Bela Lugosi photographed by Life magazine on the set of The Black Sleep
United Press, February 15, 1956
Drama Behind The Camera
ORDEAL OF BELA LUGOSI
Hollywood (UP) – Hollywood’s top bogey men are making a super-colossal horror film, but behind the cameras is a rea-life drama that’s more startling.
While the cameras rolled, a slender old man watching on the sidelines said softly, “I used to take five or six needles a day. And when I took the cure they took it all away from me. It was horrible, just horrible…”
Bela (Dracula) Lugosi is back in the movies for the first time since he confessed he was a narcotics addict and committed himself to a state hospital.
In the old days Lugosi was the star, the mad scientist who stirred bubbling concoctions. But on this set Basil Rathbone is playing the looney doctor. Lon Chaney, John Carradine and Akim Tamiroff also are in The Black Sleep, Lugosi plays Rathbone’s butler, a mute servant “who just lets people in and out.”
Tells His Story
“There is Basil playing my part,” Lugosi said. “I used to be the big cheese. Now I’m playing just a dumb part. I have no dialogue because I was a bit worried whether I could do justice to the expectations. I’m still recuperating.”
On the gloomy set, Rathbone was reviving a man in the coffin. But I shivered more from the off-screen horror story Lugosi told me.
“I began using narcotics to kill the pain of sciatica,” he said. “Finally the doctor said I used so much I would die in six months if I didn’t stop.”
“I couldn’t afford the sanitarium. The only solution was to volunteer to enter the county hospital. There was no sense in trying to hide my problem.”
“The cure was very painful, terrible:
“I was able to get out in three months because of the kind letters from all over the world. I even got a telephone call from Japan. It was hell, to go through what I went through. I didn’t know I had so many friends—so many people who knew about me and gave a damn about my situation. They helped cure me.”
“A Terrible Thing”
I asked Lugosi what he thought of the controversial film about addicts, The Man With The Golden Arm. The 73-year-old actor began to cry.
“The movie made it so easy for the dope victim to get out of it,” he wept. “The youth of our country did not get the impression of what a terrible thing it is. I have a son who is 18. He watched how I ruined my life.”
“Oh, if only the young people could see me, the result…”
On the movie set, old friends came up to shake Lugosi’s hand on his first day back at work. The cast presented him with a black leather bound script book.
“I was once nice to them. It all comes back to you,” the actor said.
Binghampton Press, February 17, 1956