The Girl Who Burned Bela Lugosi’s Capes – Anne Croft Interviewed By Marcus Brien

Ann CroftAnn Croft
(Courtesy of http://www.davidcroft.co.uk/)
During our research for Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain (Cult Movies Press), Frank Dello Stritto and I were fortunate enough to be able to trace and interview many key members of the cast and crew of Bela Lugosi’s 1951 revival tour of Dracula. When our book went to press in August 2000, however, there were still several who had defeated our efforts to locate them.
We continued our research into Bela Lugosi’s British film and theatre work after publication, and eventually amassed enough new information to warrant producing a revised and expanded second edition. As we were preparing the new edition, we were contacted by writer Marcus Brien. He had been introduced to Ann Coupland, a member of the Dracula company who had continued to eluded our efforts to locate her. Ann was the effects manager during the early stages of the tour.
Although Ann seemed to have vanished into thin air after leaving the company, she was in fact in plain view. One of the difficulties we had tracing the female members of Dracula’s cast and company was that we often had no idea if they had married and therefore changed their surnames. Thanks to Marcus, we learned that not only had Ann married David Croft, one of Britain’s most famous TV sit-com writers, in 1952, but she was also used the name Ann Callender (Her mother’s maiden name) professionally. After Dracula, Ann continued working as an actress in the theatre and on television for several years before becoming a  TV presenter. She later embarked upon a successful career as an agent.

Marcus interviewed Ann at her home in Suffolk on a crisp winter’s day in December 2013. The study where the interview took place was the very room where David Croft created his numerous award-winning sit-coms. Marcus recalled that he was reasonably relaxed until he realised he was sitting three feet away from a BAFTA!  He found Ann to be warm, interesting and frank with her recollections of the 1951 tour. What stood out for him was the admiration she had for Bela Lugosi as a professional and above all as a human being. He was kind enough to ask Ann some questions on our behalf and generously shared his complete interview with us for our second edition, which was published in July, 2015. After the interview he presented Ann with a copy of the first edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain, which now sits proudly in her study alongside her signed version of Dracula, signed by the cast and crew of the 1951 tour, including Bela and Lillian.

Bat Head 3

British TourA publicity photo by Editta Sherman used throughout the British tour of Dracula

Bat Head 3

MB: Mrs Croft, thank you again for seeing me. Sorry, I don’t want to sound like David Frost as I’d rather just have a conversation. It’s so much easier…

AC:  (Laughs) Not at all I am delighted to see you.

MB:  Thank you. Do you mind if I start by asking how you got into theatre. What did you do when you had left school?

AC: I went to RADA…I went to P-RADA…which was the Proprietary Academy and then I went to RADA. And then when I left RADA I was lucky enough to be signed up by a very good agent at the time called Betty Farmer. And, erm, Dracula was probably my first professional job. They thought I ought to go out on tour a bit because I was a bit big-headed. I’d done quite well at RADA. When they said Bela Lugosi was coming over to do the tour, Betty sent for me as she was a great friend of John Mather’s, who was the, erm….one of the managers, and said, “You’ve got to learn about the business from the real end.” The metaphorical equivalent of sweeping the stage! Had I done a few weeks with the Old Vic before that? Carrying a spear and understudying Peggy Ashcroft, I think. We got £3 a week I think….£4.10d….and he said this tour was going out and they were going to pay £7.50…£7 10d….I went along to audition because I was going to understudy Lucy as well. And..I got the part. Turned up for rehearsals as I say and we had a big meeting, with a cup of coffee, and all the cast. As I was saying previously, Bela took one look at me and came straight across, hugged me and said, “My ideal Lucy!” , which immediately put me in the…. not very good books with the leading lady really and truthfully. (Laughs)

MB: (Laughs) No wonder Sheila finished the tour and never went sick I wouldn’t imagine after that…

AC: (Laughing.) She used to get very angry. It was nothing to do with Bela really, but when we used to leave by the stage door, people used to come and queue up for autographs. For whatever reason, they would always be queuing for Bela and all the rest of it, but as soon as I left, they always asked for my autograph as well, (Laughs) that didn’t help. Bela thought that was very, very funny. (Laughing) The fact that I was the lowest person in the cast that there possibly could be, well maybe other than the stage-hand…and er…..maybe I carried myself like a star! (Laughing)

MB: I think you’re…well you’ve still got an air about if you don’t mind me saying….you have.

AC: But anyway, he was very nice and I don’t think really obviously that they had any children of their own and I would have been about nineteen I suppose….and he was very, very kind….I had no knowledge of stage management whatsoever. Joan…Joan…I can’t remember who it was who was the….Peter Whelpton was the General sort of Manager and he became a travel agent…travel writer afterwards. We got on very well. I think it was an experience which I am very glad I had. However I wasn’t entirely sure I was learning a great deal about what I thought about as show business, which was very much. The National didn’t exist in those days, so it was The Old Vic or whatever or Comedie Francaise, which I’ve done as well.

MB: What would you say, that at that time I mean we were literally what six years after the war, was theatre, was entertainment, was it a much needed release or was it a self-indulgence at that time in terms of people being able to afford to go to theatre?

AC: I don’t know….it did quite well. Golders Green was actually a very good week. Finsbury Park was a good week. Lewisham as I explained earlier was certainly not a good week.

(Ann refers to a conversation we had before the recording in which she explained that Bela was approached by John Mathers and told of the three people in the audience at an afternoon matinée in Lewisham. Mathers said he would cancel the performance. Bela asked only if they had paid, which they had. ‘In that case we play’ he insisted. Editor’s note: Dracula did not play in Finsbury Park. Ann told Andi Brooks that it was “probably Wood Green.” )

Three artist, I mean three members of the audience and a cast of oh I don’t know what it was…ten or eleven. The other members of the cast were not in agreement with Bela, about playing, they thought that was absolutely ridiculous. ‘Give them their money back’ is what was generally said by the others. But he was the Star and what he said – went. I was actually in great sympathy with him, because I thought of these poor three people sitting in the front row. I did ask permission not to have to go and scream but I didn’t get it. (Laughs) I still had to go and do it.

MB:  You still had to do the scream and faint and…(Laughs.)

AC: And all that business yes. (Laughing)

MB:  Can I just recap as well….so you joined the tour and you would have had the rehearsals Mid-April probably time?

AC:  Yes.

MB: And then when did you actually leave the tour?

AC: I don’t know…..I was out for about ten or twelve weeks I think.

MB: And would you mind recounting the story again of how you left the tour?

AC: (Laughing) Oh well if it’s of any interest (Laughing)

MB: Of course it is.

AC: I kept my contract for years which, cause it was very amusing or at least I thought it was and it said if I was going to work for my £7 a week or whatever it was…to do the effects managing which involved the use of the….can’t remember what they called it……The Gun! I said that I didn’t know much about effects managing, but I thought I was a quick learner and thought I would do well there. I’m trying to think if that was…..did we open at Theatre Royal Brighton?

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Ann Coupland ContractAnn Croft’s contract

(Courtesy of Ann Croft)

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MB: Yes. Yes you did. The tour started in Brighton on April 30th.

AC: Because I had to….in those days Equity wasn’t all that strong and it did take a lot of rehearsal so we did run over our rehearsal time a lot. Then on one occasion they weren’t very happy with some parts of the scenery and John Mather came and said, ‘Well you can’t go back. You are going to have to paint a bat on a drop sheet.’ I said, “What?” So he says “The big drop sheet that comes down. It’s got to have this big bat on it.” So I said, well I didn’t really know what a bat looked like, a mouse with wings! So they gave me some sketches and then they all left me alone in a haunted theatre, to paint a bat on a……they were called gauzes, that’s right. The only trouble was nobody had explained to me that, erm, if you put water on the gauze…it shrinks! So I had painted this large bat, which wasn’t too bad. Went and made myself a cup of tea in the dressing room, came back and the bat was like all this…all twisted up. Because, of course, I hadn’t weighted. What you had to do was weight the gauze before you painted the bat which I hadn’t done and of course it had dried off half…it was no good me putting weights on back onto the thing. John Mather was not very pleased, he said it had cost him a lot of money. The other thing I had to do (laughing) was to throw bats on stage on sticks on wire.

MB: I’ve heard of that (laughing) there’s a few stories of that in the book (Vampire over London).

AC: It had a bat on a wire on a stick and you had to stand on the side and when the bat used to come round, its head used to go like this and it would come in and go shhhhheewww and off. Only one night I wasn’t very quick and I got it wrong and the big four poster bed that Lucy was in, this bloody bat flew round and round the four poster bed and died and stopped! (Laughing) when the wire ran out it couldn’t go any further.

MB: Well it was a dead bat at that stage you know.

AC: Again, Bela thought that was very funny and Lillian was in hysterics.

MB: Was she?

AC: Peter Whelpton was not amused at all because the audience could tell there was something not quite right about this. So they just had to play the rest of the scene with this bat, hanging like this on the four poster bed. (Laughing) It had obviously died. That was quite a funny memory actually.

MB: I mean, what an education for you.

AC: We learnt an awful lot. This gun thing you had to fill with glycerine. You plugged it in, left it on the side of the stage and heated it to a certain level when a little red light would just come on. Then you unplugged it, pressed this button and these puffs of smoke came out. And gosh it’s a funny thing to remember….I was very nervous on the opening night, I had a lot of difficulty with this gun, I had too little smoke or I had too much smoke. They were getting a bit impatient with me, but unfortunately on the actual opening night and Bela was making his first appearance. The arms are out like this and I was behind, up his cloak at the back, and I’m puffing this smoke you see that went all around. So he went on but you could hardly see him. Because there was an awful lot of smoke. I was very worried about this so I put the gun down but I didn’t switch it off. So the smoke kept on coming (laughing). The first five rows of the audience (laughing) couldn’t see anything at all. They had to open windows. John Mathers was not very pleased about that either, that was the actual opening night. I think that’s why they grew so found of me, because there were so many little silly things that happened. It did cause a lot of amusement.

MB: I think he probably admired in you, what he did; just got on with things and acted.

AC: That was the start of the show. As a cast we got on quite well. The one who played Van Helsing – wasn’t very good. He wasn’t a very good actor, I mean and Bela thought he wasn’t a very good actor either.

MB: I think it was David Dawson (incorrect, it was Arthur Hosking) at the start and then Ralph Wilson took over.

AC: And I was a bit disappointed to be perfectly honest. It’s one of the lead roles and it’s terribly important, and it was, in my opinion, as if he was reading from his script all the time and not giving Bela the build-up that he required.

MB: Where you aware at that time that his vision and hearing wasn’t the greatest?

AC: I knew his hearing wasn’t very good because my father happened to be deaf from the First World War. So of course I had a big voice and Bela never had any trouble hearing me. Not that that happened on the stage as I didn’t appear on the stage with him as such….other than under his cloak! (Laughing) But I did know his hearing was bad, I did not know…you say his sight was bad as well?

MB: His sight, yeah I mean he never let anybody see him in his glasses, and he always apparently had a script. Always read the Dracula script apparently, even before a show, I don’t know if you recall that? But literally during rehearsals he would be dependent on people’s movements for his cues, at times. So he would know when they had finished saying something, rather than the actual words.

AC: I don’t remember that on that tour at all. I know he always used to say, as I had to cue him a few times on various things, he used that he was a little hard of hearing and he was very grateful that I had a voice that carried. So that’s rather…not pronunciation…what do they call it…projection that’s it.

MB: Did he ever discuss acting with you personally?

AC: Yes, yes on a couple of occasions. He asked me what I wanted to do and I said well I suppose what I really wanted to do was go back to the Old Vic, but not as a spear carrier or understudy. And play in the West End Theatres. I understudied Vivien Leigh in (inaudible) something like that. Well I was a what they used to call a walking understudy for Tenants who were the big producers at the time. It was a regular job, I’d just had a child. And I think I never played….I played for Barbara Braiden in…what on earth was it called…all about commercial television, was a big success on tour. It was by Jerome Chodorov and Joseph Fields….Anniversary Waltz. It was a massive success on tour. When we came into the West End we under-ran 25 minutes, on the opening night. No laughs! The critics and the West End audiences those days, they often came to the theatre in Dinner Jackets and those things. They just didn’t think it was funny. It was wrongly timed. It was all about jingles and commercial television and we didn’t have jingles and commercial television in this country. So the rather smarter people, the other people saw it for what it was, which was a rip-roaring farce. But the smart people who came to the opening night, they didn’t, they all said what the hell was it all about? You know there was lots of laughs at Persil washes not only clean but white and that sort of thing. But before anybody had heard it here.

MB: So it was a bit before its time?

AC: Yes it was before its time. He came to my Dressing Room, Jerry, after the opening night. And it was Joan Winmill who was playing…..she also played the sort of little friend in Anniversary Waltz as well. That was a Tenants Production.

MB: Joan Winmill was the maid in your tour of Dracula.

AC: Yes she was. Anyway, talking about Bela: that’s what I told him I had wanted to do. I didn’t want to be a walking understudy, but I wanted to work for Tenants.

MB: Did he encourage you? Did he offer you any tips or advice?

AC: Oh very much so. But he said you must always remember that acting is a job, like any other job, and you bring your best attention to it. It was a phrase actually that David used many years later – Work comes first. If work doesn’t come first, nothing else comes afterwards. And I think that’s absolutely true. Because you can’t pay your digs, because if you’re not doing any acting you’re not going to….

MB: There’s a lot to be said for that…nothings for free?

AC: I think that also…..because he could hear me….I hadn’t really realised that particularly at the time. He and Lillian used to spend a lot of time with me. Which again I don’t think the rest of the cast…thought it was a bit strange.

MB: Did you know at that time that they had a son that they had to leave back in America? Bela Jr, and he was in a Boarding School. But literally one of the reasons they came over (to the UK) was to make sure….

AC: Was to make sure he could pay his fees….

MB: Yeah…you know work…work comes first. And obviously that caused a lot of heartache I would imagine for both of them.

AC: That’s why they probably liked a 19-year-old – still a very young person to them. So they used to take me out for coffee and things like that.

MB: Yeah…would you mind me asking how did you see their relationship? Did she mother him….

AC: I have to say that you surprised me, when you said they divorced about two years later?

MB: Yes it was in 53 I believe.

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Bela and Lillian at the premiere of ScroogeBela and Lillian Lugosi at the premier of Scrooge in London

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AC: The impression that I got, was that they were absolutely devoted. She was very…mother hen towards him. She was always in the dressing room. Peter Whelpton used to say, “Lillian’s absolutely marvellous, she helps with the dressing and everything else. But he said she’s hardly going to let you do it is she!”but I’m not quite sure what he meant by that, whether she thought he might pat me on the head or something like that. He was never left alone with me, except on one occasion when we hadn’t got a spare cloak handy as I burnt this damned great hole in the first cloak. Lillian went off to find a replacement cloak. He was so nice about it, but he bought his own cloaks you see.

MB: How many did he have then?

AC: Three. He had three and I burnt two of them. I’m not sure if I didn’t burn three and they had to get another one from America? Cause he always, that cloak was very special.

MB: It’s well documented and whether or not the documents are true…that he did have an eye for the ladies…

AC: (Laughs)

MB: At the end of the day he was a film star, he was very handsome, you know and you were a very attractive young lady at that time……cough cough! (laughs)

AC: Well Lillian didn’t leave us alone very much I have to admit.

MB: There are also lots of stories of him being very controlling over her, as in he used to tell her what to wear as well. But I think it was very much to do with his Hungarian background.

AC: I have to say I never noticed that particularly. Not that we spent any great length of time when we went for a coffee, would be forty minutes at the most you know. You didn’t have coffee bars like today, it was some American ice cream parlour type things, particularly in Brighton. I didn’t notice him being authoritative with her at all.

MB: In public, I think a lot of people say that she was mother hen, she would even cut his food up for him and you know…I think it got to the point where they had that type of relationship where…well I think…the opinion that I’ve formed is that I think she saw a lot of people take advantage of him throughout the years. He wasn’t a good businessman when it came to money, he would just do work for the sake of it, just to keep working. I think she saw that and she tried to keep him away from people like that? And I believe from the book that you’ll read there, Ann, (Vampire over London) is that John Mathers had great issues with her. The rest of the cast loved her, but her and John Mathers didn’t get on at all.

AC: That’s interesting.

MB: So I think she felt he was being taken advantage of. He was an old man, he wasn’t well…he..

AC: I must say she fought very hard, not to get me dismissed. And I think the main reason why and he won’t like this story coming out either. The main reason why John Mathers did sack me, although they were perfectly within their rights for drinking during the show; unforgivable, was the fact that he chased me around the prop room a couple of times and hadn’t got anywhere. Well I think that came into it as well. (Laughs)

MB: You were Non-Compliant let’s say. (laughs) This is turning into a book about something else here Mrs Croft. What a fascinating period for you. Can you remember of hearing when Mr Lugosi passed away?

AC: No I only read it in the papers. I think it may have been Peter Whelpton rang me, and said had I heard and at that time I hadn’t, but it was then in that day’s paper. So he said to me at that time; well he (Bela) was still working. I don’t know what he was doing, he was half way through a movie or something?

MB: He was working with a gentleman at the time called Ed Wood.

AC: Oooo…he had the reputation for making the worst movies that were ever made. Some are shown at the Film Institute now, as examples of what not to do.

MB: I think they’re really good myself (laughs).

AC: I don’t think I have ever seen any of them. And of course he kept Bela in for the first half didn’t he? And then had a stand in for the other bits, you never saw Bela’s face again at the end of the movie it was always the shadow and the arm.

MB: That’s right and the cloak up at the eyes and the height difference was amazing too. In 55 I believe he checked himself, I believe he was one of the first ever celebrities, if you like, to ever check himself into rehab because he was addicted to painkillers, and again I believe that it was because of sciatica. He got addicted to morphine and he admitted bringing a pound of morphine or methadone back from here (the UK) back into the US, but he got off it. I think he took it so he could work, not as a recreational drug so it would make him feel good, I think to take away the pain. Do you recall any sort of images of him being on-stage as an upright Dracula figure and then off-stage as a……

AC: Yes…I remember one day mostly. I’m trying to think of the dressing room. He had an armchair, quite a high one, but you didn’t see him struggle to get out of it or like that and it wasn’t a chair like this. I’m trying to remember….there was slight tendency to suffer from headaches. Or Lillian….oh how interesting it never occurred to me in anyway whatsoever….Lillian had the phrase, “Oh Dear I think Bela may have one of his headaches.” Well maybe that was so if I saw him taking pills I would think it was for a headache. Or if he was not looking so good and I thought and now you’ve mentioned it, God it takes me right back. I just dismissed it as migraine. I thought a lot of actor’s suffered from migraine. So I never noticed the difficulty with the moving, because on stage it didn’t show at all. And off stage by the time he had struggled out of the cloak, you wouldn’t have noticed either. And as we never went out for dinner after the show, I mean on our own, we had a couple of occasions when the cast went. Well, again I wouldn’t have noticed, but if we had gone on our own I would have noticed if he’d limped or something, but we never did, so….

MB: I think they used to call them “the lightning pains” where it would come and go and like I said there was one scene where he grabbed Eric Lindsay around the throat and couldn’t let go. And I think he put everything into….

AC: That sounds more like rheumatoid arthritis because sciatica is in the main sciatic nerve. It shouldn’t affect the hands.

MB: I think he was in that much pain as he hadn’t had any medication for it that everything just froze up, everything froze up in his body in the middle of a performance.

AC: That probably frightened him, he wouldn’t have liked that. Because the audience was everything you know.

MB: Do you ever remember him talking to any of his younger fans? There’s a great story in the book about a gentleman called Derek Pickering who came to see him and he said he treated children like adults. Bela himself has worked from the age of 12 and I think his young fans were, he would treat them like adults. He would listen to them, he would show interest in them.

AC: Never noticed that particularly. But we didn’t have a lot of young people in the main. I don’t know whether it was John Mather or not, but nobody was allowed back stage. You were talking earlier about people bringing in programmes to be signed or the effects manager or the stage manager bringing them in to be signed. I don’t remember that at all. I only remember the stage door where people, well I suppose it all depended on your stage door keeper. But I never actually saw him talking to young fans, but I can well imagine as he was extremely kind, well at least I thought he was. So I can well imagine that was the truth but I never personally saw it, because I know Lillian would try and get him back to the hotel as quickly as she could. Which is one more reason why you didn’t have dinner after the show as much as anything, but he was obviously in pain.

MB: I believe so.

AC: I didn’t, I thought, it was just Lillian not letting him get too tired and the cold in Middlesbrough or somewhere like that. He wouldn’t want to be standing outside signing autographs, or having a conversation. I’m not saying he didn’t, he always signed autographs for anybody. If he was in the street or anything else, nothing was too much trouble in that respect at all. It never occurred to me but I did wonder sometimes, why we didn’t go and have meals after the show, because most people need that hour and a half to wind down. Because Lillian mothered me, I suppose, it’s funny, it never crossed my mind, they used to take me for tea, but they’d never take me to dinner. But I think she would be fussing around him and saying “enough now, enough now, get back to the hotel because you must rest.” I can remember that quite distinctly, but remember I was nineteen and he was sixty-nine. So sixty-nine at the time was very old indeed, in fact actually it was quite old for the period of time. People now live into their 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s, so sixty-nine doesn’t sound very old. People now start new careers at that age now, but to me at that time in the 1950s, or just in the 1950s, it was considered quite old.

MB: And that’s what fascinates me, is that, how he kept going and I think 280 shows in a five month period, and he never missed one. And you know I really do think the pain, it was pain management I think and I think she was doing that for him.

AC: I didn’t know, obviously, but now that you’re coming to talk about it, these were things that happened or didn’t happen, I never gave it any thought at all but I put it down to the fact that he was not a young man. And he needed plenty of rest if he was going to do a show that took out as much out of him as it did.

MB: I believe for other personal appearances, fetes, summer fetes, he used to ask other cast members to go on his behalf. He did a few but like you say the rest in between was obviously vital to him. Can I just recap on a couple of things you mentioned earlier on? You are the only person in the world who has burnt two Bela Lugosi capes….possibly three (Laughs), you used to have your hand between his legs (laughs) under his cape. When he performed can I ask did he frighten you, I know it’s a huge jump, did he have that look, the eyes that a lot of people talk about? Did he, could you see a change in him?

AC: Oh you would see the change. But Alec Guinness was the same, he used to come down and if I was standing back stage, he would look, he always had a mirror near the top corner and he used to come down and stand and look in the mirror. He always came down three minutes before he went on. And he would go and stand for a full minute, in front of the mirror, staring at himself. And I asked him once why? So he said you’re having conversations in the dressing room and depending on the type of role, you need to become that person. That’s what being a true cypher actor is all about. And the way I could do this was taking just a moment or two, to get out of myself and into the character that I’m playing. Now to think of it, Bela in a way did that, not staring at himself in a mirror but he always, because I was always with him for about five minutes before he went on, whilst we were testing these damn things (smoke gun.) And yes he did change, he started to stand up properly, the eyes did narrow. But as far as I was concerned it was just him getting ready to the job. So I was never ever frightened.

MB: And you studying acting would know it was just a character change anyway. I think for the likes of me as a fan, I think I would have been there wide-eyed in the audience if you know what I mean.

AC: Oh yes well I’m quite sure it was from the other side, unfortunately I never really saw it from the other side, except for a few seconds when I was mostly being carried out! (Laughs.)

MB: That’s the amazing part of being involved as you were. You’ve got your perspective on it, when the rest of the world, we see it what everybody else sees. Where you had a one unique perspective on that and I’d rather your perspective on that. What happened to you afterwards then, after the tour?

David and Ann Croft and childrenAnn with her husband David and two of their children

(Courtesy of http://www.davidcroft.co.uk/)

AC: I got married, I did, as I said I did the walking understudies. I had two children by the time I was twenty-two. Then my husband went up to open Tyne-Tees Television, so I went with him. I used to do a programme with Kenneth Horne called Trader Horne. I did that for a couple of years, then I had three more children in quick succession and I started coaching for Associated British (inaudible) – starlets and things like that because I was qualified to do that. So I never really acted again, then in 1964, my husband’s agent which was man called Richard Stern, had been Chief of Combined Services actually, coming back to what we were talking about before and he heard me talking about a singer that we had Chris Langham up in Tyne-Tees. He said to me have you ever thought about being an agent? And I said no, I hadn’t. So he said think about because, I’d quite like you to come and work with me and I think you would be rather good at it. So I said thank you very much, anyway I then had a contract with ATV in Birmingham. I was a television presenter and I did this programme up in Newcastle, I was on fifteen shows a week. I did the one o’clock show, all the historical shows, Guess Who, used to share a dressing room with Jimmy Saville.

MB: One question sorry I forgot to ask earlier, but for yourself it was 1951, a young lady, on tour, working. How was that seen by your family or other people was it…?

AC: Nobody worried about it at all.

MB: I can’t thank you enough for talking to me, before I go can I just mention one other gentleman who Gary Don Rhodes who has written this book here. No Traveler Returns. He is a Professor of Film Studies in Belfast. He is an American guy and he has written everything there is to know about Bela Lugosi. He is currently writing a book about his theatre tours and when I mentioned that I may have the opportunity to go and speak to you, he would be delighted, if he could ask you to write, if you would be willing, a Foreword for his future book. Because you are one of the few who are left that actually toured with him.

AC: How many are left of the original cast?

MB: I believe Eric Lindsay is still alive, Richard Butler who was in Four Weddings and a Funeral, he was the vicar in that. John Mather passed away but he went into a talent agency.

AC: He was mostly in management, I think, he went back to being an actor…did he?

MB: No I don’t think he acted, he became part of a talent agency.

AC: Yes became an agent; those that do; do and those that don’t become agents!

MB: One of the things he was involved with was casting Clint Eastwood who was out of work at time in the spaghetti westerns I think.

AC: Really. Well I can’t say I’m thrilled as I never liked him and he never liked me, so I’m not worried (Laughs.)

MB: What was he like? Obviously he tried to chase you a few times.

AC: Aggressive! Ambitious! Didn’t like anybody, whether it was Bela or not, saying no. He was trying to put the show on for not enough money. That I did know enough about show-business to realise.

MB: Trying to do it on the cheap?

AC: Very much so and I used to get talking to the stage door keepers, he was not a popular man with the managers of the theatres either. Very brusque.

MB: So from that would you say that him and Lillian probably wouldn’t have seen eye to eye?

AC: No they wouldn’t have done in fact they didn’t, I do know that. I think he meant very well but thought he would make a lot more money than he actually did. Everything was done on the cheap. There was no way, and really and truly in this day and age it wouldn’t be allowed, that they should have let me as a girl virtually straight out of RADA, work that gun. That gun was dangerous. But there should have somebody who just dealt with the gun. The person who dealt with the gun shouldn’t have been running around, pulling strings for pictures and throwing bats. It wasn’t, I didn’t mind but he expected everybody…a pint of blood you know literally.

MB: One final question if I may and it’s probably a terrible question. It’s about Mr Lugosi. If you could describe him in a couple of words, what springs to mind?

AC: Absolutely delightful. Yes I think so…well I know so actually. I was very sorry that his career had its strange ups-and-downs. I used to sort of watch out for the odd movies and things.

MB: Just incidentally had you seen the screen version of the Dracula the 1931 film before you worked with him?

AC: Yes. To John Mather’s credit, I think it was he who suggested that we did. That was his idea and it was the correct thing to do. It also built up the star image so that we all thought we were touring with a big, well we were, touring with a big star. It was the advice.

MB: This has been fascinating and it has been a pleasure for me to meet you, full stop. I can’t thank you enough.

AC:  Not at all, an absolute pleasure.

MarcusMarcus lives in Suffolk, UK with his wife Karen and baby daughter Orla. He is currently writing a screenplay on the life of Bela Lugosi. His friends Martin and Harvey Clarke thoughtfully arranged for him to meet their family friend; Ann Croft. Without them the interview would never have happened.

Marcus’ earliest memories of Lugosi are in the 1970’s with his regular appearances in the BBC2 Horror Double Bills on Saturday nights. These evenings are also some of the only memories Marcus recalls of his own father, so his interest in Lugosi provides it’s own personal nostalgia.

During his research for his screenplay Marcus has come to understand Lugosi as a person who always acted.

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Bela Lugosi, A Generous Star – An extract from the 2nd edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain

Vampire Over London 2nd Edition

Originally published in 2000, an expanded and revised 2nd edition of the critically acclaimed Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain by Frank J. Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks was published this July by Cult Movies Press. Taking an in-depth look at Lugosi’s 1951 British stage tour of Dracula and the three films he made in Britain, Mystery of the Mary Celeste (1935), Dark Eyes of London (1939) and Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1951), the new edition contains not only newly discovered information and images, but also additional first-hand accounts from people who worked with and saw Bela Lugosi as he toured across Britain. One of the most fascinating newly-added accounts comes from Joyce Wilson, the widow of Ralph Wilson, the Dracula stage tour’s 2nd Van Helsing. Joyce traveled with her husband on the tour and was able to gain a unique insight into the production. The following extract from the book is based on Joyce’s recollection of her husband taking over the role of Van Helsing from the tour’s original vampire hunter, Arthur Hosking.

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About the same moment that Arthur Hosking told Alfred Beale that he would leave the tour in a week, character actor Ralph Wilson attended the polo matches in Roehampton (a suburb southwest of London) with his wife Joyce and her sister, as well as their vicar and his wife. After the match, as the Wilsons walked down the street to their flat, they heard the phone continuously ringing until they could reach it. Wilson’s agent, Dorothy Jane Ward, asked if he could go to Leicester the next day to take over Van Helsing as soon as possible. Could he meet with the manager and stage director, Sunday night in Leicester? He reported as asked, and saw the script for the first time. Only in Leicester did he appreciate the size of the role that he had just accepted, and the amount of dialogue to learn. On Monday morning Ralph called Joyce. He needed her to help him prepare. His World War II combat service had left him hard of hearing, and he could not easily rely on spoken queues or prompters during a performance.

Bela Lugosi and Arthur HoskingBela Lugosi with Arthur Hosking, the tour’s original Van Helsing

The outgoing Wilson mingled with the company in his free time, quite the opposite of Hosking. Onstage and off, Wilson was the new energy the play needed. As a career soldier, he had an immediate rapport with the reserved Sheila, daughter of a Colonel. As a lover of art and culture, Wilson took to the aloof David Dawson. Except for two weeks to have her tonsils removed, Joyce would be with Ralph husband for the weeks on the road to come. Both were good mixers, and soon had good friends among the company. The Wilsons already knew Eric Lindsay, and became close to John Saunders.

Another surprise for Wilson in the script handed him in Leicester was how small Dracula’s role is compared to Van Helsing’s. How would a world famous star in that smaller part—who would also be directing the rehearsals—take to the newcomer? 

Raph WilsonRalph Wilson

By mid-week in Leicester, Wilson was ready for rehearsals, conducted in the afternoons before the evening performances that still featured Hosking. Ralph and Joyce arrived early. Stage director Tommy Muschamp confronted them. He did not want Joyce in the theatre. He did not want anyone not involved in the rehearsal present. Ralph tried to explain that he really needed her with him. Before the back-&-forth went too far, Bela entered. He introduced himself with a flourish, and took Joyce by the arm. “You must come and sit with me for all the rehearsal,” said Bela as he guided her to the third row center, “and then you will be better able to help your husband to study the part.” Muschamp bit his lip, turned, and went backstage. 

Bela soon realized Arthur Hosking and Ralph Wilson were as different on stage as off, and made many changes to production to suit the new personality. The Wilsons thought Bela’s reshaping the play very effective. Neither director nor star could hear very well. When Bela called out directions, the other actors had to repeat to Ralph what Bela had said. Ralph would reply, and Joyce repeated his words to Bela—perhaps explaining why Bela insisted that Joyce sit with him. 

The rehearsal went smoothly until the key scene of Van Helsing’s confrontation with Dracula. After a few go-throughs, Bela stood close to Ralph, and said with emphasis and loud enough for all to hear: 

This is your scene, Ralph.   The spot will be on you and I will move back into the shadows so that all the attention is focussed on you! 

Such generosity from a star particularly impressed Joyce. 

*

Leicester Theatre Royal ProgrammeRalph Wilson made his debut as Van Helsing at the Saturday matinee performance at the Palace Theatre in  Leicester on August 4th, 1951. 

*

In the weeks to come, the Lugosis and the Wilsons became great friends. Joyce particularly warmed to Lillian: 

I spent a lot of time in Bela’s dressing room with Lillian during the show.   We would have liked to go out together to a film, or perhaps for a drink, but Bela was obsessively possessive of Lillian and could not bear her to be out of the theatre during the show.  

Lillian, as well as Bela, talked incessantly of their son, whom they had not seen in so many months. 

*

Sheffield Lyceum Theatre ProgrammePrinted in advance, the programme for Ralph Wilson’s first full week as Van Helsing at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield listed his predecessor, Arthur Hosking, in the role.

*

Wilson first played Van Helsing at the Leicester Saturday matinee (August 4). No back stage staff was available as prompter, and Wilson felt adrift. Again to Muschamp’s fury, Bela insisted that Joyce do the job. Bela fortified Ralph, as he had Alfred Beale three months before, with few Benzedrine tablets. Ralph finished the performance with only one prompt, provided by Joyce through the fireplace.

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Vampire Over London 2nd Edition

Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain 2nd Edition

Today, 60 years after his death, horror movie star Bela Lugosi remains a Hollywood legend. This ground-breaking book uncovers the untold tale of his 1951 Dracula stage tour across Britain. That tour, like the three films Lugosi made in Britain in 1935, 1939 and 1951, is often overlooked in his life’s story. This book tells the full story at last, and adds to a legacy unmatched in Hollywood history. The tale of 1951 also delves in the anything-goes world of post World War II British music halls and theatre. The rich history of British stage, combined with Lugosi’s unique career and persona, makes a compelling history. Originally published in 2000, the critically acclaimed biography of Bela Lugosi was the product of over a decade of extensive research by the authors and was the first book to study a particular, and neglected, period of Bela Lugosi’s life and work.

The expanded and updated second edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain, which contains 132 more pages than the 1st edition, can be ordered for $30 plus $3.99 shipping from Cult Movies Press at http://www.cultmoviespress.com (International shipping rates are available upon request). It is also available at Amazon International http://amzn.com/0970426933 and Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0970426933

To obtain a discount on your order, contact Frank Dello Stritto directly at fdellostritto@hotmail.com

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Reviews

“Vampire Over London, which is beautifully produced and of a quality we seldom see today, is a model of documentation and informed and entertaining writing. I was so fascinated by it that I gave up virtually an entire weekend to read it. I cannot claim to be a big fan of Bela Lugosi, but the authors’ enthusiasm, clarity and intelligence were such that I was mesmerized as much as any of Dracula’s victims. A magnificent book.”– Anthony Slide, Classic Images

“In this impressively researched book the authors’ combined sense of detail is remarkable…Dello Stritto and Brooks cover the six months of the touring company with three-dimensional clarity…you can almost smell the cigars Lugosi smoked while standing in the wings.”– Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

“Just when you thought everything that could possibly be written about the classic horror stars had already seen print, along comes the fascinating Vampire Over London. It’s an admirable book, written by that rare breed – film historians who actually know how to write…it’s essential.”- Richard Valley, Scarlet Street

“This tremendous new volume manages to offer a wealth of new information! A must for Lugosi fanatics…the authors have done their research on this subject, and the result is the final word on this portion of Lugosi’s life…It’s a humorous, informative and often touching tribute to a little known slice of Bela’s life.”- Shock Cinema

“Genre cinema historians Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks perform an invaluable service for Bela Buffs. Their painstakingly researched tome is a book no self-respecting Lugosi lover can afford to be without.” – The Phantom, Videoscope

“An indispensable tome…exhaustive…Physically, the book is as impressive as the research and writing…will quickly become a collector’s item.” – Tom Weaver, Fangoria

“…a remarkable book…a carefully researched work of scholarship with a concern for accuracy usually reserved for much weightier subjects.” –  Henry Nicolella, Castle of Frankenstein

“A superb piece of literature! I think Bela must be resting in peace at long last in his satin-lined coffin.” – John C. Mather, Co-Producer of the 1951 British Dracula tour

“A really splendid piece of research, it has to be definitive.” – Richard Eastham, Director of the 1951 British Dracula tour

“It is a wonderful epitaph for a very special person.” – Richard Butler, 1951 British Dracula tour cast member

“If you’re a Lugosi fan, the book is an essential…it also serves as an excellent history of an era of British stage history that simply doesn’t exist anymore..If you possess the first edition you are a fortunate person, but you are even more fortunate if you have both editions.” – Doug Gibson, Standard Examiner

For those who love Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) or Dracula, and you know who you are, this book is essential…Dello Stritto and Brooks do not drown in their own research. They are scintillating raconteurs, and this 300+ page book moves along as breezily as a fascinating dinner conversation…This is a terrific book, not to be missed.” – James Abbott, The Jade Sphinx

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 Related Pages

“Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain” New Expanded Second Edition

1951 British Dracula Tour – Exclusive Interviews With The Cast & Company

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

Vampire Bats And Devil Girls From Mars: Dracula Producer John Chartres Mather Interviewed By Frank J. Dello Stritto.

“Child, never look into my eyes!” The Hypnotic Stare of Bela Lugosi

The Day I Met Bela Lugosi by Derek R. Pickering.

Knee-Deep in Ice Cream, Smoke & Wayward Rubber Bats: An Interview With Richard Butler by Andi Brooks

An Encounter With Bela Lugosi by Roy Tomlinson

When Bela Lugosi Came To Britain

When Dracula Invaded England

“Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain” New Expanded Second Edition

VOL Jacket

A new expanded 2nd edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain by Frank J. Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks has been published by Cult Movies Press. Originally published in 2000, the critically acclaimed biography of Bela Lugosi was the product of over a decade of extensive research by the authors and was the first book to study a particular, and neglected, period of Bela Lugosi’s life and work.

The book traces Lugosi’s final tour of Dracula in Britain in 1951. Shrouded in mystery for half a century, what little had been known about the tour and Lugosi’s time in Britain had been clouded by oft-repeated inaccurate accounts. Dello Stritto and Brooks unearthed many previously unknown facts to tell the full and true story for the first time. In the days before the now ubiquitous Internet made such a task relatively simple, the authors traced and interviewed Lugosi’s co-workers, most of whom had never spoken publicly about their time with him, located scores of people across Britain who saw Lugosi perform in Dracula, and gathered material from archives and individuals across the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, America, and Canada. The product of their research was the compelling tale of a fading Hollywood legend’s last stab at greatness, and of forgotten triumphs.

While Dracula made Bela Lugosi world famous, it forever trapped him in monster & mad doctor roles. In the heyday of Hollywood horror, he reigned as a star, but when horror fell out of fashion, he scarcely worked at all. Late in life, with few job prospects in Hollywood or New York, he searched for one last comeback. In 1951, the 68-year old Lugosi and his wife Lillian staked their fortunes on the stage tour of Dracula in Britain, a project which had almost taken place in 1948 (Bela Lugosi Unrealised Projects). They hoped to take Dracula to London’s West End and reproduce his original success on Broadway in 1927. For six months and in more than 200 performances, Lugosi thrilled audiences in the provinces. The gruelling trek of one week engagements, often with twice-nightly performances, across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, however, broke his stamina. The West End never beckoned and the tour was ended when Lugosi told producer John Chartres Mather that he could not continue. Lugosi filmed the comedy Mother Riley Meets the Vampire before leaving Britain. Contrary to popular myth, Mother Riley Meets the Vampire was not hastily arranged to help an unpaid and stranded Lugosi buy passage for himself and his wife back to America. The film had been arranged several months before the tour ended. As he sailed back to America, his spirits buoyed by the prospect of being reunited with his son, Lugosi was not to know that he had played his signature role in the famous vampire play for the last time, and that the final comeback which he so desperately desired would never materialized. His months in Britain were soon forgotten, even by his most ardent fans.

Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain also tells the behind-the-scenes stories of Lugosi’s three British films,  Mystery of the Mary Celeste (1935), Dark Eyes of London (1939), and Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1952), for which Dello Stritto and Brook interviewed cast and crew members. The making of these films is intertwined with the controversy in Britain over American horror films, a battle between censors and producers that almost ruined Lugosi’s career.

V.O.L. DUSK JACKET 4.23.15With the first edition described as “exhaustive” and “definitive”, I asked Andi Brooks why he and Frank Dello Stritto decided to write a new edition. “Our interest in Bela Lugosi’s time in Britain didn’t end with the publication of the first edition. We have continued researching it ever since. When we conducted our original research the Internet was in its infancy. We did everything the old-fashioned way – letters, telephone calls and literally knocking on people’s doors. We covered as much ground as we could, which took a lot of time and money, but it was impossible to find every piece of information and to trace every person we wanted to speak to. Now it’s a completely different world. There is so much information available online now which wasn’t accessible back then. Of course, although it may at times seem as if the sum of human knowledge is just a keystroke away, a lot of traditional footwork and plain good luck are still needed. The Internet has also allowed us to connect with other researchers and fans who have generously shared their knowledge and allowed us to delve into their collections. Frank and I also had another reason for wanting to produce a second edition. Although we were very flattered by the praise which the original edition of Vampire Over London received, we simply weren’t satisfied with it. The amount of new material we had collected since 2000, and the fact that we were still receiving requests for the book long after it had sold out, gave us the opportunity to revisit the project and produce a new edition which we feel is superior to the original.”

Vampire Over London 2nd Edition

The expanded and updated second edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain can be ordered for $30 plus $3.99 shipping from Cult Movies Press at http://www.cultmoviespress.com (International shipping rates are available upon request). It is also available at Amazon International http://amzn.com/0970426933 and Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0970426933

To obtain a discount on your order, contact Frank Dello Stritto directly at fdellostritto@hotmail.com

Bat Head 3 Reviews for the first edition

“Vampire Over London, which is beautifully produced and of a quality we seldom see today, is a model of documentation and informed and entertaining writing. I was so fascinated by it that I gave up virtually an entire weekend to read it. I cannot claim to be a big fan of Bela Lugosi, but the authors’ enthusiasm, clarity and intelligence were such that I was mesmerized as much as any of Dracula’s victims. A magnificent book.”– Anthony Slide, Classic Images

“In this impressively researched book the authors’ combined sense of detail is remarkable…Dello Stritto and Brooks cover the six months of the touring company with three-dimensional clarity…you can almost smell the cigars Lugosi smoked while standing in the wings.”– Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

“Just when you thought everything that could possibly be written about the classic horror stars had already seen print, along comes the fascinating Vampire Over London. It’s an admirable book, written by that rare breed – film historians who actually know how to write…it’s essential.”- Richard Valley, Scarlet Street

“This tremendous new volume manages to offer a wealth of new information! A must for Lugosi fanatics…the authors have done their research on this subject, and the result is the final word on this portion of Lugosi’s life…It’s a humorous, informative and often touching tribute to a little known slice of Bela’s life.”- Shock Cinema

“Genre cinema historians Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks perform an invaluable service for Bela Buffs. Their painstakingly researched tome is a book no self-respecting Lugosi lover can afford to be without.” – The Phantom, Videoscope

“An indispensable tome…exhaustive…Physically, the book is as impressive as the research and writing…will quickly become a collector’s item.” – Tom Weaver, Fangoria

“…a remarkable book…a carefully researched work of scholarship with a concern for accuracy usually reserved for much weightier subjects.” –  Henry Nicolella, Castle of Frankenstein

“A superb piece of literature! I think Bela must be resting in peace at long last in his satin-lined coffin.” – John C. Mather, Co-Producer of the 1951 British Dracula tour

“A really splendid piece of research, it has to be definitive.” – Richard Eastham, Director of the 1951 British Dracula tour

“It is a wonderful epitaph for a very special person.” – Richard Butler, 1951 British Dracula tour cast member

“If you’re a Lugosi fan, the book is an essential…it also serves as an excellent history of an era of British stage history that simply doesn’t exist anymore..If you possess the first edition you are a fortunate person, but you are even more fortunate if you have both editions.” – Doug Gibson, Standard Examiner

For those who love Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) or Dracula, and you know who you are, this book is essential…Dello Stritto and Brooks do not drown in their own research. They are scintillating raconteurs, and this 300+ page book moves along as breezily as a fascinating dinner conversation…This is a terrific book, not to be missed.” – James Abbott, The Jade Sphinx

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 Related Pages

Bela Lugosi, A Generous Star – An extract from the 2nd edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain

1951 British Dracula Tour – Exclusive Interviews With The Cast & Company

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

Vampire Bats And Devil Girls From Mars: Dracula Producer John Chartres Mather Interviewed By Frank J. Dello Stritto.

“Child, never look into my eyes!” The Hypnotic Stare of Bela Lugosi

The Day I Met Bela Lugosi by Derek R. Pickering.

Knee-Deep in Ice Cream, Smoke & Wayward Rubber Bats: An Interview With Richard Butler by Andi Brooks

An Encounter With Bela Lugosi by Roy Tomlinson

When Bela Lugosi Came To Britain

When Dracula Invaded England

Vampire Bats And Devil Girls From Mars: John Chartres Mather, Producer of BelaLugosi’s British Tour of Dracula, Interviewed By Frank J. Dello Stritto.

John Chartres MatherJohn Chartres Mather (Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

John Chartres Mather had been in theatre since age 12.  Taking his lead from Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals, the young man staged local revues in his native Edinburgh.  After a year as stagehand in Dundee repertory, he took on London.  Through the war years, he launched musical revues to entertain British troops.  John also did tenures as stage director on the road and on the West End.  By the late 1940s, still in his mid-20s, John was producing his own musical revues. John’s tastes in productions tended towards extravaganzas, and he always over-reached a bit, “flying before I could walk” as he described it.  Musicals were expensive undertakings; they lost big when they failed and earned big when they succeeded.  Fine Feathers temporarily made him rich.  His labor of love, Out of This World, folded in previews, a devastating setback financially and personally.  Musicals were John’s first love, but the expense and recent track records of the big productions he favored made them difficult to finance. John needed to get into something new.  With his partners George Routledge and Gordon White, he formed Chartres Productions in early 1951 and produced Bela Lugosi’s British tour of Dracula.

Poster mock-up 2John’s mock-up of a poster for the tour

(Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

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Frank J. Dello Stritto interviewed John Mather at his home in south England on August 8, 1999:

Frank Dello Stritto: How did you decide to produce Dracula?

John C. Mather:  I was having drinks with a few friends in London. Charles Feldman, head of Famous Artists, was there. There were three big talent agencies at the time—William Morris, MCA and Famous Artists.  Charlie had heard that Bela Lugosi’s agent in the US was trying to interest someone in Dracula.  By coincidence, Gordon White had mentioned it to me also a few weeks or months before. So, that was when I first thought about it seriously.

FDS: How did that work—putting together a production?

JCM: First, I had to make sure I could book it.  I took the idea to the theatre agents.  The West End theatres wouldn’t even talk to me until it had toured. There were three big theatre circuits for the tours—the Stoll Circuit, Moss-Empire, Howard & Wyndham.  They each had about 10 or so “Number 1” theatres around the country.  Then there were “Number 2” and “Number 3” theatres in the smaller towns.  You could make money even at the number 3s, since there wasn’t much else to do in those places.  Deals with theatres ranged from 50/50 to 60/40 splits, depending on a lot of things: production, stars, publicity budget.  Booking agents wanted to see my budget for publicity posters in detail: 300 double posters, 150 four-crowns, 6,000 throwaways, placards, etc. The plan was always to get into the West End.  Early in the tour, I had a verbal agreement with the Garrick theatre: the production then playing there was expected to drop below its box office threshold soon. After 3 weeks below the limit, the theatre could give it a two week notice.  Then “Dracula” could come in.  Tour for 6 to 8 weeks and then into the Garrick Theatre—that was the plan.  I had dates lined up for the tour, and would have cancelled them if the call came from the West End.  It never did.  I never intended to tour for 24 weeks.

*

Poster mock-up 1John’s mock-up of a poster for the tour

(Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

*

FDS: Why were you interested in Dracula?

JCM: In 1951, Americans-in-the-flesh were in vogue.  Danny Kaye had been coming over regularly, and there was a demand for more. I think that’s when Judy Garland started coming over as well.  Just prior to Dracula, George Routledge did “fronting up” for a Jane Russell revue.  And I knew I could pull Dracula together pretty quickly.

FDS: Fronting up?

JCM: Fronting up—supplying the supporting acts that come on before the star attraction.

FDS: What was your budget like?

JCM: I invested about £2,000. Bill Williams about £1,000, and £2,000 each from other backers.  I don’t remember who they were. I think one of the backers was named “Burton,” in real estate or something like that.  He was dating a “Renee” who was in some of my musical reviews.  I just doesn’t remember their full names.  So, about £7,000.  For that I could get the show started and keep it on the road for as long as I had to.

FDS: What about Routledge & White?

JCM: They were my partners in Chartres Productions, but they never had much to do with Dracula.  George Routledge liked the idea, as I recall, but he wasn’t interested in investing in it or working on it.  Gordon White thought it was a terrible idea—didn’t think it would succeed at all. He thought we were crazy, but he handled the negotiations to contract Bela.

*

Rough for advance publicityJohn’s rough idea for advance publicity for Dracula

(Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

*

FDS: All the programs for Dracula mention Routledge & White very prominently.

JCM: Well, they were my partners, and we used the same office, so I put their names on the programs.  But they really didn’t have much to do with it. Gordon White quit the business and worked with Jimmy Hanson when he set up the Hanson Trust.  Gordon died a few years ago in California, a very wealthy man.  George Routledge had some legal and money problems and left the business a few years after Dracula. He lives in Denmark now.

FDS: Was Lee Ephraim a backer?

JCM: No, he wasn’t.  I knew Lee well, and his partner Betty Farmar.  I had worked for Lee on Waltz Time and Lee had been a backer on Out Of This World.

FDS: How about Nigel Ballantine?

JCM: Oh, no!  Nigel was in jail by then!

FDS: In jail?

JCM: He ran off with the leading lady and all the money from one of his productions, and got caught.

FDS: What was your impression of Bela?

JCM: I met Bela and Lillian when they landed in Southampton.  Bela looked as if he were going to die.  He always looked that way. Bela was very charming, very humble, not conceited in the least.  For the first 2 or 3 days of rehearsals, he only walked through his part.  I was wondering about cancelling the whole thing. On the third day, Dickie Eastham asked the cast to do their read-throughs in character.  Bela stood straight and awed everyone.  Bela had always looked like a tired old man—very gray, very old and bent, years older than his actual age.  He spoke very slowly, softly and mumbled a bit.  This all changed when he was onstage—the transformation was complete: he looked 40 again, erect and towering.  When he was Dracula, he had this twinkle in his eye. He was so charming, and then so evil. It was magnificent.

*Bela & Lillian Arrive in EnglandLillian and Bela Lugosi arrive in England aboard the S.S. Mauretania

*

FDS: Tell me about your first meeting with Bela.

JCM: I think Dickie and me both went to Southampton to meet Bela and Lillian.  I put them into a hired limousine and hurried ahead to London. I had the flat stocked with goodies, and a bottle of champagne waiting.  I had made a reservation at Carlton Towers, a table by the window for 6:00. Lillian said “No, Bela’s tired and he’s going straight to bed.”  We dined there later, several times, and it became a favorite of theirs.

FDS: I have been warned that you and Lillian didn’t always see eye to eye.

JCM: Oh, she was awful! Awful!  She loathed me.  It was mutual loathing from the first day.

FDS: Well, I must say that everyone else on the tour speaks well of her.

JCM: Really?  Well, she was an extraordinary woman, but a pain-in-the-ass. She took notes through the rehearsals, and interfered.  I had it out with her once.  After that, she sat in the back of the stalls; but still kept those notes. Lillian looked tough and was a strong woman, physically.  At dress rehearsal, a hamper was in the way.  Lillian lifted it and set it on the table.  I went and looked inside—it was filled with books and files.  I was curious and nudged it to check its weight, and wondered if I could have lifted it.  Lillian seemed desperately unhappy.  I think she had a terrible inferiority complex.  She had a strident voice, heavy Chicago accent.  Nothing ever pleased her—in restaurants and the theatre, anywhere. She browbeat Bela, who just seemed to tune her out and accept it.  She was bitter about how Bela was treated—Hollywood had once been at his feet, studios phoning constantly, but now they shunned him.

FDS: Again, the company members we’ve talked to have quite different memories of her.  If anything, they think Bela controlled her life.

JCM: I think Lillian bullied Bela, a bit—treated him like a child.  At dinner she did  everything but cut his meat.  She sent food back in restaurants.  I think Bela was used to this, since he just munched away.  She was always at the side of the stage—every night.  Something was always wrong that she’d complain about.

(Authors’ Note: In follow-up interviews, I pressed Dickie Eastham on John Mather’s memories of Lillian.  Dickie stands by his much more favorable memories of Lillian, but strongly confirms that John and Lillian simply never got along. “It was chemical,” Dickie told mes, “it started as soon as they met.”  Lillian undoubtedly could be fiercely protective of Bela.  John, as the producer of a tour that was not quite what she and Bela expected, saw a side of that affection that few others did.)

*

Bela Lugosi in the British Tour of DraculaBela Lugosi in John’s production of Dracula

(Courtesy of Andi Brooks)

*

FDS: I have to ask you something directly.  There has always been a persistent claim that Bela was never paid for the Dracula tour.

JCM: Oh, he was definitely paid. Everyone, every actor in every show I ever produced was paid.  I treated Bela and Lillian well.  I didn’t want them saying anything negative like that about me.  I couldn’t survive long in this business with people saying I didn’t pay them.

FDS: Any special memories of Bela?

JCM: Bela was always marvelous, once you got to know him. At our first meeting in Southampton, I thought he looked so feeble and I really feared for the production, but he never let us down. I dined out with them often, especially during rehearsals in April.  I always watched Bela’s intake of alcohol.  I did that with all the stars of my shows.  He never drank that much in front of me.  Lillian saw that he didn’t.  Before dinner, I would go to their flat on Chesham Road to pick them up.  Once, while Lillian got ready, Bela sat me down on the sofa, and brought out a huge scrapbook of old clippings.  They were from his days in Hungary.  They were all in Hungarian of course, and I couldn’t read anything but Bela’s name in the headline.  They were obvious rave reviews.  Bela went through them one by one.  It was very important to him, I think, for me to know about his days before Dracula.

FDS: Do you have any memories of the rehearsals.

JCM: The rehearsals started in bare rooms above the pub on Pont Street.  For the second week, we moved to the Duke of York Theatre.  It had a one-set play on at the time.  So, we could rehearse during the day, and put the set back in place before the performance.  It was a courtesy that theatres extended to productions in rehearsal. I was at some rehearsals, but only to observe.  Dickie and I would meet afterwards to discuss how it was going.  If there was any problem, I would talk to Bela about it over dinner.  But things went smoothly enough.

FDS: How about the dress rehearsal?

JCM: That’s a different story.  Things didn’t go well.  The effects did not work.  The smoke took seven seconds to get through the pipes.  Too much smoke and the house was filled.  Too little and it had no effect.  Bela had to disappear in the smoke—no smoke and he was left standing there. It took forever to work out. Lighting effects were a bit difficult—but nothing compared to the musicals I had produced.  Those were really complex.  So, I thought Dracula would go pretty smoothly.  But it didn’t.  Strand Electric—that’s where I got the equipment from—was supposed to send a man down to Brighton for the week, but never did.  I was very annoyed.  We kept the cast until two in the morning, working through the lighting effects.  We let the cast go to get some rest.  The rest of the company stayed until eight in the morning.  Dickie and I went to breakfast and commiserated.  But we got them straight, and the opening went well.  The reviews were fine.

*

Brighton Programme CoverDracula opened at the Theatre Royal in Brighton on April 30th, 1951

(Courtesy of Andi Brooks)

*

FDS: You had your own lighting equipment?  Wouldn’t the theatre have that?

JCM: Yes, we had our own.  We had to. On tour, you never know what the theatres have.  So, we had to able to do it ourselves.

FDS: How did the tour do?

JCM: Dracula had too high a weekly expense to make money on the road.  I had to get it into the West End, and didn’t.  So, I lost money.  Not a lot. Some weeks, it made money, some weeks it didn’t.  Dracula was not cheap to produce.  There was Bela’s salary.  There were nurses at every performance; so St. John’s Ambulance had to be paid a contribution.  There were 3 or 4 musicians every week to play at the intermissions.  We had long intermissions, and had to fill them with something.

FDS: How was the company to deal with?

JCM: It was a nice company—not much trouble, not many complaints.  Whenever the tour was near London, I would catch the show to check on things.  I’d circulate around the dressing rooms talking to everyone I could.  It was a good cast.  Most of the problems mentioned to me, I referred to Alfred Beale, so as not to usurp his authority.

FDS: So, Beale was in charge on the road?

JCM: Yes, he would call me every night to report on the box office and the performance.  He was a good man and a good business director. He had a good heart.  He’d be tough with the company when he had to be, but then he’d apologize and undo whatever good he had done.  But he was a good manager and I was glad to have him.

*

Brighton - Bela, Arthur Hosking, Richard Butler and David DawsonBela Lugosi, Arthur Hosking, Richard Butler and David Dawson in John’s production of Dracula (Courtesy of Andi Brooks)

*

FDS: The programs list a Douglas Bodkin as publicity manager.  We’ve been looking for him.  Do you have any memories of him?

JCM: Not really. He was the advance publicity man. He did all his work Mondays and Tuesdays—lining up the publicity, arranging for a few things.  But I didn’t know him well then, and I’ve heard nothing about him since.

FDS: The programs also list a W. H. Williams as your co-producer.  What about him?

JCM: Bill Williams was the head of Merton Park Studios.  He was more of a backer than a producer, but I felt I owed him something, so I billed him as co-producer.  Bill invested in Dracula and has also put money into Out of This World.  He supplied the smoke machine and the bat that you’ve heard so much about.  Honestly, I hadn’t heard any of the stories about them breaking down until I spoke to you.  By the way, I do remember that my sister, Rosemary, attended a theatre garden party with Bela.  For some reason, Lillian couldn’t go, so my sister went with him.

FDS: Theatre garden party?

JCM: There were theatre garden parties and movie garden parties.  They would be held on  large outdoor lawns.  Shepperton Studios lot was a typical place. People would go and meet actors and actresses. Stars would sit at tables and sign autographs.  Sometimes they would be driven to different sites through the day.  For producers, they were a bit of a nuisance, but a good place to show off actors.  Rank studios always paraded out its starlets.  I remember I saw Honor Blackman and Joan Collins at these parties.  You can speak to my sister about her day with Bela.

*

Bela Lugosi at the Sunday Pictorial Film Garden Party.Seeing StarsBela Lugosi at the Sunday Pictorial Film Garden Party at Morden Hall Park in Surrey. (From the British Pathe newsreel Seeing Stars)

*

FDS: How close did you come to getting Dracula into the West End?

JCM: Very close.  The Garrick wanted us after its current play closed, but that play—I forget what it was—hung on and on. I also had discussions with the Duke of York and The Ambassador, and they were very interested. If we could have kept the tour going, I would have gotten it into one of them.

FDS: Why did the tour end?

JCM: Touring is hard work, and I never planned that we would tour for six months.  Late in the tour, I received a call from Alfred Beale, “I’m a bit worried about Bela,” he said, “He came on in Act III, and started with Act I dialogue.”  I went and met with Bela, and realized how tired he was.  You see, he always looked so tired offstage but was always so good on stage.  I had just learned to ignore it, but he was really exhausted. We were discussing some details in his dressing room when Lillian came in.  “It’s late,” she said.  She took out some sort of kit, and gave Bela an injection.  “You know, he’s diabetic.”  I knew that wasn’t true.  I had heard about some kind of injections, but didn’t think much about it, since Bela was always so good onstage.

*

Dracula newspaper advertisement for the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.The end of the road for Dracula in Britain, the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth (Courtesy of Andi Brooks)

*

FDS: Is that when you decided to end the tour?

JCM: No, but I didn’t quite know what to do.  I still kept looking for bookings for the tour, and had lined up a few dates near Newcastle & Liverpool, but Lillian said, “Oh, don’t put us up there again.” She wanted to keep the travelling to a minimum.  Two or three weeks later I visited Bela backstage in Derby.  Lillian wasn’t there.  I told Bela that we had to play those dates or not play at all.  He looked at me a long time.  “John, I can’t go on,” he said, “It’s taking too much out of me.  Please finish it quickly.”  I put up the closing notices that week.

FDS: But you played Portsmouth two weeks later.

JCM: Yes, I had already signed for that week, and I had to give the company two weeks notice.  Those were the rules.  Portsmouth was a bad week at the box office.

FDS: When was the last time you saw Bela?

JCM: I visited them after the tour ended, before he started filming the movie he made.  He still looked very tired.  I had no second thoughts.  He sat in a chair and we just talked.  He said he was glad the tour was over, but that he had enjoyed it.  He told me some anecdotes from the tour, and we said goodbye. As I was leaving Lillian gave me a hug and thanked me.  I was surprised that she did that.  It was a side of her that I had never seen.

*

Iris Russell and SonnyTufts in Shadow of a ManIris Russell and Sonny Tufts in Shadow of a Man (1952)

(Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

*

*John Mather lost some money on the Dracula tour, but a year later he tried the same formula with a tour of the mystery, Shadow of a Man, starring Sonny Tufts.  The tour did fine until Tufts, battling a drinking problem, came onstage between acts, told the audience who-done-it, and then launched into his own stage act using a piano that was part of the set.  The audience loved the surprise, the theatre management did not. Any performance on a British stage had to be approved by the censors beforehand, and such improvisation exposed to the theatre to legal action, especially if Tufts’ act contained any adult humor.  Word spread quickly throughout the theatre chains, and the tour soon ended.

*

Devil Girl From MarsPatricia Laffan as the Devil Girl From Mars (1954)

*

In London John worked for the Danziger brothers, producing 26 episodes of Mayfair Mysteries for Paramount. In the early days of television, many American shows were made in Britain due to the lower costs.  John had 40 days to produce the entire series. Character actor Paul Douglas flew in for a single day from Los Angeles, filmed all 26 introductions and epilogues, and flew back without staying the night.  Incredibly, filming completed almost two weeks early.  The Danizigers thus had 10 days of paid studio space to use; launching John on his most enduring and infamous achievement.  Devil Girl From Mars was written in a few days, as John telephoned around London for available actors and had the sets prepared.  AtomAge, British suppliers of latex, the latest wonder material, cut him a good deal on the Devil Girl’s costume.  Pat Laffan, in the title role, liked the feel of it and loved how it looked.  John took screenwriting credit for Devil Girl From Mars, but in the chaos of low budget, tight schedule filmmaking, everyone did everything.  A wonderfully awful movie of the type that only the 1950s could sire resulted. Like many early science fiction epics, Devil Girl From Mars’ clumsiness and naiveté gives it a charm that delights its fans and mortifies its detractors.

*

Anthony Newley, John Chartres Mather and Roger Moore, October 1968John with Anthony Newley (left) and Roger Moore (right) in October 1968 (Courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

*

In 1954, John established a talent agency in Rome, where American movie companies were doing lots of filming due to the low production costs. He ran John C. Mather International, Ltd. for many years, before selling out to the William Morris Agency.  He then ran the London office of the Morris agency.  In 1973, he returned to theatre production.  His extravagant stage version of  The Avengers featured terrific special effects, with a helicopter crashing onstage in the finale. Audiences loved it, but it closed in London after seven weeks—too expensive to turn a profit.  Following his retirement from show business, John took up writing, and has published several novels to date.  His as-yet unpublished autobiography, Hollywood on the Tiber, focuses on his days as a talent agent in Italy.

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Related Pages

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

1951 British Dracula Tour – Exclusive Interviews With The Cast & Company

“Child, never look into my eyes!” The Hypnotic Stare of Bela Lugosi

Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Bela Lugosi photographed by Editta Sherman

Joan Winmill appeared in the role of the Mary Wells the maid for the first half of Bela Lugosi’s 1951 British revival tour of Dracula. Beginning her acting career shortly after World War II, she had an incredible stroke of luck in 1947 when she landed a leading role in the West End hit The Chiltern Hundreds.  For more than a year the unknown actress had one of the choicest stage roles in London. After one performance at the Vaudeville Theatre Joan was introduced to future American senator Robert F Kennedy. A romance followed, but Kennedy’s father disapproved. Despite Joan’s hopes of marriage, the relationship came to a sudden end in 1949 when Kennedy announced by letter from America that he was going to marry Ethel Skekel instead.

Joan found it difficult to follow up the success she had enjoyed in The Chiltern Hundreds when the run came to an end. Her relationship and professional woes fueled her personal insecurities and bouts of stage fright. She coped through phenobarbitals before performances and sleeping pills afterwards.  Although the barbiturates got her on stage and through a performance, they also caused her to slur dialogue or drop lines. 

Joan Winmill

Joan Winmill’s entry in the January, 1949 edition of “The Spotlight” Casting Directory

In April 1951 Joan auditioned to play Lucy in Dracula, but only managed to land the much smaller role of Wells the maid, an indication of the extent of the reversal of the professional fortunes of the former West End star. She would perform the role 121 times before leaving the tour after eleven weeks when the play’s run at the Wood Green Empire ended on July 14, 1951. 

Her career began to improve over the next three years with regular work in the theatre, television, and films. Her television credits include a recurring role in Epitaph for a Spy, a 1953 mini-series starring Peter Cushing. She appeared in four films, including uncredited roles in Alastair Sim’s Innocents in Paris (1953), Forbidden Cargo (1954), which featured Greta Gynt who had played opposite Bela Lugosi in Dark Eyes of London in 1939, and The Harrassed Hero (1954), which gave Joan her highest profile film role as the leading lady opposite Guy Middleton.

Guy Middleton and Joan Winmill

Guy Middleton and Joan Winmill in The Harrassed Hero (1954)

Despite the steady progress she was making as an actress, Joan’s inner demons were threatening to overwhelm her. By her own admission, she was feeling suicidal. Her “salvation” unexpectedly came when, “for a lark,” a friend invited her to go along to The Greater London Crusade, a 12-week evangelical event organised by Billy Graham and the Evangelical Alliance at the Harringay Arena in North London in 1954. To the amazement of her friends, Joan answered the altar call at the event.

Harringay Arena 1954

Harringay Arena in 1954 (courtesy of lettersfromthelibrary.com)

From that moment she was a transformed person. She left behind her life and career in England and has since devoted herself to spiritual work with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in America. She continues to act occasionally in films produced by Graham’s World Wide Pictures and she has written several books on devotional topics. In her 1975 autobiography No Longer Alone, which was filmed by Graham’s World Wide Pictures in 1978, Joan recounted her time with Bela Lugosi during the 1951 revival tour of Dracula. 

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No Longer Alone

“I don’t remember how I ever got to audition for Dracula, but I do know that once I signed the contract, my fears told me I had done the wrong thing.

As a child I had once seen a filmed coming-attraction for Dracula. (I was attending a bland comedy with my grandmother.) I went under the seat until assured that it was over. When we left the performance, we found a booth set up in the lobby with a sign which said, “Dare To Open These Curtains!” Someone did – just as I walked by – and there, life-size, was a model of Dracula staring at me. All the way home I knew he was following me. Nanny had to stay in my room that night until I finally fell asleep, having been convinced he was not under my bed. Now I was signed to go on tour with none other than Bela Lugosi, who had created the role in the movie!

I was very hesitant to attend the first rehearsal and meet Mr. Lugosi. He arrived late, making a grand entrance, and was introduced to each of the cast. When it came my turn, I stood there in sheer amazement. He looked just like the wax figure that had scared me so as a child. But he was gracious and very professional.

When it came time for the scene in which he was supposed to hypnotize me, I thought, “Here we go! I must not look as if I’m scared of him. After all, this is ridiculous – it is only a play and he really is just an actor.” But when he started to look into my eyes, I sensed a strange, burning sensation, and tears began to well up. He stopped suddenly and said, “Child, never look into my eyes. Always look here,” and tapped his forehead. I did just that every time we played the scene after that, and things went along smoothly.

He took playing the part of Count Dracula very seriously, and we were never allowed to change a word, a look, or a move. It was as sacred as Shakespeare to him. Once I heard him say that, perhaps, the worst thing for his career had been the success of Dracula, for people would never take him seriously as an actor any more. Apparently he had known great adulation in his homeland of Hungary.

In the final scene, set in a crypt, he was supposed to be in a coffin; the doctor and his friend, Van Helsing, drive a stake through his heart – the only way he can be killed. But Bela would never get in the coffin and would always give the death scream from the wings. He had a great superstition about this.

The only time we saw him during the day would be when we would meet at the train to move from one city to another. Then he would stride down the platform with his wife and son and disappear into a private compartment, to ride with the shades drawn for the entire journey.

The trouble with the cast was that, after we got over the awe of being with the Dracula, our emotions swung the other way. The overly dramatic dialogue became too much for us, and we all started to get the giggles. I cannot begin to describe the agonies we went through every night trying to control our feelings and playing our lines “straight.” Once the stage director called us all on stage after a particularly giggly show and said he would fire all of us if we did not stop this appaling laughter. Even as he said this someone giggled and started us all off again. We were appearing in a theatre way up north of London, and the poor director had no choice but to put up with us. It even got to him finally, as night after night he had to oversee the fake bats and smoke that always preceded Dracula’s appearance.

One night the smoke got to me, too. I came to the scene where Dracula was supposed to hypnotize me (just after I gasped in horror at seeing him). The smoke, pumped under his cape each time he made an entrance – with arms wide apart, got down my throat and knocked me out cold. The audience was unaware of what had happened, and somehow Bela ad-libbed his way through the scene – with me prostrate on the ground. As soon as the curtain came down, I was whisked off to the waiting arms of a St. John’s Ambulance man. These men are volunteers who wait around for strange occurrences such as mine, so they can administer first aid. Bela proceeded to direct all the traffic that had gathered. He even prevented brandy being administered to me from a well-meaning member of the cast. “Noooothing by way of mouth,” he kept repeating. “Nooooooothing!”

I recovered enough to go on again the next day, but I was very careful not to exclaim too heartily upon seeing Dracula coming through my window.

We returned to London and played all the surrounding theatres, and then our tour was over. I was rather relieved, I must say. Touring had never been my favourite part of theatre life, and now perhaps there would be a good break waiting for me.”

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Joan’s reminiscence, written more than 20 years after the tour, contains both accuracies and inaccuracies.

Giggling among the cast—“corpsing” in British theatre slang—was an occasional problem in the Dracula tour, as it was in many provincial tours.  But it was not persistent and common.  None of the dozens of reviews or personal recollections from audience members that we had already amassed mention it. 

In the closing scene, a mannequin did indeed lie in the coffin, as Lugosi supplied Dracula’s death cries from the wings.  However, he had no fear of lying in the coffin himself—he did exactly that every night on the tour in the play’s prologue before the opening curtain. 

Bela Lugosi and his wife often socialized with other cast members on the train. Richard Butler, who played Johnathan Harker in the production, told Andi Brooks that the couple were not aloof. “..in Bela’s case, although he and his wife had their own compartment, they had no wish to travel alone and spent many hours entertaining us.”

Bela, Jr. did not accompany his parents on the 1951 tour. Joan is probably confusing him with Paddy and Sean Dawson, the sons of David Dawson, who played Dr. Seward.

Joan’s fear of looking into Bela Lugosi’s eyes was confirmed by tour producer John Mather, who recalled without prompting that she was genuinely terrified of the actor.

In an interview with Frank J Dello Stritto, Janet Reid, the assistant stage manager, recounted peeling the costume off the unconscious actress to take her place for the rest of the performance after Joan was overcome by stage fog in her big scene with Lugosi. She told him, “I do remember Joan Winmill. I remember when she passed out in Middlesbrough. I literally stripped off her costume backstage. There was no privacy. And I finished the performancefor her. In my career I was an understudy four times, and each time I got to go on when the actress could not perform. That one performance was my swan song with Dracula. I dropped out right after that. The company went on to Belfast, and I went back to London.”

Bat Head 3

Related Pages

 1951 British Dracula Tour – Exclusive Interviews With The Cast & Company

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

When Bela Lugosi Came To Britain

BBC ARTS magazine

I was contacted last month by John O’Rourke, an assistant producer at the BBC. John had discovered Vampire Over London: The Bela Lugosi Blog and thought that the story of Bela Lugosi’s 1951 British revival tour of Dracula would be an “incredible subject” for the BBC to mark Halloween with.

He originally envisioned producing a four-minute film for BBC One’s flagship daily magazine series The One Show, but was ultimately unable to get the green-light from his commissioners.

However, when he mentioned the story of the tour in passing to one of his colleagues at BBC Online, he was asked to write a feature. Myself and Frank J. Dello Stritto were asked to help with background information and to provide illustrations for the article. 

“A Dracula Disaster: When Bela Lugosi Came To Britain” has now been published on the BBC’s online ARTS page at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1m2G6Z1GL8hkycnkhn0bnfM/a-dracula-disaster-when-bela-lugosi-came-to-britain

Bela and leading lady Sheila Wynn at the Lewisham Hippodrome

Bela Lugosi and Sheila Wynn at the Lewisham Hippodrome in 1951

The page also features Mark Gatiss’ interview with Sheila Wynn, Bela Lugosi’s  leading lady on the 1951 tour, from his excellent 2010 “A History of Horror” series. You can read Frank J. Dello Stritto’s 1998 interview with Sheila on our 1951 British Dracula Tour – Exclusive Interviews With The Cast & Company page.

Sheila Wynn

Sheila Wynn interviewed by Mark Gatiss at the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne in 2010.

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Related Posts and Pages

1951 British Dracula Tour – Exclusive Interviews With The Cast & Company

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

Bela Lugosi’s British Films 3: Mother Riley Meets The Vampire

The Day I Met Bela Lugosi by Derek R. Pickering.

When Dracula Invaded England

Knee-Deep in Ice Cream, Smoke & Wayward Rubber Bats: An Interview With Richard Butler by Andi Brooks

There Are Such Things! Bram Stoker Interviews Michael Theodorou About His New Stage Play.

Michael Chesden

Michael Theodorou

Director, actor, writer, translator and drama teacher, Michael Theodorou has something of a fascination with Bram Stoker and Dracula, having now written three plays inspired by the author and his work. His original adaptation of Dracula was described as “genuinely disturbing” by Oxford University Press. He followed this up with Lugosi, a dark exploration of the demons which plagued the aging actor during his 1951 British revival tour of Dracula. Michael has now rounded off the series with There Are Such Things, a play about Bram Stoker himself, which is intended as the first half of a double bill to include Lugosi. Set in 1906, the play finds Stoker suffering from temporary blindness as the result of a stroke.  As his wife Florence tries to nurse him back to health, Stoker experiences a series of strange visitations. Is the invalid author suffering from hallucination, delusions or is it all real? Proving that there are indeed such things, no less a personage than Mr. Stoker himself decided to quiz Michael about his new play.

Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker

Bram: What is the name of heaven possessed you to write a play about me, Michael?

Michael: It was actually my wife who first suggested the idea to me, Bram, as I’d already written a stage adaptation of your ‘Dracula’ and also a play about Bela Lugosi. She thought it would round off the series of plays inspired by your work.

Bram: Well, that’s very flattering of you to say so, Michael, but was she aware that I might be rather a dull subject?

Michael: Nothing of the kind, Bram, as soon as I started to write the play, ideas flowed very quickly and I developed a concept for your portrayal almost immediately.

Bram: A concept you say? What does that mean exactly?

Michael: It means that the actor who plays you has a double role.

Bram: In what way?

Michael: Before I explain, Bram, I’d like to tell you how the play starts –

Henry Irving

Sir Henry Irving, Stoker’s friend and employer for 27 years. The shock of his death is said to have brought on Stoker’s first stroke.

You are sitting in the upstairs room of your house in Chelsea, the date is 1906. Sir Henry Irving is dead and you’ve already had a stroke which leaves you partially blind. There is violin music playing, the lights come up to reveal you writing at your desk. You half close your eyes and the lights dim to indicate that your sight is going. The music continues and swells. You look towards the audience and feel a presence entering from behind you – it is a very beautiful, seductive vampiress who approaches you with graceful movements and strokes your hair and your brow. You say, ‘ I was afraid to raise my eyelids……..

Bram: ……………….but saw perfectly under the lashes’. You’re quoting from my ‘Dracula’!

Michael: I am. The lady wants to seduce you and this lady is your wife!

Bram: My wife!

Michael: Oh, yes, she’s the other character in the play.

Bram: What happens next?

Michael: The scene ends, there’s a blackout and we hear a knocking at the door. The ‘vampiress’ has become your wife Florence Stoker. She enters – quick costume change of course – and you have a conversation. She is concerned about your eyes and staying up late writing.

Florence Stoker 1

Florence Stoker, a society beauty whose suitors included Oscar Wilde

Bram: Now that’s exactly what my wife used to do! That’s awfully clever of you, Michael, how did you know all this?

Michael: Pure imagination, Bram, and it seemed a good way to start the play.

Bram: How do you represent my wife in the play? Is it a good part?

Michael: It’s a wonderful part for an actress not only does she play herself and a vampires but also your mother!

Bram: My mother! My mother’s in the play too!?

Michael: Oh, yes, you wouldn’t wish me to forget your mother, would you?

Bram: Of course not, she was probably the biggest single influence on my life and my writing. If truth be told probably a greater influence than my wife.

Michael: Well, there you are then I’ve got them all in the same play for you!

Stoker's Mother

Bram Stoker’s Mother, Charlotte Matilda Blake Thornley Stoker

Courtesy of www.bramstokerestate.com

Bram: What were you saying earlier, Michael , about a double role for my character?

Michael: Ah,yes. Your character, Bram, is himself………. plus another character.

Bram: What do you mean?

Michael: I mean that you play Van Helsing as well!

Bram: Van Helsing? Van Helsing you say? How is that possible?

Michael: Ah, stagecraft, Bram, and a bit of a challenge for the actor!

Bram: Will that not seem rather odd to an audience?

Michael: Perhaps at first but after a while they’ll get used to you being a double character and they’ll accept it. I was trying to convey, Bram, that you are a two-sided person – as all the more interesting people in the world are! You have an inner as well as an outer life and Van Helsing is your inner self…

Bram: Fascinating….

Michael: Just as the vampiress is part of your self as well.

Bram: Well, all this sounds very intriguing indeed, Michael, I’ll have to have a look at this play of yours. What’s it called by the way?

Michael: It’s called ‘There Are Such Things’.

Bram: Ah, another quote from ‘Dracula’!

Michael: Yes, when Van Helsing says ‘ there are such things as vampires!’ This was also a phrase picked up by the great Hungarian actor, Bela Lugosi who played Dracula both on stage and on film and I’ve written a play about him too!

Bram: Goodness, you have been busy, Michael!

Edith Sherman

Bela Lugosi as he appeared in the 1951 British revival tour of Dracula (Photo by Edith Sherman)

Michael: Lugosi used that phrase in his curtain speeches when he would say to the audience – (In the voice of BELA LUGOSI) ‘ So when you lie in bed tonight in your darkened room and these thoughts give you nightmares and you dread to look behind the curtains – just pull yourself together and remember that, after all, THERE ARE SUCH THINGS!’

Bram: This Lugosi sounds like a very sinister character indeed.

Michael: He was and one of your greatest interpreters. He would have two Red Cross nurses enter the auditorium before each performance in case somebody fainted and needed medical attention.

Bram: What a great idea – I wish I’d used it for my stage production of ‘Dracula’…except of course that my stage version did not get a performance.

Michael: I know. Sir Henry didn’t like it.

Bram: Well, we’ll draw a veil over that, Michael. It’s something I don’t like to talk about. Now tell me when your play will be performed?

(INTERVIEW TO BE CONTINUED)

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You can visit Michael’s website at:

michaeltheodorou.weebly.com

Read an extract from his adaptation of Dracula here:

www.dramaworks.co.uk/ps_dracula.html

His books on school drama are available from Amazon:

www.amazon.com/Ideas-that-Drama-Michael-Theodorou/dp/0748702253

www.amazon.com/Classroom-Gems-Games-Activities-Primary/dp/1408223295

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Related Pages

Lugosi – A Play For The Stage By Michael Theodorou