1955: A Dash Of Hope In The Darkest Hour

Bela in hospital 2*

 Los Angeles Examiner, April 23, 1955

BELA LUGOSI TELLS 20-YR DOPE HORROR

Pain-Killer Began Addiction That Ruined Actor’s Life

by Henry Sutherland

While Bela Lugosi was horrifying the theatergoing world as vampire, zombie, ghost or monster, his own horror-stricken eyes were fixed on a monster more terrible than any he portrayed, he disclosed yesterday.

It was a secret drug habit, rising from an innocently opened bottle like some malevolent djinn, growing, towering over him, tightening its grip until it destroyed his body and threatened his mind.

Gaunt, emaciated—looking like the ghost of a ghost—Lugosi told the Examiner of 20 years of horror while dangling bare feet and pipe-stem legs from a General Hospital cot. Ashe spoke he was awaiting a self-sought psychopathic court hearing before Superior Judge Wallace L. Ware which later sent him to the Norwalk Metropolitan Hospital for treatment and—he hopes—recovery.

TEARFUL

Tears sometimes interrupted the 72-year-old Hungarian actor’s discourse, but 50 years on stage and screen stood him in good stead.

His manner was courtly, and the beautifully modulated voice, familiar made the occasion more like a royal levee than a chat with a ruined old man, clad in wrinkled grey pajamas, in a psychopathic ward.

“It all began 20 years ago, while I was working on a picture,” Lugosi recalled. “I was troubled by severe pains in my les. My work suffered. So I took injections of morphine to deaden that pain.”

“So, I started morphine. Soon I found that I was depending on it. I became frightened. You will never know how frightened. But while the effects of the narcotic lasted—only while they lasted—I could work.”

HID ADDICTION

Lugosi said he concealed his addiction from friends and associates in Hollywood, although his wife, Lillian, finally learned of it.

“Nobody knew,” he said. “I couldn’t tell them. Nobody would understand.”

Efforts to rid himself of the habit only tightened its hold upon him, and added new drugs to his medicine chest, Lugosi recalled. He said:

“Three years after I began the morphine I went to England to revive Dracula,” (the play which rocketed Lugosi to the pinnacle as ‘master of terror’ on the New York stage in 1927).

“In England I learned about methdone,” Lugosi said. “In those days no prescription was required for the methadone in England. So I bought a big boxful and brought it back to this country.”

TAPERING DRUG

Dr. James McGinnis, chief psychiatrist, interjected that methadone is a drug used in the treatment of addicts to “taper off” their desire for morphine, and that it is rare for one to become addicted to it.

But Lugosi continued:

“I used it instead of morphine. When I switched to methadone I injected two cubic centimeters every two hours. Before I went to bed I injected tow cubic centimeters of demerol (a drug increasing the effect of narcotics), and I also took barbiturate capsules so I could sleep for eight to 10 hours.”

“So—and so only—I could work.”

Lugosi recalled a last effort to rid himself of the drug with the aid of Lillian Lugosi, before she divorced him in 1953.

With his consent, Mrs. Lugosi limited his narcotics to tapering off shots, and he had fair success, he said. But domestic problems proved unsolvable and the divorce followed.

“When my wife and my son (Bela George Lugosi, now 17) went away it broke my heart,” the actor said. His voice broke and tears streamed his withered cheeks.

“I went back to the dope then.”

Recovering he continued:

“During the 20 years my habit cost me thousands of dollars. I cannot estimate how much. I only know I spent money on it when I didn’t have money to eat.”

“Half a country I worked. But now I have only my old age pension—just enough for my rent—not enough for my food.”

Lugosi said that seven weeks ago he appeared with Tor Johnson, Swedish wrestler, in a Rolling M Productions film called Bride of the Atom, but that:

“The money I got I had to pay on my bills and for food.”

He added:

“My friend, Mr. Hall, sends me food. I ask him, ‘How will I repay you back.’ He tells me: ‘If you die, forget it, If you get well, you can repay.”

Dr. McGinnis disclosed that Lugosi’s friend, Manley Hall, writer and lecturer, brought the actor to General Hospital two months ago and that:

“Through the Motion Picture Relief Fund we arranged to place Lugosi in the Kimball Sanitarium. He remained there until two days ago, when it was decided to transfer him here for the present hearing.”

“We feel that the Metropolitan Hospital at Norwalk will be the best place for him, and he agrees.”

Lugosi nodded, but he did not conceal that he has illusions about his desire for commitment to the institution. He said:

“I used to inject the methadone in my legs, but I lost 50 pounds—from 180 pounds to 130—and my limbs became just strings of muscle. When I could no longer find a place to inject, that was the end.”

“Three days ago I got my last ‘dummy’ shot—just the needle, with no liquid—at the sanitarium. Now, I’m in the stage where I am panicky for it. But I cannot get it here. That’s why I want to go to Norwalk.”

GETTING BREAKS

With a dignity which no circumstance seemed capable of overcoming, Lugosi concluded:

“I was afraid to here (to the psychiatric ward) because of the insanity associated with this place. For my mind is all right. It is only my body that is sick.”

“But here I found the most pleasant disappointment. I thought I was to be just a number, but I am getting all of the breaks to bring me back to life.”

In ordering Lugosi’s commitment following the hearing held in the ward, Judge Ware told the actor:

“The court commends you for your voluntarily seeking correction of the drug addiction. You are only 72, and have a good deal of life left ahead of you, provided that you live it right.”

“God bless you, judge.” Lugosi replied.

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Bela in hospital 4*

Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1955

BELA LUGOSI TELLS LONG DOPE ORDEAL

Actor Bela Lugosi, who earned lasting fame as a portrayer of horror movie characters, yesterday described a personal life of narcotic addiction that had rivaled his screen roles over a period of two decades.

He recited his own terror story of addiction to Superior Judge Wallace L. Ware, who committed the actor to Metropolitan State Hospital at Norwalk for a minimum sentence of three months and a maximum of two years.

Lugosi, who said his age is 72 and his weight a skinny 125 pounds, gave an emotional account of his life under the influence of narcotics as his sat on the edge of a General Hospital cot.

Contrast in Dress

In contrast to the impeccable dinner-jacketed appearance he made in his most successful film appearances, he was dressed in a rough hospital pajama jacket and trousers. His emaciated legs dangled short of the floor and his fluttering hands nursed a cup of coffee and a nervously chewed cigar.

“Shooting pains in my legs, back in the days when I was making ‘horror’ films made a medical addict of me,” he confessed.

“I starred using morphine under doctor’s care. I knew after a time it was getting out of control.”

“Seventeen years ago on a trip to England. I heard of a new drug less harmful than morphine. It was called methadone. I smuggled a big box of it back home. I guess I brought a pound.”

“Ever since I’ve used that or Demerol. I ljust took the drugs. I didn’t eat. I got sicker and sicker.”

Period of Withdrawal

“There was one period, a few years ago, when I quit. My wife Liliian, who divorced me in 1953, got me to quit.”

“She gave me the shots. And she weaned me. Finally I got only the bare needle. A fake shot, that’s all. I was done with it.”

“Then she left me. She took our son. He was my flesh. I went back on the drugs. My heart was broken.”

He entered General Hospital Wednesday, accompanied by a friend, writer Manley Hall, who he said had aided in his support for years.

Yesterday, after a 45-minute hearing Superior Judge Wallace L. Ware assented to Lugosi’s plea for commitment at Metropolitan State.

*Bela in Hospital 1*

United Press, April 25, 1955

HORROR STAR BELA LUGOSI

IS NOW BROKEN OLD MAN

by Aline Mosby

United Press Hollywood Writer

Hollywood (UP) — Bela Lugosi, committed to a hospital as a narcotics addict, was famed for frightening people. But in real life he is a quiet, gentle man who got into horror movies by mistake and was haunted by the stigma.

Lugosi once was a romantic leading man on the stage. But after he achieved fame as “Dracula,” the fine actor’s career was dependent upon playing the mad scientist who pours evil potions into smoky test tubes and keeps a monster locked up in his laboratory.

He had four unhappy marriages. Once during a lull in the monster movie fad, he was on relief.

Now, at 72, the man who used to send chills up film fans’ spines does not appear frightening. Calling himself a “broken old man,” Lugosi is in a state hospital at his own request after 20 years of addiction.

Lugosi came to the United States in 1923 to appear in romantic comedies on Broadway. He was a heart throb until he accepted that hit play, Dracula.

“When it closed, Bela Lugosi was a monster in human form. The only work I could get was in monstering,” he sadly said in a recent interview.

He played Frankenstein’s monster, after once turning down the role in favor of Boris Karloff because the make-up was uncomfortable. Lugosi last played the monster’s sidekick with the broken neck. In 63 horror films he killed more than 300 characters.

He was hanged, burned, frozen, smothered by lava and drowned in swamps on the screen. He was a zombie, a bloody phantom, a hungry ape and a vampire with steel claws.

“I didn’t know if you were a success in one character in this country you were branded,” he said. “Unfortunately they haven’t let me play decent characters since.”

In the early 30’s the monster man had a mansion, two cars and a fat bank account. Then British censors laid down the law on horror pictures. Hollywood stopped making them. By the end of 1937 Lugosi and his wife were collecting $15 a week relief.

But in 1941 a new horror movie cycle started and Lugosi worked again. Then came more lean years. Recently the one-time romantic leading man did a cruel satire of his monster self in Las Vegas burlesque house.

He admits now, “I gambled all that salary away.”

Lugosi came home to an empty house as his fourth wife divorced him two years ago. He admits he has been eating for the last few weeks because of generosity of friends.

The bushy-browed actor actually was afraid of newspaper reporters, child actors, noise of any kind and, he told me, of dying.

“Death is the only thing that really is frightening to me,” he said, “The calendar turns, and eventually you have to go.”

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Bela in Hospital 6Bela Lugosi with a copy of the script for The Ghoul Goes West

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Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1955

FILM FRIENDS TO HELP LUGOSI IN DOPE FIGHT

Bela Lugosi, whose horror movies never matched the terrors of his 20-year fight against the dope habit, yesterday in General Hospital took a first step toward rehabilitation.

The veteran 72 year old portrayer of such characterizations as Dracula, the White Zombie and the Batman had walked into the psychiatric ward of the hospital last Thursday asking for help in his personal fight.

Yesterday the medical care he was receiving was augmented by a helping hand from the show business he has been a part of for more than 50 years.

PREMIERE

He was told arrangements are being made for a lavish Hollywood premiere of the last movie he made, Bride of the Atom, and the proceeds will go to him. The actor was destitute when he committed himself Thursday.

And he was given the script for his next picture, The Ghoul Goes West, production of which has been postponed until Bela has recovered entirely from drug addiction and is ready to work again.

Bearer of the tidings and the script was Tony McCoy, young producer of Lugosi’s last film, who promised to hold up the shooting of his next one until Bela can star in it.

Arrayed behind McCoy when he broke the news to Lugosi were members of both cast and crew of the star’s last film from Director Ed Wood and leading players to property men and grips.

Deeply touched by the obvious respect and devotion showed by this little segment of show business, Lugosi wept unrestrainedly in his bed. In a voice choked by emotion he said:

“This is so heart-warming, such a miracle. I cannot believe it. To know that people have such faith in me is better than medicine. I will not let them down.”

“The premiere of Bride of the Atom the first week in May will be in the heart of Hollywood, Bela, with all the trimmings, lights and all,” Producer McCoy told Lugosi. “The proceeds will go into a trust fund and you will draw from it weekly.”

“I plan to shoot your next one starting June 1, but I’m putting it back until you’re able to star in it. That’ll be your comeback picture.”

“I have made up my mind now,” Lugosi said, “I had never made my mind up before to leave the drugs alone. Now that it is made up it becomes a law. I will need time in the hospital. I mean to take the time and do it right. They had me on the hook. I mean to dehook myself.”

Other players who worked with Lugosi in his last film explained why the veteran Hungarian actor star was so popular with the cast and crew.

“It was his gracious charm and his willingness to help us, said Don Nagel, Loretta King and Tor Johnson. “He was a perfect trouper all during production. We want him to the finish and we’re waiting for him to rejoin us.”

When his general physical condition improves, Lugosi will be transferred to Metropolitan Hospital in Norwalk for completion of treatment.

He has explained that he began using drugs 20 years ago because of pains he suffered in his legs and never managed to break the habit.

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Bela in Hospital 3

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Rockford Register-Republic, April 29, 1955

Lugosi Fights Drug Habit

NORWALK, Cal. (INS) – Actor Bela Lugosi, now pathetic shell of the star who once held audiences spellbound with his portrayals of “Dracula” and other horror characters, is in the toughest role of his life today – that of trying to “kick” the drug habit.

Behind the bars and walls of Norwalk Metropolitan hospital he set himself the rugged task of trying to free himself of the narcotics addiction that has, until now, been his private and secret horror for 20 years.

Lugosi, once a robust 180 pounds but now wasted away to a mere 130, was committed to the hospital at his own request after a bed-side hearing conducted in the psychopathic ward of the General hospital by Superior Judge Wallace L. Ware.

The former star, 72, was given a minimum sentence of three months in hospital and a maximum of two years.

Lugosi, once so handsome he was known as “the Barrymore of Budapest” in the Hungarian capital where he first achieved acting fame, was gaunt and emaciated as he talked to newsmen before the hearing. His legs looked little more than pipestems as he dangled them over the side of the hospital cot.

The actor related he made a million dollars with “Dracula” and other horror plays and pictures. But he said:

“I don’t have a dime of it left. I am dependent on the goodness of friends for my food. I get a small pension which takes care of the rest.

He said he started taking morphine 20 years ago to relieve severe pains in his legs. In time he found himself “hooked.”

In an effort to escape the addiction, he switched to a substitute, methodone, which he first learned about and first used in England while doing a revival of “Dracula” in London. Later he used another narcotic in combination with the methodone and took heavy dosed of sleeping pills as well. He was such a slave to the drugs he went without food to buy then.

 Lugosi said he beat the habit once, before his wife, Lillian, divorced him in 1953. With his consent, she give the drugs to him and tapered them off until, finally, all he was getting was “dummy shot.

But the picture changed overnight when he and his wife broke up.

With tears streaming down his withered cheeks, he said:

“When my wife and son (Bela George Lugosi, 17) went away it broke my heart. I went back on dope then.

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Ready to go home*

The Sunday Sun, July 30, 1955

Drug Cure ‘Greatest,’ Says Bela Lugosi After Treatment

LOS ANGELES (AP) – “The greatest thing that ever happened to me.”

That was actor Bela Lugosi’s comment Friday as he prepared to end next Friday a three month stay at Metropolitan State Hospital, where he says he has been cured of narcotics addiction.

The veteran of dozens of horror movies told a Los Angeles reporter:

“I am leaving here with a philosophy of life. All my life I was not used to rules…the regimen of hospital life has shown me there must be certain rules for all.”

Ten days after leaving the hospital he will start work in a new movie.

Last April the 72-year-old star of “Dracula” and other screen shockers signed himself into the county’s general hospital and told doctors, “I need help to overcome the drug habit.”

Too ill to go into court, the emaciated actor was given a hearing in a hospital ward. He said he started using morphine to deaden leg pains 20 years ago, later gave up morphine but used various other drugs thereafter.

Lugosi said he hadn’t a dime left of the half million dollars he said he had made in films.

He said his hospital stay was brightened by thousands of letters from all over the world, including Egypt and South Africa.

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Metropolitan State HospitalBela Lugosi says thank you and good bye to the medical staff of Metropolitan State Hospital

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Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1955

BELA LUGOSI LEAVES HOSPITAL TO BEGIN

MOVIE COMEBACK

Norwalk, Aug. 5 — Actor Bela Lugosi, self-committed three months ago for drug addiction, today left Metropolitan State Hospital with a firm resolution “Not to disappoint my new-found friends.”

The friends were the “thousands” who wrote to the movie “Dracula” during his rehabilitation and expressed faith in his ability to overcome the drug habit.

“I’m not going to disappoint those people,” Lugosi declared as his picked up his small suitcase and prepared to leave the hospital.

He was met there by his divorced wife, Lillian, and their son, Bela Lugosi, Jr., 18. The 66-year-old actor will stay with a nephew.

SET FOR FILM

In two weeks, Lugosi will start work on a role in the film, The Ghoul Goes West. He has been studying his part at the hospital.

Tuesday Lugosi was pronounced fit to leave the hospital by a board of medical examiners. During his stay he put on 20 pounds and lost the emaciated appearance he had when he entered.

“I’m no longer addicted to drugs,” he commented. “I’ve licked a habit of 20 years and I’m a happy man again.”

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Bela and Hope wedding dayBela Lugosi and Hope Lininger on their wedding day

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Los Angeles Mirror-News, August 24, 1955

BELA LUGOSI TO WED TONIGHT

Hospital Stay Leads To Romance With Fan

by Frank Laro, Mirror-News Staff Writer

Back in 1931 a schoolgirl crouched down fearfully in a movie-theater seat in Johnstown, Pa.

All around her were girls her age—they gasped and applauded when their celluloid appeared on the silver screen,

They were Clark Gable, Ronald Colman and Cary Grant.

But this teen-ager had a hero all her own. The ones who applauded and shrilled over Gable, Cooper, Colman and Grant are living comfortable today with guys they met in the audience, not on the screen.

The little girl who sat all by herself in that dark theater has seen a strange dream come true.

Tonight, Hope Lininger, 40, a cutting-room clerk at RKO Studios, will be married to the dream that other girls her age in 1931 thought a nightmare.

Miss Lininger tonight will become the bride of Bela Lugosi, 73, released a few weeks ago from Metropolitan State Hospital at Norwalk, pronounced cured as a drug-addict.

In 1931 he was the sinister “Dracula,” a cape-clad vampire, and he never really escaped from such horrendous roles. A type, they said. And that he was.

The romance of Miss Lininger and Bela Lugosi is one of the strangest in the history of the movies and the theater.

“When I was a little girl, and even when I got older, I didn’t have much to do with boys,” Hope remembers.

“I had a very unhappy home, a variety of stepfathers, no brothers, and I lived alone most of the time.”

“I chose Bela Lugosi when I saw him in Dracula as my hero. That was because I wanted someone all to myself. I knew the other little girls would never be Lugosi fans. I felt this was a hero I had all to myself.”

Hope, whose marriage to Lugosi will be at the home of Manley P. Hall, writer and publisher of books and pamphlets as transcendental as the romance he will sanctify, confesses that she is astounded by the quirks of fate that have brought her to the altar.

“There was, of course, the fact that I was a fan of his while I was a little girl,” she puzzles. “But, then when he got in trouble I felt he was such a stray sheep. I think no one can ever accuse me of being a gold digger.”

“He doesn’t have a dime and no one but me wants him. If he doesn’t want to work that is all right with me. I have a job.”

“He needs help and I think I can give it to him.”

Hope, who has worked at the RKO studios for 10 years, says she had another personal interest in Lugosi’s destiny.

“There was a background in my life of people who suffered from narcotics, the way he did,” she says.

When Lugosi went to Norwalk, Hope started writing him letters. One a day. They were long—sometimes eight pages—and were crowded with the details of what she considered a humdrum life.

She never attached her name to the letters. “Just a Dash of Hope,” they were signed.

The great actor, who confesses now he was particularly intrigued by the anonymity of the letters, says:

“This was definitely someone I had to find. Here was a fan—and there have been many foolish letters in my fan mail—who professed to love me for 20 years. She had never written before.”

“I was struck by the fact she wrote me only when I got in trouble.”

When Lugosi got out of the hospital he searched for Hope. He didn’t know her name. He had only her address.

“But I finally found her. I got her on the telephone. I asked her to come and see me.”

“When she came in the house I wondered. She was an attractive woman. What was her angle, I wondered. After all, I know I have no money, my youth is gone and I am a sick man.”

“But then I considered that she had written me every day during those terrible months I spent in the hospital. It dawned on me, suddenly, that she believed in a Higher Power I believed in, too.”

“After I met her I realized she belonged to my class. She has sophistication and education. We speak the same language.”

Lugosi, who is as astonished as Hope about their romance and marriage, accounts for it partly because he feels lonesome.

“I miss a family life,” he says. “I am devoted to my son, Bela, Jr., who is 18. He is just as devoted to me.”

Lugosi confesses to a lingering love for his ex-wife, Lillian, 43, who divorced his in 1953.

“It was a terrible history of alcoholism, and finally, addiction to drugs,” the actor says.

“But my son, my son, what have I done to him.” He exclaims. “But, I know he still loves me.”

Lugosi and Miss Lininger obtained their marriage license this morning.

The marriage will be performed tonight at Hall’s home before a small group of close friends.

They plan no immediate honeymoon but will journey to New York late next month where Lugosi will testify before a subcommittee of the U. S. Senate on drug addiction.

He has optimistic expectations that he will soon return to stardom on the screen and is now studying a script, The Ghoul Goes West, which will be produced independently of the big studios.

“Just another one of those things,” he calls it.

“My life is about ended, but it is a great thing to be able to say that while I have life there is Hope.”

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Bela and Hope wedding*

Los Angeles Examiner, August 25, 1955

BELA LUGOSI, 72, DRACULA ACTOR, MARIED TO ONE-TIME FAN, 39

Credits Bride With Dope Fight Aid

Bela Lugosi, 72, veteran actor of Dracula fame who recently won a battle against drug addiction, last night had good reason for reiterating his life-long philosophical observation, “Where there’s life there’s hope.”

Lugosi and Hope Louise Lininger, 39, an RKO Studio cutting room clerk, were married shortly after 8 pm at the home of Manley P. Hall, author and founder of the Philosophical Research Foundation, 2308 Hillhurst Drive.

Hall, an ordained minister and long-time friend of the actor performed the simple ceremony in his living room surrounded by objets d’art of the Far East while photo flash bulbs winked.

LUGOSI FAN

The bride, a devoted Lugosi fan for more than 20 years, wore a blue-and-gray silk print and Lugosi a gray business suit. Best man was the actor’s 18-year-old son, Bela, Jr., and dress and matching accessories matron of honor was Mrs. Pat Delaney, a friend of the bride.

When the couple obtained their marriage license in Santa Monica yesterday Lugosi explained the romance by saying:

“My career—and my very life—seemed reaching an end because of drug addiction a few months ago, when I voluntarily entered Metropolitan State Hospital at Norwalk, but I was discharged as cured August 3.”

LETTERS AID

“Hope, who went to the movies to see me instead of Clark Gable and the rest when she was a young girl in the early 30s, waited until I was down and almost out before writing fan letters to me, and she signed ‘A dash of Hope.’”

Her cheerful letters did more than anything else to help me win my fight against the dope habit, and when I was released I looked for her and found her. She had written her address on one of her daily letters.”

“I chose Bela as my hero when I saw him in Dracula many years ago,” said the bride, “and he is still my hero. He needs help and I mean to give it to him.”

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