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

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The Bram Stoker Bronze Bust Project

The Bram Stoker Bronze Bust Project

Following the enormous success of the H.P. Lovecraft Bronze Bust Project and the Edgar Allan Poe Bronze Bust Project, sculptor Bryan Moore has set his sights on a third icon of horror literature: Bram Stoker.

Since its publication in 1897, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” has set the standard for the vampire in art, literature, music and film. It’s influence cannot be denied. Scholars have labored over its implications since the Victorian era. Fans, like Moore, have simply enjoyed it for what it is: classic horror at its most potent.

“The character of Count Dracula embodies what we’d all like to be” Moore states. “Sexy, immortal, wise from centuries of lost l’amour, status hard won and enduring to the last. The undead Count represents everything timeless and deathless that never goes out of style throughout the romantic ages.”

As with the Lovecraft and Poe busts, Stoker will be immortalized in bronze to the city of his birth, Dublin, Ireland.

Bryan Moore

“Fans across the globe helped me to place busts of Lovecraft in Providence, Rhode Island and Poe to Boston, Massachusetts. It seemed only fitting that Bram Stoker should return to the Emerald Isle and will be donated to the Dublin Writers Museum in Parnell Square.”

“Placing a bust of Stoker here puts emphasis not only on his personality but also on his nationality” said Robert Nicholson, Curator of the Dublin Writers Museum. “Being born and bred a Dubliner was just as important to Stoker’s genius as it was to that of his contemporary and acquaintance, Oscar Wilde, and to many other writers born here on the cultural faultline.”

Joining Moore in his literary quest of honoring Stoker is no less than Bram’s great grand-nephew Dacre Stoker, who manages the Estate of Bram Stoker as well as co-author of both the sequel to “Dracula” entitled “Dracula; the Un-Dead” and the non fiction “The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker”. Dacre travels the world presenting his informative and entertaining lecture “Stoker on Stoker” to Dracula fans eager to learn more about their favorite author.

“The Bram Stoker Estate is very pleased to endorse the Bram Stoker Bronze Bust Project. The Stoker family would ultimately like to see a statue of Bram displayed in a prominent location in Dublin. A bronze bust is certainly a fitting tribute and this effort by Bryan Moore is to be commended and is worthy of our family’s support.”

David J Skal

Also on board is noted Dracula scholar, author and filmmaker David J. Skal, whose book “Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Screen” paved the way for his much anticipated biography, “Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker”, to be published by Liveright next year.

“Bram Stoker and his extraordinary novel have received serious critical attention only in recent decades,” Skal said. “It’s attention long overdue and this wonderful tribute at an important literary institution will help solidify Stoker’s reputation as one of the most influential imaginative writers of all time.”

Skal will also join Moore at the bust unveiling on May 26th, 2016, the anniversary of “Dracula’s” original publication in 1897. He will also present his first public reading anywhere of passages from “Something in the Blood.”

Something in the Blood

As with the Lovecraft and Poe projects, Moore will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the costs of the bust as well as personally making a financial donation to   Children’s Books Ireland, a local organization that promotes children’s literacy.

“It’s an incredible amount of work for many months to plan and launch these bust projects with the project team, but also incredibly rewarding” says Moore. “So many fellow fans from across the world rally to the cause and help me turn this vision into a reality, which is to celebrate these legendary authors of works that mean so much to the public consciousness and to pop culture. It’s about time that the authors of these classics of horror literature were seen as legitimate scribes of something really special that never becomes dated. Horror will outlast us all.”

All inquiries can be directed to Lizette Webb-Strike at bramstokerbronzebustproject@yahoo.com

 
https://www.facebook.com/BramStokerBronzeBustProject/

https://twitter.com/BramStokerBust

http://bramstokerbronzebustproject.tumblr.com/

https://instagram.com/bramstokerbronzebustproject/

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Related Posts & Pages

An Interview With Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker interview from the July 1st, 1897 edition of The British Weekly

Staged Reading Of Dracula At The Lyceum Theatre In 1897

Bram Stoker’s own stage adaptation of his novel

Contemporary Reviews Of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Reviews of Dracula From the UK, Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada

The Library 

The Library contains images of some of the many different editions of Dracula, from early and rare editions to modern editions featuring Bela Lugosi on the cover. The library also contains images of books about the stage and screen versions of Dracula, Bram Stoker’s other books, biographies of both Bela Lugosi and Bram Stoker, magazines and fanzines.

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

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

Bela Lugosi Scholar Frank J. Dello Stritto is Monster Kid of the Year!

Frank J Dello Stritto (1)

I’m delighted that my Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain co-author Frank J. Dello Stritto has been voted “Monster Kid of the Year” in this year’s Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. Frank has been researching and writing about horror films since the 1960s. Hailed as one of the “most eloquent chroniclers of horror films,” he has earned a dedicated following among both his peers and fans of vintage monster and horror films through his many articles in Cult Movies Magazine, his contributions to books by Bob Brier, Bob Madison and Gary Don Rhodes’ Lugosi, and his own books, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain, A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore – The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films, and I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It – Growing Up in the 1950s & 1960s with Television Reruns & Old Movies. In addition to his writing, Frank is a popular speaker on the film convention circuit, a frequent guest on Joe Viglione’s Visual Radio.

Announcing Frank’s award, the Rondo Awards’ David Colton wrote, ”Growing up in New Jersey in the 50s with Cold War jitters and a black-and-white TV as companions is usually all it takes to create a ‘Monster Kid.’ That’s exactly what happened to Frank J. Dello Stritto. The experience, happily and smartly documented in his book, ‘I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It,’ led Frank to a lifetime of horror research and writings, especially about Bela Lugosi and the edges of the Monster Boom. But few books capture so perfectly what it was like to grow up surrounded by monsters, Mickey Mantle, and nuclear madness. For his month-by-month chronicle of a time that shaped us all (whether you were born yet or not), Frank J. Dello Stritto is our Monster Kid of the Year.”

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I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It

I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It – Growing Up in the 1950s & 1960s with Television Reruns & Old Movies, is divided into five sections. Book 1 is Frank’s first eight years: fitting his real life into what he saw on children’s television, his hero worship of characters like Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett and New York Yankee Mickey Mantle, and his discovery that television and movies were two faces of the same industry. Book 2 sees Frank and his family moving to the suburbs, where he discovers the joys of Saturday afternoons at the movies, and of 1940s movies on after-school television. Also, the discovery, thanks mainly to the Cuban Missile Crisis, that the real world could be as scary as any horror movie. Book 3 describes the rise and fall of television shows like The Twlight Zone, Thriller, and The Outer Limits. In Book 4 Frank first sees, at age 11, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, and forever becomes a monster movie fan. Finally, in Book 5, Frank focuses on his lifelong fandom of Bela Lugosi. That Book’s first chapter is appropriately entitled:

 OBSESSION

Dwight FryeDwight Frye as Renfield in Dracula (1931)

He came and stood beneath my window in the moonlight. And he promised me things. Not in words, but by doing them. By making them happen…  – Renfield in Dracula

Even vampires  know the dangers of obsession. In Dracula, the vampire’s slave becomes so obsessed with his master that he puts the vampire hunters on Dracula’s trail. In Return of the Vampire, the werewolf slave is devoted until betrayed. Then he turns on his master. In Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein Lawrence Talbot is obsessed with Count Dracula, and travels the world to destroy him.

My search for Bela Lugosi is not the search for Bela Lugosi. Through a half century of fandom, I have met many people with varying degrees of obsession over movies stars dead many years before they were born. More than a few obsess over a horror movie actor who made a handful of fine movies, a lot of bad movies, and died in relative obscurity when I was six years old. My search is exactly that: mine, a personal adventure that I explain to others only with difficulty. My obsession with Lugosi fills something inside me.

Bat Head 3Bela Lugosi in Abbott and Costello Meet FrankensteinBela Lugosi as Dracula in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

My Saturday afternoons watching old movies make me a fan of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan, Basil Rathbone’s Holmes, and Nigel Bruce’s Watson; of Lon Chaney’s lonely souls and the mad doctors of Boris Karloff, Lionel Atwill, and George Zucco; of the bizarre characters portrayed by Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Of many comedians: Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, Olsen & Johnson, and The Marx Brothers. None approach the impact of Bela Lugosi. On seeing his Count Dracula in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, I become something more than a fan.

I have no memory of Lugosi before seeing Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1961. Sometime in my earliest years, I had seen You’ll Find Out and The Body Snatcher, and have only vague recollections of Lugosi. His swami in You’ll Find Out delivers an eerie touch in a séance scene. In The Body Snatcher, Lugosi does little more than die, but his body is pulled from a vat of brine in the movie’s grisly scene. Such moments stay with a child, and might have made the same impression had another actor played the roles.

I have a primordial memory of Lugosi from Chandu on the Magic Island. A tiger in a pit threatens a man dressed in white. That image is all that I remember. I am very young, and sketch the scene in crayon for Momma’s approval. A tiger’s paw, talons cocked, ready to dig into the heel of the fleeing man in white. My masterpiece is long gone; but I remember it clearly. Lugosi inspired it, as he races through the catacombs of lost Lemuria. Does my life-long fascination with Lugosi spring from nothing more than an ancient memory of terrors that my little self had to capture in a drawing? I will never know.    

Bat Head 3Bela Lugosi in Return of the Vampire“He always played vampires.” Bela Lugosi in The Return of the Vampire (1943)

Before Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein begins at 2:00 pm on June 24, 1961, I am already a big fan of the comedy team. That afternoon I become a fan of the classic monsters, and devoted follower of anything Lugosi. I leave that hour and a half in front of the television with a resolve not only to see all of Lugosi’s movies, but to know more about his life. That very afternoon, as Momma prepares supper, I ask her about Lugosi. Momma is a font of all things Hollywood, but for Lugosi she only says “he always played vampires.” I look forward to all these great vampire movies, but soon learn that they were very few. Lugosi plays “real” vampires in only three movies, and in two other films plays characters who turn out not to be vampires at all. That disappointment proves one of many as I embarked on my quest.

The monster magazines often publish biographies of Lugosi. I read them all, but they are basically the same short pieces, maybe with different photos. Lugosi is a big reason that I start reading monster magazines, and a big reason that I stop. I want more than the typical fan magazine bios. When I learn that research libraries and newspaper archives exist, I descend on them convinced of the Lugosi arcania to be found. After my first visits, I suspect that archived facts of Lugosi’s life are as few as his vampire movies. The libraries hold many treasures, but yield their secrets slowly and only after many painstaking hours.  

Bat Head 3Mark of the Vampire 1 by Clarence Sinclair BullHe could be frightening in a way that other actors in horror never achieved.” Bela Lugosi in Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Why Lugosi? Why anyone? What are fans like me looking for?

Obsessive fandom is now part of popular culture. Supermarket tabloids regularly feature stories of celebrity-stalkers, and of fans who turn to plastic surgery to look like—in their own minds, to become—their idols. In the 1980s, the movies exploit the dark side of fandom in The Man With Bogart’s Face, The Seduction, King of Comedy, Garbo Talks, Misery. In Fade to Black, a killer stalks his victims dressed as his movie idols. One of them is Lugosi’s Dracula.

I have met many ardent fans of celebrities. For most, the shrines are part of their youths, abandoned long ago. Since 1961, I have always had a shrine of sorts to Lugosi in my home. First, a modest wall space in my brother David’s and my bedroom that Momma lets me use, then my half of my college dorm room, and finally the better part of my bachelor apartment. Marriage and reality in general temper my expansive ways, but at least a small part of where I live is dedicated to Lugosi’s memory.

Boys need heroes, but I have no need of a new one. In June 1961, Mickey Mantle, my great idol, races with Roger Maris towards Babe Ruth’s home run record. Mantle, like Davy Crockett and Superman, is for me adolescent hero worship. My fascination with Lugosi is more. I see beyond Dracula, and wonder about the actor who portrays him.

Not that I have no desire to be like Dracula. I would love to have Superman’s strength, Mantle’s home run swing, Crockett’s marksmanship. And to control minds and transform into a bat like Dracula. Soon, I am watching Lugosi’s mad doctor movies, and covet his crazy scientists’ creating monsters, and raising the dead. Yet always Lugosi, and not his characters, sparks my curiosity.      

Many years after 1961, I read in The Biographical Dictionary of Film a passage that for me comes close to explaining the Lugosi mystique:

His acting was so florid and yet so macabre that only some fanciful notion of Hungarian mythology could explain it. He could be frightening in a way that other actors in horror never achieved: because he appeared to believe in the literal meaning of the films.

About the same time, I read in The Vampire in the Cinema that Lugosi is:

The living tableau of a silent stage actor trapped in modern sound movies. It is precisely because Lugosi was an anachronism, allowed to flourish by an accident of genre history, that he exercises such a fascination.

Not bad. I admire both passages; but neither explains Lugosi’s hold on me.

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Perhaps an accident in timing explains my fascination. About the time that I discover Lugosi, I am beginning to understand that not everything in print is true. As Mantle and Maris hit home run after home run, the broader media covers their drama. A lot of misinformation, especially about Babe Ruth, appears in newspapers and on television. As a long-time watcher of Yankee broadcasts, I learned the saga of the team’s great players from the men who witnessed it. In 1961 I know more than a lot of the reporters about the home run race.

No better place to grasp the limitations of the print media than in what is available on Lugosi. The Lugosi biographies in the monster magazines get the big picture right: born in Hungary, emigrates to America after World War I, hits the big time in Dracula, then is typecast in horror movies for the rest of his life. On the details, the magazines often falter, mainly through sins of omission. Much of Lugosi’s last years are lonely treks looking for paydays between film roles that became ever harder to land. In a short time, I know at least as much about Lugosi as anyone writing on him. In the early 1960s, not a hard plateau to scale.

Mastering a subject, even one as obscure as the life of Bela Lugosi, generates its own inertia. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. For the first time in my life, the better I get at something, the better I want to be. Being an expert on horror films and Lugosi—being an expert on anything—becomes important to me.

Bat Head 3Dracula Still 4“A corny Valentino imitation.” Bela Lugosi in a publicity still for Dracula (1931)

My Lugosi quest sometimes casts me as a defender of a Lugosi who can no longer defend himself. His stardom even after death rises and falls and rises. Through the 1960s, Lugosi morphs from an almost forgotten actor to a cult hero, then to a figure easy to mock. Whenever he is attacked, I plead his case, to the monster magazines (in letters never published), to adults and classmates less than entranced with the great man.

Lugosi detractors have some good points: a lot of Lugosi movies are pretty bad. Through the 1960s, I watch dozens. Simply seeing a new Lugosi title thrills me. For too many movies, the thrill ends there. Still, I watch them again and again. More than once, when Momma pauses to watch a few minutes of a movie with me, and says “God, he was a lousy actor.” I do not agree. He is just an actor in a lousy movie. His attempts to breathe life into the most hopeless productions are part of his lore.

Disdain for bad movies translates into a disdain for their star, which can extend even to his better films. “A corny Valentino imitation,” writes horror author Stephen King on Lugosi’s Dracula, “which even hardened horror aficionados and cinema buffs cannot help giggling over.” King voices an opinion that grows more common as the 1960s progress.

Through the 1960s, Lugosi’s supremacy as Dracula has a strong challenger. His vampire rises from the dead in October 1957 on television’s Shock Theater. Christopher Lee’s Dracula bursts into theaters seven months later. By 1973, Lee plays Dracula eight times, and through the 1960s, his growing fan base often insists on his superiority over Lugosi. I see my first Lee vampire movie in the late 1960s. My opinion: Lee vampire movies are lousy, and Lee isn’t much better. Less debatable is how little Lee is in them.

For young boys, Dracula can be a test of manhood. To see Lugosi, we stay up late and watch a shadowy film alone in the dark. For Lee, kids in theaters sit through an explicitness cutting edge in its day. Perhaps the preference for Lugosi or Lee depends on which test a boy passes; or which he fails. On first try, I fail both. A coming attraction of Horror of Dracula plays at Lincoln matinees. It terrifies me and I have no desire to see the movie. No matter, Horror of Dracula never plays the day time show. Lugosi comes on too late, and I could not have stayed awake to see him even if my parents allowed.

Lugosi wins the race to catch my attention. His movies migrate to more godly hours long before I have a chance at Christopher Lee. By the time that I catch up with Lee, the great war of 20th century vampires, for me at least, is long settled.

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Chandu The Magician (Paul Seiler Collection)Bela Lugosi in Chandu the Magician (1932) – Still courtesy of Paul Seiler

On 1960s television, the Lugosi canon is about three dozen films that air with varying regularity on television. They range from classics of the 1930s to schlock of the 1950s. I watch these over and over. Those most often televised are low-budget mad doctor epics of the early 1940s. At least one plays every week. On New Year’s Day 1962, I bet my brother David $1.00 that a Bela Lugosi movie will play on television at least once a week through the whole year. As a child, I am prone to such stupid wagers. For about a month, we check the weekly television listings each Sunday, and a Bela Lugosi movie is always among them. David loses interest; but I keep checking for the movies. After 13 weeks the streak breaks. I say nothing to David, never pay the bet.

About two dozen other Lugosi movies pop up rarely or not at all. I read often of these in the monster magazines, and know a lot about them. One by one most appear. For some—White Zombie, Chandu the Magician, or Mark of the Vampire—I have to wait until my college years of haunting revival cinemas in New York to see them.

The Lugosi movies repetitively broadcast through the 1960s total less than 50 hours of running time. Lugosi’s actual time on screen is less than 10 hours. I have watched those 10-something hours more times than I can count. Some performances I greatly enjoy, and will no doubt see them many times yet to come. The older I get, the less patience I have with Lugosi’s “bad” movies, but the more I admire his “good” ones. Those few films, the canon within the canon, sustain my love of the actor; but something more than acting talent or onscreen charisma attracts me to Lugosi.

Bat Head 3Bela Lugosi photographed by Preston Duncan in the 1930s“Expect great things.” Bela Lugosi photographed by Preston Duncan in the 1930s

In my 60 plus years, I have had few dreams that I remember. One dream I vividly recall comes within a year after seeing Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. It stars Bela Lugosi and my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Ruggles.

My first afternoon with Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein comes just after my fifth grade ends in Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. I always dread the terrible teacher that I will face in September. The older kids impress on the younger ones the horrors that lie ahead. The tales always portray next year’s teacher as a decaying crone devising ways to make life hell. At Wilson School, the legends have some basis. As we move up in grade, the teachers get older, grayer, and meaner (except my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Finelli, who is a saint).

Warnings of all our earlier teachers pale before the legend of Mrs. Ruggles. Not only does she teach the highest grade in Wilson School, but she is also the Principal. Her double job forces her to stern discipline. When principal duties call, she has to leave the class, and only fear keeps us in line. Principal’s duties force Mrs. Ruggles to enlist her more trusted students as aides: delivering messages to teachers, getting visitors to the right places, minor clerical duties. By sixth grade, I have clawed my way back from the third reading group to the first, and am among those tapped. I do my share of time in her office. Thus, the dream.

The dream comes in early 1962. Mrs. Ruggles pokes her head in the classroom, and calls me into her office. There, dressed in a pin-striped suit, is a benevolent-looking Bela Lugosi. He looks directly at me, and smiles, exactly as he smiled in real life, showing no teeth. Lugosi, like a lot of his generation, had lousy teeth, and rarely showed them. I do not know that in 1962, but I must have seen a photo of him in one of the monster magazines and the image stays with me. Lugosi and Mrs. Ruggles are discussing me. He assures her that I am a fine boy, to trust me, and to expect great things for me. That is the dream, all of it. Perhaps a minute of “dream time,” certainly no more; but I remember it clearly when I wake up the next morning.

I often think back on the dream, but never probe it until I began reading serious essays on movie horror. The Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster, I learn, are sons with issues. Dracula is always the father, the devouring parent, trapping young people forever as the Undead. In Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Dracula targets Wilbur Gray (Lou Costello). For Gray, Dracula’s plot means swapping badgering by Bud Abbott for servitude to Dracula.

Pop, my own father, is in no way a devouring parent. In my school years, I see devouring parents in action, who set out to ensure that their children never leave home. That’s not Pop, who beams at even the most trivial achievement of his children. I tell him little about my doings because he cannot wait to tell his huge family. I did not relish them knowing my business. My never leaving home would never occur to Pop. He dreams of our launching ourselves into the world from our first breaths. His only dictum is that we go to college.

I am not the best son for such a father. Pop never pushes. He has relatives who drive their sons onward but rarely upward, and has no intention of being like them. I like staying at home. Part of me probably yearns for a father like Lugosi’s Dracula, who would both keep me in the family fold, and demand standards that I should meet. That’s not Pop.

Does my fascination with Lugosi fill a void in my relationship with Pop? What strikes me about the dream, and why I remember it so well, is its utter serenity. Lugosi radiates parental warmth. I feel great hearing him tell Mrs. Ruggles what a good kid I am. Maybe I want Pop to do that; but even in my dreams cannot envision him doing something so out of character. I know that he says great things about me, but never in my presence or outside the family.

Bat Head 3Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein Photo

Lou Costello & Bela Lugosi in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

In 1958, Abbott & Costello make me a Saturday matinee kid when their movies lure me into The Lincoln. Three years later, they make me a Bela Lugosi fan via Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. The link between Lou Costello to Bela Lugosi is not coincidental.

Costello’s movie characters lead much more difficult lives than I do. No one slaps me around, berates my intelligence, or misinterprets innocent mischief. Maybe I suffer a little of all of that, and identify with Costello. Until I am eight years old, I am the baby of the family, and a natural homebody. How could I not identify with a hapless little man who struggles through a world that he barely understands? Millions of Baby Boomer boys agree with me, and Costello is beloved by my young generation. We might want to grow up to be Davy Crockett or Superman; but for the time being, we are Lou Costello. When Dracula turns his gaze on Wilbur Gray, Lugosi turns his on me.

That gaze comes when Wilbur stumbles into a dilemma common to Lou Costello characters, and common to kids like me: he accidentally breaks something, and is now “in trouble.” The ghoulish exhibits in McDougal’s House of Horrors terrify Wilbur. He backs into a guillotine, which falls and lops off the head of a manikin. “Now you’ve done it,” chides Chick. Older brothers always distance themselves from the second born’s mishaps. McDougal is outside, fumbling in the fuse box. “Get rid of that,” says Chick, and goes outside.

I identify with Wilbur. I would hide the head rather than hand it to short-fused McDougal. Wilbur swings open a coffin lid to ditch it; and up sits Dracula. Wilbur is caught red-handed, as Dracula rivets him with a stare of parental displeasure. I know that stare well. From the death ray in War of the Worlds, to the slow-burn rages of Mrs. Ruggles: I know the unblinking eye that sizes up its prey before it strikes. That eye comes often from Dracula in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. He saves his most penetrating looks for Wilbur.

Dracula paralyzes Wilbur, revives The Monster, and escapes before McDougal restores the lights. No one believes Wilbur’s claims of the dead walking. Pleas of the young and naïve are easily dismissed or ignored. No wonder millions of little boys identify with Lou Costello.

I am as mesmerized as Wilbur by Dracula’s stare. My identification with Costello transfers to a fascination with Lugosi. I am still enthralled by the scene, though I have now watched it hundreds of times. Dracula rises from his coffin, and waves his fluid fingers before Wilbur’s eyes. “Eye to eye,” Wilbur later recalls, “Eye to eye! Staring! I never saw anything like it.” Neither had I. In a wonderful touch, Dracula ever so gently taps his victim to make sure that the little man is completely under his spell, and steps back to admire his handiwork.

Bat Head 3 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (PS)“Look into my eyes.” Lenore Aubert & Bela Lugosi in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

A boy might identify with Wilbur, but must admire Dracula, the master of every situation.  Sandra warns that her assistant is asking too many questions: “Leave that to me.” Insurance investor Joan Raymond is on the trail of the missing exhibits: “I’ll take care of the girl.” Wilbur escapes: “I’ll take care of our fat friend.” Lawrence Talbot is a formidable foe; but Dracula belittles his insistent warnings. “What an odd hallucination, but the human mind is often inflamed with strange complexes.” He brushes Talbot aside, and leads Joan to the dance floor. He is most formidable when his plans are disrupted:

Sandra:   This thing is too dangerous. We ought to wait.

Dracula:  And jeopardize the success of the operation? Never! I must warn you my dear Sandra, I am accustomed to having my orders obeyed. Especially by women with a price on their heads.

Sandra:   Don’t try to scare me, Count Dracula. Here, The Secrets of Life & Death by Dr. Frankenstein. Memorize them. Operate yourself if you’re in such a hurry.

Dracula:  I have other means of securing your cooperation.

Sandra:   You’re wasting your time. My will is as strong as yours.

Dracula:  Are you sure? Look into my eyes.

She does and is soon Dracula’s slave. Wilbur, Joan, Chick and The Monster also fall under Dracula’s spell. What boy could resist looking up to him?

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Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein parallels the monsters and the comedians throughout the story. Scenes often shift between The Monster and Dracula, and Abbott & Costello. The movie consistently bridges Wilbur to Dracula. In cutting between monsters and funny men, Wilbur and Dracula are in similar poses. Both men are dwarfed by their taller cohorts: Chick for Wilbur, The Monster for Dracula. The two women in the movie both kiss Wilbur, and both in turn receive the vampire’s kiss from Dracula.

Lugosi would never be heavier than he is in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Wilbur and Dracula are two round men, with slicked back hair. Costello could never be mistaken for Lugosi; but their appearances would never be more similar than when Wilbur and Dracula meet. The finale has extreme close-ups, in which the two appear to be imitating each other. Wilbur is struggling in the stockade where Dracula has stowed him. A few minutes later, Dracula is in a death duel with The Wolf Man. The grimaces on both Wilbur and Dracula make them look very much alike.

The links between Wilbur and Dracula, between Costello and Lugosi, may be coincidental. Intentionally or not, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is crafted to make a Costello fan into a Lugosi fan. That is what happens to me.

Bat Head 3Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein PhotoObsession! Bela Lugosi in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

The climax of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein ties the threads of the plot together. The Monster disposes of Sandra, who would have removed his brain, and pursues Wilbur, who would have supplied a new one. The Wolf Man, loose in a castle filled with potential prey, immediately attacks Dracula. At age 11, I have yet to learn the history of Talbot and his fellow monsters, but obviously a showdown between werewolf and vampire has long simmered. I am unaware of the subtexts; but I feel the power of myth taking hold of me. The charms of the movie and of Lugosi’s performance, and of whatever psychic forces lie within me, conspire to make me a monster fan forever, and start me on a quest to learn all that I can about Bela Lugosi.

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I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It – Growing Up in the 1950s & 1960s with Television Reruns & Old Movies, and Frank’s previous books, A Quaint & Curious Volume Of Forgotten Lore,The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films and (with Andi Brooks) Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain, are available from Cult Movies Press at http://www.cultmoviespress.com

Bat Head 3Reviews

Standard Examiner

http://www.standard.net/Books/2014/08/10/Monster-boomer-expert-details-growing-up-with-Dracula-Frankenstein-the-Mummy.html

Mondo Cult

http://www.mondocult.com/articles/Copner/frank.html

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An interview with Frank J. Dello Stritto

Plan 9 Crunch

http://planninecrunch.blogspot.jp/2014/08/an-interview-with-cult-films-author.html

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Related Pages

A Quaint And Curious Volume Of Forgotten Lore by Frank J. Dello Stritto

Three Tales – One Story by Frank J. Dello Stritto

Dracula’s Coffin: The Story of Bela Lugosi’s Steamer Trunk 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 Gróf Tisza Istvan: Bela Lugosi Arrives in America by Frank J. Dello Stritto.