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 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.

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.

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In 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

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If 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.

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To order a copy of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain

 please contact Frank Dello Stritto at:

fdellostritto@hotmail.com

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Reviews

“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. 

http://www.moviemonstermuseum.com 

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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Disclaimer

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

Posted in 1951 British Tour Of Dracula, Bela Lugosi, Devil Girl From Mars, Iris Russell, John C. Mather, Patricia Laffan, Sonny Tufts with tags , , , , , , , on May 3, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

John Chartres MatherJohn Chartres Mather (Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

John Chartres Mather had been in theatre since age 12.  Taking his lead from Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals, the young man staged local revues in his native Edinburgh.  After a year as stagehand in Dundee repertory, he took on London.  Through the war years, he launched musical revues to entertain British troops.  John also did tenures as stage director on the road and on the West End.  By the late 1940s, still in his mid-20s, John was producing his own musical revues. John’s tastes in productions tended towards extravaganzas, and he always over-reached a bit, “flying before I could walk” as he described it.  Musicals were expensive undertakings; they lost big when they failed and earned big when they succeeded.  Fine Feathers temporarily made him rich.  His labor of love, Out of This World, folded in previews, a devastating setback financially and personally.  Musicals were John’s first love, but the expense and recent track records of the big productions he favored made them difficult to finance. John needed to get into something new.  With his partners George Routledge and Gordon White, he formed Chartres Productions in early 1951 and produced Bela Lugosi’s British tour of Dracula.

Poster mock-up 2John’s mock-up of a poster for the tour

(Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

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Frank J. Dello Stritto interviewed John Mather at his home in south England on August 8, 1999:

Frank Dello Stritto: How did you decide to produce Dracula?

John C. Mather:  I was having drinks with a few friends in London. Charles Feldman, head of Famous Artists, was there. There were three big talent agencies at the time—William Morris, MCA and Famous Artists.  Charlie had heard that Bela Lugosi’s agent in the US was trying to interest someone in Dracula.  By coincidence, Gordon White had mentioned it to me also a few weeks or months before. So, that was when I first thought about it seriously.

FDS: How did that work—putting together a production?

JCM: First, I had to make sure I could book it.  I took the idea to the theatre agents.  The West End theatres wouldn’t even talk to me until it had toured. There were three big theatre circuits for the tours—the Stoll Circuit, Moss-Empire, Howard & Wyndham.  They each had about 10 or so “Number 1” theatres around the country.  Then there were “Number 2” and “Number 3” theatres in the smaller towns.  You could make money even at the number 3s, since there wasn’t much else to do in those places.  Deals with theatres ranged from 50/50 to 60/40 splits, depending on a lot of things: production, stars, publicity budget.  Booking agents wanted to see my budget for publicity posters in detail: 300 double posters, 150 four-crowns, 6,000 throwaways, placards, etc. The plan was always to get into the West End.  Early in the tour, I had a verbal agreement with the Garrick theatre: the production then playing there was expected to drop below its box office threshold soon. After 3 weeks below the limit, the theatre could give it a two week notice.  Then “Dracula” could come in.  Tour for 6 to 8 weeks and then into the Garrick Theatre—that was the plan.  I had dates lined up for the tour, and would have cancelled them if the call came from the West End.  It never did.  I never intended to tour for 24 weeks.

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Poster mock-up 1John’s mock-up of a poster for the tour

(Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

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FDS: Why were you interested in Dracula?

JCM: In 1951, Americans-in-the-flesh were in vogue.  Danny Kaye had been coming over regularly, and there was a demand for more. I think that’s when Judy Garland started coming over as well.  Just prior to Dracula, George Routledge did “fronting up” for a Jane Russell revue.  And I knew I could pull Dracula together pretty quickly.

FDS: Fronting up?

JCM: Fronting up—supplying the supporting acts that come on before the star attraction.

FDS: What was your budget like?

JCM: I invested about £2,000. Bill Williams about £1,000, and £2,000 each from other backers.  I don’t remember who they were. I think one of the backers was named “Burton,” in real estate or something like that.  He was dating a “Renee” who was in some of my musical reviews.  I just doesn’t remember their full names.  So, about £7,000.  For that I could get the show started and keep it on the road for as long as I had to.

FDS: What about Routledge & White?

JCM: They were my partners in Chartres Productions, but they never had much to do with Dracula.  George Routledge liked the idea, as I recall, but he wasn’t interested in investing in it or working on it.  Gordon White thought it was a terrible idea—didn’t think it would succeed at all. He thought we were crazy, but he handled the negotiations to contract Bela.

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Rough for advance publicityJohn’s rough idea for advance publicity for Dracula

(Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

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FDS: All the programs for Dracula mention Routledge & White very prominently.

JCM: Well, they were my partners, and we used the same office, so I put their names on the programs.  But they really didn’t have much to do with it. Gordon White quit the business and worked with Jimmy Hanson when he set up the Hanson Trust.  Gordon died a few years ago in California, a very wealthy man.  George Routledge had some legal and money problems and left the business a few years after Dracula. He lives in Denmark now.

FDS: Was Lee Ephraim a backer?

JCM: No, he wasn’t.  I knew Lee well, and his partner Betty Farmar.  I had worked for Lee on Waltz Time and Lee had been a backer on Out Of This World.

FDS: How about Nigel Ballantine?

JCM: Oh, no!  Nigel was in jail by then!

FDS: In jail?

JCM: He ran off with the leading lady and all the money from one of his productions, and got caught.

FDS: What was your impression of Bela?

JCM: I met Bela and Lillian when they landed in Southampton.  Bela looked as if he were going to die.  He always looked that way. Bela was very charming, very humble, not conceited in the least.  For the first 2 or 3 days of rehearsals, he only walked through his part.  I was wondering about cancelling the whole thing. On the third day, Dickie Eastham asked the cast to do their read-throughs in character.  Bela stood straight and awed everyone.  Bela had always looked like a tired old man—very gray, very old and bent, years older than his actual age.  He spoke very slowly, softly and mumbled a bit.  This all changed when he was onstage—the transformation was complete: he looked 40 again, erect and towering.  When he was Dracula, he had this twinkle in his eye. He was so charming, and then so evil. It was magnificent.

*Bela & Lillian Arrive in EnglandLillian and Bela Lugosi arrive in England aboard the S.S. Mauretania

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FDS: Tell me about your first meeting with Bela.

JCM: I think Dickie and me both went to Southampton to meet Bela and Lillian.  I put them into a hired limousine and hurried ahead to London. I had the flat stocked with goodies, and a bottle of champagne waiting.  I had made a reservation at Carlton Towers, a table by the window for 6:00. Lillian said “No, Bela’s tired and he’s going straight to bed.”  We dined there later, several times, and it became a favorite of theirs.

FDS: I have been warned that you and Lillian didn’t always see eye to eye.

JCM: Oh, she was awful! Awful!  She loathed me.  It was mutual loathing from the first day.

FDS: Well, I must say that everyone else on the tour speaks well of her.

JCM: Really?  Well, she was an extraordinary woman, but a pain-in-the-ass. She took notes through the rehearsals, and interfered.  I had it out with her once.  After that, she sat in the back of the stalls; but still kept those notes. Lillian looked tough and was a strong woman, physically.  At dress rehearsal, a hamper was in the way.  Lillian lifted it and set it on the table.  I went and looked inside—it was filled with books and files.  I was curious and nudged it to check its weight, and wondered if I could have lifted it.  Lillian seemed desperately unhappy.  I think she had a terrible inferiority complex.  She had a strident voice, heavy Chicago accent.  Nothing ever pleased her—in restaurants and the theatre, anywhere. She browbeat Bela, who just seemed to tune her out and accept it.  She was bitter about how Bela was treated—Hollywood had once been at his feet, studios phoning constantly, but now they shunned him.

FDS: Again, the company members we’ve talked to have quite different memories of her.  If anything, they think Bela controlled her life.

JCM: I think Lillian bullied Bela, a bit—treated him like a child.  At dinner she did  everything but cut his meat.  She sent food back in restaurants.  I think Bela was used to this, since he just munched away.  She was always at the side of the stage—every night.  Something was always wrong that she’d complain about.

(Authors’ Note: In follow-up interviews, I pressed Dickie Eastham on John Mather’s memories of Lillian.  Dickie stands by his much more favorable memories of Lillian, but strongly confirms that John and Lillian simply never got along. “It was chemical,” Dickie told mes, “it started as soon as they met.”  Lillian undoubtedly could be fiercely protective of Bela.  John, as the producer of a tour that was not quite what she and Bela expected, saw a side of that affection that few others did.)

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Bela Lugosi in the British Tour of DraculaBela Lugosi in John’s production of Dracula

(Courtesy of Andi Brooks)

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FDS: I have to ask you something directly.  There has always been a persistent claim that Bela was never paid for the Dracula tour.

JCM: Oh, he was definitely paid. Everyone, every actor in every show I ever produced was paid.  I treated Bela and Lillian well.  I didn’t want them saying anything negative like that about me.  I couldn’t survive long in this business with people saying I didn’t pay them.

FDS: Any special memories of Bela?

JCM: Bela was always marvelous, once you got to know him. At our first meeting in Southampton, I thought he looked so feeble and I really feared for the production, but he never let us down. I dined out with them often, especially during rehearsals in April.  I always watched Bela’s intake of alcohol.  I did that with all the stars of my shows.  He never drank that much in front of me.  Lillian saw that he didn’t.  Before dinner, I would go to their flat on Chesham Road to pick them up.  Once, while Lillian got ready, Bela sat me down on the sofa, and brought out a huge scrapbook of old clippings.  They were from his days in Hungary.  They were all in Hungarian of course, and I couldn’t read anything but Bela’s name in the headline.  They were obvious rave reviews.  Bela went through them one by one.  It was very important to him, I think, for me to know about his days before Dracula.

FDS: Do you have any memories of the rehearsals.

JCM: The rehearsals started in bare rooms above the pub on Pont Street.  For the second week, we moved to the Duke of York Theatre.  It had a one-set play on at the time.  So, we could rehearse during the day, and put the set back in place before the performance.  It was a courtesy that theatres extended to productions in rehearsal. I was at some rehearsals, but only to observe.  Dickie and I would meet afterwards to discuss how it was going.  If there was any problem, I would talk to Bela about it over dinner.  But things went smoothly enough.

FDS: How about the dress rehearsal?

JCM: That’s a different story.  Things didn’t go well.  The effects did not work.  The smoke took seven seconds to get through the pipes.  Too much smoke and the house was filled.  Too little and it had no effect.  Bela had to disappear in the smoke—no smoke and he was left standing there. It took forever to work out. Lighting effects were a bit difficult—but nothing compared to the musicals I had produced.  Those were really complex.  So, I thought Dracula would go pretty smoothly.  But it didn’t.  Strand Electric—that’s where I got the equipment from—was supposed to send a man down to Brighton for the week, but never did.  I was very annoyed.  We kept the cast until two in the morning, working through the lighting effects.  We let the cast go to get some rest.  The rest of the company stayed until eight in the morning.  Dickie and I went to breakfast and commiserated.  But we got them straight, and the opening went well.  The reviews were fine.

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Brighton Programme CoverDracula opened at the Theatre Royal in Brighton on April 30th, 1951

(Courtesy of Andi Brooks)

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FDS: You had your own lighting equipment?  Wouldn’t the theatre have that?

JCM: Yes, we had our own.  We had to. On tour, you never know what the theatres have.  So, we had to able to do it ourselves.

FDS: How did the tour do?

JCM: Dracula had too high a weekly expense to make money on the road.  I had to get it into the West End, and didn’t.  So, I lost money.  Not a lot. Some weeks, it made money, some weeks it didn’t.  Dracula was not cheap to produce.  There was Bela’s salary.  There were nurses at every performance; so St. John’s Ambulance had to be paid a contribution.  There were 3 or 4 musicians every week to play at the intermissions.  We had long intermissions, and had to fill them with something.

FDS: How was the company to deal with?

JCM: It was a nice company—not much trouble, not many complaints.  Whenever the tour was near London, I would catch the show to check on things.  I’d circulate around the dressing rooms talking to everyone I could.  It was a good cast.  Most of the problems mentioned to me, I referred to Alfred Beale, so as not to usurp his authority.

FDS: So, Beale was in charge on the road?

JCM: Yes, he would call me every night to report on the box office and the performance.  He was a good man and a good business director. He had a good heart.  He’d be tough with the company when he had to be, but then he’d apologize and undo whatever good he had done.  But he was a good manager and I was glad to have him.

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Brighton - Bela, Arthur Hosking, Richard Butler and David DawsonBela Lugosi, Arthur Hosking, Richard Butler and David Dawson in John’s production of Dracula (Courtesy of Andi Brooks)

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FDS: The programs list a Douglas Bodkin as publicity manager.  We’ve been looking for him.  Do you have any memories of him?

JCM: Not really. He was the advance publicity man. He did all his work Mondays and Tuesdays—lining up the publicity, arranging for a few things.  But I didn’t know him well then, and I’ve heard nothing about him since.

FDS: The programs also list a W. H. Williams as your co-producer.  What about him?

JCM: Bill Williams was the head of Merton Park Studios.  He was more of a backer than a producer, but I felt I owed him something, so I billed him as co-producer.  Bill invested in Dracula and has also put money into Out of This World.  He supplied the smoke machine and the bat that you’ve heard so much about.  Honestly, I hadn’t heard any of the stories about them breaking down until I spoke to you.  By the way, I do remember that my sister, Rosemary, attended a theatre garden party with Bela.  For some reason, Lillian couldn’t go, so my sister went with him.

FDS: Theatre garden party?

JCM: There were theatre garden parties and movie garden parties.  They would be held on  large outdoor lawns.  Shepperton Studios lot was a typical place. People would go and meet actors and actresses. Stars would sit at tables and sign autographs.  Sometimes they would be driven to different sites through the day.  For producers, they were a bit of a nuisance, but a good place to show off actors.  Rank studios always paraded out its starlets.  I remember I saw Honor Blackman and Joan Collins at these parties.  You can speak to my sister about her day with Bela.

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Bela Lugosi at the Sunday Pictorial Film Garden Party.Seeing StarsBela Lugosi at the Sunday Pictorial Film Garden Party at Morden Hall Park in Surrey. (From the British Pathe newsreel Seeing Stars)

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FDS: How close did you come to getting Dracula into the West End?

JCM: Very close.  The Garrick wanted us after its current play closed, but that play—I forget what it was—hung on and on. I also had discussions with the Duke of York and The Ambassador, and they were very interested. If we could have kept the tour going, I would have gotten it into one of them.

FDS: Why did the tour end?

JCM: Touring is hard work, and I never planned that we would tour for six months.  Late in the tour, I received a call from Alfred Beale, “I’m a bit worried about Bela,” he said, “He came on in Act III, and started with Act I dialogue.”  I went and met with Bela, and realized how tired he was.  You see, he always looked so tired offstage but was always so good on stage.  I had just learned to ignore it, but he was really exhausted. We were discussing some details in his dressing room when Lillian came in.  “It’s late,” she said.  She took out some sort of kit, and gave Bela an injection.  “You know, he’s diabetic.”  I knew that wasn’t true.  I had heard about some kind of injections, but didn’t think much about it, since Bela was always so good onstage.

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Dracula newspaper advertisement for the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.The end of the road for Dracula in Britain, the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth (Courtesy of Andi Brooks)

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FDS: Is that when you decided to end the tour?

JCM: No, but I didn’t quite know what to do.  I still kept looking for bookings for the tour, and had lined up a few dates near Newcastle & Liverpool, but Lillian said, “Oh, don’t put us up there again.” She wanted to keep the travelling to a minimum.  Two or three weeks later I visited Bela backstage in Derby.  Lillian wasn’t there.  I told Bela that we had to play those dates or not play at all.  He looked at me a long time.  “John, I can’t go on,” he said, “It’s taking too much out of me.  Please finish it quickly.”  I put up the closing notices that week.

FDS: But you played Portsmouth two weeks later.

JCM: Yes, I had already signed for that week, and I had to give the company two weeks notice.  Those were the rules.  Portsmouth was a bad week at the box office.

FDS: When was the last time you saw Bela?

JCM: I visited them after the tour ended, before he started filming the movie he made.  He still looked very tired.  I had no second thoughts.  He sat in a chair and we just talked.  He said he was glad the tour was over, but that he had enjoyed it.  He told me some anecdotes from the tour, and we said goodbye. As I was leaving Lillian gave me a hug and thanked me.  I was surprised that she did that.  It was a side of her that I had never seen.

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Iris Russell and SonnyTufts in Shadow of a ManIris Russell and Sonny Tufts in Shadow of a Man (1952)

(Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

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*John Mather lost some money on the Dracula tour, but a year later he tried the same formula with a tour of the mystery, Shadow of a Man, starring Sonny Tufts.  The tour did fine until Tufts, battling a drinking problem, came onstage between acts, told the audience who-done-it, and then launched into his own stage act using a piano that was part of the set.  The audience loved the surprise, the theatre management did not. Any performance on a British stage had to be approved by the censors beforehand, and such improvisation exposed to the theatre to legal action, especially if Tufts’ act contained any adult humor.  Word spread quickly throughout the theatre chains, and the tour soon ended.

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Devil Girl From MarsPatricia Laffan as the Devil Girl From Mars (1954)

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In London John worked for the Danziger brothers, producing 26 episodes of Mayfair Mysteries for Paramount. In the early days of television, many American shows were made in Britain due to the lower costs.  John had 40 days to produce the entire series. Character actor Paul Douglas flew in for a single day from Los Angeles, filmed all 26 introductions and epilogues, and flew back without staying the night.  Incredibly, filming completed almost two weeks early.  The Danizigers thus had 10 days of paid studio space to use; launching John on his most enduring and infamous achievement.  Devil Girl From Mars was written in a few days, as John telephoned around London for available actors and had the sets prepared.  AtomAge, British suppliers of latex, the latest wonder material, cut him a good deal on the Devil Girl’s costume.  Pat Laffan, in the title role, liked the feel of it and loved how it looked.  John took screenwriting credit for Devil Girl From Mars, but in the chaos of low budget, tight schedule filmmaking, everyone did everything.  A wonderfully awful movie of the type that only the 1950s could sire resulted. Like many early science fiction epics, Devil Girl From Mars’ clumsiness and naiveté gives it a charm that delights its fans and mortifies its detractors.

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Anthony Newley, John Chartres Mather and Roger Moore, October 1968John with Anthony Newley (left) and Roger Moore (right) in October 1968 (Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

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In 1954, John established a talent agency in Rome, where American movie companies were doing lots of filming due to the low production costs. He ran John C. Mather International, Ltd. for many years, before selling out to the William Morris Agency.  He then ran the London office of the Morris agency.  In 1973, he returned to theatre production.  His extravagant stage version of  The Avengers featured terrific special effects, with a helicopter crashing onstage in the finale. Audiences loved it, but it closed in London after seven weeks—too expensive to turn a profit.  Following his retirement from show business, John took up writing, and has published several novels to date.  His as-yet unpublished autobiography, Hollywood on the Tiber, focuses on his days as a talent agent in Italy.

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Related Pages

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

Bela Lugosi Scholar Frank J. Dello Stritto is Monster Kid of the Year!

Posted in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi, Chandu the Magician, Dracula, Frank Dello Stritto, Mark of the Vampire, Return of the Vampire with tags , , , , , , on April 30, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

Frank J Dello Stritto (1)

I’m delighted that my Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain co-author Frank J. Dello Stritto has been voted “Monster Kid of the Year” in this year’s Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. Frank has been researching and writing about horror films since the 1960s. Hailed as one of the “most eloquent chroniclers of horror films,” he has earned a dedicated following among both his peers and fans of vintage monster and horror films through his many articles in Cult Movies Magazine, his contributions to books by Bob Brier, Bob Madison and Gary Don Rhodes’ Lugosi, and his own books, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain, A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore – The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films, and I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It – Growing Up in the 1950s & 1960s with Television Reruns & Old Movies. In addition to his writing, Frank is a popular speaker on the film convention circuit, a frequent guest on Joe Viglione’s Visual Radio.

Announcing Frank’s award, the Rondo Awards’ David Colton wrote, ”Growing up in New Jersey in the 50s with Cold War jitters and a black-and-white TV as companions is usually all it takes to create a ‘Monster Kid.’ That’s exactly what happened to Frank J. Dello Stritto. The experience, happily and smartly documented in his book, ‘I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It,’ led Frank to a lifetime of horror research and writings, especially about Bela Lugosi and the edges of the Monster Boom. But few books capture so perfectly what it was like to grow up surrounded by monsters, Mickey Mantle, and nuclear madness. For his month-by-month chronicle of a time that shaped us all (whether you were born yet or not), Frank J. Dello Stritto is our Monster Kid of the Year.”

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I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It

I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It – Growing Up in the 1950s & 1960s with Television Reruns & Old Movies, is divided into five sections. Book 1 is Frank’s first eight years: fitting his real life into what he saw on children’s television, his hero worship of characters like Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett and New York Yankee Mickey Mantle, and his discovery that television and movies were two faces of the same industry. Book 2 sees Frank and his family moving to the suburbs, where he discovers the joys of Saturday afternoons at the movies, and of 1940s movies on after-school television. Also, the discovery, thanks mainly to the Cuban Missile Crisis, that the real world could be as scary as any horror movie. Book 3 describes the rise and fall of television shows like The Twlight Zone, Thriller, and The Outer Limits. In Book 4 Frank first sees, at age 11, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, and forever becomes a monster movie fan. Finally, in Book 5, Frank focuses on his lifelong fandom of Bela Lugosi. That Book’s first chapter is appropriately entitled:

 OBSESSION

Dwight FryeDwight Frye as Renfield in Dracula (1931)

He came and stood beneath my window in the moonlight. And he promised me things. Not in words, but by doing them. By making them happen…  – Renfield in Dracula

Even vampires  know the dangers of obsession. In Dracula, the vampire’s slave becomes so obsessed with his master that he puts the vampire hunters on Dracula’s trail. In Return of the Vampire, the werewolf slave is devoted until betrayed. Then he turns on his master. In Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein Lawrence Talbot is obsessed with Count Dracula, and travels the world to destroy him.

My search for Bela Lugosi is not the search for Bela Lugosi. Through a half century of fandom, I have met many people with varying degrees of obsession over movies stars dead many years before they were born. More than a few obsess over a horror movie actor who made a handful of fine movies, a lot of bad movies, and died in relative obscurity when I was six years old. My search is exactly that: mine, a personal adventure that I explain to others only with difficulty. My obsession with Lugosi fills something inside me.

Bat Head 3Bela Lugosi in Abbott and Costello Meet FrankensteinBela Lugosi as Dracula in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

My Saturday afternoons watching old movies make me a fan of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan, Basil Rathbone’s Holmes, and Nigel Bruce’s Watson; of Lon Chaney’s lonely souls and the mad doctors of Boris Karloff, Lionel Atwill, and George Zucco; of the bizarre characters portrayed by Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Of many comedians: Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, Olsen & Johnson, and The Marx Brothers. None approach the impact of Bela Lugosi. On seeing his Count Dracula in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, I become something more than a fan.

I have no memory of Lugosi before seeing Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1961. Sometime in my earliest years, I had seen You’ll Find Out and The Body Snatcher, and have only vague recollections of Lugosi. His swami in You’ll Find Out delivers an eerie touch in a séance scene. In The Body Snatcher, Lugosi does little more than die, but his body is pulled from a vat of brine in the movie’s grisly scene. Such moments stay with a child, and might have made the same impression had another actor played the roles.

I have a primordial memory of Lugosi from Chandu on the Magic Island. A tiger in a pit threatens a man dressed in white. That image is all that I remember. I am very young, and sketch the scene in crayon for Momma’s approval. A tiger’s paw, talons cocked, ready to dig into the heel of the fleeing man in white. My masterpiece is long gone; but I remember it clearly. Lugosi inspired it, as he races through the catacombs of lost Lemuria. Does my life-long fascination with Lugosi spring from nothing more than an ancient memory of terrors that my little self had to capture in a drawing? I will never know.    

Bat Head 3Bela Lugosi in Return of the Vampire“He always played vampires.” Bela Lugosi in The Return of the Vampire (1943)

Before Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein begins at 2:00 pm on June 24, 1961, I am already a big fan of the comedy team. That afternoon I become a fan of the classic monsters, and devoted follower of anything Lugosi. I leave that hour and a half in front of the television with a resolve not only to see all of Lugosi’s movies, but to know more about his life. That very afternoon, as Momma prepares supper, I ask her about Lugosi. Momma is a font of all things Hollywood, but for Lugosi she only says “he always played vampires.” I look forward to all these great vampire movies, but soon learn that they were very few. Lugosi plays “real” vampires in only three movies, and in two other films plays characters who turn out not to be vampires at all. That disappointment proves one of many as I embarked on my quest.

The monster magazines often publish biographies of Lugosi. I read them all, but they are basically the same short pieces, maybe with different photos. Lugosi is a big reason that I start reading monster magazines, and a big reason that I stop. I want more than the typical fan magazine bios. When I learn that research libraries and newspaper archives exist, I descend on them convinced of the Lugosi arcania to be found. After my first visits, I suspect that archived facts of Lugosi’s life are as few as his vampire movies. The libraries hold many treasures, but yield their secrets slowly and only after many painstaking hours.  

Bat Head 3Mark of the Vampire 1 by Clarence Sinclair BullHe could be frightening in a way that other actors in horror never achieved.” Bela Lugosi in Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Why Lugosi? Why anyone? What are fans like me looking for?

Obsessive fandom is now part of popular culture. Supermarket tabloids regularly feature stories of celebrity-stalkers, and of fans who turn to plastic surgery to look like—in their own minds, to become—their idols. In the 1980s, the movies exploit the dark side of fandom in The Man With Bogart’s Face, The Seduction, King of Comedy, Garbo Talks, Misery. In Fade to Black, a killer stalks his victims dressed as his movie idols. One of them is Lugosi’s Dracula.

I have met many ardent fans of celebrities. For most, the shrines are part of their youths, abandoned long ago. Since 1961, I have always had a shrine of sorts to Lugosi in my home. First, a modest wall space in my brother David’s and my bedroom that Momma lets me use, then my half of my college dorm room, and finally the better part of my bachelor apartment. Marriage and reality in general temper my expansive ways, but at least a small part of where I live is dedicated to Lugosi’s memory.

Boys need heroes, but I have no need of a new one. In June 1961, Mickey Mantle, my great idol, races with Roger Maris towards Babe Ruth’s home run record. Mantle, like Davy Crockett and Superman, is for me adolescent hero worship. My fascination with Lugosi is more. I see beyond Dracula, and wonder about the actor who portrays him.

Not that I have no desire to be like Dracula. I would love to have Superman’s strength, Mantle’s home run swing, Crockett’s marksmanship. And to control minds and transform into a bat like Dracula. Soon, I am watching Lugosi’s mad doctor movies, and covet his crazy scientists’ creating monsters, and raising the dead. Yet always Lugosi, and not his characters, sparks my curiosity.      

Many years after 1961, I read in The Biographical Dictionary of Film a passage that for me comes close to explaining the Lugosi mystique:

His acting was so florid and yet so macabre that only some fanciful notion of Hungarian mythology could explain it. He could be frightening in a way that other actors in horror never achieved: because he appeared to believe in the literal meaning of the films.

About the same time, I read in The Vampire in the Cinema that Lugosi is:

The living tableau of a silent stage actor trapped in modern sound movies. It is precisely because Lugosi was an anachronism, allowed to flourish by an accident of genre history, that he exercises such a fascination.

Not bad. I admire both passages; but neither explains Lugosi’s hold on me.

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Perhaps an accident in timing explains my fascination. About the time that I discover Lugosi, I am beginning to understand that not everything in print is true. As Mantle and Maris hit home run after home run, the broader media covers their drama. A lot of misinformation, especially about Babe Ruth, appears in newspapers and on television. As a long-time watcher of Yankee broadcasts, I learned the saga of the team’s great players from the men who witnessed it. In 1961 I know more than a lot of the reporters about the home run race.

No better place to grasp the limitations of the print media than in what is available on Lugosi. The Lugosi biographies in the monster magazines get the big picture right: born in Hungary, emigrates to America after World War I, hits the big time in Dracula, then is typecast in horror movies for the rest of his life. On the details, the magazines often falter, mainly through sins of omission. Much of Lugosi’s last years are lonely treks looking for paydays between film roles that became ever harder to land. In a short time, I know at least as much about Lugosi as anyone writing on him. In the early 1960s, not a hard plateau to scale.

Mastering a subject, even one as obscure as the life of Bela Lugosi, generates its own inertia. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. For the first time in my life, the better I get at something, the better I want to be. Being an expert on horror films and Lugosi—being an expert on anything—becomes important to me.

Bat Head 3Dracula Still 4“A corny Valentino imitation.” Bela Lugosi in a publicity still for Dracula (1931)

My Lugosi quest sometimes casts me as a defender of a Lugosi who can no longer defend himself. His stardom even after death rises and falls and rises. Through the 1960s, Lugosi morphs from an almost forgotten actor to a cult hero, then to a figure easy to mock. Whenever he is attacked, I plead his case, to the monster magazines (in letters never published), to adults and classmates less than entranced with the great man.

Lugosi detractors have some good points: a lot of Lugosi movies are pretty bad. Through the 1960s, I watch dozens. Simply seeing a new Lugosi title thrills me. For too many movies, the thrill ends there. Still, I watch them again and again. More than once, when Momma pauses to watch a few minutes of a movie with me, and says “God, he was a lousy actor.” I do not agree. He is just an actor in a lousy movie. His attempts to breathe life into the most hopeless productions are part of his lore.

Disdain for bad movies translates into a disdain for their star, which can extend even to his better films. “A corny Valentino imitation,” writes horror author Stephen King on Lugosi’s Dracula, “which even hardened horror aficionados and cinema buffs cannot help giggling over.” King voices an opinion that grows more common as the 1960s progress.

Through the 1960s, Lugosi’s supremacy as Dracula has a strong challenger. His vampire rises from the dead in October 1957 on television’s Shock Theater. Christopher Lee’s Dracula bursts into theaters seven months later. By 1973, Lee plays Dracula eight times, and through the 1960s, his growing fan base often insists on his superiority over Lugosi. I see my first Lee vampire movie in the late 1960s. My opinion: Lee vampire movies are lousy, and Lee isn’t much better. Less debatable is how little Lee is in them.

For young boys, Dracula can be a test of manhood. To see Lugosi, we stay up late and watch a shadowy film alone in the dark. For Lee, kids in theaters sit through an explicitness cutting edge in its day. Perhaps the preference for Lugosi or Lee depends on which test a boy passes; or which he fails. On first try, I fail both. A coming attraction of Horror of Dracula plays at Lincoln matinees. It terrifies me and I have no desire to see the movie. No matter, Horror of Dracula never plays the day time show. Lugosi comes on too late, and I could not have stayed awake to see him even if my parents allowed.

Lugosi wins the race to catch my attention. His movies migrate to more godly hours long before I have a chance at Christopher Lee. By the time that I catch up with Lee, the great war of 20th century vampires, for me at least, is long settled.

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Chandu The Magician (Paul Seiler Collection)Bela Lugosi in Chandu the Magician (1932) – Still courtesy of Paul Seiler

On 1960s television, the Lugosi canon is about three dozen films that air with varying regularity on television. They range from classics of the 1930s to schlock of the 1950s. I watch these over and over. Those most often televised are low-budget mad doctor epics of the early 1940s. At least one plays every week. On New Year’s Day 1962, I bet my brother David $1.00 that a Bela Lugosi movie will play on television at least once a week through the whole year. As a child, I am prone to such stupid wagers. For about a month, we check the weekly television listings each Sunday, and a Bela Lugosi movie is always among them. David loses interest; but I keep checking for the movies. After 13 weeks the streak breaks. I say nothing to David, never pay the bet.

About two dozen other Lugosi movies pop up rarely or not at all. I read often of these in the monster magazines, and know a lot about them. One by one most appear. For some—White Zombie, Chandu the Magician, or Mark of the Vampire—I have to wait until my college years of haunting revival cinemas in New York to see them.

The Lugosi movies repetitively broadcast through the 1960s total less than 50 hours of running time. Lugosi’s actual time on screen is less than 10 hours. I have watched those 10-something hours more times than I can count. Some performances I greatly enjoy, and will no doubt see them many times yet to come. The older I get, the less patience I have with Lugosi’s “bad” movies, but the more I admire his “good” ones. Those few films, the canon within the canon, sustain my love of the actor; but something more than acting talent or onscreen charisma attracts me to Lugosi.

Bat Head 3Bela Lugosi photographed by Preston Duncan in the 1930s“Expect great things.” Bela Lugosi photographed by Preston Duncan in the 1930s

In my 60 plus years, I have had few dreams that I remember. One dream I vividly recall comes within a year after seeing Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. It stars Bela Lugosi and my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Ruggles.

My first afternoon with Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein comes just after my fifth grade ends in Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. I always dread the terrible teacher that I will face in September. The older kids impress on the younger ones the horrors that lie ahead. The tales always portray next year’s teacher as a decaying crone devising ways to make life hell. At Wilson School, the legends have some basis. As we move up in grade, the teachers get older, grayer, and meaner (except my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Finelli, who is a saint).

Warnings of all our earlier teachers pale before the legend of Mrs. Ruggles. Not only does she teach the highest grade in Wilson School, but she is also the Principal. Her double job forces her to stern discipline. When principal duties call, she has to leave the class, and only fear keeps us in line. Principal’s duties force Mrs. Ruggles to enlist her more trusted students as aides: delivering messages to teachers, getting visitors to the right places, minor clerical duties. By sixth grade, I have clawed my way back from the third reading group to the first, and am among those tapped. I do my share of time in her office. Thus, the dream.

The dream comes in early 1962. Mrs. Ruggles pokes her head in the classroom, and calls me into her office. There, dressed in a pin-striped suit, is a benevolent-looking Bela Lugosi. He looks directly at me, and smiles, exactly as he smiled in real life, showing no teeth. Lugosi, like a lot of his generation, had lousy teeth, and rarely showed them. I do not know that in 1962, but I must have seen a photo of him in one of the monster magazines and the image stays with me. Lugosi and Mrs. Ruggles are discussing me. He assures her that I am a fine boy, to trust me, and to expect great things for me. That is the dream, all of it. Perhaps a minute of “dream time,” certainly no more; but I remember it clearly when I wake up the next morning.

I often think back on the dream, but never probe it until I began reading serious essays on movie horror. The Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster, I learn, are sons with issues. Dracula is always the father, the devouring parent, trapping young people forever as the Undead. In Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Dracula targets Wilbur Gray (Lou Costello). For Gray, Dracula’s plot means swapping badgering by Bud Abbott for servitude to Dracula.

Pop, my own father, is in no way a devouring parent. In my school years, I see devouring parents in action, who set out to ensure that their children never leave home. That’s not Pop, who beams at even the most trivial achievement of his children. I tell him little about my doings because he cannot wait to tell his huge family. I did not relish them knowing my business. My never leaving home would never occur to Pop. He dreams of our launching ourselves into the world from our first breaths. His only dictum is that we go to college.

I am not the best son for such a father. Pop never pushes. He has relatives who drive their sons onward but rarely upward, and has no intention of being like them. I like staying at home. Part of me probably yearns for a father like Lugosi’s Dracula, who would both keep me in the family fold, and demand standards that I should meet. That’s not Pop.

Does my fascination with Lugosi fill a void in my relationship with Pop? What strikes me about the dream, and why I remember it so well, is its utter serenity. Lugosi radiates parental warmth. I feel great hearing him tell Mrs. Ruggles what a good kid I am. Maybe I want Pop to do that; but even in my dreams cannot envision him doing something so out of character. I know that he says great things about me, but never in my presence or outside the family.

Bat Head 3Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein Photo

Lou Costello & Bela Lugosi in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

In 1958, Abbott & Costello make me a Saturday matinee kid when their movies lure me into The Lincoln. Three years later, they make me a Bela Lugosi fan via Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. The link between Lou Costello to Bela Lugosi is not coincidental.

Costello’s movie characters lead much more difficult lives than I do. No one slaps me around, berates my intelligence, or misinterprets innocent mischief. Maybe I suffer a little of all of that, and identify with Costello. Until I am eight years old, I am the baby of the family, and a natural homebody. How could I not identify with a hapless little man who struggles through a world that he barely understands? Millions of Baby Boomer boys agree with me, and Costello is beloved by my young generation. We might want to grow up to be Davy Crockett or Superman; but for the time being, we are Lou Costello. When Dracula turns his gaze on Wilbur Gray, Lugosi turns his on me.

That gaze comes when Wilbur stumbles into a dilemma common to Lou Costello characters, and common to kids like me: he accidentally breaks something, and is now “in trouble.” The ghoulish exhibits in McDougal’s House of Horrors terrify Wilbur. He backs into a guillotine, which falls and lops off the head of a manikin. “Now you’ve done it,” chides Chick. Older brothers always distance themselves from the second born’s mishaps. McDougal is outside, fumbling in the fuse box. “Get rid of that,” says Chick, and goes outside.

I identify with Wilbur. I would hide the head rather than hand it to short-fused McDougal. Wilbur swings open a coffin lid to ditch it; and up sits Dracula. Wilbur is caught red-handed, as Dracula rivets him with a stare of parental displeasure. I know that stare well. From the death ray in War of the Worlds, to the slow-burn rages of Mrs. Ruggles: I know the unblinking eye that sizes up its prey before it strikes. That eye comes often from Dracula in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. He saves his most penetrating looks for Wilbur.

Dracula paralyzes Wilbur, revives The Monster, and escapes before McDougal restores the lights. No one believes Wilbur’s claims of the dead walking. Pleas of the young and naïve are easily dismissed or ignored. No wonder millions of little boys identify with Lou Costello.

I am as mesmerized as Wilbur by Dracula’s stare. My identification with Costello transfers to a fascination with Lugosi. I am still enthralled by the scene, though I have now watched it hundreds of times. Dracula rises from his coffin, and waves his fluid fingers before Wilbur’s eyes. “Eye to eye,” Wilbur later recalls, “Eye to eye! Staring! I never saw anything like it.” Neither had I. In a wonderful touch, Dracula ever so gently taps his victim to make sure that the little man is completely under his spell, and steps back to admire his handiwork.

Bat Head 3 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (PS)“Look into my eyes.” Lenore Aubert & Bela Lugosi in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

A boy might identify with Wilbur, but must admire Dracula, the master of every situation.  Sandra warns that her assistant is asking too many questions: “Leave that to me.” Insurance investor Joan Raymond is on the trail of the missing exhibits: “I’ll take care of the girl.” Wilbur escapes: “I’ll take care of our fat friend.” Lawrence Talbot is a formidable foe; but Dracula belittles his insistent warnings. “What an odd hallucination, but the human mind is often inflamed with strange complexes.” He brushes Talbot aside, and leads Joan to the dance floor. He is most formidable when his plans are disrupted:

Sandra:   This thing is too dangerous. We ought to wait.

Dracula:  And jeopardize the success of the operation? Never! I must warn you my dear Sandra, I am accustomed to having my orders obeyed. Especially by women with a price on their heads.

Sandra:   Don’t try to scare me, Count Dracula. Here, The Secrets of Life & Death by Dr. Frankenstein. Memorize them. Operate yourself if you’re in such a hurry.

Dracula:  I have other means of securing your cooperation.

Sandra:   You’re wasting your time. My will is as strong as yours.

Dracula:  Are you sure? Look into my eyes.

She does and is soon Dracula’s slave. Wilbur, Joan, Chick and The Monster also fall under Dracula’s spell. What boy could resist looking up to him?

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Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein parallels the monsters and the comedians throughout the story. Scenes often shift between The Monster and Dracula, and Abbott & Costello. The movie consistently bridges Wilbur to Dracula. In cutting between monsters and funny men, Wilbur and Dracula are in similar poses. Both men are dwarfed by their taller cohorts: Chick for Wilbur, The Monster for Dracula. The two women in the movie both kiss Wilbur, and both in turn receive the vampire’s kiss from Dracula.

Lugosi would never be heavier than he is in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Wilbur and Dracula are two round men, with slicked back hair. Costello could never be mistaken for Lugosi; but their appearances would never be more similar than when Wilbur and Dracula meet. The finale has extreme close-ups, in which the two appear to be imitating each other. Wilbur is struggling in the stockade where Dracula has stowed him. A few minutes later, Dracula is in a death duel with The Wolf Man. The grimaces on both Wilbur and Dracula make them look very much alike.

The links between Wilbur and Dracula, between Costello and Lugosi, may be coincidental. Intentionally or not, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is crafted to make a Costello fan into a Lugosi fan. That is what happens to me.

Bat Head 3Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein PhotoObsession! Bela Lugosi in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

The climax of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein ties the threads of the plot together. The Monster disposes of Sandra, who would have removed his brain, and pursues Wilbur, who would have supplied a new one. The Wolf Man, loose in a castle filled with potential prey, immediately attacks Dracula. At age 11, I have yet to learn the history of Talbot and his fellow monsters, but obviously a showdown between werewolf and vampire has long simmered. I am unaware of the subtexts; but I feel the power of myth taking hold of me. The charms of the movie and of Lugosi’s performance, and of whatever psychic forces lie within me, conspire to make me a monster fan forever, and start me on a quest to learn all that I can about Bela Lugosi.

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I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It – Growing Up in the 1950s & 1960s with Television Reruns & Old Movies, and Frank’s previous books, A Quaint & Curious Volume Of Forgotten Lore,The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films and (with Andi Brooks) Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain, are available from Cult Movies Press at http://www.cultmoviespress.com

Bat Head 3Reviews

Standard Examiner

http://www.standard.net/Books/2014/08/10/Monster-boomer-expert-details-growing-up-with-Dracula-Frankenstein-the-Mummy.html

Mondo Cult

http://www.mondocult.com/articles/Copner/frank.html

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An interview with Frank J. Dello Stritto

Plan 9 Crunch

http://planninecrunch.blogspot.jp/2014/08/an-interview-with-cult-films-author.html

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Related Pages

A Quaint And Curious Volume Of Forgotten Lore by Frank J. Dello Stritto

Three Tales – One Story by Frank J. Dello Stritto

Dracula’s Coffin: The Story of Bela Lugosi’s Steamer Trunk by Frank J. Dello Stritto

Whatever Happened To Beatrice Weeks? The Unhappy Story of the Third Mrs. Bela Lugosi by Frank J. Dello Stritto

Mystery of the Gróf Tisza Istvan: Bela Lugosi Arrives in America by Frank J. Dello Stritto.

Dracula Speaks! by Carole Gill

Posted in Bela Lugosi, Carole Gill, Dracula with tags , , on April 20, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

Dracula

          I don’t know how many of these press releases Dracula is going to make. All I know is what the Szgany Gypsies tell me. They say that their master has always moved with the times and will be releasing statements to the press when he feels he should.

          There are so many versions of him, some good some not so good (in his opinion), he often feels the need to speak out.

          What follows is something he documented shortly after meeting Mr. Lugosi. Bela, ever the gentleman, was cast as Dracula in the 1927 stage play, premiering in New York as well as the 1931 film of the same name.

          Carole Gill, Author

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 Count Dracula Statement

          ”He wrote to me and requested a meeting as a play was about to be done on the New York stage with Mr. Bela Lugosi cast as Dracula.

I wrote back that I’d be delighted. If truth be told, I was a bit apprehensive about the play, although I did see photos of Mr. Lugosi and thought him quite an imposing gentleman. Still, one never knows what a person (or vampire) will be like until you see them in the flesh (sorry).

          He impressed me immediately, not only was he tall and handsome, but he was polite and thoughtful. “I’m going to play you, sir.” Lugosi announced. “Can you give me any tips?”

          I had already leafed through the script I had been sent. “They’re doing it differently; they’ve changed so much about me! Why do they do that? Why can’t they follow my existence as it is? What’s with the opera cape and all that nonsense and why update the damned thing?”

Lugosi agreed. “If you prefer me to turn it down, I will but the contract has been signed.”

I nodded. “If you do, their blood sucking lawyers will nail you. No, I don’t wish that for you, you’re too nice for that.”

Well, we became firm friends. The show did very well. It went on tour and I was delighted.

Dracula's Web

When Bela wrote to me saying a film was going to be made, although excited and happy for him, I was once again apprehensive. I worried that yet more liberties concerning my existence would be taken. I did not however burden him with my worries.

The film was made and released and Bela invited me to a private screening at his home. I didn’t move for some time after the end credits.

“Well, how do you like it Count?”

 “Despite the updating and the massive changes to my story—I did like it. I liked it because of your performance!”

Bela was delighted. We parted as good friends and remained friends until Bela’s death.

By the way, I was the one that said to Bela, “Dracula is your Shakespeare.” Just thought I’d clear that up.

Count Dracula

(End of statement)

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 Carole Gill

“Carole Gill writes all sorts of horror, everything from gothic vampires to demonic clowns. She’s the author of The Fourth Bride (of Dracula), Book 4 in The Blackstone Vampires Series. She’s writing her eighth novel right now, something about The Blood Countess, Erzsebat Bathory!”

Amazon Author Page

http://www.amazon.com/Carole-Gill/e/B0032TTVVA/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Facebook Author Page

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Last Chance To Vote In This Year’s Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 18, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

The Thirteenth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

Rondo Hatton AwardsVoting closes at midnight on Sunday, April 19, 2015 for the thirteenth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. Vampire Over London: The Bela Lugosi Blog is very proud to have been nominated for “BEST BLOG OF 2014″ in this year’s awards. It’s a real honour to be nominated for the third year in a row, especially as the nominations are selected from suggestions by horror fans, professionals and enthusiasts offered at the Classic Horror Film Boards.

We’d like to thank everyone who has already taken the time to vote for us. If you haven’t yet, cast a vote is very easy. Simply copy and paste the following message and email it to David Colton at taraco@aol.com. You must include your full name for your vote to be valid. Thank you.


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Dear David Colton,
I would like to vote for Vampire Over London: The Bela Lugosi Blog as “BEST BLOG OR ONLINE COLUMN OF 2014.”
Thank You,
(Insert Your Full Name)

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Frank Dello Stritto, my co-author of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain has received a nomination for “BEST BOOK OF 2014” for his excellent new book “I SAW WHAT I SAW WHEN I SAW IT – Growing in the 1950s & 1960s With Television Reruns & Old Movies.” Mike Copner of Cult Movies on the Air called Frank’s book, “One of a kind! One of the only books that I have read that I never wanted to end. A great, great read, and a great achievement.” James Abbott of The Jade Sphinx wrote, “A surprisingly personal and appealing narrative, curiously affecting because any Baby Boomer, interested in television or not, can pick up this book and nod, yes, this was me, too. A book of tremendous resonance and sweetness, and it does something no other book of film history has done: it made me feel young again.”

If you have enjoyed Frank’s book, please vote for it by adding it to the above template.

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You can follow The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Rondoawards 

rondo award

The ‘Rondo’ award itself features a bust sculpted by illustrator Kerry Gammill, and cast by modeler Tim Lindsey. The statuette is a miniature version of the bust of Rondo Hatton seen in the 1946 Universal film, House of Horrors.

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Demons of the Film Colony – When Bela Lugosi Met Boris Karloff

Posted in Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, John LeRoy Johnstone, Ray Jones, Ted LeBerthon, Weird Tales Magazine with tags , , , , , on April 7, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

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Whether it was in actual fact the first time they had met is unknown, but the official first meeting of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff took place at Universal City in March of 1932. Despite their reputations as the reigning kings of horror, the event stage-managed by Universal publicity director John LeRoy Johnstone saw the two tuxedo-clad stars in jovial mood.  Apart from one shot in which Lugosi is shown putting his Dracula whammy on Karloff and another in which Karloff is poised to bring his fists down upon the head of an unsuspecting Lugosi, the event as photographed by Ray Jones was presented as a lighthearted, convivial affair with both actors in a relaxed playful mood. 

This display of good humored bonhomie was typical fodder for the “fan” magazines of the period, but was at odds with what moviegoers who had been terrified by Dracula and Frankenstein the previous year had expected. It was perhaps no surprise then that when reporter Ted LeBerthon penned a “true” account of what he had witnessed at that historic meeting, one more in keeping with the public’s conception of the two masters of the macabre, that he was compelled to offer it for publication to the popular pulp magazine Weird Tales for fear of shattering the nerves of the genteel “fan” magazine readers who were “too accustomed to sunshine to relish shadows.” 

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Weird Tales Vol 20 No 4 Oct 1932[1]

Weird Tales, Vol 20, No. 4, October 1932

DEMONS OF THE FILM COLONY

By Ted LeBerthon

Was a gigantic hoax perpetrated on the author by “Dracula” Lugosi and “Frankenstein” Karloff,” aided and abetted by the photographer?

For ten years I have been writing about the activities of the motion picture colony for what are known as the “fan” magazines; and, in strict justice to the movie people in and about Hollywood, I never before had an experience such as the one that befell me recently—for there is nothing weird, preternatural or otherwise affrighting about most motion picture people, for the child Jackie Cooper to the more elderly Marie Dressler. There have been, it is true, curious legends about Greta Garbo, but she stays away from interviewers. Whatever her secret, she keeps it.

Obviously, I could not relate the experience I had in the pages of a “fan” magazine. The readers of these magazines are too accustomed to sunshine to relish shadows. So, I decided to submit to the readers of Weird Tales the ghastly details of a gigantic hoax perpetrated on me by Bela Lugosi, star of the films Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Boris Karloff, who played the monster in the film Frankenstein.

Candidly, for reasons which the reader may surmise before he finished reading, I have hesitated considerably about writing of just what happened, but now I feel I should make what happened public.

I was just leaving Universal City one rainy, dreary morning when John LeRoy Johnstone, Universal publicity director, called to me.

“Ted, don’t go away. I just happened to think that our two demons, ‘Dracula’ Lugosi and ‘Frankenstein’ Karloff, are coming here in a few minutes. A demons’ rendezvous ought to interest you. I might add that they’re hastening here from opposite directions, to meet for the first time. They actually have never met. You see, Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue, in which Lugosi starred, were made here at different times than Frankenstein, in which Karloff played the ghastly, man-made monster. and that’s why they’ve never met professionally. Nor have they ever met socially, although both have been in Hollywood, on and off, for several years. But you know the film colony. All split up into little groups and circles.”

I didn’t mind sticking around. For one thing, a murky drizzle had begun to fall outside. The mammoth Universal stages, seen through a window seemed in the grayness, to be enormous squat tombs, unadorned sarcophagi in which giants five hundred feet tall, stretched in death could be laid. It might not be a bad idea, I concluded, to wait around a little, if only to give the rain a chance to stop.

Bela & Boris c

(Courtesy of www.belalugosifansite.com)

“Doggoned if it isn’t just the kind of a morning for a couple of monsters to meet,” laughed Johnstone. “And do you know something: I’ve a queer hunch something funny’ll happen when they meet. Not that there’s any professional rivalry between them in the demon field, as far as I know; but there’s been a lot of banter going around the studio about the weird possibilities, you know, the  things that could happen when Dracula meets the Frankenstein monster! Candidly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to frame each other.”

“What do you mean?” I chuckled nervously.

“Well,” he countered, “it’s natural that this meeting should strike them both as funny. And you now what actors are for pulling gags on each other.”

The rain, increasing, muttered against the ground outside.

Boris Karloff was first to arrive—and, fantastically enough in evening clothes, worn under a rain-flecked overcoat which he tossed off with a mischievous, almost boyish fling.

We were introduced. And I learned, from his accent, then from his admission, that he name is not Karloff, but that he is an Englishman with a most unfortunate name. But we won’t go into that.

He is slender, debonair, graceful with powerful shoulders and large strong hands, smooth iron-gray hair, darkly tanned skin and lucent deep-set brown eyes. A witty, casual, well-bred fellow, with one of those strong-boned, hallow-cheeked countenances that seems carved out of hickory, and is characteristic of so many well-travelled, weather-beaten, distinguished-appearing Britishers.

He joked waggishly, this Englishman from God knows where whose name is not Karloff, about his coming meeting with Bela Lugosi.

As he was talking, and Johnstone and I were absorbed in his high spirits, the door leading to the studio outside evidently opened. No one saw it open. In fact, we did not see anything until Karloff, who faced the door as he chatted with us, suddenly looked up and asseverated startlingly, “Oh, my God!”

Johnstone and I looked around and I don’t know what he thought or felt. I do know I became visibly disconnected, to put it lightly.

There stood Lugosi, filling the doorway, quiet as death, and smiling in his curiously knowing way. It is the smile of a tall, weary, haunted aristocrat, a person of perhaps fallen greatness, a secretive Lucifer who sees too clearly and knows too much, and perhaps wishes it were not so, and would like to be a gracious chap. He, too, was in evening clothes—on a rainy morning! He advanced with a soft springy tread.

Karloff stood up as if galvanized by some sudden irrevocable plan of action. The he turned on the advancing Lugosi a cold, unbelieving stare that would have riveted another man in his tracks. But the tall, taper-fingered Hungarian drawing himself erect, continued to smile with unmistakably ghastly knowingness.

It was Lugosi’s hand which was thrust forward first. As they shook hands they seemed to lock horns with their eyes. Only for a moment, however, for both broke into ear-to-ear grins.

Bela & Boris 2

“I hope I didn’t scare you to death,” Lugosi smiled, narrowing his eyes, and seeming to look right through the quondam monster.

“I hope I didn’t scare you to death,” parried Karloff mirthfully.

I could not be certain; but I thought Lugosi bristled, as if his demonical prowess had been challenged by a tyro in demonism.

Finally he said slowly.

“I think I could scare you to death.”

Karloff struck a match, lit a cigarette, puffed a couple of times, and retorted with an air of whimsical scorn;

“I not only think I can scare your ears right off, Mr. Dracula, I’ll bet you that I can.”

Within the next few minutes a wager of a hundred dollars had been made. They would go into a deserted set within one of the vast, empty, tomb-like stages squatting in the rain outside. No lights would be turned on. They would tell each other stories—such stories of darkness, terror and madness that one or the other would either faint or cry out for the other to stop. The other would then be pronounced victor.

Publicist Johnstone, grinning a bit unconvincingly, as if he were somehow ill, protested:

“There should be a referee. You go along, LeBerthon, and decide which one out-scares the other. And I’ll tell you what. Take Ray Jones, the photographer, along. He can get incontrovertible evidence.”

“I don’t want to oppose your wishes,” put in Lugosi, his eyes widening like wrathful alarm signals, “but I would rather be alone with Mr. Karloff. You won’t need any evidence. All you may need is a doctor, a nerve and heart specialist. You see only one of us will walk off that stage. The other will be…er…carried off.”

He said this with some heat, yet a growing twinkle in his eyes which gradually narrowed again. But Johnstone was obdurate.

And so, two tall actors in evening clothes, a photographer and a writer walked with bowed heads and hunched shoulders in the rain to reach the stage building with its unfortunate resemblance, for me, to a colossal sepulcher.

We entered a small door in the side, nearly tripping over cables that coiled like lifeless serpents about the floor in the dank, dusky atmosphere. Photographer Jones lit a match. We found our way to a set where, among other articles of furniture, there was a davenport. It was then agreed that Jones could take photographs if he and I would stand 25 feet away in a dark corner, and if he would use only noiseless flash powder.

The tall actors in evening clothes sat on the davenport. In the obscure gloom we scarcely could discern their figures. But soon we were to hear a mournful voice, Lugosi’s.

“Boris,” he began in a gloating sonority,” what would you say if this set, this stage, this studio, suddenly vanished, and you found that in reality you and I were sitting at the bottom of a pit. Ha! That would be inconvenient for you, wouldn’t it? But of course I might provide some charming company—I might drag down into this pit an exquisite young woman. And I should indulge in a curious experiment that would cause your hair to turn white—and your stomach to turn inside out.

“Boris,” he went on in a ghoulish, sickeningly exultant tone, “women are thrilled by Dracula, the suave one. Women love the horrible, the creepy, more than men. Why does a woman always tell the story of her husband’s death so often and with such relish? Why does she go to cemeteries? Tenderness? Grief? Bah! It’s because she likes to be hurt, tortured, terrified! Yes, Boris! Ah, Boris, to win a woman, take her with you to see Dracula, the movie. As she sees me, the bat-like vampire, swoop through an open casement into some girl’s boudoir, there to sink teeth into neck and drink blood, she will thrill through every nerve and fiber. That is your cue to draw close to her, Boris. When she is limp as a rag, take her where you will, do with her what you will. Ah, especially, Boris, bite her on the neck!

“The love-bite, it is the beginning. In the end, you, too, Boris will become a vampire. You will live five hundred years. You will sleep in moldy graves by day and make fiendish love to beauties at night. You will see generations live and die. You will see a girl baby born to some woman and wait a mere 16 to 18 years for her to grow up, so that you can sink fangs into a soft, white neck and drink a scarlet stream. You will be irresistible, for you will have in your powerful body the very heat of hell, the virility of Satan. And someday, of course, you will be discovered—a knife, after long centuries, will be plunged into you, you will drop like a plummet into the bottomless sulfurous pit. Yes, Boris, that’s the end—for you! For look at me, Boris….”

Bela and Boris 1

“Ha! Ha! Ha! You fool, Bela,” came Karloff’s scornful pealing laugh in the darkness. “Why try that kindergarten stuff on me? You ask me to look at you, Bela. Well, look at me! Look….look….look….and take an occasional glance upward, Bela. These two hand of mine, clenched together above my head, could descend at any moment, in a second, ay, even before I finish this sentence, if I wanted them to, and they’d bash your distinguished head in as if it were an egg. Your brains would run out like the yolk of an egg and spatter your pretty tuxedo.”

“Bela, a monster created by Frankenstein is not worried by your stories of seeking blood from beauties necks. But did you see the movie, Frankenstein, Bela? Did you see me take an innocent like girl, a child playing among flowers, and drown her? Some sentimentalists said I did it unknowingly. Bosh! I have done it a thousand times and will do it a thousand times again. Bela, it’s dark in here, but you know me. You know it was no accident or chance, but significant, that I—the Englishman from God knows where whose name is not Karloff—was called upon to play that monstrous role! You know me, Bela, you know me. Why that bosh about 500 hundred years old? You know that both of us are nearly 6,000 years old! And that we’ve met many times before, the last time not more than 200 years old…And you shouldn’t have made that foolish wager. Admit it, Bela!” Karloff’s voice shook with deep agitation.

“I wonder,” came Lugosi’s reply, dreary as a fog-horn in the semi-darkness. In the meantime, photographer Jones in his scarce-visible corner kept snapping pictures. The noiseless powder recurrently rose in puffs, so that—spookily enough—the scene resembled the laboratory of a medieval alchemist.

“Come, Bela—let’s go. Er—Jones, LeBerthon,” Karloff shouted hoarsely, “are you ready to go? Bela and I have found we’re members of the same—well, suppose, we say, lodge. We’re therefore quite unable to scare each other to death, for reasons you might not understand, even to oblige you. You’ll just have to call it a draw.”

“All right, we’re ready to go,” responded Jones, nervously enough for that matter. “And—say—I’ve used up my last match. Will one of you fellows strike one?”

I shall never know whether it was Lugosi or Karloff who struck the match. All I do know is that when the match was struck it apparently revealed not Lugosi and Karloff on that davenport, but two slimy, scaly monsters, dragon-like serpents with blood-red venomous eyes. The apparitional things flashed before me so suddenly that I became sick to my stomach and made a rush, on buckling legs, for the exit—and the cool air.

Just as I reached it and noted fleetingly that the rain had stopped, and that my heart was pounding to the bursting-point, and that I was strongly weak and giddy, Jones and the two tall actors in evening clothes came through the door. Jones was rather sober and unconcerned, but Lugosi and Karloff were laughing heartily over something or other.

Bela and Boris 3

“Will you have lunch with us?” Lugosi asked me, still grinning but with something of a physician’s tender concern.

“No, thank you,” I replied, scarcely looking either at him or Karloff,” I have to hurry away.”

And I did hurry away.

I am, of course, now convinced that what happened was their idea of a practical joke, that the slimy, scaly things I had seen, the things which had so frightened and sickened me in that fleeting moment were either the imaginings of my over-wrought nerves—or some mechanically contrived illusions in which Jones had some share.

There are, of course, some who will wonder if I do not merely prefer this simple, comforting explanation to one that might cause Hollywood hostesses to fear to invite Lugosi and Karloff to social functions—and fear not to invite them!

Many people, deep down, still are superstitious. And there are many things in life we do not fully understand, such as why it is the destiny of certain human beings to portray certain roles—whether in real or “reel” life.

Bat Head 2Thank you to Marco Tremblay for his assistance with this article.

The Thirteenth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

Rondo Hatton AwardsVampire Over London: The Bela Lugosi Blog has been nominated for “BEST BLOG OF 2014″ in the thirteenth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. It’s a real honour to be nominated for the third year in a row, especially as the nominations are selected from suggestions by horror fans, professionals and enthusiasts offered at the  Classic Horror Film Boards.

I haven’t made many posts recently because I’ve been busy preparing working with Frank Dello Stritto on the second edition of “Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain,” which will be published in the next few months, and researching Bela Lugosi’s life and work and the many stage productions of Dracula featuring other actors in the role of Dracula during his life. I’ve already started to update the pages of the blog with the fruits of the research. I have literally thousands of items to share with you over the coming year and I am looking forward to posting new articles based on my research.

If you have enjoyed the blog, I would be grateful if you would vote for it by visiting http://rondoaward.com/rondoaward.com/blog/?p=168/. All voting is by e-mail only. Simply copy the ballot and send an e-mail with your picks to David Colton at taraco@aol.com by Sunday night at midnight, April 19, 2015. You must include your name for the vote to be valid.

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Frank Dello Stritto has also been nominated in this year’s Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. His excellent book “I SAW WHAT I SAW WHEN I SAW IT – Growing in the 1950s & 1960s With Television Reruns & Old Movies” has received a nomination for “BEST BOOK OF 2014.” Mike Copner of Cult Movies on the Air called Frank’s book, “One of a kind! One of the only books that I have read that I never wanted to end. A great, great read, and a great achievement” while James Abbott of The Jade Sphinx wrote, “A surprisingly personal and appealing narrative, curiously affecting because any Baby Boomer, interested in television or not, can pick up this book and nod, yes, this was me, too. A book of tremendous resonance and sweetness, and it does something no other book of film history has done: it made me feel young again.” If you have also enjoyed Frank’s book, please vote for it.

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You can follow The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Rondoawards 

rondo award

The ‘Rondo’ award itself features a bust sculpted by illustrator Kerry Gammill, and cast by modeler Tim Lindsey. The statuette is a miniature version of the bust of Rondo Hatton seen in the 1946 Universal film, House of Horrors.

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

Posted in 1951 British Tour Of Dracula, Bela Lugosi, Dracula, Frank Dello Stritto, Greta Gynt, John C. Mather, Lillian Lugosi, Richard Butler with tags , , , , , , on November 22, 2014 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Bela Lugosi photographed by Editta Sherman

Joan Winmill appeared in the role of the Mary Wells the maid for the first half of Bela Lugosi’s 1951 British revival tour of Dracula. Beginning her acting career shortly after World War II, she had an incredible stroke of luck in 1947 when she landed a leading role in the West End hit The Chiltern Hundreds.  For more than a year the unknown actress had one of the choicest stage roles in London. After one performance at the Vaudeville Theatre Joan was introduced to future American senator Robert F Kennedy. A romance followed, but Kennedy’s father disapproved. Despite Joan’s hopes of marriage, the relationship came to a sudden end in 1949 when Kennedy announced by letter from America that he was going to marry Ethel Skekel instead.

Joan found it difficult to follow up the success she had enjoyed in The Chiltern Hundreds when the run came to an end. Her relationship and professional woes fueled her personal insecurities and bouts of stage fright. She coped through phenobarbitals before performances and sleeping pills afterwards.  Although the barbiturates got her on stage and through a performance, they also caused her to slur dialogue or drop lines. 

Joan Winmill

Joan Winmill’s entry in the January, 1949 edition of “The Spotlight” Casting Directory

In April 1951 Joan auditioned to play Lucy in Dracula, but only managed to land the much smaller role of Wells the maid, an indication of the extent of the reversal of the professional fortunes of the former West End star. She would perform the role 121 times before leaving the tour after eleven weeks when the play’s run at the Wood Green Empire ended on July 14, 1951. 

Her career began to improve over the next three years with regular work in the theatre, television, and films. Her television credits include a recurring role in Epitaph for a Spy, a 1953 mini-series starring Peter Cushing. She appeared in four films, including uncredited roles in Alastair Sim’s Innocents in Paris (1953), Forbidden Cargo (1954), which featured Greta Gynt who had played opposite Bela Lugosi in Dark Eyes of London in 1939, and The Harrassed Hero (1954), which gave Joan her highest profile film role as the leading lady opposite Guy Middleton.

Guy Middleton and Joan Winmill

Guy Middleton and Joan Winmill in The Harrassed Hero (1954)

Despite the steady progress she was making as an actress, Joan’s inner demons were threatening to overwhelm her. By her own admission, she was feeling suicidal. Her “salvation” unexpectedly came when, “for a lark,” a friend invited her to go along to The Greater London Crusade, a 12-week evangelical event organised by Billy Graham and the Evangelical Alliance at the Harringay Arena in North London in 1954. To the amazement of her friends, Joan answered the altar call at the event.

Harringay Arena 1954

Harringay Arena in 1954 (courtesy of lettersfromthelibrary.com)

From that moment she was a transformed person. She left behind her life and career in England and has since devoted herself to spiritual work with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in America. She continues to act occasionally in films produced by Graham’s World Wide Pictures and she has written several books on devotional topics. In her 1975 autobiography No Longer Alone, which was filmed by Graham’s World Wide Pictures in 1978, Joan recounted her time with Bela Lugosi during the 1951 revival tour of Dracula. 

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No Longer Alone

“I don’t remember how I ever got to audition for Dracula, but I do know that once I signed the contract, my fears told me I had done the wrong thing.

As a child I had once seen a filmed coming-attraction for Dracula. (I was attending a bland comedy with my grandmother.) I went under the seat until assured that it was over. When we left the performance, we found a booth set up in the lobby with a sign which said, “Dare To Open These Curtains!” Someone did – just as I walked by – and there, life-size, was a model of Dracula staring at me. All the way home I knew he was following me. Nanny had to stay in my room that night until I finally fell asleep, having been convinced he was not under my bed. Now I was signed to go on tour with none other than Bela Lugosi, who had created the role in the movie!

I was very hesitant to attend the first rehearsal and meet Mr. Lugosi. He arrived late, making a grand entrance, and was introduced to each of the cast. When it came my turn, I stood there in sheer amazement. He looked just like the wax figure that had scared me so as a child. But he was gracious and very professional.

When it came time for the scene in which he was supposed to hypnotize me, I thought, “Here we go! I must not look as if I’m scared of him. After all, this is ridiculous – it is only a play and he really is just an actor.” But when he started to look into my eyes, I sensed a strange, burning sensation, and tears began to well up. He stopped suddenly and said, “Child, never look into my eyes. Always look here,” and tapped his forehead. I did just that every time we played the scene after that, and things went along smoothly.

He took playing the part of Count Dracula very seriously, and we were never allowed to change a word, a look, or a move. It was as sacred as Shakespeare to him. Once I heard him say that, perhaps, the worst thing for his career had been the success of Dracula, for people would never take him seriously as an actor any more. Apparently he had known great adulation in his homeland of Hungary.

In the final scene, set in a crypt, he was supposed to be in a coffin; the doctor and his friend, Van Helsing, drive a stake through his heart – the only way he can be killed. But Bela would never get in the coffin and would always give the death scream from the wings. He had a great superstition about this.

The only time we saw him during the day would be when we would meet at the train to move from one city to another. Then he would stride down the platform with his wife and son and disappear into a private compartment, to ride with the shades drawn for the entire journey.

The trouble with the cast was that, after we got over the awe of being with the Dracula, our emotions swung the other way. The overly dramatic dialogue became too much for us, and we all started to get the giggles. I cannot begin to describe the agonies we went through every night trying to control our feelings and playing our lines “straight.” Once the stage director called us all on stage after a particularly giggly show and said he would fire all of us if we did not stop this appaling laughter. Even as he said this someone giggled and started us all off again. We were appearing in a theatre way up north of London, and the poor director had no choice but to put up with us. It even got to him finally, as night after night he had to oversee the fake bats and smoke that always preceded Dracula’s appearance.

One night the smoke got to me, too. I came to the scene where Dracula was supposed to hypnotize me (just after I gasped in horror at seeing him). The smoke, pumped under his cape each time he made an entrance – with arms wide apart, got down my throat and knocked me out cold. The audience was unaware of what had happened, and somehow Bela ad-libbed his way through the scene – with me prostrate on the ground. As soon as the curtain came down, I was whisked off to the waiting arms of a St. John’s Ambulance man. These men are volunteers who wait around for strange occurrences such as mine, so they can administer first aid. Bela proceeded to direct all the traffic that had gathered. He even prevented brandy being administered to me from a well-meaning member of the cast. “Noooothing by way of mouth,” he kept repeating. “Nooooooothing!”

I recovered enough to go on again the next day, but I was very careful not to exclaim too heartily upon seeing Dracula coming through my window.

We returned to London and played all the surrounding theatres, and then our tour was over. I was rather relieved, I must say. Touring had never been my favourite part of theatre life, and now perhaps there would be a good break waiting for me.”

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Joan’s reminiscence, written more than 20 years after the tour, contains both accuracies and inaccuracies.

Giggling among the cast—“corpsing” in British theatre slang—was an occasional problem in the Dracula tour, as it was in many provincial tours.  But it was not persistent and common.  None of the dozens of reviews or personal recollections from audience members that we had already amassed mention it. 

In the closing scene, a mannequin did indeed lie in the coffin, as Lugosi supplied Dracula’s death cries from the wings.  However, he had no fear of lying in the coffin himself—he did exactly that every night on the tour in the play’s prologue before the opening curtain. 

Bela Lugosi and his wife often socialized with other cast members on the train. Richard Butler, who played Johnathan Harker in the production, told Andi Brooks that the couple were not aloof. “..in Bela’s case, although he and his wife had their own compartment, they had no wish to travel alone and spent many hours entertaining us.”

Bela, Jr. did not accompany his parents on the 1951 tour. Joan is probably confusing him with Paddy and Sean Dawson, the sons of David Dawson, who played Dr. Seward.

Joan’s fear of looking into Bela Lugosi’s eyes was confirmed by tour producer John Mather, who recalled without prompting that she was genuinely terrified of the actor.

In an interview with Frank J Dello Stritto, Janet Reid, the assistant stage manager, recounted peeling the costume off the unconscious actress to take her place for the rest of the performance after Joan was overcome by stage fog in her big scene with Lugosi. She told him, “I do remember Joan Winmill. I remember when she passed out in Middlesbrough. I literally stripped off her costume backstage. There was no privacy. And I finished the performancefor her. In my career I was an understudy four times, and each time I got to go on when the actress could not perform. That one performance was my swan song with Dracula. I dropped out right after that. The company went on to Belfast, and I went back to London.”

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Related Pages

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

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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