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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Related articles

Film Producer Richard Gordon Dies At 85

Mystery Of The Mary Celeste

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

Mother Riley Meets The Vampire

Bela Lugosi At The House Of Wax Premiere

Actress And Songwriter Dolores Fuller Dies At 88

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Bela Lugosi and Don Marlowe

The Tell-Tale Heart Publicity Photo

During the Second World War the public’s taste for escapist entertainment, particularly horror films, bolstered Bela Lugosi’s career. The War years saw him appearing in 22 films of varying quality. When the War ended and service personal, who’d had their fill of real-life horrors, began to return home, the public’s demand for screen monsters waned rapidly. Bela made just two films in 1946, Genius at Work and Scared to Death. After completing work on the latter in April 1946, he received no further offers of film roles. His meagre earnings came from one-night stands in spook shows and capsule versions of Dracula. In early 1947 his prospects seemed to improve when he was given top billing in Three Indelicate Ladies, a mystery-farce that, according to the play’s publicity, would return Bela to Broadway. Critics, however, found numerous faults with the play, including Bela’s “almost criminal” miscasting as an Irish gangster. The production folded long before Broadway beckoned, leaving Bela forced to fall back on short provincial runs of Dracula and Arsenic and Old Lace.

Three Indelicate Ladies

Bela and Elaine Stritch in Three Indelicate Ladies

Often cited as a key factor in Bela’s career woes was his failure to secure adequate representation. Although the prestigious William Morris Agency represented him from 1940 – 1942, he went through five agents in the following five years. By September 1947, with next to no offers of work being made, Bela decided it was time to change agents once more. He chose to inform his current representative, Virginia Doak, that he had signed a new exclusive contract with the Don Marlowe Agency by letter on October 8th, three weeks after the event.

“My darling friend Virginia,

The reason why I am putting on the sugar so thick in addressing you is to make you accept the bad news that on Sept. 18th I signed an exclusive contract with Don Marlowe, which naturally means that if he can’t realize even one of his promises in four months that contract expires.

It is easy for people that have a steady income from some source to be able to wait for help and achievement of their friend who is in the managerial business. But it is close to two years that have had some many projects in view which unfortunately – naturally not your fault – did not realize. That would have been alright if I would have had money to cover my overhead expenses – which I didn’t – and especially that I was not working for two years and getting very deep in the red. I had to borrow money on my last collateral to escape from Hollywood and try to cash in on my popularity and box office value in the east.

I couldn’t help signing with him for a year which means four months if he can’t deliver. But I signed for motion pictures only and the radio field is still free for you. So as far as motion pictures are concerned he is entitled to full commission for anything he knows and is able to deliver but if you should know of anything of which he does not – naturally you should receive full commission regardless of my obligations to Marlowe.

So I would suggest, my dear, to cooperate with Marlowe for the time being and believe me I would not disappoint you. I need a job very badly and am just human when I say that I do not mind who helps me to get my bread and butter I have to take it. So when I return to make a picture arranged by whom-ever I can make the radio recording platters and finally try to get out of the red.

Please answer by air mail and believe me, we are your sincere but desperate friends.

Truly,

Bela”

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Don Marlowe Agency

Don Marlowe Agency publicity material

Exactly when and where Bela and Marlowe met is unclear, but it was unlikely to be in 1939, as suggested by Marlowe in his quasi-autobiography. Prone to exaggeration and outright lies, Marlowe falsely claimed to be Porky of the Our Gang comedies in his publicity material, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction in his recollections. Described as having more enthusiasm than talent as an agent, he did work hard on behalf of Bela and achieved something that his predecessor failed to do – he got Bela working. On November 19th, only one month after signing Bela, the two set off on a tour of The Tell-Tale Heart, written and produced by Marlowe, who also provided the sound effects. In the absence of complete records, the extent of the tour is unknown. Posters do survive from a handful of dates. The production, a 40 minute dramatic reading by Bela supported by a reissue of the film Dracula, appears to have played in sleepy backwaters, but it gave Bela work, and more importantly a pay cheque. His contract for the tour guaranteed him $1,000 per week against 10% of the top gross plus hotel accommodation, transportation from New York to the engagements and return transportation to his choice of New York or California.

Bela must have felt that his decision to sign with Marlowe was justified when Universal cast him as Dracula in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in January of the following year.  What part Marlowe actually played in securing the role for Bela is unknown, but his own account is known to be grossly exaggerated. He claimed that he stormed into the Universal offices just days before filming began and used moral blackmail to shame executives into giving Bela the part, reminding them that Dracula had saved the studio from ruin in 1931. However much Marlowe overstated his role, Bela did receive his most prestigious, critically acclaimed latter-day role under his representation. The return to the limelight, however, proved to be short-lived. The critical and financial success of the film mysteriously failed to rejuvenate Bela’s career. Whether it was a measure of Marlowe’s true ability as an agent or, as Frank Dello Stritto has suggested in his article Lugosi in Politics, the result of a secret blacklisting due to Bela’s unwitting involvement in the Communist-backed Hungarian American Council for Democracy during World War II, Bela found himself once more cast professionally adrift. He did not make another film until Mother Riley Meets The Vampire at the end of his 1951 British tour of Dracula.

October 2nd, 1947

A letter to British agent Rita Cave detailing Bela’s terms for appearing in a proposed 1948 London revival of Dracula

Bela almost found himself performing Dracula on a British stage in 1948. In late August of 1947, Marlowe appears to have started inquiries into the possibility of a British production with the Paul Kohner agency, which exchanged several letters and telegrams with its representative in London. There seems to have been a genuine interest in securing Bela, who by October 2nd was quoted as asking for $2,000 per week against 18% of the gross. One week later the American press reported that Bela would shortly sail for England to star in Dracula. Nothing more was heard until February 4, 1948, when Variety announced that Bela would leave for London to revive Dracula on April 15th. One month later The Evening Independent’s Bob Harris quoted Bela as saying that he would perform in an eight-week run of Dracula in London during the summer. However, Bela would not find himself reviving Dracula in England until 1951. It is unclear at the moment just how close to taking place the proposed 1948 revival came. 

Marlowe had many other ideas for new projects for Bela, including The Bela Lugosi Show with CBS, The Return of Dracula and an Invisible Man film at Universal, The Inner Sanctum at MGM, and a Chandu serial at Columbia. All failed to materialise.

Don Marlowe ad from Mad Monsters # 3, 1962

Marlowe placed this ad in Mad Monsters #3 in 1963

By 1950, Bela had moved on to another agent in search of the elusive comeback which he never quite gave up on. Whether as a true mark of respect or an attempt to publicize himself, Marlowe placed a memorial advertisement in Variety when Bela died. He showed his true colours at the funeral. As Bela’s casket was being taken from the Utter McKinley Mortuary to the waiting hearse, he pushed aside official pallbearer Richard Sheffield, one of Bela’s teenage friends, so that he would be photographed carrying the casket by the assembled members of the press.

Don Marlowe & Edward D Wood among the pallbearers

Marlowe, back left, looks into the camera. The other pallbearers, including Edward D. Wood Jr., back right, concentrate on their footing as they descend the steps of the mortuary.

During the 1960s, Marlowe attempted to cash in on his relationship with Bela by offering for sale items such as copies of Bela’s memorial service card, Screen Actors Guild membership card, photos, a recording of Bela’s rendition of The Tell-Tale Heart and one of Bela’s personal scrapbooks through monster magazines. In September 1970, he set the film collecting world alight when he placed the following ad in Classic Film Collector magazine and Midi Minuit Fantastique in France:

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Bela Lugosi – For Sale: Screen test Bela Lugosi made for the original Frankenstein. 35mm sound, running time 21 minutes; same scene is shown twice with change in lighting, etc. Between scenes camera was left running and Carl Laemmle Junior, James Whale, Colin Clive and Lugosi can be seen and heard discussing test and wardrobe Lugosi was wearing. Film can be examined and screened before purchase is made. Price: $4,000. Don Marlowe. Hollywood, Calif. 90028″

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What made the advertisement so astounding was the mention of James Whale. It was well known that Frankenstein’s original director, Robert Florey, shot test footage with  Bela on the Dracula set, but it had always been assumed that Bela’s involvement in the film ended with Florey’s when James Whale took over as director. Could Whale have made his own screen test with Bela or was it just another of Marlowe’s tall tales? Unless the film resurfaces, we will never know because, despite financial inducements, he did not allow anyone to see the footage, subsequently claiming that he had sold it to Carl Laemmle Jr. for $3,500 dollars.

Don Marlowe duplicate item

A duplicate of Bela’s memorial service card sold by Marlowe

Time has not been kind to Marlowe’s reputation. His often questionable behaviour, such as secretly taping a telephone conversation with Stan Laurel and marketing the recording as a “lost” interview, and the unmasking of his many false claims have left him discredited. Although it should perhaps be approached with caution, the following extract from  The Hollywood That Was, Marlowe’s 1969 account of his “mis”adventures in Hollywood, does provide a rare first-hand account of a period of Bela’s life and work which has not yet been fully documented, and, until researchers are able to shed more light on the Marlowe years, remains our primary source of information. (Andi Brooks)

One of the best friends I have ever had was Bela Lugosi. We were devoted friends for almost thirty years, until the day he died. I doubt there has ever been an actor in the history of motion pictures or the theatre who has been more misquoted by the press than this gentleman…and gentleman he was…a true continental with manners to match. I could write a book on Lugosi alone recording the very many interesting experiences I have had with him over the years. Besides being his close friend, I had worked at various times as his manager, agent, producer, director and frequently worked with him as an actor.

Lugosi had very few English-speaking friends because he preferred to speak in his native tongue, Hungarian, and the few friends he did have, other than myself, were Hungarian. Bela and I seemed to hit it off quite well from the first time we met. During the many years I knew him I never once heard him raise his voice or use any profanity. He had manners which never left him regardless of circumstances. As an example, we were playing Green Bay, Wisconsin one night many years ago in his great stage success, Dracula. In addition to producing the play, I was playing a part in this production. Although he had performed his role in this play hundreds of times before, on this particular night, as happens once in a while with all actors, he forgot his lines. I happened to be on the stage in a scene with him the night this happened. I had quite a long speech and Lugosi’s line followed my dialogue. As I looked at him expecting the line I could see that he could not think of it. I adlibbed a line to try to get him back on the track. However, this did not seem to help. Mrs. Lugosi was working as a prompter, offstage, and she threw him the correct line. She did not speak quite loud enough for Bela to pickup the exact words. Without flinching, Lugosi said, as though it were a line in the play: “I beg your pardon?”

Mrs Lugosi repeated the line loud enough this time so that Bela got it right and proceeded with the scene as though nothing untoward had occurred.

Don Marlowe Agency publicity

Don Marlowe Agency publicity material with characteristic exageration. When, where or if this “evening of character sketches” took place is unknown

I produced several road companies of the play Dracula with Bela Lugosi playing the lead. On one of these tours we opened at the Coronado Theatre in Rockford, Illinois. To get the show off to a good start, we flooded the town with publicity. Lugosi’s picture could be seen on almost every fence and telephone pole in town.

We arrived in Rockford the night before the opening. Bela, his wife Lillian, and I had enjoyed a late, festive dinner in the hotel dinning-room. We toasted each other several times to the success of the tour and all of us left the table in high spirits. As we were walking through the hotel lobby, Mrs. Lugosi said she wanted to retire early and went to her room. Bela and I decided to walk downtown to take a look at the theatre where we were to appear the following night.

It was about ten o’clock and practically all of Rockford’s inhabitants were indoors on this cold November night. As Bela and I walked briskly along the street, we noticed a brightly lighted stretch ahead of us. This turned out to be a long bridge, right in downtown Rockford. In the distance, we could make out the lone figure of a young boy about ten, coming toward us from the opposite direction.

Lugosi, usually a modest man, but now in an elated mood, turned to me with a twinkle in his eye, and said:

“He will spot me any minute, watch.”

As the boy approached us we could both see his expression of disbelief as he recognised Bela Lugosi. Bela was smiling and as we got near to the boy he said in a gentle voice:

“Good evening, my young man.”

The astonished boy timidly returned the smile and managed to blurt out:

“Could I have your autograph, please?”

“Certainly,” said Lugosi, turning to me with a triumphant grin.

The boy took a piece of paper out of his pocket and I offered my pen to Bela. As he was about to sign his name, Bela paused momentarily and said to his young fan:

“And, young man, what is my name?”

Without hesitation, the boy said: “Boris Karloff.”

The Tell-Tale Heart playbill

On another Lugosi tour we were running his original picture Dracula with a forty-minute stage presentation. For part of the show I had written a short, modern version of the Edgar Allen Poe story, The Tell-Tale Heart.

After the first night, I dreamed up the idea  that it would add realism to the play if we could reproduce the sound of a beating heart, which was what the play was about. The Tell-Tale Heart story is about a murderer who imagines that he hears his victim’s heart beating after the murder. The lines: “And the heart kept beating louder, and louder, and louder,” were repeated many times throughout this sketch.

I knew that it would be impossible to get sound recording in this part of the country. In a second-hand store I found an  old drum which seemed to have just the right sound.

Because we carried no stage-hands, I handled the sound effects on the drum myself. I did this until we reached the city of Racine, Wisconsin. I always stood as close to the stage as I possibly could without being seen, in order to be able to hear Bela’s dialogue. As I have already mentioned, the drum I was using was in poor condition and as Lugosi was going through the lines of  The Tell-Tale Heart that night, I was beating the drum softly at first, as usual. When Bela got to the part, “and the heart kept beating louder and louder and louder,” I began to hit the drum harder and harder and harder. As we came to the climax of this vignette, my mallet broke into the drum. This threw me completely  off-balance and I fell over the drum, past the curtain and landed on the stage, practically at Lugosi’s feet in full view of the audience.

Bela looked down at me with an expression I had never seen before on his face, then very calmly announced:

“Ladies and gentlemen…my manager, Mr. Don Marlowe.”

I quickly recovered my composure and walked off-stage. Lugosi, undaunted trooper that he was, went on with the performance as though nothing unusual had taken place.

 In the course of his lifetime, Bela Lugosi earned hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was, however, always in one of two extreme predicaments…either incalculably wealthy or completely broke. The actor never worried about money. He spent it faster than anyone I have ever known. He lived luxuriously in a stately mansion with lavish furnishings…wore elegant clothes and entertained in superlative taste. He owned a priceless stamp collection and his only other hobby, to which he devoted his leisure time, was reading books mainly dealing with scientific subjects and world history.

The Tell-Tale Heart 1947

One of the few confirmed performances of The Tell-Tale Heart

One morning we were having breakfast at the old Gotham Restaurant in Hollywood. There were only four of us in our party, yet the check came to almost three hundred dollars. Bela had ordered Eggs Benedictine. He liked the way this restaurant prepared this gourmet dish and he ordered two cases of imported champagne for the chef to show his appreciation. For the excellent services rendered by the waitress, he ordered two dozen red roses for her. He had a second thought…it might hurt the feelings of the other waitresses to overlook them, so he ordered the same token of his appreciation for each of the other girls. It was in this kind of whimsical extravagance that the actor frequently indulged himself.

Bela was with me one afternoon when I was giving writer Henry Lawrence a lift home. Harry lived only a short distance from my home. Lugosi and Lawrence had one thing in common which they discussed during the ride. Neither of them had ever learned to drive.

Several months later, when Lugosi was in one of his many financial crises, he had urgent need for a small amount of cash. He went to my house late one night hoping to borrow some money from me, but I happened to be out that night. Remembering that Harry Lawrence lived only a short distance from me, Lugosi went to his home. He asked the writer to lend him ten dollars. Harry good-naturedly handed him the money. Then, recalling that Lugosi did not drive, Harry asked: “But how will you get back home?”

Bela shrugged and said: “Oh, I have a cab waiting.”

Don Marlowe duplicate item 2

A duplicate of Bela’s Screen Actors Guild membership card sold by Marlowe

I was visiting with Bela Lugosi one afternoon and got into a serious talk with him about his main problem in life…the important matter of the way he mishandled his finances. He listened thoughtfully and did not interrupt me. When I had finished, he looked at me and said:

“Don, give me one good reason for saving money.” Then he went on to say: “Isn’t the real purpose of money to spend  on things that one enjoys? When I don’t have it I can’t spend it.”

To convince me that his own philosophy was not unique, he produced a paper on which was written the following:

In 1923, a very important meeting was held at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Attending this meeting were nine of the world’s most successful financiers. Those present were:

The president of the largest independent steel company:

The president of the largest utility company:

The president of the largest gas company:

The greatest wheat speculator:

The president of the New York Stock Exchange:

A member of the president’s cabinet:

The greatest “bear” in Wall Street:

Head of the world’s greatest monopoly:

President of the Bank of International Settlements.

Certainly we must admit that here were gathered a group of the world’s most successful men. At least men who had found the secret of “making money.”

Twenty-five years later let’s see where these men are:

The president of the largest independent steel company – Charles Schwab – died a bankrupt and lived on borrowed money for  five years before his death.

The president of the largest utility company – Samuel Insull – died a fugitive from justice and penniless in a foreign land.

The president of the largest gas company – Howard Hobson – is now insane.

The greatest wheat speculator – Artur Cutton – died abroad insolvent.

The president of the New York Stock Exchange – Richard Whitney – was just recently released from Sing Sing Penitentiary.

The member of the president’s cabinet – Albert Fall – was pardoned from prison so that he could die at home.

The greatest “bear” in Wall Street – Jesse Livermore – died a suicide.

The president of the Bank of International Settlements – Leon Fraser – died a suicide.

All of these men learned well the art of

Making money, but none of them

LEARNED HOW TO LIVE.

When I had finished reading these very stirring accounts of famous men, Lugosi said: “Don – happiness to me is contentment, and spending money gives me contentment.”

Such was the philosophy of Bela Lugosi…the only man I ever knew who lived life to the fullest.

The entry for Don Marlowe, Inc. in the 1948 edition of The Production Encyclopedia stated that Bela was represented as both an actor and a writer by Marlowe.

Don Marlowe promotional poster

Don Marlowe  promotional material

Ccourtesy of University of North Texas Libraries, Hardin-Simmons University Library , Abilene, Texas.

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When Dracula Did Jersey…

Bela Lugosi On The Stage

When Dracula Did Jersey…

I was contacted last week by Lisa Rose, a feature writer for the Star-Ledger newspaper in New Jersey. She was working on a feature about Bela Lugosi’s summer stock New Jersey tour stops in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Her article, reproduced in full below, featuring quotes from Frank Dello Stritto, Bela Lugosi Jr., and Arthur Lennig, was published in The Star-Ledger on Friday, October 14, 2011. You can view the original article at: http://www.nj.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2011/10/when_dracula_did_jersey.html

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The Star-Ledger, October 14, 2011

When Dracula Did Jersey…

By Lisa Rose

lugosi1.JPG

Bela Lugosi, who won fame in “Dracula” (1931), performed in New Jersey, with shows in Trenton (above) and Newark (below).

Eyeing necks and stretching syllables, Bela Lugosi established himself as a Hollywood horror giant in 1931 with “Dracula.”

The Hungarian actor reveled in the dark romance of the role, delivering a portrayal that continues to influence depictions of lonely immortals, from “Twilight” to “True Blood.”

Lugosi’s monster movies are legend, but lesser known are his travels as a live performer. The star lurked around New Jersey stages during his pre-vampire days and toured the local summer stock circuit after fangs went out of fashion post-WWII.

Between Tinseltown and Transylvania, the Garden State is spattered with Lugosi landmarks.

The classically trained actor joined a Hungarian drama troupe in Newark after immigrating to the United States in 1920. His English-language stage debut was in Atlantic City at the now-closed Apollo Theatre. Lugosi led the cast as a conquistador named Fernando during a test run for a 1922 off-Broadway play, “The Red Poppy.”

When the drama moved to a downtown Manhattan theater, the New York Times noted: “Bela Lugosi is a newcomer of quite splendid mien, romantically handsome and young. Hungarian though he is said to be, he looks every inch the Spanish pirate of romance.”

Later in his career, he returned to the Jersey footlights in traveling productions of the black comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace.” On stages in Trenton, Newark and Landing, he vamped in a role that poked fun at his own murderous movie persona. (Boris Karloff created the character on Broadway).

Film historian Frank Dello Stritto says Jersey audiences of the era saw a different side of the actor, a man who knew little of vampires before first embracing the cape on Broadway in October 1927.

“He would bring nuances into roles that movies couldn’t capture,” says Stritto, co-author of “Vampire over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain.” “There was no time to get a great performance out of him in some of the cheaper movies he made. People like me write about his films as great events, but they would be just a week out of his life sometimes.”

lugosi2.JPG

Writer and film professor Arthur Lennig saw Lugosi onstage in “Arsenic” and in a revival of “Dracula.”

“I fell in love,” says Lennig, author of “The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi.”

Lennig continues, “I’m a heterosexual, but I fell in love. He was aristocratic, aloof, mysterious. He was seemingly more intelligent than other people. He had all those arrogant qualities that are so ingrained in me. He just had that image of a bad guy. If he worked at the local candy store, he would look like he was handing out poisoned chocolates.”

Lugosi’s son, Bela Jr., vividly remembers visiting Lake Hopatcong during an “Arsenic” tour in July 1949. Father and son bonded while boating, sinking paddles into the blue on a perfect summer day.

“It was my first experience canoeing,” says Bela Jr., 73, a lawyer in Los Angeles, who is working on a book with Lugosi scholar Gary D. Rhodes. “I was upsetting my father a bit because I kept rocking the canoe and he thought we were going to tip over.”

The actor’s last Garden State jaunt was considerably less idyllic as his health declined and his marriage fell apart. Film gigs were scarce during the tail end of the Truman years, when aliens and robots eclipsed vampires and zombies on the big screen.

“The industry died in terms of old-time horror films,” says Lennig. “They were making films about giant ants or giant rabbits, atomic bombs. The mad scientist working in his basement, that was gone. It was over. The conventional horror films, even the bad ones, they weren’t making.”

Six years before Lugosi died at age 73, he struggled to win over a new generation of cynics with an ill-fated revue. The “Big Horror & Magic Show” premiered on Dec. 26, 1950, at the RKO Capitol Theatre in Trenton and closed abruptly at the Stanley Theater in Camden on March 15, 1951.

The Gothic spectacle promised chills with 13 vignettes featuring a “carload of scenery.” Advertisements screamed “See vampire maidens and voodoo magic! See the bat man and the monster in death struggle! See a beautiful girl burned alive! See ghosts, goblins and imps of darkness fly through the air!”

Lugosi initially got a hero’s welcome in Trenton. The mayor handed him the key to the city. The actor was a special guest at a Christmas celebration hosted by the Trenton Evening Times, which printed a photo of him in a Santa suit surrounded by paperboys.

For all its promise of eeriness, the “Horror & Magic” presentation was built around a sketch co-starring Lugosi and an actor in a gorilla costume.

“The audience was wise-assed teenagers who wanted to see whether they’d get scared or not,” says Lennig. “A lot of the people who showed up didn’t even know who he was. The teenagers weren’t scared, so they started hooting. Bela wasn’t a quick responder who could play with it. He’d pause until the audience settled down. When the catcalls stopped, he went on with it until there were more catcalls and he’d stop again. It was humiliating.”

 STAR-LEDGER FILE PHOTO
Bela Lugosi Jr., son of the actor that created ‘Dracula’ on the silver screen, displays a picture of his famous dad in his Glendale, Calif., office Thursday, Sept. 25, 1997.

New medium

A preview story for the “Horror & Magic Show” included a Lugosi quote. He declared that the introduction of television was creating new challenges for performers who specialized in ghoulish characters.

“When you walk right into a person’s living room through the medium of his television screen, you have to use the subtle approach,” Lugosi said. “The old-fashioned horror actor would evoke nothing but gales of laughter.”

The tour lurched from Trenton to Paterson to Newark before its final night in Camden, where the crowd was particularly hostile. Lugosi never performed on the East Coast again. He left for England, trying to make a comeback at age 68, dusting off his coffin and cape to revive his signature role on the British stage. The goal was for “Dracula” to play the West End in London, but the road show sputtered in provincial venues.

“For a man his age, touring was tough,” says Stritto. “And this was postwar England. The train system was just starting to get back in shape. The trip really drained him. He wasn’t able to work onstage like that again. He went straight back to the West Coast, and that’s where he spent his remaining five years.”

Back in Hollywood, Lugosi got work from an ambitious fan, Ed Wood, who recruited the aging star to play a doctor in the sex-change tale, “Glen or Glenda.” They teamed up again for a no-budget thriller, “Bride of the Monster.” Footage of Lugosi turned up in the sci-fi flop, “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” released three years after he died of a heart attack in 1956.

The making of the misguided films was chronicled in the 1994 biopic “Ed Wood,” starring Johnny Depp as the title character and an Oscar-winning Martin Landau as Lugosi.

Bela Jr. feels his father was inaccurately portrayed in the movie.

“He wasn’t alone,” says Bela. “There were a lot of things in the ‘Ed Wood’ that are not true, and that’s just one of them.”

Lennig says the film inaccurately depicts Lugosi’s sentences with expletives. In real life, the actor did not swear, according to multiple historians.

Still, the picture moved Lennig to tears.

“I wasn’t crying, I was sobbing,” says Lennig. “Bela was very serious about acting, but he had that accent and he was so identifiable as Dracula. To be narrowed down to just being a spooky man is limiting. Somebody said to him, ‘In all of your movies, you’re always dying.’ He said, ‘Well, dying is a living.’ ”

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Related articles

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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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Related articles

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Three Tales – One Story by Frank J. Dello Stritto.

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

Mystery of the Gráf Tisza Istvan: Bela Lugosi Arrives in America by Frank J. Dello Stritto.

Bela Lugosi: No Traveler Returns (The Lost Years 1945 – 1951): A Forthcoming Book By Bill Kaffenberger And Gary D. Rhodes

Bela Lugosi: No Traveler Returns (The Lost Years 1945 – 1951) is the tentative title for a new book currently being prepared by Bill Kaffenberger and Gary D. Rhodes. Containing a wealth of previously unpublished material, the book promises to be a treasure trove for Lugosi fans. The authors have unearthed details about many previously undocumented stage, radio and personal appearance made by Lugosi between 1945, when his Hollywood career started to fail, and 1951, when he and Lillian boarded the S.S. Mauretania in search of a comeback in a revival tour of Dracula in Britain. 

Gary D. Rhodes, the author of Bela Lugosi – Dreams and Nightmares, Lugosi: His Life in Films, on Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers and White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film, is already familiar to Lugosi fans, but Bill Kaffenberger is a relatively new name in the field of Lugosi research. I asked Bill to provide some background information on himself and the new book.

Bill Kaffenberger

I was born in Washington DC and raised in Northern Virginia.  I grew up in the era when Shock Theater and horror movie hosts first came to prominence on television in the late 1950s.  After seeing “Scared to Death” on a local TV station, I instantly became a fan of Bela Lugosi specifically and old fashioned “monster pictures” in general. From that start my interest in classic 1930s and 1940s films also developed. 

Bela and Ian Keith in the ill-fated 1945 play No Traveler Returns. Keith was considered by Universal for the role of Dracula in the 1931 film and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein

In the turbulent times of the 1960s, I was more interested in reading “monster magazines” such as Famous Monsters of Filmland than in protest marches.  My best friend was a huge Boris Karloff fan.  Because there was so little detailed information about their film and stage work, other than what little could be gleaned from the monster magazines, the two of us made many a trek to the Washington DC Central Library to do research in their holdings of old Motion Picture Almanacs, Film Daily Yearbooks, and microfilmed publications.  Thus the idea of researching the details of Bela Lugosi’s career started early for me. But sometimes other things get in the way. I went off to college and earned a degree in English Education and at the same time expanded my growing interest in folk and folk-rock music.  To make a living, I was a budget analyst by day and a musician by night, performing in various venues up and down the East Coast during the 1970s and 1980s and releasing several music CDs of original material in recent years.  Still, I retained a keen interest in Lugosi and his films, scooping up as many VHS videos as I could when that format came into vogue and then, naturally, replacing them with DVDs when they became available.

Bela with spook show magician Bill Neff in 1947

Occasionally still doing film research at the Library of Congress, I happened to come across three Universal newsreels that Bela Lugosi appeared in that apparently had never been catalogued in any of the books and magazine articles about Bela.  Around that same time, Gary Rhodes was starting up his World of Bela Lugosi magazine.  I shared my finds with Gary at that time and he invited me to begin writing occasional articles about Lugosi for his magazine.

The Tell-Tale Heart, 1947

Although we have only met face to face once or twice, at one of the monster movie conventions held in the Washington DC area, Gary and I have kept in touch via email and the occasional phone call over the years.  With the advent of the digitization and online availability of archival newspapers and magazines over the past five years or so, I began doing serious Lugosi research again.  When I would find something new, such as the fact that Lugosi appeared in a successful week of “Dracula” in St. Petersburg, Florida in early 1950, I would share that information with Gary in hopes that he could use it in his work. During 2010, due to the quantity and quality of new information about Lugosi’s career that I was finding, I started my first real blog, Bela Lugosi: The Nomad Years and began publishing some of the information I had found.  Still in touch with Gary, he invited me to write a series of magazine articles with him, incorporating some of the new found data about Bela.  That soon morphed into an idea of writing another book about Lugosi.  Thus the project that Gary and I are working on now.

 

 The Bela Lugosi Company in Miami in 1948

The book is tentatively entitled “Bela Lugosi: No Traveler Returns (The Lost Years 1945 – 1951)”.   We intend the focus to be on the causes and results of Lugosi’s fading film career, his three prominent and noble but failed attempts to return to prominence (two plays and one film), and, as well, a much closer and more detailed look at his summer stock performances, his various nightclub acts and personal appearances and his vaudeville shows than has been done previously.   Between Gary’s research and mine, we have come up with quite a few surprises that we believe will satisfy the Bela Lugosi fans in particular and classic horror film buffs in general.  While I wouldn’t want to give away the punch line as the old saying goes, I will say that we have uncovered multiple previously undocumented performances, interviews, advertisements and related data that will go a long way towards filling in the information gaps that exist regarding Lugosi’s non-Hollywood career.

  

A 1950 Spook Show

Our plan is to begin the book around the time he was doing NO TRAVELER RETURNS in California and Washington state and end the book at the time Bela and Lillian boarded the ship to go to England to revive the DRACULA play. At present, we are working on the text, plan to secure a publisher before the end of the year, and hope for as early a publication date as possible in 2012.  We will keep everyone up to date as things develop during the coming months.

Bat Head 2

UPDATE

The book has now been published under the title of No Traveller Returns: The Lost Years of Bela Lugosi and is available at: http://www.bearmanormedia.com/

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Related Pages

Bela Lugosi On The Radio 

Bela Lugosi On The Stage 

Bela Lugosi On TV