of the performances were specially recorded for the film with the exception of Bela Lugosi’s for The Tell-Tale Heart, which was recorded in the late 1940s. Lugosi, who toured a dramatic reading of the story in 1947, is thought to have recorded the tale for radio syndication.

Bela Lugosi’s reading of The Tell-Tale Heart

Bela Lugosi starred in four films based on the work of  Edgar Allan Poe during his career. The first came in 1932 when he followed up his great success in the 1931 film version of Dracula with Murders in the Rue Morgue. He later co-starred with Boris Karloff in The Black Cat in 1934 and The Raven in 1935. His final film inspired by Poe was The Black Cat in 1941. All four films were produced by Universal Studios. In 1949 he appeared in his final Poe-inspired production, an episode of the Suspense TV series entitled A Cask of Amontillado.

Bela Lugosi in A Cask of Amontillado

Extraordinary Tales will premiere in select theaters and on-demand on October 23rd in the USA.

 Bat Head 3

The Tell-Tale Heart 1947

You can read more about Bela Lugosi’s 1947 dramatic reading tour of The Tell-Tale Heart on the following pages:

Bela Lugosi On The Stage

Bela Lugosi and Don Marlowe

1947 Dracula Re-release Insert Poster Sells For $13,000

Dracula 1947 Re-release Insert Posternknown Universal re-release insert previously unknown Universal re-release insert

A “previously unknown” insert poster for the 1947 re-release of Dracula has sold for $13,000 at auction in the United States. With a starting price of $4,000, the striking unrestored  35 ½” x 14” black and white poster exceeded the pre-sale estimate of $8,000 -10,000 in the Potter & Potter Auctions sale. Described as “remarkably well-preserved, in bright unfolded condition with full margins, insignificant pinholes and chips at corners, and toning at edges. A-,” the poster was bought by a private collector who said, “Very grateful to have won this piece. I’ll keep it as is till my time as its custodian comes to pass.”

There were several other Lugosi items in the auction:

The Ape Man Lobby CardA single lobby card for the 1943 film The Ape Man sold for $175.

Human Monster Lobby CardA single lobby card for The Human Monster, the American release titles for Lugosi’s 1939 British film Dark Eyes of London, sold for $150.

Murder By Television Lobby CardA single lobby card for the 1935 film Murder by Television sold for $200.

The Return of Chandu Episode 2 Title Card

Three lots featuring various lobby cards for the 1934 serial The Return of Chandu sold for $150 (five cards from episode 2), $80 (2 cards from episode 3) and $200 (ten cards from various episodes).