1934: Back To Hollywood

1934 begins with horror films in eclipse, and with Lugosi on the east coast, looking for stage work. The year ends with both in high demand in Hollywood. The catalyst is The Black Cat, the first Lugosi-Karloff co-starrer. He has not much to do with the press. A publicity piece from The Black Cat, an outlandish soliloquy and a more restrained visit to his house in fan magazines, are the only “interviews” for 1934.

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The Black Cat Press Book

A page from The Black Cat press book

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Universal Publicity Release, circa 1934

LUGOSI WANTS TO DO ABOUT-FACE IN FILMS

Transcriber’s Note: The article below is from the Press Book for the 1934 release of The Black Cat. It would have used in newspapers in towns playing the movie. As with all press books, the quotes attributed to Lugosi may be fabricated.

One of the quietest and therefore least known actors in Hollywood is Bela Lugosi, who is famed on the screen for his outstanding characterizations of the strange, bizarre and even fantastic roles.

For years a stage artist with an all consuming creative impulse, Lugosi’s entrance into motion pictures came unheralded and unannounced, judging by the star making methods of the industry, but after his first motion picture there was no denying  him the applause and acclaim that was his by earned and justified merit.

That picture was Dracula, that unforgettable, super-thriller, I which Lugosi expended every ounce of his creative art to make the character of the “Vampire” live and breathe.

In his own words, Lugosi says of it: “The character of the ‘Vampire’, or Count Dracula, as he was known in his human guise, was perhaps the most difficult role I ever portrayed either on stage or on screen. It was not sufficient merely to act the part, but actually to reach out into the unknown and live it.”

“But a strange thing happened to me following this film. I discovered that every producer in Hollywood had definitely set me down as a ‘type’—an actor of this particular kind of role. Considering that before Dracula, I had never, in along, varied career on the stage of two continents, played anything but leads and straight characters, I was both amused and bitterly disappointed.”

“Of course, it is true, that every actor’s greatest ambition is to create his own definitive and original role—a character with which he will always be identified, but on the screen I found this to be almost fatal. It took me years to live down Dracula and convince the film producers that I could play almost any other type of role.”

Lugosi has been in motion pictures since 1928 with occasional interludes on the stage in between that time and now, the latest being his role in Murder at the Vanities in New York last season. But like so many of his stage contemporaries he inevitably returns to Hollywood.

“It is the greatest medium of expression an actor knows,” says Lugosi. “While the stage is near and will always be dear to me, I cannot truthfully say I would rather be back on the stage. While it is true that a screen actor has no audience before him, other than his fellow workers, he is nevertheless compensated in the knowledge that millions will see his performance at one time where only hundred could see it on the stage.”

Lugosi life is tied up in his profession. He is one of the most sincere actors in all of Hollywood. He would rather act than eat—and that is the truth. Many times he has forgotten a meal when absorbed in his work—and when he is not working he would rather read and write than do anything else.

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Picture Play, July 1934 3

Picture Play, July 1934

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’l 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’!”

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 palnned to costar the two in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Suicide Club,” and “The Return of Frankenstein.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lugosi – the man!

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Reprinted in Famous Monsters of Filmland, Issue 37.

Original Source not identified, believed to be late 1934.

INSIDE LUGOSI’S HAUNTED HOUSE

“This house,” I said to Bela Lugosi, “is it…is it…?”

“It is haunted,” said Lugosi, “Yes, please…”

I hadn’t heard that the house was haunted, or I wouldn’t have gone there.

I had approached it and, at first sight, it looked harmless enough. A low, dull, red brick house crouched close to the earth on the edge of a precipice, shrouded in ivy dark with trees.

The gates were locked. A “Beware of Dogs!” sign greeted me. From within came the baying of hounds.

I was admitted finally, by a tall young person with a pale face and a pale mouth. Bela Lugosi’s fourth wife.

I awaited him in the living room—or could one call it a living room? There was a portrait of Lugosi on the walls—that too pallid face, those pale eyes, those bloodless lips, those predatory white hands…

There were other pictures on the walls—of Lugosi as “Dracula”…pictures of women of wild faces and distraught black hair and bared breasts and wild hands…the Lugosi coat of arms hung over the cold hearth…taking up one side of the room was a mammoth couch covered with a heavy rug. There were two indentations in that rug concealing, or so it seemed, three separate boxes. Long narrow boxes—were they coffins?

I began to feel chilled and goosefleshy. I remembered that Lugosi has three wives. One stayed with him for a mere 24 hours. Where were they now?

I recalled, too, that he had come from the black mountains where dwelt Bram Stoker’s dread hero, “Dracula.”

There came to my mind talks I have had with Lugosi in the past—the tales he told me of those vampires in the black mountain who kiss human beings into the semblance of death. Lugosi believe these stories.

All sorts of pale and monstrous thoughts crowded in on me as I waited for him. I thought of moldering graveyards and shrieks in the night…the drip, drip, drip of blood…death…I looked up the portrait of the man with the pale green face and the stretching hands and there was something in the atmosphere of that room that made the little, lonely human spirit whine in its thin envelope.

I told myself I was ridiculous. There are no such things as vampire bats and spirits of the dead…that those three things over there covered with the heavy rug were couches, of course…the man Lugosi was a charming Hungarian gentleman who had played “Dracula” and yet I can swear to you that there was something about that house, something in that room, something in the face of that young fourth wife that is not as you or I…

You who read can laugh this off, mockingly. My only answer can be to wish, you too, could stand in that room.

At last Lugosi appeared. He has a beautiful courtesy. But I thought his eyes are slightly sunken as with dreadful thoughts…he looks as though he never sleeps…his hair is dead against the thinness of his skull…

I said to myself, try to be casual and off hand, “My goodness, Mr. Lugosi, this house—is it haunted?”

“It is haunted,” said Bela Lugosi.

“Yes, please…”

I sat down in the nearest chair. I said, with another attempt at being conversational, “That huge couch over there—would there be coffins under that rug?”

I wished I had not asked that question, for Lugosi did not answer me. He smiled that strangely smileless smile of his—and did not answer.

I said, “Tell me, about…this house, please.”

He said, “Your fancy may crawl away from the telling of such a tale. Your reader may not believe. But in order to tell you about the house I must go back a little way. You know that I am married four times. Yes, you know that you have heard about my—my other wives. You know that I came from the black mountains of Hungary where, in the arms of my old nurse, I heard the tales of vampires and saw their victims. Ah, yes, as I grew older and could take notice of things about me. I saw many a young man and young woman grow pale, and sicken and seem to die with no cause given. I had skeptical mind. I read widely. I made a brave attempt to laugh off such nonsense. Folklore gone mad, I told myself. I would shake off the charnel house odors of such fool superstitions.”

“And then, I met the woman. Her age was indeterminable. She was an actress. She was not outstandingly beautiful. Her hair was a pale brown. Her skin was deathly pale at times, at other times it was blood, blood red—that was when she had fed. Her mouth was thin and ravenous. Her teeth were tiny and pointed. She had been married many times. There had been many lovers. One never asked what had become of them. Men feared her; and went to her at her command. Husbands left their wives because of her.”

“I had a wife, too, and two sons. Yes, I have two sons of whom I have never spoken. They are grown boys now. I have never seen them since I—I left. I have never, from that day to this, sent so much as a picture postcard home. Nor have I had one. How should I? I burned all my bridges behind me when I left more than 15 years ago. It was safer to have no communication of any earthly kind. I wish I could say that I did not care, that I thought of those two young men of mine did not matter to me. But I do care, it does matter. However, to get back—at that time I was living the normal life of a young man of the town. I had played Romeo, with some success; I was said to be of outstanding appearance. I had a genial disposition and a happy outlook on life.”

“Then I met—her. The very first time I was introduced to her I broke out into a deathly cold sweat. My heart and pulse raced and then seemed to stop dead. I lost control of my limb and faltered in my speech. I was never happy in her presence. I always felt sick and dizzy and depleted. Yet, I could not remain away from her. She never bade me to come to her, not in words. There was never any of the conventional trappings of assignations. I simply went to her, at odd hours of the day and night, impelled by an agency I neither saw nor heard.

“I lost weight. I hardly slept. I had seen other young men fade and wither before my eyes and had heard the village folk whisper the dread cause. But when it came to me, I did not know it for what it was.”

“It was my mother who forced me to flee the country and never return to it again until that woman and every trace and memory of her vanished from the sight of men…”

“This that I am telling you is the truth. It can be verified if you are curious or incredulous.”

“I came to America. After a time my health returned to me. I tried on two occasions to find human love, to marry and have a home as other men have. You have learned the results. One marriage lasted 24 hours…the other…I can only say that she, the faithful one, was there and gave me to understand that if ever I felt love again, attempted marriage, she would stand between me and fulfillment.”

“For many months, for years I dared not think of love or of marriage. I was determined to stay alone.”

“And then I met my present wife. She was my secretary. She, too, is of Hungarian descent. She was born here. She, too, was raised on the folklore of the country side, the tales of vampires and ghouls and unspeakable things.”

“She loved me, she has told me, at first sight. Something in her ached for me. I did love her—not at first. I had put love from me. Then, day after day, as she worked for me, and with me, did little things for me I had not thought to ask her, a craving for companionship, for a woman in my heart and in my home once more took hold of my very vitals.”

“But I wanted to put her to the test. For weeks before I dared to tell her that I loved her, wanted to marry her. I—I tortured her. They were not nice things, things I did to her. I cannot speak of them. Perhaps it was to test her…perhaps it was an attempt to placate that—that other me. Whatever it was and however shamed my heart, I caused her such suffering as made the tears stream down her face for hours at a time….but she never faltered, never turned away from me.”

“And so, nearly two years ago we married and we found this house.”

“We thought, ‘We will make it safe against invasion of any kind.’ And so we have locks on all the doors, locks that cannot be unlocked by any hands but mine. And no one is admitted to this house unless that person is well known to us. No appointments are made over the phone. We have five hounds and one of them is white and his name is Bodri. He knows. The windows as you case see, are screened and barred and locked. On the landing of each stairway is a large cushion upon which one of the hounds sleeps at night…no footstep, human or otherwise can mount or descend these stairs with their knowing it.”

“And there are times when they howl in the night…howl fearfully though no eye, not even mine, can see what they are howling at.”

“And so, in spite of all these precautions which you, yourself, can see, the house is haunted.”

“I know it first when the dogs began to howl. I knew it when I first saw the white fur rise on Bodri’s body, saw his eyes flatten and his red eyes dilate.”

“And then, that first night in this house and every night thereafter the bat has come. The first night I saw that bay, monstrously big and with but one eye, flattened against the window.”

“It began to be a monomania with both of us—to kill that bat. We had the feeling that if we ridded ourselves of that thing we would be free. We told Bodri to get it. We even hired exterminators to come up and watch for the creature and kill it. We had all kinds of men here lying in wait for it. They finally told us we were imagining it—there was no bat visible. We knew that they thought we were mad.”

“Months went by and then, one night, Bodri got it. We heard him howling in the darkness. He came into the house and he had it in his mouth, limp, dead, hideous beyond words. With a sick heart and shuddering flesh, I went into the garden and there, in the dead of night, I dug a grave for it. I dug a hole deep enough to bury the Giant of Tarsus. I went back to the house and to bed.”

“The next night came. We had a little festive dinner, my wife and I. We drank wine and were very gay. We even talked of the time when we might go back to Hungary, back to Lugos. In the midst of our happy talk, it happened.”

“My wife heard it, first. I could tell that she had heard it by the look on her face. I went to the window. The bat was back again. Not the same one, you say? But yes, it was.”

“I went out into the garden with Bodri beside me. I dug up that deep pit again. The bat was gone. The ground was undisturbed but the bat—was—gone.”

Lugosi rose and walked over to the hearth over which hangs his mother’s coat of arms. He said simply, “I swear that what I am telling you is the truth.”

I rose to go. Mr Lugosi walked with me to the door, unlatched it, took me through the garden, and unlatched the gate. He said, “This is a strange tale to have told you. In the town of Lugos, it would not be thought so strange, nor disbelieved. So often and so frightful is this sort of thing over there, even today, that the townspeople of Lugos often keep their dead for days and sometimes weeks to be sure they have died a Christian depth, and not the hideous half-death of the vampires. But I hope,” Lugosi said, with that slight bow from the waist of his, “I hope I have not frightened you…”

I drove away. I was grateful for the sunshine. I tried to think. What rot! What utter nonsense! I couldn’t—not quite. I thought of this man who lives here, in Hollywood, who walks the street and works in the studios and is charming and courteous and kind. But walks always, with make-up or without, with that pallid face and those white, preternatural hands and smileless smile.

This, at any rate, is the story he told me. I have not exaggerated. I have not dramatized.

You may draw your own conclusions.

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