1930: Dracula Rising

After the 1929 stage tour of Dracula, Bela Lugosi returned to Hollywood for a procession of small supporting roles in movies. He was hardly a hot property.

Lugosi’s escape from the ranks of journeyman actors hinged on the film version of Dracula. As 1930 progressed, Universal’s plans to start production firmed. Lugosi had competition for the role, but eventually prevailed. In July 1930, when he again played Dracula on stage in Oakland, he seemed sure that the part in the film was his.

His interviews during the filming again voice his frustration with typecasting. He flatly states that he will not play Dracula again.

Bat Head 3

The Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, July 6, 1930

IN THE WORLD OF SCREEN & STAGE

By Wood Soanes

Breakfast occupied a half hour, starting at 9:55 in the Ambassador coffee room whither I had been led by Bela Lugosi, who hungered for food as much as Count Dracula, whom he portrays again at the Fulton today, hungers for blood in the Bram Stoker thriller.

Lugosi had just arrive from Los Angeles where he has been spending his time in the talkies since his last engagement here as the touring star of Dracula. He had come in response to a summons from George Ebey, who felt that Oakland might like to while away the dog days with an honest chill or two.

“You’re a native of Hungary, is it not?” I asked in my best continental manner as Lugosi crunched up a pair of cereal biscuits in his hand as a start on the breakfast.

“It is so,” responded the genial Lugosi, who is only sinister when he dons the bat-cape of the vampire count

“Now, about your first name?” I pursued relentlessly, dropping a spoonful of marmalade on the table cloth, utterly destroying its pristine loveliness. “What is the English equivalent of your first name?”

“Bela?” He parried. “Must you know?”

“It might help.”  I admitted. “So far we’ve simply been taking on food. After all, I’m supposed to take back some burning message to my well known and rapidly shrinking public.”

“Bela,” he began sadly, “if translated into your English would be Adelbert.”

“Adelbert,” I repeated in a small voice, “Adelbert Lugosi. You never could play Dracula as Adelbert.”

“I suppose not,” agreed Lugosi, starting to destroy a large quantity of fresh figs. “However, they might call me Bert. I’ve been called worse.”

“You’d better leave it at Bela,” I suggested. “Bela is a mysterious sort of name and seems to fit the part.”

*

From that the conversation veered to the history of the play and Lugosi’s part in its American presentation.

He had the distinction of being selected from a group of 27 standard featured players in New York for the original Horace Liveright production. Since that time he has appeared as Count Dracula nearly 1,000 times with three leading women in his support.

“It is a peculiar role in many respects,” Lugosi explained. “When you see the play Dracula seems to be constantly on the stage. A casual glance would indicate that he speaks as many lines as Hamlet. Yet, as a matter of fact, the number of ‘sides’ is small. The professor really has a great many more.”

“But, if Count Dracula is not particularly chatty, he presents other difficulties. I find that it requires time and meditation to catch the mood of the character; each performance must be approached with some care. The result is that one doesn’t weary of the part.”

“I am looking forward to the screen production which is being planned by Universal. As you know, Dracula represents but a small portion of the story as outlined in the Bram Stoker novel. There is one scene in particular that cannot be presented on the stage but would be most effective on the screen.”

“I refer to that episode describing Dracula’s voyage by sea to England. He starts on a vessel containing a full complement of sailors. Each night the vampire, in order to retain his earthly form, must drink the blood of one human. Each morning there is a dead sailor. Finally the vessel comes within view of the coast of England. One sailor remains and Dracula takes his hideous toll.”

“As the vessel comes onto the rock bound coast Dracula is at the wheel of the charnel vessel but the countryside has been aroused. The Britons are awaiting him, prepared to drive the stake through his heart that will stop him from further walking on the earth. Dracula runs the ship on the rocks, wrecks it and turns himself into a wolf. As they shoot at him, he changes to a bat, flies away and escapes. It should make a most stirring picture.”

Bat Head 3

The Olean Herald, Olean, New York, October 24, 1930

SHOOTING BEGINS EARLY

By Robbin Coons

NEA Service Writer

Transcriber’s Note: The below is an extract syndicated news column that appeared in many newspapers on or about October 24, 1930.

When Bela Lugosi received the script for his talkie role he was told that shooting would begin the next day.

He had a mere 65 pages of dialog to learn.

But when he made his debut on the English-speaking stage in New York in 1922, he had a greater task.

A political refugee from Austria after the war, he came to New York and joined a Hungarian stock company playing American cities of large Hungarian population.

He had been an actor abroad since he was 20, and in the strange country naturally turned again to the stage. The company gave performances in Hungarian only, and Lugosi could not speak English.

Sound Effects

One night his work attracted a stage producer who came to his dressing-room with an offer. Speaking German, they reach an agreement. That was in April. By September, the actor was to learn the leading role in The Red Poppy—in English.

He did it with the aid of a coach, not learning the language, but merely the sound of the words in his lines!

Lugosi, of course, now is identified so closely with the title role of the horror playDracula that his name is scarcely mentioned in any connection, but he played four other roles in New York before Dracula began it two-year run.

In Europe he had made his debut as Romeo, and portrayed Armand in Camille, various characters from Shakespeare and Ibsen, and diverse other roles.

A Role Lived

He hopes when the talkie Dracula is completed, to escape the shackles of the role and essay other characterizations.

He will never again play Dracula on the stage, he says. If the wide distribution of the film did not make such a venture unprofitable, he would refuse because of the nervous strain the gruesome character puts upon him.

He has given some 900 performances of the vampire role, each requiring intense mental concentration and a complete assumption of the morbid spirit of the terror in order to give his portrayal maximum effect.

Attempts to make his performance purely mechanical, he says, always failed because audiences refused to react to them.

Lugosi off-screen, incidentally, continues as a prime example of old-world courtesy and friendly charm.

Bat Head 3

The Olean Times, Olean, New York, December 8, 1930

MOVIE CHAT

By Dan Thomas

NEA Service Writer

Transcriber’s Note: The below is an extract syndicated news column that appeared in many newspapers on or about December 8, 1930.

A political upheaval in Hungary plus a pretty American girl equals Bela Lugosi, film star.

After being forced out of his native country back in 1921, Lugosi got a job on a tramp steamer bound for New Orleans. There he left the ship and, according to the law, was entitled to remain in this country for three months to look for another job. But he had no intention of following the sea. So he went to New York to see the immigration authorities instead.

After explaining his status in his native land to them, the actor who for several years had been a star on the Hungarian stage, prevailed upon them to let him remain here and become a citizen of the United States. But he couldn’t speak any English. So he organized a Hungarian dramatic company, of which he was the star, and toured cities which had a large enough Hungarian population to support his plays.

Fell in Love

Then the girl entered the picture. It was a case of love at first sight with both of them, despite the fact that neither could spark the other’s language.

“You now there is a language that is universal and it doesn’t require words to express it,” Lugosi remarked. “For a number of weeks that mutual understanding was our language. But she started to teach me English and in six months I could speak it well enough to get a role in an American play. I had to play the role of a foreigner, as I still had quite an accent, but I got by very well.”

Although Lugosi enjoyed considerable success in New York in all of his shows, it was playing the title role in Dracula that brought him the fame which now is his. That show was one of the most successful ever put on Broadway and brought Lugosi much personal acclaim. So when Universal started making the film version, they engaged Lugosi to play the role which he had created behind the footlights. And he did so well that he was handed a five-year contract.

“Of course, it’s one of those contracts where the studio can keep me for five years if it wants to or it can let me go at any time,” said the actor. “That’s the way all contracts are written out here. The studios always have the best of things.

Hollywood Puzzles Him

“I can’t say what I am going to do now that Dracula is finished. I have heard rumors that I am to make this and that picture, but I don’t know for sure. It seems that a person who is going to do something always is the last one to find out about it out here. I might even go back on the stage again sometime, but I’m not certain about that. I would like to stay in pictures at least log enough to live down the reputation I earned in Dracula.

“Things are so funny in this country. The minute an actor makes a particularly big hit in a certain role he is stamped as that type and I don’t want to be stamped. I am a character actor and want to prove to producers and audiences that I can do more than one type of role.”

Lugosi is one of the most interesting men and most finished actors we have run across in the film racket in some time. He knows his profession forward and backward. But his knowledge doesn’t end there. He can talk intelligently on almost any subject although his pet pastime is studying human nature. Perhaps that explains his ability as an actor. Having studied all types and classes of persons he can inject realism into any part for which he is cast.

Bat Head 3

The Republic, Phoenix, Arizona, December 16, 1930

POLTICAL UPHEAVAL IN HUGARY TOSSES

ACTOR INTO HOLLYWOOD

Bela Lugosi is a Versatile Actor

by Dan Thomas

Hollywood, Dec 15—A political upheaval in Hungary plus a pretty American girl equals Bela Lugosi, film star.

After being forced out of his native country back in 1921, Lugosi got a job on a tramp streamer bound for New Orleans. There he left the ship, and according to the law, was entitled to remain in this country for three months to look for another job. But he had no intention of following the sea. So, he went to New York to see the immigration authorities instead.

After explaining his status in his native land to them, the actor, who for several years had been a star of the Hungarian stage, prevailed upon them to let him remain here and become a citizen of the United States. But he couldn’t speak any English. So he organized a Hungarian dramatic company, of which he was the star, and toured cities which have a large enough Hungarian population to support his plays.

Fell in Love

Then the girl entered the picture. It was a case of love at first sight with both of them, despite the fact that neither could speak the other’s language.

“You know there is a language that is universal and it doesn’t require word to express it,” Lugosi remarked. “For a number of weeks that mutual understanding was our language. But she started to teach me English and in six months I could speak it well enough to get a role in an American play. I had to play the role of a foreigner, as I still had quite an accent, but I got by very well.”

Although Lugosi enjoyed considerable success in New York in all of his shows, it was playing the title role in Dracula that brought him the fame which now is his. That show was one of the most successful ever put on Broadway and brought Lugosi much personal acclaim. So when Universal started making the film version, they engaged Lugosi to play the role which he created behind the footlights. And he did so well that he was handed a five-year contract.

“Of course, it’s one of those contracts where the studio can keep me for five years if it wants to or I can let me go at any time,” said the actor. “That’s the way all contracts are written out here. The studios always have the best of things.”

Hollywood Puzzles Him

“I can’t say what I am going to do now that Dracula is finished. I have heard rumors that I am to make this and that picture, but I don’t know for sure. It seems that a person who is going to do something always is the last one to find out about it out here. I might even go back on the stage again sometime, but I’m not certain about that. I would like to stay in pictures at least long enough to live down the reputation I earned in Dracula.

“Things are so funny in this country. The minute an actor makes a particularly big hit in a certain role he is stamped as that type and I don’t want to be stamped. I am a character actor and want to prove to the producers and audiences that I can do more than one type of role.”

Lugosi s one of the interesting men and most finished actors we have run across in the film racket in some time. He knows his profession forward and backward. But his knowledge doesn’t end there. He can talk intelligently on almost any subject, although his pet pastime is studying human nature. Perhaps that explains his ability as an actor. Having studied all types and classes of persons he can inject realism into any part for which he is cast.