1939: Second Chance, Second Thoughts

Son of Frankenstein, with Bela Lugosi in the surprising role of Ygor, opened in January 1939 to great success. Movie horror returned, and Lugosi’s long drought in acting work ended. He appeared in three more movies in 1939 and one 12-part serial. His roles for once had some variety: a mad doctor in The Phantom Creeps (serial), a criminal mastermind in Dark Eyes of London, a sinister butler in The Gorilla, and a Russian commissar in Ninotchka. Stereotyping still held him in its grip; but Ygor at least broadened his repertoire to include a few ominous servants.

Memories of the three years of near-total unemployment, with the loss of his home, never left Lugosi. In interviews, he harps on the horrors of insecurity and the fear of not providing for his family.  

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Son of Frankenstein Photo 14

Bela Lugosi as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein


The Advertiser, Adelaide, January 21 1939

The Horror Boys Article Photo


The Horror Boys Start Work


BORIS KARLOFF, the Frankenstein monster, will return to the screen shortly under the auspices of Universal Studios. Aiding him in spine-chilling effects will be Bela Lugosi, associated formerly with newly-dug graves and vampires, and Basil Rathbone, sinister villain of many a cinema epic.

Does the public want more of “The” Horror Boys,’ as they are affectionately called? A recent survey showed that audiences, particularly young audiences, arc clamoring for them. Before starting “The Son of Frankenstein,” Universal decided to reissue some of the old thrillers to check up on audience reactions. Neighborhood theatres showed a triple bill that week, “Fran kenstein,” “The Vampire,” and “The Bride of Frankenstein.” to capacity houses. This thoroughly satisfied them that if the public will go crazy over the “Horror Boys” in three different films, they will certainly pay their pennies to the box-office for the colossal spectacle of the boys together in one film. It was Bela Lugosi, Hungarian actor, who gave me a few facts of the filming of the latest hair-raiser. Mr. Lugosi looked properly repulsive going through all his scenes with his head on one side.

“You see,” he said, with a deprecating smile, “I was found dead in an old dark house, hanging by the neck. Being revived by Basil Bathbone and subject to his will, I go through life with my head on one side, due to my in curably broken neck. I am Rathbone’s slave.”

“But where does Boris Karloff come In?” I asked.

“Ah, I discover him,” continued Mr. Lugosi, trying to get the stiffness out of his neck. “In the last Frankenstein picture, the laboratory blew up, killing Frankenstein, but not the monster who was left suspended midway between this life and the next by a mysterious cosmic ray. I find him and Rathbone brings him back to life. Karloff  isn’t working today. The studio tries to give him as much time off as possible, as his part is so wearying on him. Did you know that his make-up takes three hours to apply, and one hour to Temove? Speaking of make-up, let me tell you a story in connection with this picture.

“Our producer got the idea in a dream one night of filming us in technicolor. He was so excited at this thought that had not occurred to anybody else, that he ordered tests to be made immediately of our ghoulish make-up.

“Some days later the tests were ready and the producer and his associates hied themselves to the projection room to look us over. They never saw the tests through, though, for the minute Boris Karloff came on the screen even the hardened producer was ready to drop with fright and disgust. He lost no time in stopping the machine that flashed that evil face dripping with gangrenous hues on to the screen.

“Stop!” he yelled. “It is much too horrible. Stop It!” “The Son of Frankenstein” will not be filmed in color, for although every known device is being used to promote eeriness and horror, the natural medium of color has been pronounced much too realistic and violent in its impact.

Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff are both Englishmen who made their first successes on the London stage. Since we saw him last Boris (who is gentle and mild-mannered off the screen and whose favorite occupation is cricket) has made a picture in England, and also one for Warner Brothers entitled “Devil’s Island.” He seems to play unwholesome parts and to wear pounds of heavy make-up, but he is very philosophical about his reputation as the finest baby-frightener in the world.

Basil Rathbone plays a sympathetic army officer in “Dawn Patrol” just to vary his villainous menu somewhat, but has now re-entered the realm of terror and is quite proud of his reputation as a “Horror Boy.”

Half a million dollars has been set aside as a budget for the “Horror Boys” and the studio hopes to reap many times this amount in box-office returns when “The Son of Frankenstein” is released. 

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The Gorilla Lobby Card


Pressbook for The Gorilla, circa 1939


His name in Bela Lugosi—but he’ll never be a movie “horror man” if his famous Dad has anything to say about it.

Discussing his only child, Bela Jr., on the set of The Gorilla at 20th Century-Fox, Lugosi told director Allan Dwan and the Ritz Brothers that he is starting early to dissuade the boy from any inclinations to follow in his footsteps

“Acting is too hazardous a career. The income is uncertain, and it is one field in which very few succeed. I would prefer to see Bela, Jr. in chemistry or electrical engineering,” explained Lugosi.

*          *          *

Versions of the pressbook piece would appear in newspapers in cities where The Gorillaplayed, such as in

The San Francisco News, March 4, 1939


If Bela Lugosi has any say in the matter, his son and only child, Bela, Jr., won’t follow in his father’s footsteps.

On the set of The Gorilla at 20th Century-Fox, the horror man of the movies told director Allan Dwan and the Ritz Brothers that he is going to start early to divert any inclinations in the youngster to emulate his famed daddy.

“I intend to interest him in more stable fields than acting,” said Lugosi. “It is too hazardous a career, an income uncertain, and it is one field in which very few succeed. For Bela, Jr., I would prefer chemistry or electrical engineering.

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The Corona Daily Independent, Corona, California, March 4, 1939


Hollywood Bela Lugosi waited two years for the telephone to ring, but when it did the noted Hungarian actor felt that he had hit the movie jackpot.

On the set of the 20th Century-Fox picture, The Gorilla, the horror man of the movies looked back on the two-year Lugosi “drought” and sighed his thanks that it was over.

“For 24 months I did not get a single call from the studios,” he said. “Not withstanding the whims of Hollywood and caught unprepared, I was hit doubly hard.

“It was then that I first learned what Hollywood means when it says a person is ‘on the wrong side of the fence.’ Mind you, no personal reasons were attached. It was simply that I suddenly found myself a type not in demand.

“It was a disheartening experience after so many years as a star in Europe and a recognized figure on the American stage and screen.”

“In the middle of those anxious months, our first baby, Bela, Jr., arrived. I would have been willing to fight for a job. But there was no one to fight, no one had anything against me personally.”

But Hollywood relented as it always does in the case of actors with real talent. But it was two years between telephone calls for Lugosi. The party on the other end of the telephone was a casting director at Universal studios who asked if Lugosi was available for a role inSon of Frankenstein. Available! Lugosi was willing to be at work in 10 minutes.

The success of the horror picture re-established Lugosi in the minds of casting directors and Universal signed him to a three-year contract.

He also was signed to a separate contract to appear with the Ritz Brothers in The Gorilla. And to top it all off, Lugosi is making 37 transcriptions for a radio mystery serial in which he is starred. He also is considering a deal to go to England and make a picture for British International pictures.

Is it any wonder that Lugosi sits around the set humming snatches of songs and grinning happily at everyone?

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April 5, 1939

Broadway Newsreel by Hy Gardner

Broadway Newsreel, April 5, 1939Mr. Lugosi trying to put a Frankenstein act on for our Mr. Gardener’s edification

(In which Columnist Bela Lugosi outscares Bogey Man Gardner)

LUGOSI: You know, you remind me an awful lot of Eddie Cantor …

GARDNER:  Except for s slight difference.

LUGOSI: What’s the difference?

GARDNER: About $260,000 a year and five daughters.

LUGOSI:  Have a cigar, Mr. Gardner. My cigars have no nicotine in them. The doctor says nicotine makes you nervous …

GARDNER:  Fine thing. You worried about getting nervous … And after the shivers you’ve give 130,000,000 Americans, too. Tell me, if you don’t mind my asking the questions, when you were a little boy were you afraid to sleep alone in the dark?

LUGOSI: That’s the first time anybody ever asked me that question. I never had a chance to be scared when I went to sleep because I came from a poor Hungarian family and there were too many of us in the house to be alone or to be frightened. BUT I found out that I was afraid to be alone when I first went to Hollywood.

GARDNER:  In other words, you didn’t agree with Greta Garbo’s policy of being alone?

LUGOSI:  I don’t know about Greta, but I do know that I moved into a very large house all by myself and thought I have a couple working for me they lived in a different wing of the home. And when I went to bed at night I never could fall asleep — It was so dreary and never-wracking. I’d read and read and read until the coming of the dawn. That seemed a little friendlier. 

GARDNER:  Well, when did you finally get over it?

LUGOSI:  I got over it when I married my first wife.

GARDNER:  What do you mean your “first wife?”

LUGOSI: I’ve been married four times.

GARDNER:  Don’t tell me that Tommy Manville’s been making those Dracula pictures!

LUGOSI: No, the name is still Lugosi. I got married the first time because I was lonesome and I needed companionship and I got it for two years.

GARDNER: What about your second wife?

LUGOSI:  I was married to her for 14 days, and before you go any further let me tell you that that was a long time compared to the duration of my third marriage.

GARDNER:  Well, how long — or how  short a time did that last?

LUGOSI:  Exactly three days …

GARDNER:  In other words, you’ll almost be a Broadway columnist as long as you were married to your third wife. Would you call her a guest wife?

LUGOSI: I don’t know what you’d call her, but I think that marriage is like everything else. It’s a matter of a good break, and I finally found a woman six years ago who is a mother, a goddess, a watchdog, a secretary and a wife all combined. She was Lillian Arch before she became Mrs. Lugosi, and we’re now on our seventh year together.

GARDNER:  That would seem to indicate that “4” is par on your matrimonial course, huh?

LUGOSI: “Pa” is right … I became a daddy 14 months ago and I’ve never been happier.

GARDNER:  I understand that Boris Karloff had a baby girl about the same time.

LUGOSI: Yes, he did. We often get together and talk about when our children grow up and how nice it would be if they fell in love with each other.

GARDNER:  That would be a fine romance … The son and daughter of two bogey men.

LUGOSI:  Talking about my son — If you saw the picture “Son of Frankenstein” you will remember I was Igor, the fellow who was hung for murder but who lived with a broken neck. The part was difficult and I had to keep my neck and shoulder in a vice for so long that for six weeks after the picture was finished I still walked around with my head and shoulders bent to the left. Lillian made me stay away from our little boy for a while because he began walking round-shouldered too — she thought he might think that was the proper way to walk.

GARDNER: What do most people say to you when they meet you?

LUGOSI:  Most people are very nice and I think that just as many of them that say “hello” also say “Come now, Bela, scare us.” Nevertheless, they look upon my parts of Dracula and Igor just as characters and don’t confuse it with my own personality.

GARDNER:  What clubs do you visit when you are in New York?

LUGOSI:  I don’t go to clubs very often. My favorite place is Zimmerman’s Budapest … I love to sit and eat Hungarian food and I could listen to Hungarian music all night.

GARDNER: Can you play any instrument?

LUGOSI: I can play the piano a little

GARDNER: Do you think you’ll ever get a chance to play the piano in a picture?

LUGOSI: I don’t know. That’s up to Universal. I just signed a contract to make eight pictures for them and they promised they won’t all be children scarers.

GARDNER:  I understand you’re going to England. What are you doing there?

LUGOSI: I’m just going there for a trip — to make a picture out of Edgar Wallace’s story, “The Dark Eyes of London” … I should be back here on April 21.

GARDNER: You came from Hungary. Are you a citizen of the United States.

LUGOSI: Yes, thank God … I’ve lived here for 20 years and I have been a citizen for 10 years. I hope I am a good one. I know I don’t take it for granted. I feel I am an awfully lucky person to be an American and I think that every naturalized American and every person born in this land should kneel on his knees every morning and utter a prayer for being an American.

GARDNER:  That’s one of the most potent punch lines any column ever had — so thanks, Dracula, for a happy ending …


L. Zimmerman Budapest Restaurant was located at 117 W. 48th St. in New York CityL. Zimmerman Budapest Restaurant was located at 117 W. 48th St. in New York City


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The Hattiesburg American, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, August 29, 1939


by Robin Coons

Hollywood—It’s a little snow-white bungalow with baby-blue window shutters and you’d expect Shirley Temple to live there.

You know who does live there? Bela Lugosi. Bela, the bogeyman, and Mrs. Bela, his young American wife, and Bela, Jr., who is 18 months old now.

A delicious suggestion of an aroma insinuates itself from the atmosphere from the kitchen. There’s a Hungarian cook in there, and what a cook! Bela is just up—he reads until 4 a.m. daily and is having his unghoulish breakfast of cantaloupe, pears, peaches, gooseberries, milk—but our lunch is a dream of fragrance and delight. Stuffed cabbage, ah-h-! A meal in itself, and such a meal! Then coffee, and a dessert—palacsinta. That’s Hungarian pan-cake, folded over guava and papaya jelly.

Then talk. Movie villains, especially the horror men are charming people. That goes for Karloff, for Peter Lorre, for Lugosi. They do not always tend their flowers personally, but almost invariable they love their children and dogs.

*          *          *

The living room is not elaborate. The house is small, not like the mansion the Lugosis had once upon a time. The furniture is heavy, leathered-upholstered. The enormous grand piano fills one-third of the room.

Bela has just done what every actor wants to do. He has worked with Garbo. A small role in Ninotchka. Small, but important to him. This, he says, may be the role that will restore him to his lost past. He shares the scenes alone with Garbo. He plays a straight character, not a bogey-man. Producers, directors will see the Garbo picture because they will see Garbo. Lugosi hopes also they will see Lugosi, playing straight.

His is not a new story in Hollywood. For 20 years he was on the Hungarian stage, went to New York a success. Because he played there the horror role of Dracula and was brought to Hollywood to make the picture, he became “Dracula” to movie-makers. This was well—he had a mansion then—until the censors clamped down on horror pictures.

“For two years,” he says, “I did not work. I stay by the telephone. I hypnotized it by sitting looking at it, waiting for a call. None came. I lost my home, my car, my furniture, almost everything. I borrowed money to live. I almost went crazy.

*          *          *

Then a little theater in town tried an experiment. A full fill of horror films. Frankensteinand Dracula together. Lines waited outside to get in, night after night. The horror vogue swept the country. Universal promptly called Karloff and Lugosi for The Son of Frankenstein. Lugosi small role was expanded as the film developed, expanded to equal Karloff’s. After that, Lugosi had “come back,” was in demand again.

“The baby came,” says Bela, “just before that picture. There a Hungarian proverb which applies: ’When the Lord gives a lamb, He provides a pasture for it.”

Today, thanks to that picture, to The Shadow Creeps, to Ninotchka and others, Lugosi has reclaimed his car, his furniture, paid all his debts.

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Garbo and Lugosi in Ninotchka


The New York World Telegram, October 17, 1939


He Came Back on a Revived Dracula and Now Things Are Rosy in a Scary Way

By H. Allen Smith

There was no doubt about it. Someone was in Room 3601. There were noises such as might be made by a body being dragged across the floor. There were thuds now and again, and occasionally a weird sound like a moan. Yet nobody came to answer the door buzzer.

So back downstairs to the lobby of Essex House and another phone to Room 3601. It brought an immediate response. “Yes,” said the deep, hallow voice. “I have been here all the while. Alone. Come up.”

This time the door of Room 3601 was ajar. No one was in view, so we walked into the living room. Suddenly from the bedroom came scream that was as suddenly cutoff and followed by a burst of hellish laughter.

Bela Lugosi stood in the doorway, a boyish grin spreading over his dark face, a bottle of sulphur water in his hand.

“Come in,” he urged. “Sit down. It is nice that you come. But I am a horror man to everyone, so I give a little atmosphere.”

It was quite early in the morning and Mr. Lugosi had on a bright red robe over his pajamas. He drinks imported mineral water so heavy with sulphur that it expands the walls when a bottle is opened.

“It smells,” he agreed, “like rotten eggs, but tastes good. I have come East to be on the radio with Mr. MacKeefie.”


Translated from the Hungarian, this last sentence means that Mr. Lugosi is here for a guest shot with Walter O’Keefe at CBS tonight, when we will play a werewolf with a terrible case of rabies.

In Hollywood, Mr. Lugosi recently finished a role in “Ninotchka” with Greta Garbo. It was the first traffic he ever had with the glamorous Swede and he’s all for her. He’s the kind of fellow who, if he didn’t like her, would say so in spades.

“We are both racketeering in mystery,” he said. “She is mysterious by publicity and I am mysterious by trade. I thought she would be a spoiled badness, but she was not. I did not fall in love with her at first, but later yes. She is so damn human it is wonderful.”


Mr. Lugosi has gone through some trying times during the last few years. He confesses that the economic horrors almost got him down. The days of defeat were bitter, because they followed on a period of fine prosperity.

“I had a fine big house,” he said, “with plenty of servants and big automobiles. Then comes the non-horror fad. Bela cannot get a job. I lost everything. I lost my house and my cars and we move to a little house I lease. Next comes the baby. I tell you, I had not enough money for it. The actor relief fund helped me pay for the baby.”

Then one day the owner of a small Hollywood theater, facing bankruptcy, started reviving old horror pictures. He brought in “Dracula” and it ran for five weeks.

“One day,” said Lugosi, “I drive past and see my name, and big lines, people all around. I wonder what he is giving away to the people—maybe bacon or vegetables. But it is the comeback of horror, and I come back.

Universal went to work on “Son of Frankenstein.” Then Mr. Lugosi shipped to England to make “Dark Eyes of London.” Next came the part of the sinister butler in “The Gorilla,” then “The Phantom Creeps” and “Ninotchka.” His next picture assignment is “Friday the 13th.”

“It all happens, you see when the baby comes,” he explained. “It is like the proverb the peasant have in Hungary—God makes a place in the pasture for the new lamb. New we have a small house. I do not have to telephone from room to room to find out where my wife is. Not if I had millions would I go back to the old way.”

Doesn’t he ever get tired of being typed as a horror-man?

“I could say yes,” he agreed, “but I don’t. We are all after the little dollars to pay the rent, and so long as we get the little dollars, it is all right. But remember that for 20 years, I was a straight actor, never even a villain. Then Universal says: ‘Lugosi. Horror. Box Office. Fine’ And I am horror.”

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Horror Man At Home, The New York Post, 1939

The New York Post, October 19, 1939


By Michael Mok

 Note: Lugosi’s quotes in the original interview reproduce his accent and pronounciation. Thus, the first quote below, “It was nothing but coincidence” is printed as “It was nottink but go-inzidentz.” That’s rather distracting. The transcription below captures what Lugosi said, and not the way he said it.

“It was nothing but coincidence,” said Bela Lugosi, explaining how he, a native of Transylvania, the stomping ground, so to speak, of vampires, evil spirits, the undead and other eerie sleep-disturbers, happened to bat-wing in the title role of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”

“In 1926 Horace Liveright saw the play in London. He was crazy about it. He must do it on Broadway. So he says to the director, ‘Get me an actor that looks like Dracula! The director chases around and around but cannot find him. He has lunch with Horace at the Harvard Club and tells him he gets no actors that look like Dracula. Finally Horace says, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, then get me just an actor!”

In a slow, rumbling beer barrel bass, Mr. Lugosi, a tall fiftyish fellow with graying black hair and squinty, green eyes, sat talking in his Essex House apartment. Upon entering, his visitor had noted that the actor’s suite was the only one on the hotel floor with a peephole in the door. Its purpose, said Mr. Lugosi was “not to look out but for them to look in—maybe I’m up to no good.”

*          *          *

Proceeding with his Dracula tale, the Hungarian mummer recalled that he was picked for the part because he played some character roles in evening clothes and was expressed to cut an impressive figure in soup-&-fish with bat wings attached.

He played the Evil Monster for a year in New York, but when the company took to the road he left it to try his luck on the Pacific coast. There—at the Biltmore Theatre in Los Angeles—he continued to impersonate the creepy Count—fluttering through the dank night air, drinking blood of fair young maidens and finally dying with a stake through his heart.

“Then,” said Mr. Lugosi, “the movies wanted to do it. The Bram Stoker heirs asked for $200,000 for the film rights but Universal didn’t like to pay that much. So they asked me would I correspond with Mrs. Stoker, the widow, and get it maybe a little cheaper.”

*          *          *

I write and write until I get cramps, and about two months Mrs. Stoker says okay, we can have it for $60,000. So what does Universal do from gratitude? From gratitude they start to test two dozen fellas for Dracula—but not me!”

“And who was tested? De cousins and bother-in-laws of the Laemmles—all their pets and the pets of their pets! This goes on for a long time and then old man Laemmle says, “There’s nobody in the family that can play it, so why don’t you hire an actor?”

And that is how Mr. Lugosi came to play Dracula on the screen. His luck, however, was short-lived. Soon after the release of the film, Great Britain banned all horror pictures and Hollywood which derived nearly 40% of its gross take from British sales, stopped making shockers. Mr. Lugosi who, of course, was definitely typed by this time, was out of work for two full years.

It was when the movie manufacturers, encouraged by successful revivals of the Dracula film in this country, resumed the horror racket for the domestic trade that our hero was cast for Son of Frankenstein.

“This fellow,” said the actor, “was hanged but he does not die—only breaks his neck. For Dracula I used no heavy makeup but for Frankenstein—God he was cute! He was first a little part but every day the director makes him bigger and finally he is the biggest part in the picture.”

After that he made Dark Eyes of London, The Gorilla and The Shadow Creeps. His latest job was a straight job in Greta Garbo’s Ninotchka—his first straight role in 13 years.

“I like horror parts,” said Mr. Lugosi. “Sincerely I like them, but not exclusively. I like a little this, a little that – a little straight, a little character, a little everything. I would like to play a middle-aged romantic part -like Milton Sills used to play -a fella of fifty maybe that is still open to romance in his limitations.”

When he was a child in Transylvania, said Mr. Lugosi, he was like all youngsters in that region, frightened out of his wits by peasant maids and nurses who talked by the hour of vampires, evil spirits and the undead -those hapless mortals who only seem to die but don’t pass away until a stake is driven through their hearts.

“Never did I go down in our cellar which was full of wild bats,” Mr. Lugosi recalled, “Mean little bats, so small as sparrows, but when they fly in your hair, you must die. There were also great big bats flying around at dusk, and the peasant women put their shawls on their heads for protection.

As a schoolboy, the actor said, he developed into a hero among the lads of Lugos, his home town. There were two schools – Hungarian and Romanian – and the pupils of the two institutions waged bloody battles.

“I was the commanders of the Hungarians,” said Lugosi. “I was a hat hunter. Like the Indians used to collect the scalps of their enemies, so I collected the hats of the Romanian boys. In two years I got 1,500! I put them up for sale and made a lot of money.

Mr. Lugosi, who came to New York to do a couple of broadcasts, said he would remain a little longer in town if he could interest the managers of the Hobby Lobby program in his early hat-hunting adventures.

“Otherwise,” he said, “I go back to Hollywood. Here is too dear to stay. I live at this hotel for bluff’s sake – to impress you boys from the press. But, God, how it costs! Every time I drink a glass of water, there goes another quarter!”

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The Hammond Times, Hammond, Indiana, December 7, 1939


HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 7.—Hollywood’s first “horror theater,” patterned after the Grand Guignol of Paris, and to be known as Petite Guignol, will be construed by Bela Lugosi in the basement of the new home he is to build in the San Fernando valley.

Lugosi, who created the role of Count Dracula on the New York stage and later in pictures, has long desired to organize and direct a playhouse where short sketches dealing with the occult, magic and metaphysics could be presented.

Under the plans outlined by Lugosi the playhouse will be decorated in weird designs dealing with the occult and the entrance will be through an underground tunnel suggestive of the catacombs.

Original plans will be produced in the theater and young actors and actresses striving for a foothold in the theater and in pictures will be given an opportunity to display their talents. There will be no salaries for the players, director or others connected with the venture, and admission money will be used for actual expenses.

Lugosi plans to invite other players interested in the venture to act as a board of directors on the project, and Dr. Manley P. Hall, noted lecturer and writer, already is working on playlets for the group.