1943: Having Run The Gamut

Four new Bela Lugosi movies appeared in 1943, but the year is marked by his return to the stage. He had not worked in theatre since 1937 (a two month west coast tour in Tovarich), and had not appeared on stage in Dracula since 1932 (a one week run in Portland, Oregon, though in late 1933 he did appear in an abbreviated version on the vaudeville circuit). Lugosi starred in an east coast tour of Dracula in the spring of 1943, and in a west coast tour of Arsenic & Old Lace. The comedy would become a mainstay of Lugosi’s stage work in post-World War II summer stock.

The theatre tours generated a lot of interviews, as Lugosi & company travelled to city after city, and encounter local reporters.  Those reporters depended a lot on the tour publicity releases. The release for the Dracula tour began included a Lugosi profile that begins with “having run the Hollywood horror gamut from Georgian monsters to baying werewolves…” So, do many of the interviews, though most reporters extracted from Lugosi at least one unique quote for their essays.

In San Francisco, Lugosi’s debut in Arsenic & Old Lace, he received a longer, meatier profile in The San Francisco Chronicle, which devoted its Sunday Supplement “The World of Drama” to Lugosi. When Arsenic & Old Lace moved on to Los Angeles, Lugosi appeared in the play at night, and filmed Return of the Vampire at Columbia during the day. That film gave Lugosi his last top-billing at a major studio, and his second role as a caped, coffin-sleeping, blood-sucking vampire. Lugosi’s “Armand Tesla” is Dracula in all but name.

Otherwise, business as usual on the movie front. Lugosi played a rather sympathetic mad doctor in Monogram’s The Ape Man, and made what is little more than a cameo appearance opposite The East Side Kids’ Ghosts on the Loose. He was again misused by Universal in Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (filmed in late 1942). Lugosi played The Monster, who—thanks to a brain transplant at the end Ghost of Frankenstein—is rather talkative. After filming, Universal reconsidered and deleted all of Lugosi’s dialogue and a good part of his character’s motivation.    

Bat Head 3

1943 Programme Cover

Transcribers Note: From April through June 1943, Bela Lugosi returned to the stage in a theatre tour of Dracula. The souvenir program included a number of past interviews with Lugosi, including the ones below. The others have been posted in the years of their original appearance. The original publication date of these pieces is not known.

From the souvenir program for the 1943 Dracula stage tour



Bela Lugosi Admits He Is Sick of Always Being Introduced as World’s Most Famous Vampire Bat ; to Star in Broadway Play

by Don Craig

Bela Lugosi is a much nicer man off-stage than he is on. He doesn’t growl. He doesn’t wave black capes in your face. He doesn’t ever try to suck blood out of your neck. Not that you expect such things when you to catch a play. But then you don’t often pay a visit to the most famous theatre “vampire.” No, the man behind “Dracula” is very likeable and very interesting. As a matter of fact, you’d hardly know he was the same person—except for that accent which he still hasn’t overcome. At least, that was the impression I had by the time I draped myself over the Fox last night. Mr. Lugosi sat down at his dressing table. “Well, what do you want to know,” he asked. “I want to know whether you are still thrilled over playing ‘Dracula,’” I began. “No!” Bela announced flatly. (He’s the only artist I ever saw who can talk while removing make-up with getting cold cream in his mouth.) “As a matter of fact, I’m sick of it.”

Rather Disconcerting

 Having worked myself up into a splendid enthusiasm for the role in question, I looked a little taken back. Bela laughed. “Suppose you were introduced as a vampire-bat every place you? “I admitted that would be rather disconcerting.” “Well, that’s the way it is with me. It’s gotten so almost nobody but my wife calls me by my right name.”(Incidentally, Mrs. Lugosi travels with her famous husband on most of his tours. She’s a slight, attractive woman who scurries about the room gathering up Dracula’s robes and hanging them on the walls.)


From the souvenir program for the 1943 Dracula stage tour


Hungarian Player Flies from His Native Land after Political Revolution

Once “a Price” was “on the Head” of Bela Lugosi

He made a hit in a colourful role on the stage—but most of the time he didn’t know what he was saying! One of the most remarkable feats in the annals of theatricals was accomplished some years ago by Bela Lugosi, the famous Hungarian actor, shortly after he went to the United States, when his political activities had compelled him to flee from his native country with a price on his head. Appearing as the star of a travelling company presenting plays in the Hungarian language, Lugosi had failed to learn English, but his performance in one of the plays in his repertoire led a New York theatrical manager to approach him with an offer to play a role in The Red Poppy. Fortunately, the manager could talk German, and in that language Lugosi confessed his inability either to understand or speak a word of English. “But give me a chance!” he suggested. “Give me a tutor, take his salary out of my future earnings, and by the time you are ready to start rehearsals I will know my part.” Though he was at first doubtful, the stage director finally agreed to the proposition, and Lugosi at once began an intensive course of study. At such short notice he made no attempt to learn the English language, but under the coaching of his tutor he learned his entire role phonetically, as one might learn the music of a song. He simply memorized and imitated the sounds made by his teacher. Three months later the company came together for the first rehearsal. The other members of the cat, typewritten parts in hand, either read their speeches or stumbled through them in a halting fashion. But Lugosi was letter-perfect, and gave such a convincing portrayal of his role that the other members of the company gathered around him and began to offer their congratulations. The embarrassed Hungarian smiled shyly and shook his head. He did not know what they were saying. But when the play opened he played his part with such consummate artistry that Alan Dale, the frankly-vitriolic critic acclaimed him “the greatest actor ever to come to America.” During the run of The Red Poppy in New York, Lugosi entered the Columbia University and took a course in English, and in 1927, whenDracula was first produced as a stage play, he was engaged to play the title role of Count Dracula.

Bat Head 3

The Hartford Daily Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, April 25, 1943



It is singularly appropriate that Bela Lugosi, the most mysterious man in Hollywood’s colony, lives in the cinema capital’s strangest house.

Lugosi heads the distinguished cast which comes to the stage of the Bushnell Memorial on Saturday, May 1 for two performances of the thrilling Bram Stoker drama, Dracula.

The residence owned by Lugosi is entirely hidden by a high fence on a secluded street in North Hollywood. A visitor can gain entrance to the grounds only by stepping into a tiny room which adjoins the auto-gate and telephoning to the house his identity and the details of his errand. Then, if his story is satisfactory, the electric catch on the inner lock clicks and he is free to enter the grounds. Wide driveways sweep up to the house, which is masked by towering trees.

The house itself is a building of many strange architectural angles with portions of the roof almost touching the ground. Part of the exterior is of stucco, while other sections are of natural wood with bark on. Barbeque, garage and other buildings are of similar construction. The roof of the main house rises sharply to a high peak, surmounted by enormous storks standing beside their nests.

Within the house might be the dwelling of “Dracula” himself. Heavy beams are everywhere, and all doors open in upper and lower sections, which are bound with wrought iron and studded with giant spikes. The windows are of stained glass and illumination is provided by old-fashioned lanterns, the furniture is made to match, even to the grand piano, all of heavy design.

“I really feel,” said Mr. Lugosi, “that I have a home to match and express my personality, the same as I feel when I play parts that call for very hard and arduous work.”

Bat Head 3

The Boston Herald, Boston, Massachusetts, May 2, 1943


by Bela Lugosi

Having run all the alarming Hollywood fight gamuts from Georgian monsters to baying werewolves, it is certainly rather relieving to find myself back in the role of the relatively innocuous blood-sucking vampire. I have sort of an affection for this role, and since to this day people refer to me as “Dracula” Lugosi, I fell a paternalism towards the character very much akin to that which Frankenstein must certainly have felt for the monster he created.

Ordinarily I am a very pleasant soft-spoken gentleman, I think, affably observing the world from my six foot two inches. I love gypsy music, dogs and Hungarian food, which is natural, I think you will agree. However, I am an avowed Roosevelt disciple and I think without doubt the President is the greatest outstanding personality of the day. I am a firm believer in his ideas and ideals and you can put that down in spades. I really believe this is a propitious time for a revival of Dracula. I think audiences need an emotional release and a certain stimulus which this kind of escapist entertainment provides. Now you take after a session of pure undiluted horror, like this, the public is better equipped to cope with the realities of the day.

It is also interesting to me to see that the treatment of this thriller is now being approached in a very different manner by a new cast of people, some who have never even seen the play. Unlike me, they have no preconceived notions of how the dramas should be projected, and they are all eager to contribute something of their own ideas, which is not bad and at times very interesting, I think.

Bat Head 3

Locust Theatre, Philadelphia, May 19-29*

The Philadelphia Record, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 19, 1943


by Elsie Finn

Almost simultaneous with news of Dracula’s arrival in town came word of a series of broken shop windows—all belonging to stamp collectors.

Stamps, of course, would have no interest for Dracula, long-established as a vampire whose only greed is for human blood. But what with Red Cross demands and war shortages the demon might well have discovered a substitute—perhaps the glue on stamps.

With neck carefully concealed (vampires always attack the neck) and our best Sherlock Holmes bonnet, we decided to investigate. Dracula is registered at a local hotel as Bela Lugosi.

Posy-Picking Demon?

Instead of the green-skinned, webbed fingered monster we expected, a large, smooth affiable fellow with squint eyes rose to greet us graciously, he reached a pudgy finger for a nicotine-less cigar and we were at once convinced that here was another posy-picking demon, no more ferocious than Boris Frankenstein Karloff.

Our ease was short-lived.

“My feet get very cold,” said Lugosi, stretching his No. 17’s and wriggling them energetically. “No blood,” he smiled, looking right through our neck scarf.

“I have to message them each night,” said Mr. Dracula, a tall handsome young woman also known as Mrs. Lugosi. We noticed a diamond-studded gold bat pinned at the neck of her dress.

Dogs and Buzzers

“We live very quietly and normally,” Lugosi continued, “behind a lovely high fence. No one can enter our grounds unless we buzz a buzzer—and tie up the dogs.”

“We’ve two of them,” added Mrs. L.

“Gentle as kittens,” said her husband, “except to strangers.”

“The storks are gentle, too,” added the wife. “They nest atop our house and only fly into the faces of those Bela dislikes.”

The Lugosis have been married 10 years and are truly happy according to his wife (she’s his fourth and only fellow Hungarian among them all). One of the reasons for their happiness, according to the husband, is the fact that he had never permitted his wife to dance with another man. Nor he dance with other women.

While the actor was relating the story of his life, his wife moved methodically about, putting things at either parallel or right angles as her husband watched approvingly. Suddenly, he jumped up, bowed, kissed our hand, mopped his brow and was gone.

About Those Stamps

“Those stamps!” Sighed Mrs. Lugosi. “Bela needs two more to complete his Hungarian collection. I hope he gets them – – or – -”

“Or what?” We demanded.

“Poor Manley Hall!” She continued (Hall is a Hollywood scenarist). “Manley’s collection is complete. And if Bela doesn’t get those two stamps before we return to Hollywood….”

Bat Head 3

Erlanger Thatre, Buffalo - May 31 - June 5, 1943


The Buffalo Evening News, Buffalo, New York, May 29, 1943


Terrifying audiences was not always Bela Lugosi’s chief means of earning a livelihood. Until creating the vampire role in Dracula on the American stage in 1927, the screen’s most versatile bogeyman had been regarded as a promising romantic lead who ultimately might do notable things with the classics. He leaned toward Shakespeare and Ibsen.

But after a year on the New York stage as the horrible Count Dracula, the public nor this producers would have Mr. Lugosi any other way. He was consigned to a life of stage and screen horror. Since then, he has played everything from Georgian monsters to baying werewolves.

And, except for a brief period around 1936, Mr. Lugosi always found the dispensing of horror a very profitable business. It has enabled him to pamper his love of wolfhounds, rare postage stamps, music, good books and Hungarian food.

In 1936, however, the British Government banned the horror film, and Hollywood soon stopped making them.

“I had been so long associated with horror parts by then,” Mr. Lugosi asserted, “That I rapidly started on the downward skid. I was facing a personal horror called bankruptcy. Ultimately, however, Hollywood relented and resumed making horror pictures. Now, I am solvent again.”

Mr. Lugosi, who enacts his original vampire role in the revived Dracula coming to the Erlanger Monday for a week’s run, considers the play’s monster “relatively innocuous after the gamut of horror men he has run in Hollywood.

“This is a propitious time for a revival of Dracula,” Mr. Lugosi asserted. “I think audiences need the emotional release and stimulus which this kind of escapist entertainment provides.”

 Bat Head 3

Hanna Theatre, Cleveland, 1943


The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, June 2, 1943


Having run an alarming Hollywood horror gamut from Georgian monsters to baying werewolves, Bela Lugosi is rather relieved to find himself back in the role of the relatively innocuous blood-sucking vampire.

The man whose name has been practically synonymous with all varieties of hair-raising melodramas has an understandable affection for Dracula, which brings him back to the Hanna’s stage tomorrow evening.

His frightening personation of Count Dracula turned Broadway’s footlights on him 18 years ago, inspiring a cycle of graveyard chillers that made him one of the screen’s foremost bogeyman. That is why Lugosi revived his favorite play for this stage tour, which is more or less of a vacation for him.

“I never know what kind of a monster Hollywood will ask me to create next,” said the character actor whose latest film shockers were Bowery at Midnight, Wolf Man, Corpse Vanishes, and Ghost of Frankenstein.

Waited Two Years for Call

Although frightening, fiendish roles brought him a fortune, keeping him busy in the movie mills for 25 years, he likes to recall the days when he portrayed more romantic parts on stages of his native Hungary.

“But I have had my share of bumps,” declared Bela. “For two years I waited for the telephone to ring, but didn’t get one call from the studios when there was a drought of thrillers. You remember when the British Embassy banned horror pictures, and Hollywood ceased producing them in order to retain the English trade.

I suddenly found myself in 1936 a type not in demand. It was a disheartening experience. In the middle of those anxious months our first baby, Bela, Jr., arrived.”

“Just when I was willing to take any sort of roles, a call came from Universal Studios, asking if I was available for a role in Son of  Frankenstein. Available? Why I was willing to be at work in 10 minutes. That picture started films about monsters rolling again, and now the war is adding impetus to another cycle of back-chilling melodramas.”

Crazy About Stamps

Off stage, Lugosi is a bland, soft-spoken gentleman, affably observing the world of realism from his height of six feet two inches. His tastes, oddly enough, run to gypsy music, dogs, Hungarian food and stamps.  He is an ardent collector of tiny, colored, rare bits of paper, with a Hungarian collection that is almost complete.

Mrs. Lugosi, his fourth wife and the only fellow-Hungarian among them all, travels with him, acting as a buffer and adviser.

As long as horror continues to sell at a premium, it seems safe to assume that Bela’s financial worries are over.

Bat Head 3

The Washington Post, Washington, D. C., June 20, 1943


Bela Lugosi, whose name has been practically synonymous with horror since he created the role of Dracula on Broadway years ago, returns to the stage in his original role on Monday  evening, when the revival of Dracula opens at the National Theater for a limited engagement.

Having run an alarming Hollywood horror gamut from Georgian monsters to baying werewolves, Mr. Lugosi is rather relieved to find himself back in the role of the relatively innocuous blood-sucking vampire.

Off-stage, Mr. Lugosi is pleasant and soft-spoken, affably observing the world from his height of 6 feet 2 inches. His tastes run to gypsy music, dogs and Hungarian food. He is, moreover, an avowed Roosevelt disciple.

“The president is the greatest personality of the day, in my opinion,” states Mr. Lugosi, “and I am a firm believer in his ideas and ideals.”

He believes that audience now need the emotional release and stimulus which escapist entertainment line Dracula provides.

Before Mr. Lugosi created the role of Dracula, which proved to be the sensational forerunner of years of projected horror on stage and on screen, he played only romantic leads. Since Dracula, however, the public would have none of Lugosi in anything but horror roles.

He is delighted at the idea of being back to the legitimate theater. “It will be a real thrill to hear an audience gasp in terror. The more horrified they are, the better I like it.”

 Bat Head 3

The Hearne Democrat, Hearne, Texas, July 2, 1943


by Penny Chatmas

In an attempt to forget Congressional disturbances, I dashed down to the National Theater to get a little cheer from their last playoff this season. It turned out that they were doing that gay little play, Dracula with Bela Lugosi furnishing the major thrills. Actually, after being on the hill and seeing some of the stuff that goes on up there, Draculawasn’t half as frightening as it might have been. Afterwards, desiring a closer look at the horror man, I went back stage where he complacently sat, with a cigar in his mouth, and a smile on his face. I looked at him and said, “You wouldn’t feel insulted, would you, if I told you that you were perfectly horrible to night.” He laughed, continued writing autographs, and relied, “No, not at all”—So the bad man has a good sense of humor.

Bat Head 3

The San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Supplement “This World,” August 8, 1943


by Dwight Whitney

I am here to report something which may prove starling at first. Don’t be too disillusioned, but Bela Lugosi had parsley omelette for lunch last Wednesday. Contrary to any fly-by-night reports that may be circulating around, Mr. Lugosi does not exist solely off herbs and potions, nor does he have a mobile laboratory in which he practices alchemy before breakfast, as, I believe, was once a story given some credence by an overzealous press agent.

As a matter of fact, the occult, the pseudo-occult,  and all the horrific Hollywood ramifications thereof, bore Mr. Lugosi considerably. That is, they bore him only insomuch as he has been forced, by a theatrical happenstance to overindulge himself in what Hollywood euphemistically calls horror. He is the actor who very name will strike terror into the heart of all but the most unsusceptible, and there is hardly a month goes by when he does not transplant the brain of at least one anthropoid into the body of a man, or hold a nocturnal tryst with a zombie.

Not that Mr. Lugosi doesn’t look the part. He as the long thin fingers of an artist, the gaunt face with small searching eyes and black eyebrows which curl sinisterly around his eye-sockets until they almost touch the cheekbones, and the loose rambling frame which lends him an air of the unworldly such as one might find in Edgar Allan Poe. In truth it is not difficult to imagine him among his beakers and test tubes carrying on nefarious experiments in a subterranean crypt.

But Lugosi is not a professional ghoul, he is an actor. In Hungary where he was born on October 20, 1882, he trained at Budapest’s Academy of Theatrical Arts, and by 1913 was the leading actor in that city’s famous Royal National Theater where he played everything from Hamlet to Cyrano to Lilliom. His professional marriage to the horrors was consummated in 1927 when Horace Liveright, then a producer, was looking around for somebody to play Count Dracula in the American production of the fabulously successful English adaptation of Bram Stoker’s minor classic.

From that day to this he has been playing Dracula in all the imitations and bastardizations of which the scriptwriters are capable. Dracula, says Lugosi, the only horror play ever written. He originally played it because it “added a new color to the rainbow of my character parts.” Then the rainbow became permanent.

Lugosi’s interest ended there. From then on it was a marriage of convenience. He has never read any more of the world’s occult literature then might be expected of the normally alert reader. Her had read and admired A. Conan Doyle, but has never particularly appreciated the mystic in Doyle’s make-up which make the Sherlock Holmes series among the finest detective stories ever written.

Instead, he pours all his energy into what he calls “dry-reading.” The library of his Hollywood retreat is packed with weighty tomes on economy, history, politics, and social evolution. He is an active anti-fascist, a self styled “extreme liberal democrat.” He reads two newspapers a day. “You must learn to read a newspaper the way you learn a profession. An amateur cannot read a modern newspaper and get anything out of it.”

His favorite newspaper on the Coast (with which he is acquainted) is Los Angeles’ liberalDaily News. He had definite ideas about newspaper publishers and editorial policy. He subscribes to The Reader’s Digest, Time (which he took for 10 years and just recently gave up), The Nation, The New Republic, The New Masses, In Fact, and Forum, as well as a dozen Hungarian magazines.

He has recently been active in forming a Hungarian anti-fascist committee among Hungarians in America, and was later elected president. Into this project he packs all the power of his political convictions. He knows his own people well enough to realize that “they cannot deal with the Nazi feudalism.” This man who goes around frightening little children at night is one of the most conscientious workers for what he calls 100% ideal democracy” during the daytime.

In Hollywood, he has a wife and a 5½ year old son whom he installed in a house of his own design in North Hollywood. He makes on the average of 5 or 6 pictures a year, all of them bad. The average Hollywood horror costs upwards of $75,000 which is cheap by Hollywood standards. If a producer would spend money and employ topnotch writers, Lugosi thinks the movies could do something to equal the stature of Dracula. There is a place for a good horror picture; it suppliers a need which is best explained in the Greek theory of tragedy, a catharsis.

The trouble with movies, Lugosi agrees, is that there are very few people who understand that what you can see, no matter how horrible, is not half as frightening as what you can’t see. It is the imminence and not the actuality. Only the great macabre writers like Poe understand that.

As it is, Hollywood has a peculiar tendency, Lugosi says, to turn a shocker into three degree entertainment, with a bludgeon instead of a rapier.

Strangely enough, Lugosi’s house would seem to bear out in certain respects the popular notion of what the private life of the demonologist should consist. His estate is surrounded by a wall of four feet thick, with a large iron gate covered with elaborate grillwork and on which sets a sign reading, “Beware of the Dog.” To enter one must knock first (I think 3 times is the correct number) on a heavy oak door, whereupon, if his papers are correct, he is admitted through a tiny door to one side. Once inside he will find a spacious lawn with Lugosi’s Swiss chateau sitting in the middle of it. Inside the house, he will find high paneled ceilings, heavy leather furniture, windows set in lead, a large fireplace and a spittoon.

There is no reliable information as to whether or not the Lugosis have a pet vulture sitting over the mantelpiece. I once met a man who claimed he saw it, but this no doubt was an hallucination.

Besides the humanities, Lugosi’s interests lie in sculpting and hunting. He also has a mania for stamp collecting, a relatively pedestrian pastime in which he finds a curious fascination.

Since 1927, he has only appeared on the stage twice, Murder at the Vanities for Earl Carroll in 1933, and a recent revival of Dracula (which he says was in every way up to the original company) in which he toured the East. He is here to do a play of which he is particularly fond—for two reasons. First, it is a magnificent comedy to him, and most important, it partially emancipates him temporarily, for the limitations of the type of role he has always had to play.

He has never seen Boris Karloff play Jonathan Brewster in Arsenic & Old Lace. This he deems fortunate because an actor will automatically pick up certain mannerisms for watching another actor play the part, no matter how hard he may try to keep his interpretation absolutely original. Lugosi will play a role as he sees it; as far as he is concerned he’s working in virgin territory.

There is no positive clue to indicate how deep is his sorrow at having graduated from the Royal National Theatre where the actor makes the director, to Hollywood, where he director makes the actor. He remembers the day in Budapest when the public would not allow even the greatest hit to play more than three performances, and the actors were elected to repertory group for life and supported by the state. He remembers, too, when he played the Latin apache, hot-lover type.

Meantime, he is making plans to get back to a ruined castle on the studio lot, where Universal will be charmed to have him play three zany scientists and a gorilla man within the course of the next six months.

Bat Head 3

Arsenic and Old Lace 1943 National Company production


The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, California, September 6, 1943



Does a tragedian yearn to play comedy, same as a comedian wants to be a tragedian?

Yes, take it from Bela Lugosi, now appearing in Arsenic & Old Lace at the Music Box Theater.

“If producers had known how eager I was to play comedy, they could have got me without salary,” he grinned. “It’s my first break since the “Dracula” curse hit me. And it’s fun, too, cutting loose at rehearsals of horror films and burlesquing they’re too far-fetched. It’s humorous to hear a monster talking baby talk or monster slang. But that’s only at rehearsals. For to make these roles convincing, I have to hypnotize myself into believing them.”

Time Limited

Lugosi was supping on salad, not crunching bones as might have been expected. For he has no time for dinner between working on the film Return of the Vampire during the day, and Arsenic at night, so eats after the night show. Then he dashes to his Valley home—a slightly forbidding looking place—maybe to scare off autograph hunters, somebody suggested.

Will Arsenic & Old Lace kill horror pictures and plays, as ridicule is supposed to kill anything it touches? No, says Lugosi, but will make producers put more comedy into their spine-congealers. For there are always the kids who like them.

Could Be

Why do children enjoy horror plays and pictures? Because, says Lugosi, of a subconscious atavistic feeling in born in hem through catastrophes which befell their forbearers centuries ago. Children like to see fearsome happenings from a safe position.

What about that Lugosi accent in Arsenic? Well, he’s supposed to have traveled the world and might have got himself one. Speaking of that accent, Hollywood tells a good one about how Gregory Ratoff, No. 1 accent spiller, when Lugosi was playing Tovarich at the Biltmore, got sown in the orchestra pit at rehearsals, and prompted Bela how to recite his line without accent!