I Bid You Welcome.

Posted in 1951 British Tour Of Dracula, Bela Lugosi, Bram Stoker, Dark Eyes Of London, Dracula, Mother Riley Meets The Vampie, Mystery of the Mary Celeste, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2011 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

Vampire over London  Bela Lugosi In Britain

Original cover artwork for Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain by Haig Demarjian

Welcome to Vampire Over London:

The Bela Lugosi Blog

For eight months in 1951 Bela Lugosi toured the length and breadth of Britain in a stage revival of Dracula. With horror films out of fashion and his career in terminal decline, the 68 year-old actor had been lured across the Atlantic by the promise of a run in the West End, which he hoped would provide the comeback that he longed for. Unfortunately, the West End did not beckon. Physically exhausted by the grueling schedule, a bitterly disappointed Lugosi quit the tour. After resting and recuperating his strength, he made the film Mother Riley Meets The Vampire and returned to America.

As the years passed by, the facts were forgotten and a myth grew around Lugosi’s time in Britain. According to what became an oft-repeated story, he found himself in a threadbare production with a supporting cast of amateurs who couldn’t remember their lines. After a disastrous opening, the tour quickly folded, leaving an unpaid Lugosi and his wife stranded in Britain. To pay their passage back home, he accepted a hurriedly arranged role in a horror comedy .

For fifty years the myth was accepted as fact, but just a casual study of the trail of evidence left behind by Lugosi and the tour made it obvious that a very different story was waiting to be told. In 2000, after ten years of research, Frank J. Dello Stritto and I were finally able to set the record straight with the publication of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain, our critically acclaimed biography of Lugosi. In addition to the 1951 tour and Mother Riley Meets The Vampire, our exhaustive research unearthed new facts about Lugosi’s other British work – Mystery of the Mary Celeste (1935), Dark Eyes of London (1939) and the elusive Lock Up Your Daughters, the existence of which is still hotly debated.

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The original goal of this blog was to:

  • make available the written and pictorial material amassed during our research.
  • bring together new material that has emerged since the publication of our book.
  • continue the research.

As the blog grew and developed, I decided to expanded the goal. My intention now is to try to make this blog the ultimate resource for those interested in the life and work of Bela Lugosi and Bram Stoker’s novel.

If you would like to contribute an article to the blog or if you have any information or memorabilia that you would like included on the blog, please contact Andi Brooks at andobi@hotmail.com All contributions will be credited.

I am indebted to Paul Seiler for generously sharing stills from his extensive collection for use on this blog.

Bat Head 3In addition to regular posts, the blog contains the following pages (Click on the links to access the pages):

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

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

Bela Lugosi Filmography – Overview Bela Lugosi Filmography Part 1: 1917 – 1928 – The Silent Years. Bela Lugosi Filmography Part 2: 1929 – 1937 – The Rise and Fall of a Star. Bela Lugosi Filmography Part 3: 1939 – 1948 – The Rebirth Of A Star. Bela Lugosi Filmography Part 4: 1951 – 1959 – The Twilight Years. Bela Lugosi Interviews

Bela Lugosi Letters

Bela Lugosi Obituaries

Bela Lugosi On The Radio

Bela Lugosi On The Stage

Bela Lugosi On TV

Bela Lugosi Product Endorsements

Bela Lugosi Unrealised Projects

Bela Lugosi’s British Films 1: Mystery Of The Mary Celeste

Bela Lugosi’s British Films 2: Dark Eyes Of London

Bela Lugosi’s British Films 3: Mother Riley Meets The Vampire

Bela Lugosi’s Life As Reported In The Press

Contemporary Reviews Of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The 1938 Dracula & Frankenstein Double-Bill

The Library – Rare editions of Dracula and books on Bela Lugosi

Vampire Over London: Publicity Interviews

Vampire Over London: The Story Of The Book

Bat Head 3If you would like to use any of the images or text on the blog, a brief request would be appreciated. In return, we would be grateful for an acknowledgement and a link back to the blog.

You can follow the Vampire Over London: The Bela Lugosi Blog on Facebook and Twitter by clicking on the icons on the sidebar.

Bat Head 3Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain 2nd Edition

Vampire Over London 2nd Edition

A 2nd edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain was published by Cult Movies Press in June, 2015. The 2nd edition is a new, improved and expanded version of the original edition, which is long sold out. The new volume contains more first person accounts from people who worked with Bela in 1951, more newly uncovered information and more images. 50% thicker than the first edition, the new 2nd edition is a handsome hardcover with original cover art by renowned artitst Haig Demarjian

Copies of the 2nd edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain can purchased from either Cult Movies Press (http://www.cultmoviespress.com) for $30.00 plus $3.99 shipping or directly from Frank J Dello Stritto for $30.00 with FREE shipping. To buy a copy from Frank, either make a PayPal payment of $30.00 to his email at fdellostritto@hotmail.com or mail him a check at Frank J. Dello Stritto, 644 East 7 ½ Street, Houston, TX 77007..

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“Vampire Over London, which is beautifully produced and of a quality we seldom see today, is a model of documentation and informed and entertaining writing. I was so fascinated by it that I gave up virtually an entire weekend to read it. I cannot claim to be a big fan of Bela Lugosi, but the authors’ enthusiasm, clarity and intelligence were such that I was mesmerized as much as any of Dracula’s victims. A magnificent book.”

– Anthony Slide, Classic Images

“In this impressively researched book the authors’ combined sense of detail is remarkable…Dello Stritto and Brooks cover the six months of the touring company with three-dimensional clarity…you can almost smell the cigars Lugosi smoked while standing in the wings.”

– Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

“Just when you thought everything that could possibly be written about the classic horror stars had already seen print, along comes the fascinating Vampire Over London. It’s an admirable book, written by that rare breed – film historians who actually know how to write…it’s essential.”

Richard Valley, Scarlet Street

“This tremendous new volume manages to offer a wealth of new information! A must for Lugosi fanatics…the authors have done their research on this subject, and the result is the final word on this portion of Lugosi’s life…It’s a humorous, informative and often touching tribute to a little known slice of Bela’s life.”

Shock Cinema

“Genre cinema historians Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks perform an invaluable service for Bela Buffs. Their painstakingly researched tome is a book no self-respecting Lugosi lover can afford to be without.”

 The Phantom, Videoscope

“An indispensable tome…exhaustive…Physically, the book is as impressive as the research and writing…will quickly become a collectors item.”

– Tom Weaver, Fangoria

“…a remarkable book…a carefully researched work of scholarship with a concern for accuracy usually reserved for much weightier subjects.”

–  Henry Nicolella, Castle of Frankenstein

“A superb piece of literature! I think Bela must be resting in peace at long last in his satin-lined coffin.”

– John C. Mather, Co-Producer of the 1951 British Dracula tour

“A really splendid piece of research, it has to be definitive.”

– Richard Eastham, Director of the 1951 British Dracula tour

“It is a wonderful epitaph for a very special person.”

– Richard Butler, 1951 British Dracula tour cast member

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While preparing Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain, Frank Dello Stritto and I have conducted extensive research into the life and work of Bela Lugosi and interviewed people who either knew him, worked with him, met him or witnessed him performing on the stage. Our research material has been gathered from archives and individuals in the United Kingdon, Europe, Australia, America, and Canada. We are indebted to the many people who have helped us in our work. I am particularly grateful to Eric Lindsay, who acted opposite Bela Lugosi as Renfield in the British revival of Dracula. His continuing help and encouragement is invaluable.

I am also grateful to the many people who have allowed me to reproduce rare Bela Lugosi photos and memorabilia from their collections. Dennis Phelps has been particularly kind and generous in this respect. His Movie Monster Museum site is highly recommended. 


I have also used the Internet for images used on this blog. Unfortunately, it is often impossible to know the origin of much information on the Internet. If I have inadvertently included anything to which you hold the copywrite or which comes from your collection, please contact me, Andi Brooks, at andobi@hotmail.com to receive credit or to have the item removed.

No researcher works in isolation. I am indebted to all the Lugosi historians who have gone before me and those who continue to research and document his life and work. During the course of my own research I have consulted the following:

The Complete Films of Bela Lugosi by Richard Bojarski (Citadel Press)

A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore (Cult Movies Press) and various magazine articles by Frank J. Dello Stritto

Nightmare of Ecstasy – The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr. by Rudolph Gray (Feral House)

Bela: The Nomad Years, a blog by Bill Kaffenberger

Karloff and Lugosi – The Story of a Haunting Collaboration (McFarland& Co.) by  Gregory William Mank

Lugosi (McFarland & Co.) and Dreams and Nightmares (Collectables) by Gary Don Rhodes

Hollywood Gothic (Andre Deutsch) and Dracula – The Ultimate, Illustrated Edition of the World-Famous Vampire Play (St. Martin’s Press) by David Skal

Dracula or The Undead – A Play in Prologue and Five Acts edited by Sylvia Starshine (Pumpkin Books)

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Any opinions expressed in the editorial content of Vampire Over London: The Bela Lugosi Blog are solely those of Andi Brooks and should not be taken as reflecting those of either Frank J. Dello Stritto or Cult Movies Press. Andi Brooks is responsible for all errors and omissions.

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Last Surviving Silent Film Star Snubbed By The Motion Picture & Television Fund

Posted in Baby Peggy, Bela Lugosi, Diana Serra Cary with tags , , , on November 28, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

Diana Serra Cary aka Baby PeggyDiana Serra Cary

Bela Lugosi’s generosity is legendary. He was always willing to give financial aid to those in need. He was also a vocal supporter of his fellow actors. In 1918 he founded the Free Organization of Theatrical Employees, soon after expanded into the National Trade Union of Actors to include film actors, in Hungary. The following year he give speeches and led demonstrations to highlight the problems facing the nations acting community. In America he was one of the charter members of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1930s. He would, without doubt, have been touched and angered by the current plight of Diana Serra Cary, the former child star Baby Peggy.

Now aged 97, Ms Cary is the last living star of silent cinema. She made her film debut in 1921 at the age of three and subsequently made 150 shorts for Century Studios and appeared in full-length features at Universal. Such was her popularity that she received over 1.2 million fan letters in 1922. Dolls were produced in her likeness and her name was used to endorse products such as sheet music, jewelry and milk. By 1924 she was known as “The Million Dollar Baby” due to her $1.5 million a year salary.

Her star career came to a sudden end in 1925 when her father had a disagreement over her salary with producer Sol Lesser and cancelled her contract. Branded a troublemaker, she was offered only one more film role in the 1920s. She attempted a comeback in the 1930s, but found only a handful of roles, mostly uncredited, and finally retired from acting in 1938 at the age of 20.

Diana Serra Cary aka Baby Peggy

Baby Peggy

Her massive salary in the 1920s should have assured her a very comfortable future, but Cary never saw any of the money she earned. Through a combination of extravagant spending and bad business deals, her parents squandered the entire Baby Peggy fortune. They didn’t even set aside anything for their daughter’s education.

In 2015, still in good health, but growing increasingly frail, Diana Serra Cary applied to the Motion Picture & Television Fund for financial support for modest in-home, non-medical care. Formed 1921, the very year that she entered the film industry, as the Motion Picture Relief Fund by Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith with the slogan “We Take Care of Our Own”, the Motion Picture and Television Fund states that it “belongs to everyone in the entertainment business and our successes are embodied in the spirit of stepping up and giving back — just as our founders envisioned.”

Sadly, that proud claim does not appear to be reflected in the case of Diana Serra Cary. Her application for aid was turned down. This decision has caused outrage and a campaign has been launched to persuade the Motion Picture and Television Fund to reverse their decision. Among Ms Cary’s supporters is the great-niece of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks who released the following statement:

“As a member of the Fairbanks & Pickford families, I urge you to support Baby Peggy (Diana Serra Cary). Being old should be an honored position, especially for one who spent their childhood entertaining millions. Join me in doing a Good Deed for Baby Peggy!”

Bat Head 3Diana Serra Cary aka Baby Peggy


There has been a massive outpouring of support for Ms Cary since her story went public. In response to the many messages he has received from her supporters, the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s President and CEO Bob Beitcher has written an email in which he gives a fuller picture of the situation than was previously public knowledge. As he explains, the situation is complex and not simply black and white. Please take the time to read it in full below.

In a separate email which he sent to me, he wrote, “We are working hard to figuring out a way to support Diana in the appropriate way. Now that she and her son have agreed to allow a geriatric case worker in to see them, I think we will learn more and get creative in enriching her life.”

It is great to hear that the Motion Picture & Television Fund is now able to make active effort’s to help Ms Cary. Let’s now give them the space they need to move forward and formulate a way to help Baby Peggy. We will keep you updated.

You can learn about the Motion Picture and Television Fund mission at http://www.mptf.com/about.


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Email from Bob Beitcher, President & CEO of the Motion Picture & Television Fund:

To all of you who have written me emails in the past few days about Diana Cary (Baby Peggy),

Thank you for taking the time and having the interest in and passion for Diana’s quality of life to compose these emails. She is very fortunate to have you as her advocates and very well deserving of your respect and admiration.

Like most situations, there are two sides to the story, and you have heard one of them. Based on this, you have expressed outrage, told me you’re appalled, accused MPTF of “turning its back,” told me of your disgust, called it “shameful,” repeatedly reminded me that we have no “institutional memory,” and basically threatened MPTF with a slew of negative publicity. Perhaps hearing the other side of the story will cause you to reconsider your harsh judgement. So please indulge me while I offer the second half of the story and perhaps you will think differently.

MPTF is not the first or second needs-based support organization in our industry to turn down the request for in-home support for Diana. We, like the other industry needs-based organizations, provide charitable support based on the financial needs of the individual requesting our help. This is part of our charter with the Attorney General and the basis of our charity (like the other organizations), and the basis upon which thousands of industry members are generous enough to contribute to MPTF to help the thousands who we support in one way or another every year. MPTF does not and cannot provide financial support based on standing as “living legend,” “star status,” “good, wise, kind, and inspirational,” number of credits, number of films, and so on. These would be poor criteria for philanthropy and far afield from the original mission established by Mary Pickford and others, which was to help those in need — actors, writers, directors, editors, cinematographers, grips, costume designers, really anyone who built a career in the industry and has fallen on hard times. One of you suggested that Diana is “effectively not poor enough.” Well, in fact she’s not poor by the measures the three charities supporting members of the entertainment industry use to evaluate such matters. Given that we have limited financial resources and many calls on these every day, we have to direct our charity toward those most in need — not necessarily the oldest, the most famous, the most credited, the biggest star, the most legendary. I hope this makes sense to you.

Additionally, many of you, following the information you have gleaned online, have suggested that by denying Diana our support we have consequently denied her in-home care. In fact, though, Diana is already receiving in-home care through a family member living with her — and receiving free room-and-board. She is not living alone without support! Whatever loans and gifts she is taking from friends, we can only assume, are going to pay her family member. I’m not sure everyone knows or understands that. Diana is in no danger of being homeless. As she herself has noted, she has resources beyond her basic living expenses. The funding being requested from MPTF too (and the other industry-based organizations that have also rejected the proposal) is to pay that family member for the work being performed. In all other cases we have reviewed in our Community Social Services program similar to this, we view the free room-and-board (and other financial support being provided to this family member) as a quid pro quo for providing caregiving, unless the family member is doing this in lieu of another job, which is not the case here. This may not be your understanding of Diana’s current condition. You may be surprised to learn this since it is not how the situation has been represented online. We have offered to send in a geriatric social worker to assess her situation — this is the starting point for all “intake” into our social work/charitable financial assistance program — but until today (Saturday) our offer has been refused. So we have no idea of what kind of in-home care Diana really needs. (Do you really know?) I hope you understand that this is not the way the process for a needs-based organization works.

So like many other things, this situation is a lot more complex, much less black-and-white, than you might realize (and more complex than I can talk about without intruding on Diana’s private life) and our decision not to provide financial support for in-home care without further social work investigation is not a case of turning our backs, lacking compassion, failing to understand her place in film history, or anything else. Where there is a need, where we have had a social worker perform the necessary due diligence, we are there for industry members at the rate of $1 million a year just in charitable financial assistance. (This does not take into consideration our financial support of industry members living on our campus and other community benefits we provide to the tune of over $20 million a year.) But we can’t support industry members for the reason that, as one of you wrote, it wouldn’t be “a big burden” for us.

Stay tuned as we try to move this forward as expeditiously as we can in a mission-based and needs-based process. We are challenged every day to remain good stewards of the vision of our founders, including Mary Pickford, and the philanthropy of our donors, and this is just one more occasion where we have to review our guidelines to make certain that we are being equitable and reasonable and smart about allocating our charitable dollars appropriately.

I can’t close this email without reminding all of you so committed to the film industry and its seniors that we are supported through philanthropy from others like you. Please visit us at www.mptf.com to learn more about MPTF and donate.

And once again, thanks so much to all of you for caring!

With warm regards and much appreciation,




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

Posted in Bela Lugosi, Ed Wood, Jason Insalaco, Kelton the Cop, Paul Marco, Plan 9 From Outer Space with tags , , , , , on November 27, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

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.


Bela Lugosi and Dracula Return To The Big Screen

Posted in Bela Lugosi, Carlos Villarías, Dracula, Lupita Tovar, Spanish Dracula with tags , , , , , on October 19, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

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 fathomevents.com

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

Posted in 1951 British Tour Of Dracula, Arthur Hosking, Bela Lugosi, Bela Lugosi Jnr., Dracula cape, Eric Lindsay, Lillian Lugosi, Lugosi cape, Ralph Wilson, Richard Butler, Sheila Wynn with tags , , , , , on October 18, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi
Ann CroftAnn Croft
(Courtesy of http://www.davidcroft.co.uk/)
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.

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

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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 premier 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 http://www.davidcroft.co.uk/)

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

Posted in A Cask of Amontillado, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Extraordinary Tales, Guillermo del Toro, Julian Sands, Roger Corman, The Black Cat, The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart with tags , , , , , , , on September 25, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

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.

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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

Posted in Bela Lugosi, Dracula, Murder by Television, The Ape Man, The Return of Chandu with tags , , , , on September 21, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

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).

Bela Lugosi, A Generous Star – An extract from the 2nd edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain

Posted in 1951 British Tour Of Dracula, Bela Lugosi, Dracula, Frank Dello Stritto, Joyce Wilson, Lillian Lugosi, Ralph Wilson, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain with tags , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

Vampire Over London 2nd Edition

Originally published in 2000, an expanded and revised 2nd edition of the critically acclaimed Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain by Frank J. Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks was published this July by Cult Movies Press. Taking an in-depth look at Lugosi’s 1951 British stage tour of Dracula and the three films he made in Britain, Mystery of the Mary Celeste (1935), Dark Eyes of London (1939) and Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1951), the new edition contains not only newly discovered information and images, but also additional first-hand accounts from people who worked with and saw Bela Lugosi as he toured across Britain. One of the most fascinating newly-added accounts comes from Joyce Wilson, the widow of Ralph Wilson, the Dracula stage tour’s 2nd Van Helsing. Joyce traveled with her husband on the tour and was able to gain a unique insight into the production. The following extract from the book is based on Joyce’s recollection of her husband taking over the role of Van Helsing from the tour’s original vampire hunter, Arthur Hosking.

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About the same moment that Arthur Hosking told Alfred Beale that he would leave the tour in a week, character actor Ralph Wilson attended the polo matches in Roehampton (a suburb southwest of London) with his wife Joyce and her sister, as well as their vicar and his wife. After the match, as the Wilsons walked down the street to their flat, they heard the phone continuously ringing until they could reach it. Wilson’s agent, Dorothy Jane Ward, asked if he could go to Leicester the next day to take over Van Helsing as soon as possible. Could he meet with the manager and stage director, Sunday night in Leicester? He reported as asked, and saw the script for the first time. Only in Leicester did he appreciate the size of the role that he had just accepted, and the amount of dialogue to learn. On Monday morning Ralph called Joyce. He needed her to help him prepare. His World War II combat service had left him hard of hearing, and he could not easily rely on spoken queues or prompters during a performance.

Bela Lugosi and Arthur HoskingBela Lugosi with Arthur Hosking, the tour’s original Van Helsing

The outgoing Wilson mingled with the company in his free time, quite the opposite of Hosking. Onstage and off, Wilson was the new energy the play needed. As a career soldier, he had an immediate rapport with the reserved Sheila, daughter of a Colonel. As a lover of art and culture, Wilson took to the aloof David Dawson. Except for two weeks to have her tonsils removed, Joyce would be with Ralph husband for the weeks on the road to come. Both were good mixers, and soon had good friends among the company. The Wilsons already knew Eric Lindsay, and became close to John Saunders.

Another surprise for Wilson in the script handed him in Leicester was how small Dracula’s role is compared to Van Helsing’s. How would a world famous star in that smaller part—who would also be directing the rehearsals—take to the newcomer? 

Raph WilsonRalph Wilson

By mid-week in Leicester, Wilson was ready for rehearsals, conducted in the afternoons before the evening performances that still featured Hosking. Ralph and Joyce arrived early. Stage director Tommy Muschamp confronted them. He did not want Joyce in the theatre. He did not want anyone not involved in the rehearsal present. Ralph tried to explain that he really needed her with him. Before the back-&-forth went too far, Bela entered. He introduced himself with a flourish, and took Joyce by the arm. “You must come and sit with me for all the rehearsal,” said Bela as he guided her to the third row center, “and then you will be better able to help your husband to study the part.” Muschamp bit his lip, turned, and went backstage. 

Bela soon realized Arthur Hosking and Ralph Wilson were as different on stage as off, and made many changes to production to suit the new personality. The Wilsons thought Bela’s reshaping the play very effective. Neither director nor star could hear very well. When Bela called out directions, the other actors had to repeat to Ralph what Bela had said. Ralph would reply, and Joyce repeated his words to Bela—perhaps explaining why Bela insisted that Joyce sit with him. 

The rehearsal went smoothly until the key scene of Van Helsing’s confrontation with Dracula. After a few go-throughs, Bela stood close to Ralph, and said with emphasis and loud enough for all to hear: 

This is your scene, Ralph.   The spot will be on you and I will move back into the shadows so that all the attention is focussed on you! 

Such generosity from a star particularly impressed Joyce. 


Leicester Theatre Royal ProgrammeRalph Wilson made his debut as Van Helsing at the Saturday matinee performance at the Palace Theatre in  Leicester on August 4th, 1951. 


In the weeks to come, the Lugosis and the Wilsons became great friends. Joyce particularly warmed to Lillian: 

I spent a lot of time in Bela’s dressing room with Lillian during the show.   We would have liked to go out together to a film, or perhaps for a drink, but Bela was obsessively possessive of Lillian and could not bear her to be out of the theatre during the show.  

Lillian, as well as Bela, talked incessantly of their son, whom they had not seen in so many months. 


Sheffield Lyceum Theatre ProgrammePrinted in advance, the programme for Ralph Wilson’s first full week as Van Helsing at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield listed his predecessor, Arthur Hosking, in the role.


Wilson first played Van Helsing at the Leicester Saturday matinee (August 4). No back stage staff was available as prompter, and Wilson felt adrift. Again to Muschamp’s fury, Bela insisted that Joyce do the job. Bela fortified Ralph, as he had Alfred Beale three months before, with few Benzedrine tablets. Ralph finished the performance with only one prompt, provided by Joyce through the fireplace.

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Vampire Over London 2nd Edition

Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain 2nd Edition

Today, 60 years after his death, horror movie star Bela Lugosi remains a Hollywood legend. This ground-breaking book uncovers the untold tale of his 1951 Dracula stage tour across Britain. That tour, like the three films Lugosi made in Britain in 1935, 1939 and 1951, is often overlooked in his life’s story. This book tells the full story at last, and adds to a legacy unmatched in Hollywood history. The tale of 1951 also delves in the anything-goes world of post World War II British music halls and theatre. The rich history of British stage, combined with Lugosi’s unique career and persona, makes a compelling history. Originally published in 2000, the critically acclaimed biography of Bela Lugosi was the product of over a decade of extensive research by the authors and was the first book to study a particular, and neglected, period of Bela Lugosi’s life and work.

The expanded and updated second edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain, which contains 132 more pages than the 1st edition, can be ordered for $30 plus $3.99 shipping from Cult Movies Press at http://www.cultmoviespress.com (International shipping rates are available upon request). It is also available at Amazon International http://amzn.com/0970426933 and Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0970426933

To obtain a discount on your order, contact Frank Dello Stritto directly at fdellostritto@hotmail.com

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“Vampire Over London, which is beautifully produced and of a quality we seldom see today, is a model of documentation and informed and entertaining writing. I was so fascinated by it that I gave up virtually an entire weekend to read it. I cannot claim to be a big fan of Bela Lugosi, but the authors’ enthusiasm, clarity and intelligence were such that I was mesmerized as much as any of Dracula’s victims. A magnificent book.”– Anthony Slide, Classic Images

“In this impressively researched book the authors’ combined sense of detail is remarkable…Dello Stritto and Brooks cover the six months of the touring company with three-dimensional clarity…you can almost smell the cigars Lugosi smoked while standing in the wings.”– Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

“Just when you thought everything that could possibly be written about the classic horror stars had already seen print, along comes the fascinating Vampire Over London. It’s an admirable book, written by that rare breed – film historians who actually know how to write…it’s essential.”- Richard Valley, Scarlet Street

“This tremendous new volume manages to offer a wealth of new information! A must for Lugosi fanatics…the authors have done their research on this subject, and the result is the final word on this portion of Lugosi’s life…It’s a humorous, informative and often touching tribute to a little known slice of Bela’s life.”- Shock Cinema

“Genre cinema historians Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks perform an invaluable service for Bela Buffs. Their painstakingly researched tome is a book no self-respecting Lugosi lover can afford to be without.” – The Phantom, Videoscope

“An indispensable tome…exhaustive…Physically, the book is as impressive as the research and writing…will quickly become a collector’s item.” – Tom Weaver, Fangoria

“…a remarkable book…a carefully researched work of scholarship with a concern for accuracy usually reserved for much weightier subjects.” –  Henry Nicolella, Castle of Frankenstein

“A superb piece of literature! I think Bela must be resting in peace at long last in his satin-lined coffin.” – John C. Mather, Co-Producer of the 1951 British Dracula tour

“A really splendid piece of research, it has to be definitive.” – Richard Eastham, Director of the 1951 British Dracula tour

“It is a wonderful epitaph for a very special person.” – Richard Butler, 1951 British Dracula tour cast member

“If you’re a Lugosi fan, the book is an essential…it also serves as an excellent history of an era of British stage history that simply doesn’t exist anymore..If you possess the first edition you are a fortunate person, but you are even more fortunate if you have both editions.” – Doug Gibson, Standard Examiner

For those who love Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) or Dracula, and you know who you are, this book is essential…Dello Stritto and Brooks do not drown in their own research. They are scintillating raconteurs, and this 300+ page book moves along as breezily as a fascinating dinner conversation…This is a terrific book, not to be missed.” – James Abbott, The Jade Sphinx

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 Related Pages

“Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain” New Expanded Second Edition

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

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

Vampire Bats And Devil Girls From Mars: Dracula Producer John Chartres Mather Interviewed By Frank J. Dello Stritto.

“Child, never look into my eyes!” The Hypnotic Stare of Bela Lugosi

The Day I Met Bela Lugosi by Derek R. Pickering.

Knee-Deep in Ice Cream, Smoke & Wayward Rubber Bats: An Interview With Richard Butler by Andi Brooks

An Encounter With Bela Lugosi by Roy Tomlinson

When Bela Lugosi Came To Britain

When Dracula Invaded England


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