1945-1946: Peace Is Hell

 Over these two years, Lugosi appeared in three movies: a minor role in The Body Snatcher (his last film with Boris Karloff), a secondary role in Genius at Work (as henchman to Lionel Atwill’s master criminal), and a top-billed, unrewarding part in the forgettable Sacred to Death, not released until 1947. 1946 was a great year for the American film industry, but Lugosi played no part in it. What demand remained for his screen talents was satisfied by reissues of his old films. Revivals of many old movies played no small part making 1946 a year of record profits. No income for Lugosi.

On stage, he starred as a turbaned Hindu in a new production, No Traveler Returns, which played on the west coast in hopes of a broader tour and perhaps a Broadway slot. Not to be: reviews and business were poor, and it folded in Seattle, never to be seen again. That bad week in Seattle did generate some interviews, which stressed the domestic side of the screen Dracula. Good choice: Lugosi—before he hit the road in 1947 in search of work outside of Hollywood—would spend a lot of time at home.

Bat Head 3

No Traveler Returns: Bela & Ian Keith

Bela Lugosi and Ian Keith in a scene from No Traveler Returns

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The Seattle Times, March 13, 1945

BELA LUGOSI ‘SWEET,’ DESPITE HORROR ROLES,

WIFE INSISTS

When Mrs. Lillian Lugosi asked the jewelry clerk for the bat pin, a very odd look appeared on the jewelry clerk’s face.

The jewelry clerk of course didn’t know that Mrs. Lugosi is the best pipe stuffer west of the Mississippi, and also the wife of Bela Lugosi, famous as “Dracula,” whose portrayal of horror roles on the stage and screen has won him international fame.

Bela Lugosi, a calm, blue-eyes gentleman, described by his wife as “sweet,” opens tonight at the Metropolitan Theatre in the play, No Traveler Returns, a horror production of generous proportions.

She Looked Long for Pin

It took me months to find this bat pin,” explained Mrs. Lugosi, who sat beside her husband this forenoon in the Olympic Hotel without trembling.

The golden bat on her left shoulder seemed about to flit away on some ghastly mission. She stroked it gently.

“I knew immediately when I saw it that it was just what I wanted,” she said. “I knew it was mine. There was, however, a very peculiar look in the clerk’s eyes when she sold it to me.”

Mrs. Lugosi conceded it is her custom to stuff her husband’s pipes and see that they are drawing well before he puts them to his lips.

“He is a constant smoker,” she said. “When he is outside the house he smokes cigars. The moment he comes in, he lays down his cigar, and I have to have a pipe ready for him.”

Harmless Tobacco Used

“He consumes so much tobacco we use the denicotinized variety.”

“She’s a better pipe stuffer than I am,” said Bela Lugosi said.

“You’ve always said the pipe tasted sweeter when I did it,” said Mrs. Lugosi. “Drawing on a pipe,”she added, “is the only way you can tell if it’s packed properly. I like doing it, but I’ve never been tempted to smoke a whole pipe. I enjoy just that much.”

Lugosi denied that portraying the horror roles which have brought him notoriety has in any way altered him fundamentally. Mrs. Lugosi agreed.

“Oh, no!” She cried. “He’s sweet! Playing these roles doesn’t change him in the least. We’ve been married 12 years, and he’d already played Dracula on Broadway in 1927 when I met him.

 She Can Stand It

“I went to see him in a horror role before I married him, of course, just to see if I could stand it.”

Mrs. Lugosi said her husband picks out all her clothes.

“I sneak out now and then and get something, but it’s always a flop,” she said. “When I come back with it, he gives me a Dracula look.”

“All I do is go back into the room in the shop, and he picks out things.” Her fingers darted rapidly here and there, indicating her husband pointing at things. “What he picks out is always swell.”

Shoes, though, she added, are her private affair.

Bela Agrees on Shoes

“Bela has tried to pick them out,” she declared, “but he doesn’t have the ‘feel’ for shoes. Shoes are my private preserve. We agree on everything, of course, and Bela agrees on the shoes after I get them. That’s the sweet side of him coming out.”

Lugosi, who was born in Lugos, Hungary, has had 30 years of stage experience.

“I first went on the stage in Budapest,” he said. “We are trained differently in Europe. There we learn to play all roles. Here in America an actor is trained to develop his own personality. Then the personality is featured.

“In Europe you learn to subdue the personality. Dracula was just another part of me. Playing it didn’t alter me fundamentally. It’s fun to play parts like that.”

Lugosi said he always had been an honest, straightforward citizen until called upon to play Dracula.

“There is one thing about it, however,” he added. “When you play straight parts, you have hundreds of actors competing with you. In this line of work the field of competition is limited. And as a specialty, of course, it has been very fine economically.”

In his current vehicle Lugosi plays a Hindu servant who is much brighter than he appears to be through the first two acts.

“He is,” said Lugosi, “really educated, although he camouflages it. He is a very reprehensible character, very foreboding, very ominous.”

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No Traveler Returns: Lugosi and Keith

Bela Lugosi and Ian Keith in a scene from No Traveler Returns

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The Post-Intelligencer, Seattle, Washington, March 1945

BELA LUGOSI OFF SCREEN “VERY SWEET”

by Ann Stewart

 Bela Lugosi sat idly flexing his double-jointed fingers yesterday while his intimates told us that he is really a gentle-type man, very harmless and very sweet.

We gave him every opportunity. We asked him if he wanted to put money in blind-men’s cups and to help old ladies across the street.

“Never,” said Lugosi. “But if the ladies are young I sometimes stand very close to them in elevators,” and he smiled in a pleasant Dracula sort of way.

“Bela is tired,” his wife explained. “He’s just had four hours’ sleep. Sometimes when he’s tired he does net a bit of a temper. I’ve found it best, for instance, not to speak to him at all for 45 minutes after he’s been working. But after he’s had a bottle of beer and a meal he relaxes and is quite lovely.”

So we tried again. We asked him if he doesn’t tire of scaring people.

“Not unless I am unsuccessful,” replied Lugosi, and a sad look came into his pale blue eyes. “Sometimes,” he said slowly, “children ask me to make faces for and then…they laugh.”

Seeing that this was a painful subject, Ian Keith, who plays with Lugosi at the Metropolitan in No Traveler Returns, rushed garrulously into the breach and spoke of many things—of waiting 20 minutes for a cup of coffee: of spending the morning taking long-distance phone calls for a Mr. Zion because the Olympic Hotel had for some reason decided that he was Mr. Zion; of the way these horrible motion pictures have ruined the perception and the ears of the theater audience; of his own interest in writing and reading murder mysteries which should be solved, by the alert in the first scene of the second act.

“It is not necessarily Lugosi who done it,” he said, turning to Lugosi, “Is it sweetness?”

Lugosi then scrunched himself into a large tan overcoat and a small checkered cap, explaining all the while that he does not give a hoot for murder mysteries and that he spends his free time reading books on “social economy” and the like.

The cap, he said, he wares only while traveling or when going to night clubs.

“So I will not have to check a hat and pay a quarter,” he explained.

Something he picked up in an economy book, no doubt.

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Scared To Death Bela Lugosi, director Christy Cabanne and screenwriter Walter Abbott

Bela Lugosi, director Christy Cabanne and screenwriter Walter Abbott on the set of Scared To Death

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The Daily Globe, Ironwood, Michigan, May 23, 1946

IN HOLLYWOOD

by Gene Handsaker

Hollywood—Calling all fiends! Want really to scare the daylights out of somebody? The secret, says Bela Lugosi, is sincerity—to feel a deep conviction that you are actually about to throttle or stab or poison or shoot your victim.

“Of course, don’t do it!” rumbled this Hungarian-born stage and screen Dracula, towering menacingly over me, “but you must believe you are going to; the minute you play it with tongue-in-cheek, the effect is dead.”

Lugosi’s formula for chilling spines includes also a dash of hypnosis he told me on theScared to Death set.

I have studied hypnosis and always made it a practice to half or one-quarter hypnotize my fellow actors on the stage so they would respond properly.

Dracula’s heavy-lidded, intense little blue eyes bored hypnotically into mine. I backed away and shook myself like a dog leaving a pond.

Lugosi, a tall, well-built man with distinguished –looking graying hair, a hawk beak and creased sinister features, could pass in a headdress for an Indian chief. He said he got the Dracula stage role in New York in 1927 not only because both he and the fiction Count Dracula were Hungarians but also because of some hair-raising business he worked out with his hands. I asked him to demonstrate.

One of his hands slowly approached, then rested its thumb and fingers lightly about my neck. The other turned into a misshaped claw that pawed menacingly toward my left eye. That was enough, thanks, I said.

After Dracula on stage and screen, (a story, you may remember, about a fiend who turned into a wolf or bat and sank his fangs into terrified maidens’ jugular veins), Lugosi was typed as a monster. He finds the niche not always satisfying artistically but pretty steadily rewarding monetarily.

Lugosi committed sundry atrocities in movies like White Zombie, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat, and The Devil Bat. What’s the most bizarre manner in which he ever committed murder?

“In The Black Cat, I guess,” Dracula said,”where I skinned Boris Karloff alive. Cute isn’t it.”

Off the screen, Lugosi is a harmless courtly individual who dwells quietly with his wife and reads books on social problems and economics.

When an automobile knocked a piece out of his German shepherd’s skull, veterinarians fitted a plastic patch—and grieving Count Dracula sat patiently in his pet’s hospital cage while the dog convalesced. 

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