Whatever Happened To Beatrice Weeks? The Unhappy Story of the Third Mrs. Bela Lugosi by Frank J. Dello Stritto

Bela and Beatrice on their wedding day

In late July 1929, Bela Lugosi arrived in San Francisco with a touring company of Dracula. Within 10 days he wed and separated from Beatrice Weeks. The Weeks‑Lugosi marriage has all the credentials of a wild fling from the Roaring 20’s: she a wealthy, widowed heiress; he a rising stage and screen star. Both marrying for the third time; both living life to its fullest. Lugosi breezed into town, and breezed out never to see his bride again. She hopped over to Reno and filed for “incompatibility.” Their divorce was final in December. The tabloids picked up the story, linked the break-up of the newlyweds to screen siren Clara Bow, an easy target for the scandal sheets.

Lives cannot be told from news clippings, but Beatrice Weeks’ may have left no other trace. Any biography of her is filled with “probably” and “may have.”  The press clippings tell a depressing tale, one that can be documented today only because the four men in her life each achieved prominence. Beneath the glitter of her showbiz style marriage to Lugosi lurks the sobering tale of a woman slipping from desperation to destruction.

Weeks and Bow are minor but pivotal figures in the Lugosi legend. His marriage to Weeks and his torrid affair with Clara Bow (all Bow’s affairs are described as “torrid”) prove that the commanding, caped figure once cast spells over women. Weeks and Bow were both financially independent, quite younger than he and first saw him in an audience watching Dracula. The sexual element in the Lugosi mystique wears a bit thin with time, and without it Lugosi is less a prince of darkness and more a high lord of camp. But in his prime in the 1920’s—before the movies had influenced our view of the man and the actor—Lugosi was reaching across the footlights to sweep young women of position and means off their feet. Dracula himself could have done no better.

Of course, that is the stuff of legend. In fact the Weeks-Lugosi marriage was not the impulsive event invented by myth. Their intentions were announced at least 3 days before the wedding. By then the couple had known each other for about a year, during which, if Lugosi is to be believed, they had been in frequent contact. Lugosi was hardly a rising star. When he married this rich, young widow, his film career had stalled. He joined the Dracula tour out of necessity. His limited English and thick accent made finding roles in early sound films difficult. Not until after the marriage ended did he start regularly landing character parts. Dracula was not filmed until a year later.

A “Torrid Affair” with Clara Bow?

Clara Bow

Not much is reliably known of Lugosi’s famous fling with screen siren Clara Bow—famous because a tryst with “Dracula” adds some spice and variety to Bow’s legendary promiscuity.  The activities of Bow, voted most popular screen star about the time she met Lugosi, supplied gossip columns with juicy stories throughout her brief career. Her legend took final form in 1931 when Bow’s secretary Daisy DeVoe sold her recollections to The New York Evening Graphic. DeVoe, then charged and later convicted of embezzling from Bow, trashed her former boss and cited every man Bow ever knew, including Lugosi, as her lover. Given Bow’s reputation, no one doubted DeVoe. The Graphic, the most sordid of tabloids, was published for only eight years, and very few libraries archived it. Literally every copy carrying the DeVoe revelations has been stolen from those archives, and documenting today what DeVoe actually said is all but impossible. Apparently, she only included Lugosi’s name in a long list Bow’s conquests. The Bow-Lugosi affair is dutifully mentioned in every Lugosi biography, every Bow biography, most biographies of any of Bow’s lovers (notably Gary Cooper), as well as in such books as Hollywood Babylon. Dracula-Meets-The-It-Girl is just too juicy for authors to ignore.

Memphis Evening Appeal, January 17, 1931

Lugosi’s and Bow’s first meeting can be reliably dated. Dracula closed on Broadway on May 19, 1928, and opened with much of the Broadway cast in Los Angeles on June 24, 1928 for an eight-week run. The play received a press ballyhoo that it never got in New York, and Lugosi quickly became a much talked-about celebrity. Hollywood was then beginning the conversion from silent to sound films—an upheaval dreaded by many performers who had no experience with dialogue. Clara Bow, whose voice no audience had yet heard, was particularly intrigued by publicity claims that Lugosi learned his lines phonetically. Bow’s friend, comedian and comic character actor Jack Oakie, recalls in his light-hearted autobiography (Jack Oakie’s Double Takes) Bow’s first meeting with Lugosi:

Suddenly she came running out (to her swimming pool, where she had left friends to take a phone call). “Come on everybody! We’ve got tickets!” she said. “We’re going down to the Biltmore to see Dracula.” She was so excited she didn’t stop to dress. She just threw a great long mink coat over her swimsuit, and we all got into her chauffeur-driven black Packard limousine. Bela Lugosi was starring in Dracula on the stage of the Biltmore Theatre downtown.

Bow had read about it. “I want to meet that man,” she said. “Do you know he doesn’t know how to speak English.” She couldn’t get over the fact that he was on stage for two hours performing in a language he couldn’t speak. Bow kept her mink coat on, and we watched Bela Lugosi in his monstrous makeup with his teeth sticking out, chewing on gals’ necks all evening. Then we went backstage.

He couldn’t speak English, but no language barrier could hide his thrill at meeting Clara Bow. He was overwhelmed with the redhead. “How do you know your lines?” Bow asked him immediately. We finally understood the Hungarian’s explanation. He told us that he memorized each word from a cue and, if by mistake another actor should ever give him a wrong line, he would be lost for the rest of the night. Bow invited him to her home, and they became very good friends.

Bela poses at home beneath a nude portrait of  Clara in the early 1930s

Lugosi probably exaggerated his language difficulties for Bow’s benefit, for he was more proficient in conversational English than he let on. Horror film producer William Castle relates in his autobiography that, as 14 year-old Bill Schloss from Brooklyn, he met Lugosi in New York in 1927 and conversed well enough with him. Throughout the Los Angeles run of Dracula Lugosi was interviewed by the papers constantly, and handled questions with some aplomb. When The Los Angeles Examiner asked if he was a bachelor, Lugosi responded, “Oh, surely, madame. And ‘open for business,’ you think, yes?”

When Clara met Lugosi in 1928, she was moreorless between great romances. Her typically “torrid affair” with Gary Cooper had just ended, and a romance of allegedly equal passion and abandon with Broadway singer Harry Richman had not yet begun.  Though Cooper would be one of her great loves, she certainly had others during 1926 and 1927 when their romance peaked. By 1928 each had moved on, but the two were occasionally seen together, as both juggled multiple lovers. Though Clara openly prized her freedom, the press often carried announcements of her engagements and pending marriages. These abound for Cooper and Richman, but neither was true. Nor were they true for Lugosi, when those same rumors started in 1929, probably long after whatever relationship they had ended. Lugosi’s film career struggled through 1928 and 1929. The simple fact he never appeared in a Bow film or at her studio (Paramount) suggests the limitations on their fling. Bow was never shy about using her influence to land her lovers roles, with or without their knowledge. Gorgeous, carefree, age 23 and definitely not in the market for a husband or even a regular lover, she constantly surrounded herself with friends and hangers-on. On one weekend (according to David Stenn’s biography Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild), Lugosi arrived at her Malibu cottage only to find every bedroom occupied by guests. One gave her room to Lugosi and moved in with Bow.

About the time Lugosi met Bow, her brief stardom had crested. Scandal, her own fragile health, and sound films (she had a wonderful Brooklyn accent) brought her downfall. By 1931 her career was in ruins and by 1933 she had made her last film.  Lugosi apparently retained affection for this unpretentious, generous woman, for he kept a tasteful nude painting of her until he died. What sort of relationship Lugosi maintained with Bow beyond his two-month engagement at the Biltmore is unknown. In August 1928 Dracula and Lugosi moved on to San Francisco.

Beatrice Woodruff, Beatrice Mills, Beatrice Weeks

Beatrice Weeks

Beatrice Woodruff was born in 1897 in New York City. Her father, John S. Woodruff graduated from Harvard shortly before her birth, and soon afterwards entered a career in naval law. He eventually became Director of the Bureau of Law of the United States Shipping Board. Through her mother, Marion Parker, Beatrice could trace her lineage back to the Pilgrims. As befitting a young woman of her rank, she attended the exclusive Wellesley school and a European finishing school. There, she developed a proficiency in foreign languages.

In 1921 she married Goadby Mills, son of a prominent New York stockbroker. Immediately following their large, elaborate ceremony, Mills told his bride, 20 years his junior, “Now we are married and the main point is that you are legally mine.” In the succeeding weeks Mills proved his claim. After 57 days Beatrice could stand no more and the two separated. Mills died 10 years later in a plane crash.

New York Evening Telegram, January 11, 1920

In January 1922, Beatrice filed for divorced in Los Angeles on the grounds of cruelty.  She may have gone from New York to the West Coast because she was already developing health problems, and needed milder winters.  In California she met Charles Peter Weeks, a San Francisco architect of local notoriety. Mills had lived in his father’s shadow and off his wealth, but Weeks was a self‑made man. His firm, Weeks and Day (presumably no pun intended), built many of the finest structures of San Francisco’s post‑earthquake renaissance. He designed a number of fashionable homes, apartment buildings and hotels on Nob Hill. About the time he met Beatrice he was caught in the roguish position of admitting that a magnificent golden staircase in an office building he had just completed was an unaccredited duplicate of that in the Borgos Cathedral. His romance with the still‑married Beatrice raised eyebrows in the society circles into which he had risen. On January 30, 1923—one day after her divorce from Mills was final—Beatrice, age 25, married Weeks, age 45. She chose not to relive any moments from her first marriage; this time the ceremony was quite modest.

Nothing is known of Beatrice Weeks’ life for the next five years. She and her husband settled into the Brocklebank Apartments, which Weeks had designed. Their contentment collapsed in March 1928. Pulmonary disease, which would plague her for the remainder of her life, struck Beatrice at age 31. As she hovered near death, Weeks died without warning in his sleep on March 25. His death was ascribed to “a malady from which he had been suffering for a number of years and for which he had been under the care of a physician for many months.” He died in the room next to Beatrice, but she was not told of his death until sometimes afterwards.

That Beatrice ever fully recovered from the ordeal is doubtful. The unexpected death of her father at age 58 in January 1929 caused yet another setback. Perhaps the only bright spot for her in these tragic months involved a handsome, exotic actor in the summer of 1928.

 

Bela and Beatrice with an unidentified friend

The First Meeting in 1928

The touring company of Dracula arrived in San Francisco in mid‑August 1928 for a three-week run. The troupe booked into the Mark Hopkins Hotel, just a short walk from the Columbia theatre and, incidentally, one of Weeks’ architectural masterpieces. Dracula opened on the 20th to rave reviews, and its star soon became a celebrity throughout the Bay Area. Bela Lugosi at 46 was at the height of his powers. Commanding and aristocratic in presence, riding success as Dracula, he was finally poised to claim the stardom that world war and political upheaval had denied him in Hungary.

Shortly after the San Francisco premiere of Dracula, Lugosi attended a reception at Mare Island, and met a shapely, raven‑haired woman. The party was perhaps Beatrice Weeks’ first outing since her near‑fatal illness and the death of husband five months before.  She and Lugosi struck up a quick friendship and became constant companions for the remainder of Dracula’s run in San Francisco and then Oakland. When Lugosi returned to Hollywood in late September, the two wrote and stayed in touch.

Lugosi still commanded the striking good looks of his youth, and American women found his old world mien irresistible. Weeks herself was a stunning beauty. History has played a cruel joke in that the only photograph of Beatrice Weeks seen today is singularly unflattering. In this photo, which appears in every Lugosi biography, she and Lugosi seem to be comparing their large noses. As a good many photos in San Francisco newspapers testify, she was quite attractive.

At 31 Beatrice was wealthy, beautiful and quite alone. Her lung condition left her with the lingering prospect of early death. That question must have haunted her through 1928 and 1929 and the successive deaths of her husband and father. Now to her came a worldly foreigner who had survived several close brushes with death, and who was famous in a role as lord of the undead. Goadby Mills, Charles Weeks and now Bela Lugosi all were in their mid‑forties when their romances with Beatrice began; all were well‑known in their professional and social circles; all three can be surmised to have been men of strong and dominant personalities. These similarities beg the question—was Beatrice marrying the same man time and again? Was her father—Harvard lawyer, naval officer and Washington bureaucrat—the prototype for Beatrice’s three husbands?

Much the same can be asked of Lugosi. Beneath his self‑assured exterior must have lurked a man daunted by his new surroundings. He no doubt hoped to pool Dracula into a film career, but the advent of sound films stalled his progress. The thick Lugosi accent and the crude sound equipment were simply not ready for each other. Shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles in June 1928, he was whisked off to a screen test with Gloria Swanson. He did not get the part, not due to his English, but because unlike most actors in Hollywood claiming to be over 6 feet tall, Lugosi actually was. Swanson, at 5’1”, disappeared when next to him. Surely, by the time he first met Weeks, he had learned—as in the past 15 years he had learnt on the Italian front, in post‑war Europe, and in New York—that Hollywood was yet another jungle with its own laws of survival. One of those laws was the worship of youth, and Lugosi was pushing 50. Another creeping notion was worrying him: in 1928, two years before filming Dracula, he was already complaining that American acting relied too much on typecasting and that he was playing the same type of role too often.

The Woman in Hungary, The Widow in California

When Lugosi fled Hungary in 1919, his sheltered wife Ilona did not follow. Both the Cremer and Lennig Lugosi biographies testify that he loved his young bride very much. The suggestive evidence that he never forgot her, that he was haunted by that loss, is considerable. In speaking of life in Hungary to interviewers, Lugosi would sometimes indulge in the most incredible fantasies. He told of an encounter with a female vampire; he conjured up the famous story of Hedy the Cat Woman; he claimed he deserted not only a wife but also sons in Hungary. For two decades he whimsically doled out variations of these tales to eager journalists and publicists. The one consistent element in all of them is the Woman in Hungary.

In America, Lugosi’s wives would be either very young, very Hungarian or both. His second wife, Ilona von Montagh, was Hungarian and 20 years younger. Beatrice, his third, was his junior by 15 years; Hope Lininger, his fifth, by 32. His fourth and only marriage of any duration was to Lillian Arch, 30 years younger and a second generation Hungarian‑American. She states in Cremer’s biography:

Yes, that was the reason why he married me. I was a person he could mould to his complete satisfaction.

Lugosi’s memory of Ilona crept into at least one of his film roles. In 1934’s The Black Cat, Vitus Werdegast returns to Hungary after 15 years in prison to find his lost bride and daughter and to kill the man who took them from him. He finds his wife unchanged—dead and encased in glass. His daughter, her mother’s image, is killed before Werdegast can reach her. He weeps over her body before taking his revenge. Werdegast’s plight is a morbid distortion of Lugosi’s own. This incredible film is almost a dark biography of the actor—the lost love in Hungary, the upheaval of world war, years of exile, and the evils of the new world personified by Boris Karloff.

Reclaiming a young, unspoilt love is a common male fantasy, and a familiar element in horror plots. The fantasy dogged Lugosi, most clearly in The Raven, The Corpse Vanishes, The Invisible Ghost, Voodoo Man, and his soliloquy in Bride of the Monster. Of course to suggest that the theme’s relation to Lugosi’s own life was intentional in any films other than The Black Cat is absurd. But the list contains his most personal performance, his most passionate, the best of his poverty row films and a surprisingly poignant moment in an otherwise awful Ed Wood film.

In Beatrice, Lugosi might well have seen a clear reflection of his first Ilona. Both came from social classes above his. Despite their financial means, both were in need of a strong man. When he last saw Ilona and when he first met Beatrice a distinct air of tragedy hovered over them.

The Whirlwind Marriage and Divorce of 1929

According to interviews Lugosi gave when they married, he and Weeks corresponded after parting in October 1928. Lugosi may not yet have been able to write well in English, and Beatrice’s competence in languages perhaps served the romance well. The news they related in these letters, none of which are known to survive, could not have been very cheerful. Beatrice lost her father; and Lugosi’s career went nowhere. His only film role of note was in The Thirteenth Chair. In the summer of 1929 Lugosi accepted the lead in a West Coast touring company of Dracula. The production opened in Los Angeles to poor reviews, not surprising since it lacked of the polish of the Broadway production that had come west only a year before. The play then toured the Pacific Northwest without Lugosi, who remained in Hollywood for some film work. In July Lugosi rejoined the company in San Francisco. He and Weeks were reunited.

San Francisco Examiner, July 22, 1929

Dracula reopened at the Columbia Theatre on July 22, 1929. A notice appeared in the July 24 San Francisco Chronicle, announcing Beatrice’s and Lugosi’s impending wedding for Saturday, July 27. The marriage therefore was not the unplanned affair as it has been often described. According to The Chronicle, after meeting again “both decided nothing but marriage could make them happy.” The couple and a few of the bride’s friends went to Redwood City on the morning of the 27th,  and returned in time for a matinée performance of Dracula.

At the Columbia a reporter from The San Francisco Examiner caught up with Lugosi. The actor, joking about the impossibility of hiding from the American press, was in rare form:

Examiner: Is she a blonde or a brunette?

Lugosi: Ooooooooo, I do not know.

Examiner: You do not know?

Lugosi: No. You see, it is like this. The eyes got in the way. You understand.

The interview ended with a remark by Lugosi quite out of context that must have sent shivers through Beatrice Lugosi when she read it:

Marriage and a career? No, the Hungarians believe that the man should take care of the woman. Her divine profession is motherhood.

That remark, of course, marked Lugosi’s unfailing transition from a passionate lover to a tyrannical husband. In marriage, Lugosi’s Hungarian upbringing with his quirks and insecurities. The result was jealousy and domination. Lugosi’s wives submitted, subverted,  or left.

Beatrice and Lugosi separated approximately August 1. Beatrice left for Reno immediately, to satisfy the legal requirement of three months residence before a decree could be granted. Lugosi remained in the Bay Area for 5 weeks, playing 26 Dracula performances in San Francisco and then 20 more in Oakland.

Exactly what occurred during the couple’s brief time together is nowhere accurately recorded. Robert Cremer’sLugosi: The Man Behind the Cape describes the marriage as four days of drinking, partying, hangovers and bickering. Beatrice emerges as a Roaring 20’s socialite, living only for fun; Lugosi as a husband expecting a wife to cater to his mornings‑after and not vice versa. Cremer does not mention the prior meeting in 1928 or of Weeks’ background. Whether Cremer is quoting Lillian Lugosi or the Hungarian language newspaper, California Magyarsag, his ultimate source is Lugosi himself. Certainly to his Hungarian friends and particularly his next wife, Lugosi would tend to portray the Weeks marriage as a 4‑day fling and mistake, rather than a year‑long relationship. Cremer’s account is valuable in that relates how Lugosi chose to recall the marriage.

 The break-up of the Lugosis might not have attracted much media attention—Lugosi was then only a minor celebrity—except the Hearst newspaper chain, based in San Francisco, sensed a good story. On November 5, 1929 The Daily Mirror, Hearst’s New York paper, ran this highly dramatized, inaccurate account, which dredges up Lugosi’s brief fling with Clara Bow:

Clara Bow

Lugosi Wins Heart of Clara Bow, Says Second Wife, Seeking Divorce.

Film Star’s Secret Love is Revealed

Clara Bow, flaming haired siren of the screen, has at last met with true romance–a romance, which ghost-like, sprang from the ashes of another woman’s love.

Folks, meet her fiancé and husband to-be; Count Bela Lugosi, Hungarian actor, the male vampire who took the leading role in the blood-curdling drama, “Dracula”.

Revelation of their secret love came exclusively to the Daily Mirror yesterday when Lugosi’s wife, the specially prominent, former Mrs. Charles Peter Weeks, widow of a noted San Francisco architect, filed suit for a divorce in Reno.

Simultaneously, the actual low-down on the Clara Bow-Harry Richman engagement was obtained from the same source.

Lugosi Returns

Clara, the impetuous, in a spirit of pique, caused the report of the forthcoming nuptials with the handsome night club entertainer to be spread after the long-haired Count Bela jilted her to become the third husband of the California society woman.

The fact that Count’s marriage resulted in a fiasco, lasting only four and one half days, apparently has appeased the feelings of the gay little screen star, and Lugosi has once more resumed his place in her affections.

“I don’t know when they will be married,” Mrs. Lugosi said. “But before I left my husband he told me he and Clara had been engaged; that they had agreed to remain away from each other a year to test their love.”

Lugosi’s ardent attachment for Miss Bow began shortly after he was divorced by his first wife, the former Ilona von Montagh, erstwhile musical comedy star, almost five years ago.

At that time the first Mrs. Lugosi, in gaining her freedom, denounced her married life with the noted Hungarian star, as “two months of boredom.”

Bela and Beatrice on their wedding day

He’s Heavy Lover

The Hungarian actor first gained the reputation as a heavy lover in this country, when, prior to his first marriage, he loved Estelle Winwood, in “Red Poppy”, so enthusiastically he cracked three of her ribs, causing her to retire from the cast.

Not at all loath to discuss her unhappy marital adventure with the foreign actor, the latest Mrs. Lugosi expressed no animosity to the youthful screen actress, whom she charges now holds the key to her husband’s heart.

Battle Starts Early

Lugosi fought the second day of their married life, his wife declared yesterday. “He slapped me in the face because I ate a lamb chop, which he had hidden in the icebox for his after‑theater, midnight lunch.

“’If you want lamb chops‑‑buy your own,’ my husband said”

Their mutual dissatisfaction with the bonds of matrimony became apparent on the third day following the nuptials, when Lugosi demanded her checkbook and key to her safe deposit vaults, Mrs. Lugosi explained.

“He told me that he was King; that in Hungary a wife and all she possessed were placed at the husband’s disposal; that, in effect, she was nothing but a servant

“Of course, I objected to this, and we quarreled.

“His table manners were terrible. He would break an apple in half and crowd one of the portions in his mouth, unable to speak or to swallow until he had chewed it up fine.

“He constantly used his fingers in place of a fork and was addicted to similar habits that simply frayed my nerves.”

Mrs. Lugosi, who fled from their San Francisco apartment while her husband was portraying his role in a leading Coast theatre, said the actual breaking point came when her husband elaborately furnished his own bedroom, afterward informing her if she didn’t care to equip her own, she could sleep on the floor.

As executrix of her former husband’s $2,500,000 estate, Mrs. Lugosi settled in her luxurious Riverside Hotel, Reno suite, said she was in no need of funds and expected none from her husband.

“I wish Miss Bow all the luck in the world,” she said. “However, I cannot see any happiness for her if she marries my husband unless he improves his manners.”

The Mirror’s reporting contains numerous inaccuracies—Lugosi was not a “count”; he and Bow were never engaged and he therefore did not “jilt” her for Beatrice; four years separate his divorce from Ilona von Montagh (his second not his first wife) and his meeting Clara Bow. Yet, the article contains many tantalizing truths as well—the timing and duration of the obscure Montagh marriage are correct; Lugosi’s imperious demands on his wife ring true, as does the simple fact that Lugosi and Bow were romantically involved. What of the remainder is truth or The Mirror’s creation is unknown. Beatrice’s only reliably reported comments came at the divorce hearing on December 9, 1929 in Reno. She testified that Lugosi was “sullen and morose and inhospitable to their guests… temperamental to the extreme…and had a violent temper.” Lugosi was not present (nor did attend any other of his divorce hearings). and Beatrice’s claims went uncontested. The final decree, on the grounds of incompatibility, was handed down the same day. The Associated Press picked up the story, but outside of San Francisco it hardly ran. The Chronicle gave the divorce front page coverage with the headline, “Wife of ‘Dracula’ Star Says Role Carried Too Far.”

Quite possibly, Lugosi and Weeks worked together towards a swift end to their marriage.  Her complaint filing describes the minimum grounds for divorce; and is exactly what two people trying to escape an unwanted union would present to the court. Lugosi later maintained that he and Beatrice had remained friends, and even that Beatrice sought reconciliation.

In April 1930, Beatrice was still residing at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, but apparently still travelled as much as her health allowed. She died, age 34, in May 1931 in Colon, Panama. Three months before, the film Dracula had premiered, and made Bela Lugosi world famous. Beatrice’s death certificate gives cause of death, “oedema of brain” (ie, a swollen brain) could have been due to infection, accident or her own failing health. Colon is hardly reputed as a tourist destination or health spa. How or why she wound up in there a place is not known. A clue comes from Polly Alder’s autobiography, A House Is Not a Home. Alder calls Colon, “the last port of call, the bottom of the barrel.”

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To order a copy of Frank J. Dello Stritto’s critically acclaimed book, A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore – The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films, Please contact him directly at: fdellostritto@hotmail.com

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My Favorite Vampire by Alex Gordon

Alex, Bela, Lillian, Richard & William Everson

Alex Gordon, Bela and Lillian Lugosi, Richard Gordon, and film historian William K Evereson in the Tokay restaurant in New York

Born in London on September 8, 1922, Alex Gordon, like his younger brother and fellow film producer Richard, developed a love for films, especially westerns and horror, at an early age. They started fan clubs for their favourite stars, Gene Autry and Buster Crabbe while still at school, and pursued careers in the film business at the end of World War II. While Richard worked in the publicity department of Pathe Pictures, the distribution arm of Associated British, Alex became the one-man publicity department for Renown Pictures, a small film distributor which later moved into film production. They supplemented their earnings by writing film reviews and articles for fan magazines. Both brothers dreamed of becoming film producers, but it soon became apparent that they were unlikely to realise their ambition in the austere economic climate of  post-war Britain. Deciding to try their luck in the American film business, they emigrated to America in November, 1947 . 

Richard and Alex Gordon

Richard and Alex shared a life-long passion for films

Setting up in New York, Alex became a booker for Walter Reade theatres, while his brother worked as an assistant sales manager for Jack Hoffberg’s distribution company while freelancing as a representative for several British film outlets. They continued to indulge their passion for the cinema by interviewing film stars for British film magazines. Learning that one of their idols, Bela Lugosi, was scheduled to star in a summer stock production of Arsenic and Old Lace in nearby Sea Cliff  in August, 1948, they set out to meet and interview him. Lugosi not only consented to the interview, but also invited the brothers to dine with him and his wife at a local restaurant. Bela, who fostered hopes of  starring in a Broadway or West End revival of Dracula was intrigued when Alex told him that many fans in England had been disappointed at the cancellation of his proposed eight-week English stage tour of Dracula earlier in the year. Contacting them several months later, Bela asked Alex and Richard to take over the management of his business affairs and to try find him film and theatre work in Britain. Having recently started working for his childhood hero, Gene Autry, Alex was too busy to devote his energies to helping Bela, so Richard took on the task of trying to interest West End producers staging a production of Dracula with Bela in the lead. He found it much harder than he had anticipated, and it was not until 1951 that he was able to negotiate a British revival tour of Dracula, followed by Bela’s appearance in Mother Riley Meets The Vampire. 

Alex and Gene Autry

Alex with his childhood hero Gene Autry

When Bela and Lillian returned to America from England in December, 1951, Richard missed the opportunity to see them upon their arrival in New York before they quickly headed for California. He never met them again. Alex, who had relocated to Hollywood, took up the quest to find work for Bela. They developed a script together for a film entitled The Atomic Monster, which was intended to be the first of three Lugosi films Alex would produce and release through Jack Broder’s Realart. Instead of going ahead with the project, Broder stole the title for a Realart re-release of the 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. film Man Made Monster. Although Alex and Broder reached a financial settlement, Bela was left without work. The script was taken up and rewritten by Edward D. Wood Jr., who filmed it as Bride of the Atom (later retitled Bride of the Monster) with Bela. Alex had introduced Wood to Bela when the two were sharing an apartment. Although Alex went on to produce many films, including genre favourites The Day the World Ended (1955), The She Creature (1956), Voodoo Woman (1957), and The Atomic Submarine (1959), he was unable to get a studio to greenlight a film with Bela. Later in his career, Alex worked at 20th Century Fox, where he was responsible for rediscovering over 30 Fox films that had thought to have been lost and instituting a film restoration project. He left the studio in 1976 to take up the post of vice-president of the Gene Autry Organisation. Alex died in Los Angeles on June 23rd, 2003.  (Andi Brooks)

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In 1963, Alex shared his memories of Bela in an article entitled My Favourite Vampire in issue number 5 of Fantastic Monsters of the Films.

Fantastic Monsters of the Films Vol.2 #5

What Bela Lugosi was really like – as revealed by the Vampire Man’s close friend, Hollywood Personality, Alex Gordon

My Favorite Vampire By Alex Gordon

When I was a boy in England, I was a very frustrated youth. Under the British movie censorship classification, horror pictures cannot be seen by anyone under the age of sixteen. Therefore, it was not until many years later that I was able to see the Bela Lugosi films. The first time I ever saw Bela on the screen was in Postal Inspector, a 1936 picture in which he played a gangster. I was also able to see The Invisible Ray, which he did with Boris Karloff, and which somehow escaped the adult horror classification. And ever since those early days, I had hoped that some day I would have the opportunity to meet Bela in person. This did not happen until 1950(1), after I had come to the United States and was living in New York. At the time, Bela was doing Arsenic and Old Lace on the stage at the Sea Cliff Summer Theatre, and my brother Richard and I went down to try and meet him. We waited near the theatre for hours and finally Bela – with his wife Lillian – drove up. We went up and introduced ourselves. They were both extremely pleasant and suggested we join them for dinner. They took us to an excellent Hungarian restaurant(2) where Bela was the center of attraction, the owner and other patrons being thrilled to see him. After dinner, we went back to the theatre and saw the show; and afterwards spent more time with the Lugosis and made a date to see them later. Mother Riley Meets The Vampire Richard Gordon, Bela and George Minter

Richard Gordon, Bela and producer George Minter on the set of Mother Riley Meets the Vampire

One of the things Bela wanted most to do was tour England with a new production of Dracula. He had made movies in England –The Mystery of the Marie Celeste(3), Dark Eyes of London – but had never appeared on the stage there. Happily, my brother, who represents British movie producers (such as the makers of the “Carry On” pictures) was able to arrange not only such a tour, but also for Bela to make another movie in England. Soon after that, in 1953, I became an independent producer in Hollywood after years of work in publicity and writing, and of course wanted to make a picture with Bela. We spent much time together, finally evolving a script entitled The Atomic Monster. For various reasons, however, the picture did not get off the ground. Meanwhile, American distributors were reluctant to buy Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire(4) – because of the British humor which they considered unsuitable for American audiences. Therefore, we put a new title on the picture, Vampire Over London(5), but still no one wanted it. I cut out all of Bela’s scenes and tried to make a new movie to be called King Robot, using all the scenes Bela was in and shooting new ones to match for the rest of the story. However, Bela had been very ill for a while and was very thin and haggard looking, and he did not match the original footage anymore. So we had to scrap that idea. While I was trying to set up a new picture, to star Bela and Boris Karloff, an independent producer (Edward D. Wood Jr.) rewrote my “Atomic Monster” script and made a very low budget picture vaguely based on it called Bride of the Monster. Poor Bela looked so very old and ill in it, that a double had to be used for many of his scenes.

Alex with Bob Steele, Warren White, an unknown man, and Edward D. Wood Jr. at Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurant in 1952.

 Courtesy of http://www.westernclippings.com/treasures/westerntreasures_gallery_3.shtml

One of his great hopes was to make Dracula in color and widescreen, and he thought the resurgence of horror movies in Hollywood after House of Wax in 1953 would mark a comeback for him. But the studios seemed to prefer other actors, like Christopher Lee when they made Horror of Dracula in color in England. The premiere of House of Wax, incidentally, was quite an event. Warner Brothers thought up a publicity stunt to have horror stars attend the premiere at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. They called Bela and asked him if he would go. Bela did not want to, but I persuaded him, as I thought it would be good publicity for our projected new picture with him and Karloff. Warners sent a limousine to pick us up at Bela’s apartment, and Bela was dressed in his Dracula cape. What he did not know was that the publicity boys wanted him to lead a gorilla (a man in a skin) on a chain into the lobby of the theatre – and I was afraid to tell him. The limousine made a stop at a large hotel, and Bela immediately asked what the stop was for. I timidly told him it was to pick up a gorilla. At first it seemed he hadn’t heard right, then he roared, “Gorilla?!” It took all my powers of persuasion to keep him from taking a taxi home.

House Of WaxBela’s arrival at the House of Wax premier with Steve Calvert in a gorilla suit was captured in a Pathe newsreel

Courtesy of http://microbrewreviews.blogspot.com/

When we drove up at the Paramount, there was a mass of photographers, newsmen, TV cameras, and hundreds of people milling around. Bela was, of course, the center of attention when he exited from the car with the gorilla on the chain. The gorilla chased after some girls while Bela shouted to me what we wanted him to do. We manipulated him over to a Red Cross stand where two nurses were selling milk for the Red Cross. The idea was to have a shot of Bela drinking milk instead of blood, but in all the bedlam he thought they wanted him to do a Dracula bit, and he suddenly grabbed the nurses by the necks. They were so surprised and shocked that they threw the milk all over him! Finally I got him inside the lobby, where a female radio-TV interviewer grabbed hold of him. I should explain here that Bela was a little hard of hearing in one ear, and he had asked for a list of questions ahead of time so that he could memorize the answers when they brought him up to the microphone. With all the noise and confusion, he felt he might not be able to hear the questions properly. Needless to say, the interviewer had mislaid her copy of the questions and started asking Bela the questions out of context with his prepared answers. I think I can leave the results to your imagination. By the time I had him seated in the auditorium, we were both completely exhausted, though the photographers had enjoyed an absolute field day. Bela did not want to stay for the film, so we left by a back door after it had started. I did not hear the end of THAT adventure for a long time.

Vampira and Bela

Vampira and Bela on the Red Skelton show

Another incident I remember well was when Bela was to do the Red Skelton Show, on which Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr were to appear in a sketch with him. Bela was worried about the show because he knew that Red Skelton did not stick to the script, but adlibbed most of the show. And Bela was a stage actor who had to learn his lines and was not used to adlibbing. Red treated him well, but he did use adlibs which almost threw Bela. But the comedian managed to fill in so well that the audience never knew. However, it was an unhappy experience for Bela. He always preferred to work from a prepared script.

A publicity shot for Dracula

When the original Dracula was reissued once more, as it was at regular intervals, we went to see it, and Bela enjoyed it again. Actually, he almost lived the part at times. When he was on tour, he could not stand the hard mattresses in most of the hotels as he had trouble with his back. So he would place his beautiful silk-lined coffin from the theatre in the middle of his hotel room and sleep in it. This is absolutely true and no publicity story. It was not done for effect, just plain comfort.

Bela was a delightful companion, gracious and kind and with a good sense of humor. He was also a man of many moods, and sometimes he would sink into deep despair. Bela loved cigars, and he also became interested in religion, hypnosis, and philosophy. He was very particular about many little things. He once asked me to sort out his desk and papers, and I found receipted bills and other statements going back twenty years, which he thought he should keep for tax and book-keeping purposes. He also kept a large collection of stills from his movies in scrapbooks.

Bela in November 1955

When he lived in his small Hollywood apartment, he would call me to walk up to the corner with him at 11pm to pick up the next morning’s LA Times. It had to be the 11pm edition, and he was quite upset if he did not get it. He liked to keep up with all the latest news and was extremely well-informed about world events. But his daily dream was to make a good comeback, and he, like so many other former great stars, found it impossible to realize that Hollywood did not want him anymore. It is so ironic that stars like Bela Lugosi are so fondly remembered by audiences the world over, and yet were unable to get a job right here in Hollywood. It is something I have always found hard to understand. Since I became a movie producer, I have always tried to use as many old-timers in my pictures as possible, despite enormous resistance from distributors, financiers, and exhibitors who consider them “has-beens.”

 At the peak of his stardom with other members of the Universal family. Bela can be seen in the back row along with Boris Karloff and James Whale. Carl Laemmle Jr., Carl Laemmle Sr., and cinematographer Karl Freund are in the front row

In a way, I think Bela regretted having turned down the role of the Frankenstein Monster in the original movie that made Boris Karloff famous. Not many remember that Bela was actually a Shakespearean actor and a romantic star before he did Dracula and became typed in horror pictures. He played Hamlet and even Uncas in The Last of the Mohicans(6), among many other roles. I always thought the old Universal film, The Raven, was one of Bela’s best roles, as well as The Invisible Ray, and of course his role of Ygor in the later Frankenstein pictures was unforgettable. It is strange for me now to see and hear Bela on TV in his old movies. It is as though he is still around and as though that friendly, uniquely unforgettable voice is still calling. His friends and fans will never forget him.

Notes: (1) Alex and Richard Gordon first meet Bela in 1948, not 1950. He performed in Arsenic and Old Lace at the Sea Cliff Summer Theatre from August 9 – 14, 1948. (2) Richard Gordon later recalled that the restaurant was a seafood restaurant. (3)Although several contemporary sources listed the film’s title as “The Mystery of the Marie Celeste,” it was released as “Mystery of the Mary Celeste.” (4) Pre-release publicity listed the title as “Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire,” but the film was released as “Mother Riley Meets the Vampire.” (5) According to an article printed in The Cinema News And Property Gazette of August 22, 1951, two months before filming began, the title “Vampire Over London” had already been selected for the American release of Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. (6) Bela played Chingachgook.

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Film Producer Richard Gordon Dies At 85

Richard Gordon – December 31, 1925 – November 1, 2011

Film producer Richard Gordon died on November 1st at New York Presbyterian Hospital after suffering from heart problems over the last six months. He was 85.

Born in London on December 31st, 1925, Richard, “Dick” to all who knew him, shared a life-long love of films with his elder brother, and fellow producer, Alex, who died aged 80 in 2003. While schoolboys, the brothers started fan clubs for their favourite stars, Gene Autry and Buster Crabbe. During World War II, Dick joined the Royal Navy. His knowledge of German, acquired at school, led to him heading a translation and interrogation unit. During his war service, he was still able to indulge his passion by organising film programmes for enlisted men. His particular affection for horror films earned him the nickname “Dracula.”

Dick, Bela and Alex

Courtesy of http://www.moviemonstermuseum.com/

After being demobbed in 1946, the brothers pursued careers in the film industry. While Alex handled publicity at Renown Pictures, a small film distributor which would later move into film production, Dick worked in the publicity department of Pathe Pictures, the distribution arm of Associated British. They supplemented their earnings by writing film reviews and articles, but their opportunities were hampered due to post-war paper shortages, which limited print runs of the fan magazines they were targeting. Realising that their ambition to become film producers were unlikely to be realised in their homeland, they pooled their savings and emigrated to America in November, 1947. Setting up in New York, Dick found work as an assistant sales manager for Jack Hoffberg’s distribution company and freelanced as a representative for several British film outlets, while Alex became a booker for Walter Reade theatres.

Richard Gordon and Bela

Bela and Dick on the set of Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1951)

They also interviewed film stars for British film magazines. When they learned that Bela Lugosi would appear in a summer stock production of Arsenic and Old Lace in Sea Cliff, twenty miles outside of New York, in August, 1948, they determined to meet and interview him. Lugosi not only consented to the interview, but also invited the brothers to dine with him and his wife at a local restaurant, where he regaled them with stories of his glory days and confided his current career woes. 

Bela, intrigued by the brothers’ talk of his continued popularity in Britain and their contacts within the British film industry, contacted them several months later and asked them to try find him film and theatre work in Britain. He also offered them the opportunity to take over management of his affairs. Alex, having recently started working for his childhood hero, Gene Autry, was too busy to devote his energies to helping Bela, so Dick set to trying to generate interest in Bela in a production of Dracula among West End producers. Despite his growing network of contacts within both the film and theatre industries, Dick found selling Bela and Dracula to British producers to be an almost impossible task. It would not be until 1951 that he was able to negotiate a British revival tour of Dracula and Bela’s appearance in Mother Riley Meets The Vampire. Much to Dick’s consternation, the production of Dracula proved to be fraught with difficulties and failed to secure a planned run in the West End. Whenever he recalled the tour in later life, he would lament his lack of experience at the time and express his frustration at getting Bela involved in what Dick viewed as a disastrous venture.

Dick’s two films with Boris Karloff

Dick had more success with his other enterprises. In 1949 he set up Gordon Films Inc., which imported and distributed British and other foreign films. After moving into setting up co-production deals, Dick decided that “If I was going to do it for somebody else, I could do it myself!” From 1958 he produced a string of films now regarded as cult classics, including Boris Karloff’s The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood, both made in 1958. In the same year he produced Fiend Without a Face, followed in 1959 by First Man Into Space. His last credit as a producer was for Inseminoid in 1981. He continued to run Gordon Films until his death. Dick always remained at heart a film fan who, as his friend, the writer Tom Weaver said, “lived and breathed movies.” In his later years, he became a popular guest at film conventions in America and Britain.

Tom Weaver’s book-length interview with Dick (BearManor Media, 2011)

Despite his feelings about the British tour of Dracula, when Frank Dello Stritto and I wrote the story of 1951 in “Vampire Over London – Bela Lugosi in Britain,” almost 50 years later, he was an enthusiastic collaborator. His memories and his insights were invaluable to our research. Without him, the book would have been much different. Frank last met him in June at this year’s Monster Bash. “He’d had some recent health issues and was using a cane, but he was as alert and witty as ever. It never occurred to me that it would be the last time that I would see him. I wish that I had spent more time with him then.” Summing up his personal feelings, Frank said, “Dick could be mercurial and opinionated, but also caring and funny and generous. All were part of his charm. ‘Charm’ is a carefully chosen word; I saw it in many ways as I came to know him. I was always captivated by him, and I shall miss him.” (Andi Brooks)

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Dracula’s Coffin: The Story Of Bela Lugosi’s Steamer Trunk by Frank J. Dello Stritto.

In 2001 collector David Wentink acquired a steamer trunk once owned by film legend Bela Lugosi, and has since worked to document its authenticity and history. David contacted me after reading a fleeting mention of the trunk in Andi Brooks’ and my book, Vampire Over London – Bela Lugosi in Britain. I was glad to be able to help him track down a bit more information. With David’s permission, below is a summary of his considerable labors to date.

The History of the Trunk

The trunk was made by the Oshkosh Trunk Company of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Trunk restoration expert Marvin Miller is fairly certain it was manufactured during the late 1920s or early 1930s, the heyday of steamer trunks (also called “cabin trunks” and “wardrobe trunks”). The trunks were meant to stand upright, with wooden hangers on one side, and drawers on the other. Some of the larger trunks (not Lugosi’s, however) sported a fold-down desk, and offered their owners a portable office. A common practice was, at the time of purchase, to have the owner’s name painted on the trunk. BELA LUGOSI appears on the end of the trunk in large, yellow letters.

Bela in the Broadway production of Dracula

When Lugosi acquired the trunk is unknown; but from the late 1920s onward, the actor would have had something very special to put in it: his Dracula costume and cape. He first played Dracula on stage in 1927, in tryouts in Connecticut in September, and then opening on Broadway on October 5. Dracula ran 261 performances, closing in May 1928, when Lugosi and a good many of the New York cast headed to the West Coast for the play’s Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland premieres. Lugosi saw the trip not as a theatre tour but as a career move from New York to California, and he may have purchased the trunk at this time. The cape and formal evening suit would have been neatly folded and hung on one side of the trunk.The large drawers on the other side were big enough to hold Lugosi’s bulky scrapbooks, which he usually kept with him.

After the California tour of 1928, Lugosi settled in Hollywood and found stardom with the 1931 film version of Dracula. During his years of peak popularity he was often on the road and the trunk would have always been with him. He played Dracula on stage in West Coast cities again in 1929 and 1932. In 1933-1934, he toured the East Coast in an abbreviated version of the play. He made trips to Britain in 1935 to film Mystery of the Mary Celeste, and again in 1939 to film Dark Eyes of London. He made many stage and personal appearances in San Francisco; and whenever his travels brought him east, he stopped in Chicago, hometown of his wife Lillian. The World War II years brought lengthy stage tours in Dracula (the East Coast) and Arsenic & Old Lace (the Gulf and East Coasts). The post-war years saw his career in decline, and he made frequent, scattered appearances in stock summer theatre and in midnight spook shows. He played Dracula for the last time in 1951, in a six-month stage tour in Britain.

Bela in Arsenic and Old Lace

Lillian and Bela returned to Los Angeles in late 1951, and divorced in 1953 after 22 years of marriage. In 1954, Lugosi did a week of stage work in St. Louis, and 4 weeks at the Silver Slipper Casino in Las Vegas; but otherwise never left southern California again.

Lugosi married for the fifth and last time in 1955. Hope Lininger Lugosi inherited the steamer trunk when Lugosi died in 1956. Hope moved to San Francisco in the early 1960s where she remained until her move to Hawaii in 1976. In 1964 she donated the trunk to public radio station KQED in San Francisco for a fund raising auction. Hope often gave Lugosi mementos to friends and Lugosi fans that gained her favor. Most likely she met someone who worked for the station, who learned of Hope’s association with Bela, and asked if she could donate something of his.

The successful bidder kept the trunk until November 1999 when he consigned it to Butterfield & Butterfield auction house in Los Angeles. The description of the trunk in the auction catalogue is:

1136A Bela Lugosi Steamer Trunk

A large steamer trunk that horror master Bela Lugosi used while travelling. Originally sold at a 1964 auction that benefited San Francisco public radio station KQED, this piece is painted brown, has various railway and passenger ship stickers affixed to the outside and has the ownership name of Bela Lugosi painted in large yellow block letter along the bottom left-side surface. When opened, the interior space has three shelves on one side and a clothes rack on the other, and though the condition is poor (outside brass hinges and locks broken, paint is chipped and surface dents are evident), this is still a great vintage trunk reminding us of sophisticated travel from a by-gone era.

26 inches by 42 inches by 22 inches.

The trunk sold for more than ten times its estimate to Randy Burkett’s Hollywood Museum, which was being formed in Branson, Missouri. Branson, tourist mecca of the Ozark Mountains, has many such attractions, and the new museum spent lavishly to build a collection, that included at least three vintage automobiles used in various movies. In late 1999, the economy was flying high; but within a few months, the stock crashed, and tourism and financing were down. The fledgling museum, located in a strip mall, declared bankruptcy. David Wentink, a bidder at the 1999 auction, was contacted by the liquidators, and bought the trunk directly from them.

The Angels Are in the Details

The trunk’s new owner set out to document its history. David contacted me when he noticed a brief mention of the trunk in Vampire Over London. In a description of the day-to-day routine of the traveling Dracula stage company, he read:

Bela in the 1951 British tour of Dracula

After Saturday night’s performance, the actors would deposit their costumes into the “skips”—large wicker hampers—one for the men and one for the women. Janet Reid had the costumes cleaned and pressed, and hanging in the assigned dressing rooms of the next theatre in time for Monday night’s performance. She did not handle Bela’s cape and wardrobe. He kept his effects in a large steamer trunk, which was shipped directly from theatre to theatre. He took particular care in looking after the cape. A “Bela Lugosi Dracula Cape” was not yet the prized collectible it is today, but he was mindful that it might go astray. It traveled between engagements in his stage coffin. After every performance, he carefully folded it into the trunk, which he kept locked. During the company’s ill-starred week in Lewisham, he left the key in his hotel room. The desk clerk retrieved it, and dispatched it to the theatre in a taxi, which arrived just in time for Bela’s prologue

At David’s behest I contacted the eight surviving members of the company that Andi and I had located. Several remembered the trunk. Richard Eastham, the play’s director who worked closely with Lugosi through April 1951, recalls:

“Although I never saw it, I remember the mention of it. He made a point of saying he had his own “full dress”—“tails” in our jargon—and he could just “take it out of his trunk without pressing.” All my family had these “cabin trunks,” which meant we could have extensive wardrobe in one’s cabin. My family’s trunks were covered with ship’s line labels.”

Joyce Wilson, who traveled with her husband, Ralph Wilson, the tour’s second Van Helsing, remembers seeing the trunk often in Bela’s dressing room, but “that type of wardrobe trunk was very popular both before and after the second world war, but nobody has them now.” Joan Harding, the tour’s second Wells the Maid, has a clear memory:

“I would say it was Bela’s without a doubt, though I remember it more when it was open standing on its end with the drawers and wardrobe showing I can’t remember much else about it apart from seeing, for the first time, a photograph of their son standing on top of it.”

Bela performing at a 1950s spook show.

Photo courtesy of Jim Knusch/Professor Kinema

Probably, Bela kept the photo of his son in one of the trunk drawers, and always had it handy to set up in his dressing room. John Mather, the Dracula tour’s producer, has no memory of the trunk, but clearly recalls the scrapbooks that Bela carried with him even to England.As Andi and I relate in our book:

“John arrived at the Lugosi’s flat early one evening for a brief chat about the production. As Lillian hurried to dress for dinner, Bela sat John on the sofa, left and returned with a large scrapbook of ancient newspaper clippings, 40 or 50 years old. John could not read a word of them except “Lugosi” and play titles like Romeo & Juliet. From what John could divine, they were theatre notices from Hungary, printed long before he was born. They were rave reviews. Bela always impressed John as humble and quiet, not at all conceited; but he could see the actor’s pride as Bela patiently guided him through the scrapbook, describing each page, conjuring a distant memory for each.”

The Lugosis returned to Los Angeles in late 1951, about the same time as his young writer and producer friend Alex Gordon moved to the West Coast. Alex’s brother Dick had arranged Bela’s stage and film appearance in England (after the Dracula tour ended, Lugosi appeared in Mother Riley Meets The Vampire), and in California Alex too worked as Bela’s sometime agent. After viewing photos of the trunk, Alex clearly remembered it in Bela’s apartment on Carlton Way, and seeing the cape and scrapbooks in it. Alex planned to write David a longer reminiscence, but passed away in June 2003.

In 1952 Alex introduced Bela to the infamously inept film director, Edward D. Wood, with whom Lugosi would make three of his last films, Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster (co-written by Alex), and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Wood’s “company of players” included actor Paul Marco, who would appear as “Kelton the Cop” in Plan 9 From Outer Space (though Bela never heard that title—he appeared in test footage for an unmade film which, after Bela’s death, Wood incorporated into his opus). The most elaborate memory of the trunk unearthed to date is Marco’s tale of Bela’s and Hope’s wedding night. Marco’s story appears in both Robert Cremer’s Lugosi – The Man Behind The Cape and Arthur Lennig’s The Immortal Count. David sent Marco photos of the trunk, and the actor repeated his reminiscence to David over the telephone. Hope and Bela married in Los Angeles on August 24, 1955. Bela, Jr. was the best man, and in attendance were a few friends of Hope and some of Bela’s co-workers. Lennig quotes Marco:

“After it was over, all of the photographers left, and eventually the only ones there were Bela, Hope, Eddie, Jo (Ed Wood’s girlfriend) and me. So, here we were, driving Bela and Hope to their wedding apartment. We were coming down Western Avenue when Bela spotted this big Italian deli and cried out, “We gotta stop here!” Eddie stayed in the car with Jo and Hope while Bela and I went into the store. There were half a dozen people in there, everyone started congratulating Bela on his marriage and he was felling good. We walked out carrying jugs of wine, long loaves of French bread, long salamis, jugs of olives, provolone cheese—my arms were full! They were giving us this, giving us that—I don’t think we paid for much of anything, everybody was giving us things to congratulate Bela on getting married.

Hope and Bela

We arrived at Bela’s apartment and walked in—pitch black! Either they hadn’t had the electricity turned on yet or they didn’t have enough bulbs, but there was very little light in this huge, old-fashioned Spanish living room. There was practically nothing in the room except a huge trunk right in the middle of the floor—it looked like a coffin, it was that big! We moved some boxes and chairs around the trunk while Hope got some kind of a tablecloth to spread over the top. Then we brought out all the wine and bread and cold cuts, and we all sat around this trunk like picnickers, laughing and telling stories. That was Bela’s wedding dinner.”

Countless fans have personal items that once belonged to movie stars, and many of Bela Lugosi’s former possessions now reside in various collections. One of them is even the subject of a recent “mockumentary” (Gary Don Rhodes’ hilarious Chair, included on his otherwise serious DVD documentary of Lugosi’s life and career). Few of these almost holy relics compare to the steamer trunk, which Lugosi kept close by him for decades, and which held some of his most prized possessions. He owned the trunk for perhaps as long as he “owned” Dracula. As he opened it each evening, he would see his whole life captured in its contents: Dracula cape and costume on one side, scrapbooks of cherished memories on the other, and a photo of his son in one of the large drawers. He would place the framed photo on top of the trunk, don his cape and submerge himself in his character as he prepared yet again to mesmerize his audience.

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To order a copy of Frank’s critically acclaimed new book, A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore – The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films, Please contact him directly at: fdellostritto@hotmail.com

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