Actor and Illusionist Eric Lidsay Dies at 91

Eric Lindsay

1929-2021

The actor and illusionist Eric Lindsay peacefully passed away at midday on Friday, June 18 at the Royal Free Hospital in London after a short illness. He was 91. Eric had the distinction of being the last actor to play Renfield opposite Bela Lugosi when they toured the UK in a revival tour of Dracula from from April 30 – October 13, 1951.

Born within the sound of Bow Bells in London’s City Road Hospital on November 13th, 1929, Eric discovered that he had the theatre in his blood at an early age. Making his first tentative steps onto the stage in a Salvation Army production of Aida while still a schoolboy, Eric went onto enjoy a long and varied career in the entertainment industry.

At the height of the Blitz during the Second World War, Eric Joined the Angel Players at the age of 12 before being accepted at the Marion Ross Drama School. He made his professional debut at the age of 17 as Octavious in The Barretts of Wimpole Street with the Barnstable Repertory Company in Devon. In 1949, he got his first big break when he played opposite Ruth Dunning as Dude in the West End production of Tobacco Road. During the play’s run at the Playhouse Theatre, Eric caught the eye of French director Henri Marchal, who invited him to France, where he appeared in the kitchen sink drama Metro Pigalle. On his return to England, Eric found that far from enhancing his reputation, his year in France merely meant that he had lost ground through his absence from the English stage.

Eric and Ruth Dunning in the West End production of Tobacco Road

In 1951, he won the role of Renfield in Dracula. With the prospect of a West End run with a Hollywood star, it seemed the ideal vehicle to get his career back on track. When I interviewed in 1997, he described the part as “the best role apart from his (Lugosi’s) in the play. It was a gift, because although the roles of Dracula and Renfield are the smallest in the play, whenever we were not on stage they are talking about us.” Throughout the tour, Eric’s performance drew an enthusiastic response from audiences and praise from critics across the country. Of Bela Lugosi, he said, “The man was a star. He was a gentleman in every way. He was great and very funny. He was generous in all ways.”

Eric as Renfield and Arthur Hosking as Van Helsing in Dracula

Through a combination of bad luck and under financing, the production never made it to the West End. It toured the provinces for six months waiting for an opening in a West End theatre, but the rigours of life on the road and twice-daily performances took a heavy toll upon the 68-year-old Bela Lugosi. Exhausted, he told producer John C. Mather, “John, I can’t go on, it’s taking too much out of me. Please finish it quickly.” With his irreplaceable star unable to continue, Mather brought the tour to an end. After a few weeks recuperation, Lugosi filmed the horror spoof Mother Riley Meets the Vampire before returning to America. As for Eric, it was back to the typical life of a jobbing actor. Periods of work were punctuated by non-theatrical jobs to make ends meet while trying to secure a new role. While “resting”, Eric filled in as a salesman for non-slip floor polish at the Ideal Home Exhibition and a ladies hairdresser. His dream had been to break into films, but with little prospect of making progress, he decided to use the money he had earned from Dracula on a new venture.

With his partner, the theatre and film actor Ray Jackson, Eric decided to invest in on the 1950s coffee bar boom. The couple opened the Heaven and Hell coffee bar next door to the famous 2I’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street in the Soho area of London. The 2I’s featured live music in the basement and was a training ground for future successful British skiffle and rock ‘n’ roll musicians. Heaven and Hell had a Heaven theme on the ground floor and a Hell theme in the basement. Despite the success of Heaven and Hell and a second coffee bar called The Regency Coffee Bar, Eric continued acting on stage and television. In 1956, he played Antoine in the Antoine and Antoinette episode of The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a television series starring Marius Goring in the title role.

Eric in The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel

In 1958, Eric and Ray took advantage of a new law which allowed striptease to be performed in private members clubs. They opened the Casino de Paris at 5-7 Denman Street, Piccadilly Circus. W.1, one of London’s first strip clubs. The club was a sensational success, prompting Eric to retire from acting to devote himself full-time to the club’s management. When the lease on the building which housed the club expired in 1977, Eric decided that it was time to embark upon the next stage next stage in his colourful career.

During the Dracula tour, Bela Lugosi had told Eric that he had “the eyes of a magician.” Lugosi’s words proved to be prophetic. The shows at the Casino De Paris had often featured magicians, including the first nude male magician, Malcolm Vadell. It was at this time that Eric met the celebrated magician Robert Harbin. Under his guidance, Eric bid farewell to the Casino de Paris and began a career as an illusionist. Under the name of Zee and Co., Eric enjoyed great success in the UK, both on the stage and TV, and in Las Vegas. Eric’s act featured Scorpio, a leopard which he and Ray had raised from a two-week-old cub after it was abandoned by its mother. The magic circle described Zee and Co. as the greatest illusion show in the UK. After appearing at the London Palladium, Eric took the act to America in 1982. He performed at the Sheraton Bal Harbour Hotel in Miami for 6 months, Las Vegas, where he rented Juliet Prowse’s house for a year, and the Reno Hilton as Entertainer of the Month.  The Miami Sun-Tattler reported that he was “as impressive as his American, David Copperfield and Doug Henning.” After America, he toured Europe.

Eric as Zee

While starring in review built around Zee and Co. at the Scala Melia Castilla in Madrid, Eric and Ray decided to move permanently to Spain and build their own villa in Marbella for themselves and their parents. By the time that the lengthy construction was finished, a series of tragedies had change the course of Eric’s life. Both his and Ray’s parents died and on October 25th, 1989, Ray himself died prematurely at the age of 58. While living alone, depressed and drinking heavily, in the large empty villa, one final tragedy unfolded. On October 18th,1991, Scorpio the leopard attacked Eric, seriously damaging his neck and had to be put down. Eric blamed himself. He could no longer live with his memories in Spain and moved back to London, where I met him in 1997 to interview him for Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain. As for his career as an illusionist, Eric said, “After Ray died I never really properly worked again. It was as though all my amazing luck had gone.”

Eric eventually retired to Thailand. During this time he began a popular blog, which recounted the many adventures of his colourful life and indulged in his love of travel. He occasionally emerged from retirement to perform again as Zee and Co. His last public engagement was in a command performance for the Sultan of Dubai in 2001.

I last met Eric when he dropped into Tokyo and spent a few days with my family in 2011. Three years ago, he returned to the UK and spent his contented final years living at the historic Charterhouse in London. Although a very sprightly and active nonagenarian, his penchant for travel was checked by the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in him spending most of his last year in reflection and corresponding with his many friends around the globe.

It would take the average person several lifetimes to pack in the adventures and achievements which Eric chalked up during the course of his remarkable life. But despite all of that, Eric’s greatest achievement was to simply be a wonderful human being. He enriched the lives of so many people, mine included, earning in return their fierce, undying loyalty. He will be truly missed by all who were lucky enough to have known him. (Andi Brooks)

Related articles

From A To Zee: Eric Lindsay, Bela Lugosi’s Last Renfield, Interviewed by Andi Brooks

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

Big Bad Bela: An Interview With Bela Lugosi

Picture Play July 1934

 

Picture Play, July 1934

Published in the July, 1934 issue of Picture Play, “Big Bad Bela” followed a by-then established format for interviews with Bela Lugosi. In an obligatory set-up, a shuddering reporter fearfully anticipates coming face-to-face with the living embodiment of the horrific characters the actor had become famous for portraying. When the two actually meet, Lugosi is either portrayed as living up to the reporter’s expectations by relating an allegedly true dark and mysterious episode from his life or, as in the case of  Big Bad Bela, as actually being an urbane and charming individual. Writer Joe Mackey spoils his own set-up by revealing that any fears he may have had about Lugosi had already been dispelled when the two met earlier in the year after a performance of Murder at the Vanities in New York. On that occasion the actor proved that he was both “human and humane” by his kindness towards a young disabled fan.

Another staple of interviews with Lugosi, and one which would continue for the rest of his life, was the actor lamenting his typing as a “heavy” and the Hollywood system’s reluctance to allow him to demonstrate the versatility he had displayed as an actor in his early career. Although he was occasionally given the opportunity to appear in non-heavy roles, they were inevitably as supporting characters rather than the starring roles which he craved. Perhaps his career would have taken a much more artistically satisfying direction if he had been prepared to turn his back on the starring roles in the horror films he claimed to despise and instead carve out a niche as a character actor. His unwillingness or inability to do this may have stemmed from something more than just his reluctance to relinquish his star status. Lugosi’s financial footing was always precarious. He was forced to file for bankruptcy at the height of his stardom in 1932. His need for ready cash led to him accepting every role which he was offered. Despite this, he continued to live for the day with little or no thought for the future, a philosophy he would come to rue. During a bleak period of unemployment during the late 1930s, Lugosi lost his house and was forced to apply for financial assistance from the Actors’ Fund when his son was born in 1938. 

That scenario would have been  unimaginable in early 1934. At the time of Joe Mackey’s interview, The Black Cat, Universal’s first star pairing of Lugosi with Boris Karloff, was about to be released. The film would be the studio’s biggest box office hit of the year. With Universal already talking about teaming him with Karloff in two further films, The Suicide Club (which was never made) and The Return of Frankenstein (which was filmed as The Bride of Frankenstein without him), the future must have looked very bright for Big Bad Bela Lugosi.

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Close up Portrait of Bela LugosiHa, Count Dracula himself giving you the evil eye! But don’t be fooled. He’d rather play Don Quixote or something jolly so you can see him as he is in the larger photo.

BIG BAD BELA

By Joe MacKey

Lugosi, the screen madman and ogre, is tracked to his home and found to be a humorous, good-natured chap with a pretty wife and three pampered pups.

LUGOSI, the fiend!

I anticipated our meeting with forebodings. Although Lugosi’s residence in Manhattan was a modern apartment house, not even remotely resembling his Castle Dracula, I was certain that the interior would shame a sorcerer’s chambers.

With a vision in my mind of Bela, the master of terror who has chilled millions with his screen demons, I pictured rooms with heavy black hangings, skulls perched atop the piano, and a host barely able to restrain himself from leaping at my throat.

When my fearful forefinger touched the bell, a tall genial gentleman ushered me into a cheery suite of rooms. Surely this was not the home of the weird Bela Lugosi! (Pronounced Bayla Lu-go-see.)

Bela stood looking down at me. The features were those of the man who has raised the blood pressure and lowered the sleeping average of the nation, but the expression was actually benevolent. Benevolence on the face of Count Dracula was an amazing sight.

The Hungarian actor is a muscular chap with twinkling, intelligent blue eyes and an attitude that puts one at ease immediately. There are lines on his face, but they are not from the scowls of monsters. They are from smiling.

And strangely enough, the man who has become celebrated as a film madman and ogre ardently dislikes horror in all its forms. He would rather play Romeo or Don Quixote or comedy parts than creeping menaces.

He describes himself as a heavy by circumstance, not by nature. He bemoans his screen fate and says, “I am definitely typed, doomed to be an exponent of evil. But I want sympathetic roles. Then perhaps parents would tell their offspring, “Eat your spinach and you’ll grow up to be a nice man like Bela Lugosi.” As it is, they threaten their children with me instead of the bogy-man.

“This typing is overdone. I can play varied roles, but whenever some nasty man is wanted to romp through a picture with a wicked expression and numerous lethal devices, Lugosi is suggested. Why, they even wanted to cast me as the Big Bad Wolf in ‘The Three Little Pigs’!”

Big Bad Bela 2

The actor’s tastes are in no way as outré as his film parts would lead one to believe. an example of his quite normal – and quite excellent – taste is Mrs. Lugosi. I had expected to meet an exotic with Machiavelian eyebrows and all the characteristics of a female Dracula, but she proved to be a charming. cultured woman who seems scarcely beyond her teens.

He is too busy for many hobbies but is an animal lover and is devoted to his dogs, Pluto, Hector, and Bodri, which he raised from pups. When his favorite, Dracula, a black Alaskan husky, died he could not work for days,

He is not a movie fan but chooses Mickey Mouse as his favorite screen player.

He considers his portrayal as Cyrano de Bergerac in the Royal National Theater in Budapest his best stage work, and the part that skyrocketed him to fame, that of the vampire count in “Dracula,” best of his film impersonations.

I asked him if he, not being a horror addict, could explain the continued demand for horror pictures.

Lugosi laughed, not the bone-chilling rasp of his movie self, but a pleasant chuckle. “Although I do not relish having my hair stand on end, the popularity of horror pictures is understandable. The screen is the ideal medium for the presentation of gruesome tales. With settings and camera angles alone, the suspense that s so essential in this type of story can be built up.

“Supernatural themes, if deftly handled, are better entertainment for the average moviegoer than love stories or comedies. They are unusual, unique – a departure from hackneyed formula. And they have an almost universal appeal.”

Bela began his movie career in the pretalkie days of 1923, as the villain in “The Silent Command,” and has been playing increasingly heavy heavies ever since.

His current role is opposite that other film fiend, Boris Karloff, in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat.” Following this it is planned to costar the two in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Suicide Club,” and “The Return of Frankenstein.”

“Incidentally,” said Lugosi, “I was originally signed as the monster in “Frankenstein,” but I convinced the studio that the part did not have meat enough.”

It was this role that made Boris Karloff his principal rival for the throne of King of Horror.

Lugosi, however, considers Karloff primarily a make-up artist, and a man inwardly too gentle and kind to be suited for grisly portrayals.

It is an interesting fact that Bela Lugosi was born in Lugos, Hungary, not far from the district where, in bygone centuries, vampires had been horrific realities to the peasants, and more than once a stake had been driven through the heart of a supposed member of the Undead.

One of Bela’s ancestors was the first to settle in Lugos which grew into a thriving village and even today retains the family name of its first citizen.

In New York when he was starring in “Murder at the Vanities” I visited him unexpectedly. A little incident backstage, which he never dreamed would reach print, revealed the true Lugosi.

A youthful paralytic had been waiting to see his idol, Bela, at the stage door. Some one told him after the show and he immediately had the lad carried to his dressing-room. He not only introduced the boy to members of the cast and autographed a photo, but broke a dinner engagement to stay and talk with him. And when the crippled fan left, he told Bela he was no longer just a shadow on celluloid, but a wonderful man. And he meant it.

Lugosi! Human and humane to a fault. I had heard of a huge bat ring with ruby eyes that had been presented to him by the “Dracula” cast, and asked to see it.

“Oh, my ring. Some one stole it.” His eyes became sad for a moment. “I loved that ring. But if whoever has it now will get more pleasure from it than I did, he is welcome to it.”

That is typical of the man who wants to forget horror, and the vampires of Transylvania, the zombies of Hati, voodoo doctors, monsters, maniac scientists, and live here as an American citizen.

And what do you think is the ambition of this premier fiend? It is, in his own words, “To own a dude ranch and live a natural, simple, wholesome life.”

Lugosi – the man!

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NotesPicture Play, July 1934 3

Joe Mackey’s interview contains several inaccuracies:

The Silent Command was Lugosi’s first American film, but he began his film career in Hungary in 1917. See Bela Lugosi Filmography for a complete list of all of his known films.

The Hungarian town of Lugos was not named after one of Bela Lugosi’s ancestors. Born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó, his stage name was derived from that of his home town.

Picture Play, July 1934 4

Bela Lugosi and Dracula Return To The Big Screen

Dracula Double Bill 2Bela Lugosi will return to cinemas in his signature role in a Dracula double feature on October 25th and 28th. Part of the “TCM Presents” series, the presentation of both the 1931 English and Spanish language versions of Dracula will give fans a unique chance to see the two films side by side on the big screen.

Both versions were shot on the same sets with the same script. Director Tod Browning filmed the English language version during the day, while director George Melford, who did not speak Spanish, shot the Spanish language version through the night.

It was common practice for Hollywood studios to produce foreign language versions of their films in the early days of sound production, but many of these alternative versions are now considered lost. Melford’s Dracula was itself thought lost until a print was discovered in the 1970s and restored.

Dracula Edward Van Sloan and Bela LugosiEdward Van Sloan and Bela Lugosi in the English language Dracula

Although Bela Lugosi’s performance is acclaimed as the definitive portrayal of the vampire Count Dracula, Melford’s film is considered superior to Browning’s by many critics. While Carlos Villarías, who was encouraged to imitate Lugosi, was unable to match Bela Lugosi’s performance, the Spanish crew were able to create a more artistic film by studying Browning’s dailies and trying to use better camera angles and more effective lighting. Interestingly, the Spanish language version contains some long shots of Bela Lugosi and some alternate takes from the English version. Lupita Tovar, the female star of the Spanish language version of Dracula is, at 105, perhaps the last living connection to Universal’s twin productions of Dracula.

Spanish DraculaCarlos Villarías and Lupita Tovar in the Spanish language Dracula

Dracula was re-released several times during Bela Lugosi’s lifetime. The actor himself claimed in a 1952 TV interview that it was “the only picture in existence in all the world…which seems to be revived in every city in America every year.” Its most spectacular revival came in 1938 when it was re-released as a double feature with Frankenstein. The pairing caused such a sensation that Universal rushed Son of Frankenstein into production, ushering in a new cycle of horror films and restoring the career of Bela Lugosi, who had found himself practically unemployable when horror films fell out of fashion a few years earlier.

The Dracula double feature will be screened in select cinemas at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time on both days. For details of participating cinemas and to purchase tickets, please visit fathomevents.com

Dracula Double Bill 1

Dracula double feature trailer

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1947 Dracula Re-release Insert Poster Sells For $13,000

Dracula 1947 Re-release Insert Posternknown Universal re-release insert previously unknown Universal re-release insert

A “previously unknown” insert poster for the 1947 re-release of Dracula has sold for $13,000 at auction in the United States. With a starting price of $4,000, the striking unrestored  35 ½” x 14” black and white poster exceeded the pre-sale estimate of $8,000 -10,000 in the Potter & Potter Auctions sale. Described as “remarkably well-preserved, in bright unfolded condition with full margins, insignificant pinholes and chips at corners, and toning at edges. A-,” the poster was bought by a private collector who said, “Very grateful to have won this piece. I’ll keep it as is till my time as its custodian comes to pass.”

There were several other Lugosi items in the auction:

The Ape Man Lobby CardA single lobby card for the 1943 film The Ape Man sold for $175.

Human Monster Lobby CardA single lobby card for The Human Monster, the American release titles for Lugosi’s 1939 British film Dark Eyes of London, sold for $150.

Murder By Television Lobby CardA single lobby card for the 1935 film Murder by Television sold for $200.

The Return of Chandu Episode 2 Title Card

Three lots featuring various lobby cards for the 1934 serial The Return of Chandu sold for $150 (five cards from episode 2), $80 (2 cards from episode 3) and $200 (ten cards from various episodes).

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

Vampire Over London 2nd Edition

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

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

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

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

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

Raph WilsonRalph Wilson

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

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

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

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

Such generosity from a star particularly impressed Joyce. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vampire Over London 2nd Edition

Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain 2nd Edition

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

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

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

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Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Related Pages

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

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

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

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

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

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

An Encounter With Bela Lugosi by Roy Tomlinson

When Bela Lugosi Came To Britain

When Dracula Invaded England

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

VOL Jacket

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

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

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

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

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

Vampire Over London 2nd Edition

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

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

Bat Head 3 Reviews for the first edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Related Pages

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

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

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

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

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

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

An Encounter With Bela Lugosi by Roy Tomlinson

When Bela Lugosi Came To Britain

When Dracula Invaded England

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

Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Bela Lugosi photographed by Editta Sherman

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

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

Joan Winmill

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

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

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

Guy Middleton and Joan Winmill

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

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

Harringay Arena 1954

Harringay Arena in 1954 (courtesy of lettersfromthelibrary.com)

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

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No Longer Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Related Pages

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

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

When Bela Lugosi Came To Britain

BBC ARTS magazine

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

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

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

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

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

Bela and leading lady Sheila Wynn at the Lewisham Hippodrome

Bela Lugosi and Sheila Wynn at the Lewisham Hippodrome in 1951

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

Sheila Wynn

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

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Related Posts and Pages

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

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

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

When Dracula Invaded England

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

Bela Lugosi’s Clara Bow Nude Painting Sells For $30,000 At Auction.

Clara Bow Nude

Prominently displayed in each of his homes from when it was painted in 1929 until his death in 1956, Bela Lugosi’s nude oil painting of actress Clara Bow sold at Bonhams in New York for $30,000 on November 25th, 2013.

Until being announced as lot 138W in Bonhams’ “What Dreams Are Made Of: A Century of Movie Magic at Auction as Curated by TCM” auction, the whereabouts of the 37 3/4 x 33 1/2 inch canvas had remained a mystery since being sold by Lugosi’s widow, the former Hope Lininger, to an undisclosed art dealer before she moved to Hawaii in 1976. It is now known to have passed through at least two private collections during its “lost” years.

Lugosi commissioned his friend and fellow-Hungarian Geza Kende to paint the portrait as a memento of his brief affair with Bow, who kept a signed photo of Lugosi until her death. Despite their relationship making headlines in November 1929 when Lugosi’s third wife, Beatrice Weeks, told a reporter about it after filing suit for divorce, very few details of it are actually known.

Lot 587

This photo from Lugosi’s estate sold for $1,000 at the Icons of Hollywood auction at Profiles in History on December 16th, 2011. The catalogue described Kende’s portrait as the “infamous nude painting of  Clara Bow.”

Lugosi and Bow first met backstage after a performance of Dracula during its eight-week run at the Biltmore Theatre in Los Angeles sometime between June 24 and August 18th, 1928.  The meeting was recalled by Bow’s friend, the actor Jack Oakie, in his autobiography, Jack Oakie’s Double Takes. 

‘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.

Clara Bow In Dancing Mothers 1926

Is it? Isn’t it? Despite disagreement on the identity of the model in Geza Kende’s painting, she bears a striking resemblance to Clara Bow as seen in this publicity still for Dancing Mothers, 1926

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.’

Neither the depth nor the length of their relationship is known. Lugosi is said to have shown off scratches on his body which he bragged were inflicted by Bow during their lovemaking. Beatrice Weeks, whose disastrous marriage to Lugosi effectively ended after only four and a half days, told a reporter from The Daily Mirror that Lugosi had confided that he and Bow had become engaged during their relationship, but had decided to spend a year apart to test the strength of their relationship and would marry after the divorce was finalized. There is no evidence to support Lugosi’s alleged claims.

The only account we have of Lugosi and Bow together after their first meeting comes from Bow biographer David Stenn in his biography Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild, in which he writes of Lugosi being invited to stay at Bow’s Malibu cottage one weekend. Upon his arrival, it was discovered that every bedroom was already occupied by other guests. One of the female guests gave up her room to him and moved in with Bow. In whose room Bow actually spent the night is unrecorded.

Clara Bow Nude postcard

A willow nude? Clara Bow in the flesh.

Despite the fact that Bow had previously posed nude for photographs and had appeared semi-nude on screen, it is not thought that she posed for Kend, who also painted an impressive full-length painting of Lugosi in the early 1930s. There is also nothing to suggest that she was even aware of the existence of the portrait, which was painted after whatever relationship they may have had was over. It has been suggested that the image was in fact conjured up from Lugosi’s memory, which may explain why several commentators have stated that it is not a painting of Bow and actually looks nothing like her.

Whatever the truth of the identity of the model, described as “a willow nude” by reporter Bob Thomas when he interviewed Lugosi at his home in October 1953, the memories Lugosi associated with the painting remained potent enough for him to compel his next two wives to live under its gaze for the duration of their marriages.

Clara Bow Nude in Lugosi HomeLugosi, Bela Jr. and fourth wife Lillian pose under the watchful gaze of Clara Bow

What could have driven him to have kept this memento of a distant brief affair on open display when married to other women? Maybe writer Adele Rogers St. John had the answer when she wrote of Bow’s effect on men, “When men fall in love with Clara Bow, they go a bit mad.” Perhaps Lugosi’s madness for Bow, like Dracula’s grip on his life and career, never ended. (Andi Brooks)

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Related articles

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

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

Derek's autographed Photograph

Derek’s signed photograph

It was sometime in the afternoon of Friday the 14th of September , 1951, possibly 2 or 3 o’clock, when I first saw the poster for Dracula on an advertising board. The venue was the Hippodrome Theatre in Derby. The Hippodrome was formerly a cinema which was converted to a stage theatre and later, regrettably, a bingo hall. Having seen the play advertised, I was rather thrilled about it because I had seen a couple of Bela Lugosi’s earlier films.

Although I was underage to see a film with an ‘H’ certification, my aunty’s ex-boyfriend happened to be the manager of a cinema in Derby, now long-demolished. All I had to do if I wanted to see a film was to have a word with him and he would let me in. I saw three of Bela Lugosi’s films, and I was rather taken with the technique of the actor and the characters he played. Even at that young age I had a keenness for the arts.

It would have been during the first performance of the night, commencing at 6.10pm, on Wednesday the 19th of September that I decided to go to the theatre and, hopefully, obtain the autograph of Bela Lugosi. It took a little bit of courage, being of such a young age I did not know what to expect. I was very apprehensive. I knew that I would either be rejected at the stage door or the book would be taken from my hand, taken to him to be signed and then returned. Alternatively, I might catch a glimpse of him, as I had done with other celebrities from time to time, and hopefully attract his attention and ask for his autograph.

Newspaper Advertisement

As it happened, my arrival coincided with the end of one act of the three act play. I suspect it would have been soon after act two. I knocked at the stage door rather loudly. Realising that more than the stage door attendant might have heard my loud knocking, I then started to knock more gently. Eventually, the door was opened by a rather tall lady. I was rather diminutive at the time – I was only about four feet tall. She was quite tall and slim, maybe in her late 30s or early 40s. Her hair was of the fashion we now call afro,. Very, very curly! I was rather taken aback by her. She seemed a very daunting figure. I don’t know who she was. She said, “Yes?”

“I’m very sorry to trouble you,” I said in my usual very polite way, “but is it possible you would kindly ask Mr. Lugosi if he would give me his autograph?” I held out my autograph book.

There was a moment’s silence when I thought, “I’m going to be told to clear off.” A big smile spread across her face and she said, “Yes! Would you like to step inside?”

I went up three steps and stood with my back to the wall by the door as she closed it.

“If you would like to wait here, you must be very quiet. I will have a word with Mr. Lugosi and ask if he will sign your autograph book,” she said before going off.

Derby Programme CoverCoverof the Derby programme

Needless to say, I became extremely nervous. Not because here was one of the greatest of all creatures ever written about, a vampire called Dracula, but because I was rather in awe of this personality I had only seen on film. As I waited, I could hear noise in the background – “oohs” and “ahs” and the occasional applause. Then, to one side of me where I could see the curtains in the wings of the stage, a tall young man stepped into the shadows and started swinging his arms around his shoulders. His face was a livid colour, yet had a pale pallor. His lips were thin and very red, he had curly hair. I wondered what he was doing, then all of a sudden he put his hands around his mouth and let out a horrifying, loud howl. I thought, “I’m getting out of here. This is more than the nerves can bear.” After this, he looked at me and smiled. Possibly, he thought I was frightened. I suppose I was in a way. I was, after all, only about 141/2. He went off. I don’t know which direction he too, he just seemed to melt into the dark corners of this section of the theatre and disappeared. Obviously, I should imagine, to his dressing-room.

I waited and waited. I could hear the noises on and off stage. I thought, “What a strange thing!” Then it dawned on me that that was the character I had seen in the film of Renfield, and the actor, I refer to the programme, was Eric Lindsay

Suddenly, from around the edge of the curtain in the wings of the stage, a very tall, dark person walked towards me. The hair was tightly swept back, almost as if it was greased, the face looked pale and haggard, the lips were red, the eyes looked tired. The figure was wearing an evening suit with a bow tie, and was covered up to and over the shoulders by a long black cape. I saw the long black cloak was lined with what looked appeared to be red satin.

Hat was very striking was this figure walked so tall – no sign of any roundness of the shoulders could be seen. The figure walked past me. By this time I was a little nervous because Bela Lugosi looked very stern. “I’m not going to get his autograph,” I thought. I did not know whether to turn around, open the door and run. It is not very often that one comes across such a well-known and well-followed film star.

A Derby Ticket

A ticket stub from Dracula’s run in Derby

I waited for a few more minutes. The lady approached from the direction of the wings of the stage and informed me that she would now go and have a word with Mr. Lugosi and return with his answer. She went up some steps and through a door to my left. As she went through, I could see the light within was rather bright. As she came back out of the room, which was Mr. Lugosi’s dressing-room, I caught a glimpse of him, sitting. “Mr. Lugosi would like to see you now,” she told me. So, gathering up all my bravado and my courage, I walked with her up the steps to the door.

The room was well-lit and although it was rather narrow as you walked in, it was rather longish. I cannot remember what size it might have been, but it was not over big. The great man sat on his chair, facing his dressing-table. On the table were a lot of grease-paint sticks, a pot of what appeared to be cold cream and a pot of white powder. There was not room between the dressing-table and the door, it was rather near the door, so I walked to the other side and turned to face him. He looked up at me and gave me the widest, nicest smile I have ever seen. Believe it or not, I didn’t see any teeth, let alone fangs. He gave me a smile of his lips without opening his mouth. When he did that I relaxed.

I said, and I remember very clearly, “Oh, Mr. Lugosi, thank you for seeing me. I was rather nervous waiting for you. I didn’t know whether you would agree to see me or not. I have seen some of your films and I thought maybe you would be kind enough to give me your autograph.”

“Hello, very nice to see you. What is your name?” He spoke smoothly, quietly and calmly at my sudden outburst of excitement. His accent, which was not unlike the accent of his character, was quieter and not so pronounced.

When I told him my name, he said, “Pull up that chair, Derek, and sit and we will have a talk. I have a little time to spare before I go back to the show.”

So I pulled up a smallish upright wooden chair and sat about two feet away from him.

“How old are you?” he asked me. I told him that I was 14, coming on 15.

“Do you go to work or are you still at school?”

I am still at school,” I replied. “I leave next year after I am 15.”

He then asked me about the school I attended and the subjects I was studying. I told him that I had an interest in photography.

“What do you intend to do for a living when you leave school?” I told him that I was interested in learning to play the piano. I wanted to take it further, but Mum and Dad could not afford to continue to pay for lessons. My mother, whom played very well, taught me as best she could. She knew someone who worked in a music shop in Derby which sold pianos. They told me that I could get a job there with them learning how to clean and repair pianos.

“That sounds like a very interesting job,” he commented. “I wish you every success for that. Are you interested in movies?”

Derby Programme

Centre pages of the Derby programme

I told Mr. Lugosi that I had seen three of his films and I had been very impressed by his character, it was so domineering. I then asked him if it took him long to put on his make-up.

“No, not really,” he replied. “After a few years in the business one doesn’t need a make-up artist. One can do it one’s self. It’s just grease-paint.”

He seemed to be more interested in myself. It took some time to get around to talking to him about his films. He told me that he did not have much time because he had to go on stage again soon. I very quickly got round to the subject of films in which he had appeared. I told him that I was very interested in special effects and he explained to me how the transformation from bat to man was achieved – a combination of models, animation and live action. I also mentioned that I was interested in Boris Karloff and that they had both played the Frankenstein monster. Basically, our conversation was about film making.

He was certainly very intent upon his conversation with me. I respected that and I know that he would have liked to have talked to me a lot more, but he did tend to ask about myself. We chatted casually for a brief period of time, but I can’t remember what was said. He did ask me if I had seen the show. I told him that I hadn’t as I only got two shillings a week pocket money. He did not comment, he just turned and pressed a bell button on one side of his dressing-table. The lady who had let me in came into the room. He quietly spoke to her and then she left. He turned to me and we chatted informally for a little while until she returned. She handed him something which he looked at. He turned to me. Held it out and said, “Here is a ticket to enable you to get in to see the show.”

I was dumb-struck. I couldn’t believe it. He then asked me if I would like him to sign my autograph book. I handed it over and he signed it.

Derek's autograph

Derek’s autograph

“While I’m doing this, I might as well give you my picture.” He reached for a photograph, signed it and handed it to me.

“I’m shortly due on stage, so I will have to say good night to you now and prepare for my next entrance,” he told me. We shook hands and I went through the door, my heart pounding. The lady was by the stage door. She opened it and said, “Good night!” I went off into the night.

The ticket had “COMPLIMENT” rubber-stamped across it in red. I went to see the show and when I took my place in the auditorium I found I was in the middle of a number of people who were the notables of the town of Derby, including the Mayor. Well, I sat there and looked at the programme. Suddenly there was some music, I have an idea that it was recorded music, and the curtain opened. I sat entranced throughout that show.

When the show was over I left my seat and walked out with the rest of the audience and went into the night. “I must remember my manners and thank Mr. Lugosi,” I thought as I came down the steps. I shot around the corner, went to the stage door and knocked on it. A gentleman opened the door to me. I explained that Mr. Lugosi had given me a ticket to go to see the show and would appreciate, realising Mr. Lugosi is busy, if you would pass a message on for me that ”Derek enjoyed the show very much and thank him for his kindness. Tell him that I will never forget him.” I thanked him and came away.

Bela Lugosi was one of the kindest people I have ever met. He took time to see me and talk to me. He was the only one of all the people whose autographs I had sought who really took trouble to speak to me. I kept my promise, I never forgot him. He was a gentleman, a very quietly spoken gentleman – that is the only way I can describe him. I was so sorry when I heard of his tragic death. I hope that in spirit he has found relief and happiness.

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An Encounter With Bela Lugosi by Roy Tomlinson

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

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