(The Count: the Life and Films of Bela “Dracula” Lugosi – Putnam 1974)
The Mike Douglas Show was a syndicated, afternoon talk show that played in many American television markets, 1963 through 1980. The format had Douglas and his co-host of the week interviewing a panel of guests. On October 9, 1975, the guests were Arthur Lennig, Bela Lugosi, Jr. and Lillian Lugosi. The filming was done in Philadelphia. Lennig had just published The Count, the first book-length biography of Bela Lugosi. He came on the show first. After a commercial break, he was joined by Bela, Jr. and Lillian.
Also on the show was Dick Cavett, a popular late-night talk show host. Cavett is very annoying in the first segment, with bad puns and macabre jokes (some not transcribed below). Douglas and his off-stage producer, Woody Fraser, pretty much tell Cavett to stop, and after the commercial break (when someone may have given Cavett a good talking to), he is much more subdued. Unfortunately, by then, Lennig’s portion of the show was compromised.
Douglas’ co-host for the show is impressionist Frank Gorshin, perhaps best remembered today as the Riddler of the 1960s Batman television series. When he is talking in his natural voice, he and Mike Douglas sound alike, and some of the comments in the transcript below attributed to Douglas may have been made by Gorshin. (Frank Dello Stritto)
Mike Douglas (MD), Frank Gorshin (FG), Dick Cavett (DC), Arthur Lennig (AL), Bela Lugosi, Jr. (BL), Lillian Lugosi (LL).
FG: (imitating Claude Rains): Good afternoon and enchanted welcome. Join us as Mike Douglas meets the monsters. Mike’s co-host for this week is that man of 1,000 voices, Frank Gorshin, a very good friend of mine, nice chap. My name is Claude Rains, incidentally. Mike’s guest will be television host Dick Cavett. We shall meet Henry Winkler and Donny Most of Happy Days. Arthur Lennig will tell us about the life and films of Bela Lugosi. And we shall also meet Bela Lugosi, Jr. and Mrs. Bela Lugosi. We shall see a live vampire bat enjoy his favorite snack. And now, here’s the vampire bat’s favorite snack, Mike.
MD: Thank you. Aren’t you nice? Thank you. Bela Lugosi was a fine actor, who has been immortalized for his portrayal of the infamous Count Dracula. He had a magnetic delivery and uncanny charm, that led him to be one of the recognizable actors in the history of film. With us today, we have the author of this new book, The Count – The Life & Times of Bela ‘Dracula’ Lugosi. Would you please welcome college professor Arthur Lennig? You were just saying that there’s no way to fall asleep in these chairs. Your posture is absolutely perfect in these.
AL: It looks like something Lugosi could have invented in one of his torture devices.
DC: He willed us this furniture.
(The Count: the Life and Films of Bela “Dracula” Lugosi – Putnam 1974)
MD: In the book you mention the extensive research that you did into Bela Lugosi’s beginnings. Where and when and how did he begin?
AL: Well, he began by being born, and that would be in…
DC: That’s a good start.
AL: For him, and we’re grateful. In October 20, 1882. And I went over to Rumania because, to find out what happened, because I ran over all kinds of dates—1880, 1882, 1888, and he lied a little bit and made it 1892—and I was curious to find really what happened. So, I drove around in a rented Volkswagon throughout the wilds of Transylvania, and found all my information: when he was baptized and all the other things.
DC: He was Rumanian, then, and not Russian?
AL: He was actually born in Hungary. After the First World War the border was moved, so what was Hungary is today Rumania.
MD: There’s a picture of you in Lugoj.
AL: Yes, I’m standing there so oddly. I didn’t put that picture in the book. It looks like I’m stuffed, and here I am interviewing some people. Bela was born originally as Bela Blasko. And I’m interviewing a local resident in the town of Lugoj, and I got all of it.
MD: Is that where his name came from?
AL: He was born Bela Blasko, and he changed his name to “Lugosi,” which means “from Lugoj.” And I spent a whole day and a half getting all these anecdotes about the Blasko family, and found out eventually that I was dealing with the wrong Blasko family. So, we had to cross the line through that and start all over again. There were apparently more than one Blasko.
DC: And they weren’t worth a book, probably.
AL: No, no.
DC: The Blaskos always let you down that way.
AL: Well, we had some of these problems. Somebody said his father was a baker, and the other one said that he was a banker. Did somebody leave an “n” out or what? Then I found out that he was a baker, who in the last years of his life had become a banker.
DC: So, he was involved in bread and dough.
MD: Woody just gave you a review on that.
DC: The producer just made an insulting gesture. I don’t have to be treated this way. I always think that I’m the host. I guess that I have been out of work too long.
AL: You may be.
DC: I’m obsessed with Lugosi, really. I want to know everything there is to know about him, and I tried to pick up a copy of your book last night on the way in, The Count.
AL: Well, you’re lucky if you can find a copy of it.
DC: Yes, publishers notoriously–as soon as they find out you’re going to be on television, they grab you’re books up so people can’t buy them.
AL: We only sell them at night.
DC: Did he feel dragged by the role? Did he get sick of playing it? I’m sorry, Mike, I keep jumping in here.
AL: Well, he was typecast. What happened, he left Hungary. He had been a star in the National Theatre there, and he played lots of role there. And you can’t imagine really Bela playing Romeo. But he played Romeo and he played a lot of other such roles. And then there was a revolution over there in 1919, and he went to Germany. And from Germany he went to America in 1921. And then he starred on the Broadway stage. And he played very romantic roles: Fernando the Apache in a play called The Red Poppy. And they liked him because he had this Continental bearing, very straight and very aristocratic. And he was also very sexy. He was a very handsome man in his younger years, and remained rather nice looking all the way through.
DC: He had incredibly graceful hands. You know, when they would do those hypnosis things, and the fingers would flutter, and they moved like a ballet dancer around the hands. It was amazing.
MD: What was the first film he made in the United States?
AL: He made a film called The Silent Command, in 1923. It had to do with the American navy, and as a foreign spy. He was chosen for the part not only because he looked perhaps a little strange and aristocratic.
MD: Excuse me, we’re showing a still…
Bela Lugosi, Martha Mansfield and Henry Armetta in a scene from The Silent Command
AL: Yeah, there he is to the left, holding—I hope—a champagne glass, but probably being a low budget production, it was ginger ale. And he was trying to steal the Naval secrets. And since he came from Hungary, and there’s no Hungarian navy, he thought that was rather funny. But in any case, there’s…
DC: Transylvanian humor, there.
AL: Right , yeah, well, we can’t all win. So in any case he started out as a heavy here because of the accent, even though they were silent pictures.
MD: Was it always so pronounced, the accent…
AL: Yes, very much.
MD: I don’t recall him, doing… I mean, he didn’t look like Gab Dell in the movies. He didn’t do the tongue thing, which all the other impressionists, “Belcome, bleh, bleh…”
AL: No, never. He had a deep voice and a strange inflection.
DC: Very good.
AL: He was able to say “you have very strange…throat.” And he would always put that little pause in there.
MD: He put that the bite on that.
AL: Right, right.
MD: In 1930 is when he made Dracula, the first Dracula.
AL: Well, what happened: in the summer of 1927 they decided to import a play, called Dracula, from England. And they needed a Continental type. And they said why not use Bela Lugosi—he’s been playing all these parts on Broadway, and maybe we can make him into kind of a villain. So, the play was a great success. And he was typecast as Dracula, and he played it on Broadway from about a year. And he did a lot of touring throughout the country. And then Universal, in the summer of 1930, was going to do the film of Dracula. But they originally wanted to use Lon Chaney, but Lon Chaney died in the summer, and obviously that left an opening. And they…
MD: Yeah, that’s right.
AL: It was a grave problem. Oh, so…
MD: You really dug for that one.
DC: Look at the producer…
MD: You gonna play that game boy, that’s my old game.
DC: I still try to imagine him as Romeo, though: the idea of “What light from yonder window breaks.” Somehow…
MD: Can you talk later, Romeo?
AL: It was a scene in the crypt at the end that he really liked. He made cryptic remarks, too. Capulet, Capulet (imitating Lugosi).
DC: Did he die broke?
MD: We have a clip from the original Dracula. Let’s see this.
Plays scene of Renfield’s arrival at Castle Dracula, ending with “Listen to them, children of the night. What music, they make.”
Bela Lugosi delivers his famous “children of the night” speech in Dracula
AL: So, in a sense, that’s the movie that started it all for me, too. I saw that movie as a kid, and that made a very frightening impression. I think, you never have the same effect when you see a movie on television really as you do when you–years ago, you’d go to a theatre. And that thing played with a green tint, and you sat there like this. And you know, you’d sleep with the light off, for years and years because it made such an effect.
MD: One of the films that he made that won critical acclaim was White Zombie in 1932. What part did he play in that movie?
AL: Well, he plays an evil sorcerer, who meets a girl on the boat on the way to Haiti—or is a friend of somebody who meets the girl. He decides that the best way to have her would be to give her a potion and make her into a zombie. So, the other man, who also wants her, they have a deal made together, and Bela decides to double cross him. And so he takes this special potion and you will see him as he has the wine glass, and how his hand will slip in over the glass and slips it in there.
MD: We’re going to show that right now.
Plays clip of White Zombie, in the Zombie Master’s drugging Beaumont, ending with “I have taken a fancy to you, Monsieur.”
Madge Bellamy, Bela Lugosi and Robert Frazer in White Zombie
AL: Needless to say, the butler is thrown off the cliff in just a moment, and the other fellow turns into a zombie, and at the last moment, and, of course, throws Bela off the cliff as well. The trouble with the horror films is that the villains finally got it in the end. They’re so much nicer than those real good hero people.
MD: In a moment we’re going to meet Bela Lugosi, Jr. and his mother.
MD: We have just been talking about the chilling effect that the name Bela Lugosi has on everyone. But to his family, Bela Lugosi meant husband and father. We have two people here with us today who can tell what Bela Lugosi was really like. Would you please welcome, Mrs. Bela Lugosi and Bela Lugosi, Jr.? What was he like away from the cameras? What was he like at home? Around the house?
BL: Well, he could be chilling as well. He was a very powerful man. He did everything in a big way. And everything that he did was very impressive to me. When I was small, and through my adolescent years when I lived with him, he was a dedicated man, and very forceful in his manner of presenting anything, whether it was a lesson in geography or some lesson in life.
MD: Had you seen all the pictures at a very tender age, or not? Did he have them around the house, or did you know that he was Dracula on the screen? When did you find that out, by the way?
BL: Well, I was taken along with some of my very young contemporaries to see his movies. And of course, my friends would all hide under the seats, because they’d be very much afraid of him. Of course, to me, this was Dad. My parents had decided that it was time for me to meet Santa Claus one year, and guess who dressed up as Santa Claus.
MD: Oh, No don’t mean it!
BL: No, I mean it, and I saw right through that disguise.
Bela Lugosi, Jr. and Bela Lugosi
MD: You look very much like your dad. Which is a complement, he was a handsome man.
BL: Yes, he was, thank you.
MD: Look straight ahead, right at that monitor, that camera. It’s amazing, amazing.
LL: I’m glad you said that. I always said that, and nobody believed me. That he resembled his father.
DC: Oh, instantly.
MD: Mrs. Lugosi, did that character of Dracula carry on in his personal life?
LL: Oh, yes to a degree. The mannerisms, the noble attitude. Oh, and he was lord and master of the household, no doubt about that.
FG: Did he enjoy that? Was he ever upset about it? The reason I ask is I know what I’m like when I’m home with my wife. You know, and I’m always concerned about my career. And it takes some doing if I’m in one particular bag, meaning one particular area in this business, like doing impressions and I want to get out of it. I get very concerned, and I share my problems with her. You know, tell her about it. Was he that way? Was he upset about playing the monster?
LL: No, no, no. But then he’d try things out on me. (audience laughs) No! No! No!
MD: Let me see your neck.
BL: Mike, I remember being with him a number of times, and people have asked if he was Dracula himself, on and off the stage. And I would like to say that many times, we’d be in a store, a drug store, talking to the clerk and in order to get his way with the clerk, I mean, he would be Dracula. And that man would get the look.
MD: He’d look at him that way. What would he say?
BL: I almost did it, but I can’t. Let me invite your attention to a picture that I brought with me of Bela Lugosi in a business suit. And tell me, if you were the clerk in a drug store, what would you do if the man on the other side of the counter made a reasonable request of you? That’s not the one, that’s not the picture.
FG: I think I see the picture.
MD: Yeah That’s it. “Yes, sir—you look like you need it.” What do you do for a living? I’m curious.
BL: Well, I’m a lawyer in Los Angeles, primarily litigation.
DC: And your letterhead says “Bela Lugosi”?
BL: That’s what it says.
DC: And do you get a lot of jokes.
BL: Oh, double takes, triple takes.
DC: Didn’t he get sick of the jokes. I would think he would. You know, people coming up saying can I bite your neck.
LL: Bela, Sr.?
MD: Bela, Sr., yes.
LL: Well, no, no. We’d be walking down a dark street, and we’d be talking and people would stop and take a double look. And Bela would say, “What’s the matter with me? Why are they doing that? Am I so awful?” I’d say, “No, it’s just your voice. It’s just the way you speak.”
MD: You know, somebody on my staff tried to call you at the hotel, today, and have you paged. And when we asked for them to please page Mrs. Bela Lugosi, maybe the operator thought it was a big joke.
BL: Well, I place a lot of calls, including long distance calls, and you know how long distance operators are. They give me the “you’re kidding” all the time. I just get it every place I go.
MD: Your father’s life reads like a movie script. Is it true that he left home at the tender age of 12?
BL: Yes. I don’t know how many people could conjure up doing such a thing. His father was a banker, and believed in formal education, and school was a very strict matter around the house. My dad always wanted to be an actor, even at that age. So, he left at 12 years old, because he didn’t think that formal education was necessary to be an actor. He went to a nearby town and started working, I think, as a machinist apprentice at the age of 12.
MD: Good night. And how did he get with the acting company in Hungary?
BL: Well, bit by bit, hanging around the stage door…
MD: Bite by bite. He could really get his teeth into a role.
DC: You can’t resist it. Did he feel successful, you know what I mean? Was he proud of the role and the part? You often hear of people who play a legendary role and they hated it, or they didn’t like it, or.
LL: Oh, he liked Dracula, yes, and the other one was the part of Ygor. He was most satisfied with that role.
DC: He was marvelous in that, when he had the broken neck. Did he know that he had a cult following of people who just adored him?
LL: Oh, he was quite aware of that, yes.
BL: I think that this cult is something that grew much more rapidly after his death, which often happens to people.
LL: Oh, that’s for sure.
DC: Was he one of those people, I seem to remember reading this, who did not get the benefits of those films in residuals? Millions were made for other people, like Laurel and Hardy.
LL: That’s true, very true.
MD: So sad, and there’s nothing that can be done about that.
LL: No. It was probably in fine print at the bottom, but who thought of television in those days.
DC: Yeah, it was just a gimmick. Is it true that he was scared to death of Shirley Temple movies?
LL: I don’t so, no. But he was an avid moviegoer, though. There’d be times when he decided that “oh, hey, we’ve missed too many pictures.” And he’d go to the paper, and say “well, we’ll see this one, and we’ll see this one.” And we’d go from one to the other. So, he was quite an avid moviegoer.
MD: I’d love to get into the more intimate details of his life, and we shall do that following these messages.
Bela and Lillian Lugosi returning from England aboard the S.S. Magestic on-August 27, 1935
MD: Mrs. Lugosi, you were married to Bela for how many years?
LL: Twenty years. And they were happy. There were some stormy weathers, like there is in every marriage. But there were an awful lot of good things.
MD: Tell me about your reaction the first time you saw him.
LL: Well, I met him at a party. And I was introduced to him. And he clicked his heels and kissed my hand. I thought—I was only 18 years old—I thought “oh, so that’s the way it’s done.” Hmm, pretty nice.
MD: Were you impressed?
LL: I was impressed. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Just his whole…the way he did it. It was so noble, and I thought, well, I’ve heard about it, but I had never had it done.
DC: How’d you happen to be at a party with him? Were you in the movie colony?
LL: No, no. My father was always interested in the Hungarian colonies. And it was at a Hungarian party.
MD: Were the Gabors there? Bela, Jr. was born in 1938, and your father was in his late…
LL: Fifty six. And Bela was his pride and joy because it was his only child.
MD: Yeah, but that is beyond the diaper stage for a father, I would say. Was he a good father?
BL: You’re asking me? Yes, he really was. And this is a story, you know, that has never been told. But the loss of my father to me was very traumatic thing because he was a good father. You know, he told me many times that I was very fortunate to be the son of a man that old, because I could benefit from all of this wisdom. And he was always trying to tell me something.
FG: Did you buy that?
BL: No, not at the time. But I realized that…
LL: Many times he’d speak to Bela as a grown-up, and the little kid looked at him, and think like “eek!—I don’t know what he’s talking about.” You know, he’d be overly fatherly, and he wanted to cram…
BL: I went one summer to summer stock with him, and we are in Connecticut at a lake. And he thought, by golly, his son ought to know something about canoeing. He liked water and water sports. And we rented a canoe. And he was proceeding to show me how to—you know—be in the boat, and all the strokes and everything. And I just about dumped him out. And, of course, my mom thought that was very funny, because he was very serious about everything he did. And I wasn’t being serious at all.
Bela Lugosi, Jr. with his father outside the Famous Artists Country Playhouse, Fayetteville, New York, July 1949
MD: What about discipline? Did he do it by just simply a look, or did he do it by …
BL: Yes. That’s all he had to do.
LL: He didn’t even have to lay a hand on him. His look was enough.
BL: He never did.
MD: He became addicted to drugs.
LL: Yes, he did.
MD: When, in the fifties?
LL: Well, there actually is a pre-history to it. He was a lightning pain that manifested itself in his leg. And the doctor said he should not suffer these pains and he should get shots because he developed ulcers. Because he didn’t even believe in aspirins.
MD: What did they give him? Morphine?
LL: At that time, they did. And then we were going to go on a summer tour. And the doctor said, “Now, Lillian, you going to have to give him—it was Methadone and Demerol, a derivative–and he said, you’re going to have to do it. And I’m a chicken. “Doc, I can’t do it.” And he said, “you’re going to have to, or he’s just going to have ulcers again.” So, he proceeded to show my how to do it. Oh, I tortured Bela many times, because the needle would move on me and I’d stick him a couple of times. And he was just said–“That’s alright, Lillian, it doesn’t hurt. That’s alright.” But then I noticed the time limits between the things got shorter and shorter, and they were getting a little bit too short. And I thought, ho-ho, I have a feeling he’s becoming used to this. So, whenever he need—oh, he’d start getting these lightning pains. “Oh, Lillian, I have to have a needle.” I’d say OK, so he got the needle, but I’d squirt it on the floor, I’d squirt it on the ceiling, and he got a little smidgling of it. And he started to think, “Hey, is she doing it right?” So, I got him off of it.
MD: You did?
LL: Oh, yeah.
MD: I understand you’ve seen Frank Gorshin, my co-host, do an impression of him.
BL: I’ve seen him a number of times. The last time was Magic Mountain in California.
FG: Magic Mountain, yeah. I got a note, and it was signed Bela Lugosi, Jr.
BL: Well, it was a very good performance, and I don’t do these kind of things. But I went back stage and left a note for Frank, I liked him so much.
FG: I was really…I thought somebody was putting me on.
MD: You have something very special that you want Frank to try on, don’t you Bela?
BL: I don’t think Frank knows about this, but–this is the cape that my Dad wore in Dracula, the movie.
MD: The real cape!
FG: Oh, you’re kidding. Something’s happening to my image. Well, he was just about my height, huh?
BL: Well, I guess so.
LL: No, Bela was 6’1”.
BL: Well, 6’ 1”—that’s close (audience laughs).
DC: Lift your arms, once.
MD: Lift your arms—that’s it.
FG: I vant…a bottle of aspirins
A 15-year-old Arthur Lennig photographed outside his home with Bela Lugosi
(The Count: the Life and Films of Bela “Dracula” Lugosi – Putnam 1974)
MD: Dr. Lennig, we have one minute left, and you have something that you wanted to bring up a moment ago.
AL: Well, you were talking before about the cult figure. I was 15, I met Mrs. Lugosi and I met Bela, first backstage, when he was doing Dracula in summer stock, then on later in Arsenic & Old Lace. And I told them that I had this shrine in my cellar of my house, and I had always worshiped him. And he was just as pleasant off-screen as he was unpleasant onscreen. So, I was delighted about that. He said “I’d like to see what you have at home.” And so, he made Mrs. Lugosi drive. The great Bela could invent all kinds of things as a mad scientist, but he couldn’t drive a car. And so they drove about eight or nine miles back to my house. And he came in and—there was my mother—and said “Hello, mother,” and he shook her hand. And we went down the cellar, and I had all my photos on the wall. He was kind of proud of me, and patted me on the back, and we had our photos taken. Mrs. Lugosi took the two of us together, and I took them together. And it’s in my book, I have those pictures.
MD: What a marvelous story. Thank you, Mrs. Lugosi, and thank you, Bela.
The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi, a rewritten and expanded of Arthur Lennig’s 1974 The Count: the Life and Films of Bela “Dracula” Lugosi, was published by University Press of Kentucky in 2010.
The book is available in various formats directly from:
University Press of Kentucky: https://www.kentuckypress.com/live/title_detail.php?titleid=2024#.Wy8pHUiFObg