I Bid You Welcome.

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

Vampire over London  Bela Lugosi In Britain

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

Welcome to Vampire Over London:

The Bela Lugosi Blog

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

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

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

Bat Head 3

The original goal of this blog was to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

Bela Lugosi Letters

Bela Lugosi Obituaries

Bela Lugosi On The Radio

Bela Lugosi On The Stage

Bela Lugosi On TV

Bela Lugosi Product Endorsements

Bela Lugosi Unrealised Projects

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

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

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

Bela Lugosi’s Life As Reported In The Press

Contemporary Reviews Of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The 1938 Dracula & Frankenstein Double-Bill

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

Vampire Over London: Publicity Interviews

Vampire Over London: The Story Of The Book

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

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

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

Vampire Over London 2nd Edition

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

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

Bat Head 3Reviews

“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

Bat Head 3

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)

Bat Head 3

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.

Bat Head 3

Big Bad Bela – An Interview With Bela Lugosi

Posted in Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Dracula, Frankenstein, Joe MacKey, Picture Play Magazine, The Black Cat with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2016 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

Picture Play July 1934

 

Picture Play, July 1934

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

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

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

Bat Head 3

 

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

BIG BAD BELA

By Joe MacKey

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

LUGOSI, the fiend!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Bad Bela 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lugosi – the man!

 Bat Head 3

NotesPicture Play, July 1934 3

Joe Mackey’s interview contains several inaccuracies:

The Silent Command was Lugosi’s first American film, but he began his film career in Hungary in 1917. See Bela Lugosi Filmography Part 1: 1917-1928 – The Silent Years for a list of all of his known silent films.

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

Picture Play, July 1934 4

Vampire Over London: The Bela Lugosi Blog Nominated for Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award

Posted in The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain, Vampire over london: the bela lugosi blog with tags , , , on March 13, 2016 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

Rondo Hatton AwardsVampire Over London: The Bela Lugosi Blog has been nominated for “BEST BLOG OF 2015″ in the fourteenth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. It’s a real honour to be nominated for the fourth 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’ve been busy updating the various pages of the blog with some of the thousands of stills, newspaper articles, advertisements and reviews I have amassed during the course of my research into Bela Lugosi’s life and work. I hope to share as many as possible with you during the course of 2016.

If you have enjoyed the blog, I would be grateful if you would take the time to cast a vote for it by sending an email stating that you wish to vote for Vampire Over London: The Bela Lugosi Blog as the “BEST WEBSITE OR BLOG OF 2015” to David Colton at taraco@aol.com by midnight on Sunday, April 10, 2016. You must include your name for the vote to be valid. 

Alternatively, you can visit http://rondoaward.com/rondoaward.com/blog/?p=168/.  to see all of the worthy nominees.

Bat Head 3

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.

The Bram Stoker Bronze Bust Project

Posted in Bram Stoker, Bryan Moore, Dacre Stoker, David J. Skal, Dracula with tags , , , , , , , on December 2, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi

The Bram Stoker Bronze Bust Project

Following the enormous success of the H.P. Lovecraft Bronze Bust Project and the Edgar Allan Poe Bronze Bust Project, sculptor Bryan Moore has set his sights on a third icon of horror literature: Bram Stoker.

Since its publication in 1897, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” has set the standard for the vampire in art, literature, music and film. It’s influence cannot be denied. Scholars have labored over its implications since the Victorian era. Fans, like Moore, have simply enjoyed it for what it is: classic horror at its most potent.

“The character of Count Dracula embodies what we’d all like to be” Moore states. “Sexy, immortal, wise from centuries of lost l’amour, status hard won and enduring to the last. The undead Count represents everything timeless and deathless that never goes out of style throughout the romantic ages.”

As with the Lovecraft and Poe busts, Stoker will be immortalized in bronze to the city of his birth, Dublin, Ireland.

Bryan Moore

“Fans across the globe helped me to place busts of Lovecraft in Providence, Rhode Island and Poe to Boston, Massachusetts. It seemed only fitting that Bram Stoker should return to the Emerald Isle and will be donated to the Dublin Writers Museum in Parnell Square.”

“Placing a bust of Stoker here puts emphasis not only on his personality but also on his nationality” said Robert Nicholson, Curator of the Dublin Writers Museum. “Being born and bred a Dubliner was just as important to Stoker’s genius as it was to that of his contemporary and acquaintance, Oscar Wilde, and to many other writers born here on the cultural faultline.”

Joining Moore in his literary quest of honoring Stoker is no less than Bram’s great grand-nephew Dacre Stoker, who manages the Estate of Bram Stoker as well as co-author of both the sequel to “Dracula” entitled “Dracula; the Un-Dead” and the non fiction “The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker”. Dacre travels the world presenting his informative and entertaining lecture “Stoker on Stoker” to Dracula fans eager to learn more about their favorite author.

“The Bram Stoker Estate is very pleased to endorse the Bram Stoker Bronze Bust Project. The Stoker family would ultimately like to see a statue of Bram displayed in a prominent location in Dublin. A bronze bust is certainly a fitting tribute and this effort by Bryan Moore is to be commended and is worthy of our family’s support.”

David J Skal

Also on board is noted Dracula scholar, author and filmmaker David J. Skal, whose book “Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Screen” paved the way for his much anticipated biography, “Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker”, to be published by Liveright next year.

“Bram Stoker and his extraordinary novel have received serious critical attention only in recent decades,” Skal said. “It’s attention long overdue and this wonderful tribute at an important literary institution will help solidify Stoker’s reputation as one of the most influential imaginative writers of all time.”

Skal will also join Moore at the bust unveiling on May 26th, 2016, the anniversary of “Dracula’s” original publication in 1897. He will also present his first public reading anywhere of passages from “Something in the Blood.”

Something in the Blood

As with the Lovecraft and Poe projects, Moore will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the costs of the bust as well as personally making a financial donation to   Children’s Books Ireland, a local organization that promotes children’s literacy.

“It’s an incredible amount of work for many months to plan and launch these bust projects with the project team, but also incredibly rewarding” says Moore. “So many fellow fans from across the world rally to the cause and help me turn this vision into a reality, which is to celebrate these legendary authors of works that mean so much to the public consciousness and to pop culture. It’s about time that the authors of these classics of horror literature were seen as legitimate scribes of something really special that never becomes dated. Horror will outlast us all.”

All inquiries can be directed to Lizette Webb-Strike at bramstokerbronzebustproject@yahoo.com

 
https://www.facebook.com/BramStokerBronzeBustProject/

https://twitter.com/BramStokerBust

http://bramstokerbronzebustproject.tumblr.com/

https://instagram.com/bramstokerbronzebustproject/

Bat Head 3

Related Posts & Pages

An Interview With Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker interview from the July 1st, 1897 edition of The British Weekly

Staged Reading Of Dracula At The Lyceum Theatre In 1897

Bram Stoker’s own stage adaptation of his novel

Contemporary Reviews Of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Reviews of Dracula From the UK, Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada

The Library 

The Library contains images of some of the many different editions of Dracula, from early and rare editions to modern editions featuring Bela Lugosi on the cover. The library also contains images of books about the stage and screen versions of Dracula, Bram Stoker’s other books, biographies of both Bela Lugosi and Bram Stoker, magazines and fanzines.

There Are Such Things! Bram Stoker Interviews Michael Theodorou About His New Stage Play.

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

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

Diana Serra Cary aka Baby PeggyDiana Serra Cary

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

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

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

Diana Serra Cary aka Baby Peggy

Baby Peggy

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

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

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

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

Bat Head 3IMPORTANT UPDATE #1

Diana Serra Cary aka Baby Peggy

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

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

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

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

 

Bat Head 3

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With warm regards and much appreciation,

Bob

Bat Head 3

IMPORTANT UPDATE #2

img_1263

The perfect ending to this story, and very appropriate for the season was announced by Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project:

“I am very happy to report a happy ending to our efforts to help ‘Baby Peggy’ Diana Serra Cary — at 97 our oldest surviving silent film star. Following much publicity about Diana’s urgent care needs on social media, the Motion Picture and Television had a social worker visit and perform a very detailed assessment. the MPTF then requested and received necessary financial paperwork for review.

“MPTF CEO Bob Beitcher earlier this week kindly offered to Diana the opportunity to take residence at their Country Home campus in Woodland Hills. They have an extensive caregiving staff, social engagement with other industry members, assisted living and long-term care, and healthy dining options. This is a very generous offer that essentially means Diana can address all of her needs immediately in a beautiful setting. I could not have asked for a better outcome. Diana has just accepted the MPTF’s generous offer, and will be making the move early next year. Once there, I hope many of you in the area will visit her. She greatly appreciates the outpouring of support she has receive which I’ve told her about.

“So… a very sweet and happy end to what became a true Christmas story!”

 

 

 

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

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

Bela's Cane

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

Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 From Outer Space 1

Bela Lugosi in a scene from Plan 9 From Outer Space

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

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

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

P99

Bela Lugosi in a scene from Plan 9 From Outer Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FJA 1st Edition

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

 

Bela Lugosi and Dracula Return To The Big Screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish DraculaCarlos Villarías and Lupita Tovar in the Spanish language Dracula

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

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

Dracula Double Bill 1

Dracula double feature trailer

Bat Head 3Related Pages

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

Posted in 1951 British Tour Of Dracula, Arthur Hosking, Bela Lugosi, Bela Lugosi Jnr., Dracula cape, Eric Lindsay, Lillian Lugosi, Lugosi cape, Ralph Wilson, Richard Butler, Sheila Wynn with tags , , , , , on October 18, 2015 by Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi
Ann CroftAnn Croft
(Courtesy of http://www.davidcroft.co.uk/)
During our research for Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain (Cult Movies Press), Frank Dello Stritto and I were fortunate enough to be able to trace and interview many key members of the cast and crew of Bela Lugosi’s 1951 revival tour of Dracula. When our book went to press in August 2000, however, there were still several who had defeated our efforts to locate them.
We continued our research into Bela Lugosi’s British film and theatre work after publication, and eventually amassed enough new information to warrant producing a revised and expanded second edition. As we were preparing the new edition, we were contacted by writer Marcus Brien. He had been introduced to Ann Coupland, a member of the Dracula company who had continued to eluded our efforts to locate her. Ann was the effects manager during the early stages of the tour.
Although Ann seemed to have vanished into thin air after leaving the company, she was in fact in plain view. One of the difficulties we had tracing the female members of Dracula’s cast and company was that we often had no idea if they had married and therefore changed their surnames. Thanks to Marcus, we learned that not only had Ann married David Croft, one of Britain’s most famous TV sit-com writers, in 1952, but she was also used the name Ann Callender (Her mother’s maiden name) professionally. After Dracula, Ann continued working as an actress in the theatre and on television for several years before becoming a  TV presenter. She later embarked upon a successful career as an agent.

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

Bat Head 3

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

Bat Head 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AC: And all that business yes. (Laughing)

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

AC:  Yes.

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

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

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

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

MB: Of course it is.

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

*

Ann Coupland ContractAnn Croft’s contract

(Courtesy of Ann Croft)

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

MB: Was she?

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

MB: I mean, what an education for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MB: Did he ever discuss acting with you personally?

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

MB: So it was a bit before its time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MB: Yes it was in 53 I believe.

*

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

*

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

MB: How many did he have then?

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

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

AC: (Laughs)

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

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

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

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

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

AC: That’s interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MB: I believe so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of http://www.davidcroft.co.uk/)

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

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

AC: Nobody worried about it at all.

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

AC: How many are left of the original cast?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MB: Trying to do it on the cheap?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AC:  Not at all, an absolute pleasure.

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

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

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 177 other followers