Bela Lugosi Yard Sale Cape Pulled From Auction

A cape said to have been worn by Bela Lugosi in an unidentified film has been pulled from eBay less than two days before the auction was due to end. The cape was purchased as part of a lot of old costumes at a Hollywood yard sale a year ago. The vendor said that a United Costumers, Inc. label bearing the faded name of Bela Lugosi was found sewn into it the seams of the “dusty old cape.”

The cape, suffering from the effects of years of warehouse storage, was in need of preservation to prevent further deterioration. The lining was described as “badly worn, stained and distressed” and “coming away from the bottom seams.” The dark velvet collar was faded and splitting at the seams, while the heavy black woollen material of the cape was “heavily stained and faded with various little tears and holes.”

 Despite the capes poor condition, bids quickly passed $5,000. The day before it was pulled from the auction, the vendors said that they were considering “many considerable offers” for the cape, leading to speculation that it was sold outside of the auction.

Although the cape caused considerable excitement amongst Lugosi fans, some commentators voiced doubts about its authenticity. The label, which in the absence of any documentary evidence is the only thing that linked the cape to Lugosi, came under particular scrutiny. Several people expressed the opinion that it looked like it had been removed from another costume, possibly a shirt. One commenter on this site said that capes are not usually labeled in the way that this one was as the label may become visible on camera. The length of the cape, exactly four feet from collar to hem, was also deemed to short for Lugosi’s 6 foot 1 inch frame.

 The vendor said they would make available all of the information they had regarding the cape, including the original bill of sale for the lot from the wardrobe company and evidence of investigation work into the cape’s history performed on their behalf by a Los Angeles auctioneer, to anyone contesting their information. The auctioneer concluded that it was not a “Dracula” cape, but had “possibly” been worn by Lugosi in either White Zombie (1932)or Spooks Run Wild (1941). The sceptics countered by saying not only did the cape not resemble either of the ones Lugosi wore in those films, it bore no resemblance to any worn by him in any film.

The true identity of the cape, along with its current fate remain a mystery. (Andi Brooks)

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Bela Lugosi Movie Cape Found in Yard Sale

There was much excitement and consternation amongst fans when Bela Lugosi Jr. mysteriously, but unsuccessfully, tried to auction the cape worn by his father in Universal’s 1931 adaptation of Dracula. The asking price of  $1,200,000 scared off any potential buyers in the Icons of Hollywood auction at Profiles in History on December 16th, 2011.

Now another cape said to have once been worn by Lugosi is being offered for sale. Perhaps befitting its uncertain provenance and rather poor condition, it is being auctioned not in the rarefied atmosphere of a famous auction house, but on eBay. It is still likely, however, to cause a great deal of excitement amongst fans and potential buyers. This previously unknown cape was found in a lot of costumes purchased by the vendor at a Hollywood yard sale a year ago. When investigating the possibility of relining the “dusty old cape,” the vendor discovered a United Costumers, Inc. label bearing the faded name of Bela Lugosi sewn into it the seams.

Following some research into the cape’s history, the vendor has established that it was not used in either Universal’s Dracula or Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein, both of which starred Lugosi as Count Dracula. It is currently unknown exactly in which movie Lugosi could have worn it. The vendor has suggested White Zombie (1932), which would make it a very interesting piece, or perhaps Spooks Run Wild, which he made for Monogram Pictures in 1941. As he wore a cape in several other movies, some solid research will have to be conducted to establish its history.  

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Could the cape be the one worn by Lugosi in White Zombie in 1932?

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The cape itself is in need of some preservation to prevent further deterioration. The cream lining is described as “badly worn, stained and distressed through its many decades of use and storage” and “coming away from the bottom seams.” The dark velvet collar is faded and splitting at the seams, while the heavy black woollen material of the cape is “heavily stained and faded with various little tears and holes due to its age and obvious deterioration from warehouse storage.”

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Lugosi wore a cape in several films, including Spooks Run Wild in 1941

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Despite its condition and currently unverifiable history, the chance to own a cape once worn by Lugosi  is a tantalising one. The current bid, with five days to go, is $560. The vendors minimum asking price is unknown, but it will certainly be within the range of more people than the $1,200,000 sought for the Dracula cape. The vendor expressed the hope that the cape “will go to a Lugosi collector who can really appreciate the value of its origins.” (Andi Brooks)

You can place your bid at:

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/320940103071?ssPageName=STRK%3AMEWAX%3AIT&_trksid=p3984.m1438.l2649

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

Richard Butler played the role of Johnathan Harker in the 1951 British revival tour of Dracula. Apart from a two-week break when he had to do military reserve training, he was with the tour for its whole six months, acting opposite Bela Lugosi in 210 performances. I interviewed Richard on July 4, 1996, at the National Theatre in London while researching Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain.

 Richard as the vicar who conducts the fourth wedding in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Richard began his acting career at the age of 12 in a stage version of Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley in his native Yorkshire. He went on to enjoy a long and varied career on stage, screen and TV. His impressive list of theatre credits include a West End revival and touring production of Charley’s Aunt and A Provincial Life opposite Anthony Hopkins at the Royal Court Theatre. In early 1951, however, he found himself “resting.” It was a tough period for theatrical actors in Britain. Post-war austerity and competition for audiences from TV and the Festival of Britain, a national exhibition to promote the British contribution to science, technology and the arts, left theatres half empty and led to plays which had been expected to succeed to fold. Richard supported himself as best he could while waiting for a call from his agent:

Andi Brooks: How did you get the role of Jonathan Harker in Dracula?

Richard Butler: I was simply called by my agent to go for an audition. I went and I got it. At the time I was doing a stint at Walls’ Ice Cream factory in Acton, a temporary job, to earn some money. I remember going from my night shift to this audition and I got the job. But it wasn’t due to start for another couple of weeks so I stayed on, very nobly stayed on, at the ice cream factory, knee-deep in ice cream for another two weeks and (laughing) I’ve never been back to an ice cream factory.

AB: Was it an exciting prospect to be playing with Bela?

RB: Oh yes, because, let’s face it, I was in the ice cream factory. Although I had done an awful lot before I went there, it was one of those long periods of unemployment that all actors have. I’d done better work, much better work, than Dracula, but I took the job because it paid money. I’d much rather work than not work.

AB: Were you familiar with Bela’s films or the novel?

RB: Yes, the films, I certainly was. I’d seen Ninotchka then, you must have seen it? I think he’s marvellous in that, that’s the true Bela. I don’t think that I was terribly familiar with the novel, but, you know, one sort of knew it.

AB: How long did you have to rehearse before Bela arrived from America?

RB: He came there at once! We probably didn’t rehearse more than…certainly no more than three weeks. We might have rehearsed for as little as two weeks, but I really can’t remember.

(Ed: The company rehearsed for two weeks, beginning on April 16th in London and finishing with a dress rehearsal on April 29th at the Theatre Royal in Brighton)

AB: Do you recall where rehearsals took place?

RB: They took place in London, though I’m not certain of the exact location. It would certainly have been in the West End. I have an idea it was somewhere near the Embankment in Chelsea.

(Ed: Rehearsals took place in a banquet room above an unidentified pub in Pont Street in South Kensington in London from April 16th – 22nd. They then moved to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End from April 23rd – 28th. The dress rehearsal took place at the Theatre Royal in Brighton on April 29th, the day before the premiere.)

AB: It has been claimed that Bela was so unhappy with the production that the premiere was held up because he demanded changes.

RB: I don’t think that happened. He was never disloyal to the management. He never said “Oh, this shouldn’t happen to me at my time of life,” nothing like that. He just accepted things, and he really did his very best. I’ve worked with people who haven’t really done their best at every performance because it’s been a matinée or there have been few people in, things like that. But he had the very highest standards. Bela kept his dignity throughout and never criticised or complained. I do, however, remember that, talking to us youngsters during rehearsal break one day, he said—“I’m over here to do this show because I can’t get work in films these days. Some time ago, both Boris Karloff and I realized the skids were under us…so we take what work we can get.” We were visited at the dress rehearsal and first night by Megs Jenkins, a very well-known actress. She gave invaluable help to Sheila Wynn with her hair-do, make-up and costume. We had no wardrobe mistress as far as I can remember, and we had to fend for ourselves. Megs Jenkins, incidentally, was married to George Routledge of Routledge & White, the management company that organized the tour. Some time later, he left her in the lurch, taking all her money.

AB: About the 1951 tour, a recent magazine article about Bela claims that (Andi reads) “the supporting cast smacked of poverty row…the rest of the cast, too inexperienced to do otherwise, had not mastered their lines.” What’s your reaction to his accusations?

RB: Absolute rubbish! Absolute rubbish! You write another article. That is utter rubbish. Bela was the only “name” in a cast of mainly young unknowns, but the whole cast was quite experienced. Arthur Hosking had been an established actor, especially in musicals, for many years. David Dawson had done television and was quite a presentable leading man. Sheila Wynn had done quite a bit of work, as had Joan Harding. I first came across Sheila in 1947 when she and I worked together. John Saunders had certainly done a lot of work. Who else was there? Oh, Eric Lindsay. Well, he had done work of a sort.

Richard as Braithwaite in the hit TV series Budgie (1971)

AB: What was the pay like for appearing in Dracula?

RB: I think I received about £12 per week. In those days £10 per week was considered a good salary in weekly repertoire, and one was always paid a little more for touring. But there was no such payment as a touring allowance then and rehearsals were unpaid for several years to come. At the time, actors were expected to provide every item of contemporary clothing, except for special items such as morning suits and uniforms and as a result, our wardrobes were somewhat depleted. I daresay David had his consultant’s morning clothes supplied, similarly John Saunders’ attendant’s uniform and perhaps Eric was helped with his Renfield clothes.

AB: The article is very critical of the sets.

RB: That’s true, they were very cheaply made. The backdrops and scenery were painted on cloth, very shabby. The special effects, flying bats and magical appearances by Dracula, were very rudimentary to say the least, and very unreliable. The bats were a particular problem. They would be catapulted across the stage, and often they wouldn’t make it and would land in the middle of the stage, where they would have to stay. In the climax of the short prologue to the play—which was a solo spot for Sheila, standing spotlit in front of black tabs, a large model bat on wires descended from the flies in a large cloud of smoke (fired from a smoke gun behind the tabs) and lowered over her head as she screamed. Immediate black-out, followed by the black tabs opening to reveal the brightly lit consulting room. I, as Jonathan Harker, then entered to await the imminent arrival of David Dawson. Invariably, there was a considerable amount of smoke—a cloud, in fact—still hanging over the stalls, which we had learned to live with, but on one dreadful occasion the model bat was also present; its wires having jammed, suspended over David’s desk between his chair and the chair I was about to occupy. I steeled myself for the ordeal to come and resolved to suppress my inner hysteria. I remember wondering how and if David and I should refer to it in any way, but decided that we had best ignore it! David entered, saw the bat, of course, and we both knew instinctively that eye contact between us must be avoided for the scene to continue. When we took our seats the bat was dangling between us at eye level—it was quite a sizeable object! So, we proceeded to ignore it and each other, and spoke our lines directly to the audience. My firm resolve was shattered when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw David gently easing the bat to one side in order to see me, but with a great effort of will we both managed to keep talking. There wasn’t a titter nor any response from the audience to indicate they were aware that anything was amiss, and in some strange way this helped us. We battled on, but when, a short time later, the bat’s wires were sorted out and it suddenly shot up into the flies and out of sight, I’m afraid we were both quite helpless with laughter. Disgraceful behaviour on our part, but I think you’ll agree we were sorely tried.

AB: It’s strange that all the people whom I have spoken who saw the play were particularly impressed with the special effects.

RB: Really? That is strange.

AB: Did Bela ever offer advice as to how the rest of the cast should play their roles?

RB: Only once. After our first night in Brighton, Bela met me in the wings one night after I had played my first scene with Lucy, who in the play has been visited by Count Dracula and somehow indoctrinated into vampirism. This was all unbeknownst to me, her fiancé, who is visiting her, as she recovers from the vampire attack. During the scene I express my worries and fears for her safety, and she gradually gets the urge to sink her teeth into my neck. Horror stations! And a merciful black-out ended the scene. Bela said to me, “I think you could get more out of that scene. Would you mind if I rehearsed it with you both?” This was music to my ears as our director, who was memorable for his fancy socks, had left us immediately after our first performance with a single note, which is not unusual, even today, and there would have been inevitably much in the production which could have been improved. Well, Sheila and I were re-rehearsed by Bela and whatever he did in the way of re-directing us must have helped because after we had played the scene as directed by him, he had watched us from the wings, he put his hands on my shoulders and kissed me on both cheeks in the continental manner. “That was much better,” he said, and referring to the kisses, “and I am not a fairy!!” That’s the only time he did something off his own back, and I was only too grateful.

Bela, Arthur Hosking (Van Helsing), Richard and David Dawson (Dr. Seward)

AB: What did you think of Bela as an actor?

RB: Oh, I thought he was first class. He had height and a stunning presence, no excess weight. He had saturnine looks, and his greatest asset of all, a superb voice. On stage this was produced so effortlessly. He could speak in a seeming menacing whisper at, say, The Hippodrome, Golders Green, and be heard at the back of the gallery. This is before the introduction of microphones on stage—a terrible practice! That’s what surprised everyone, that he was such a wonderful stage actor. You get many people, like Olivier or instance, who give out when they’re on, but don’t give out so much when they’re off, but he (Bela) wasn’t a nonentity off stage.

AB: How did you find him as a person?

RB: Both he and Lillian were charming and very accessible. He was instantly friendly, but he was treated with all due deference because he was a movie star, and he was the reason that we were doing that play. There was an atmosphere of great courtesy on both sides. We called him “Bela”, we asked if he minded, Lillian said, “Sure, sure go ahead.”

AB: What was life like on the road with the Lugosis?

RB: This was in the days when the pecking order in any theatrical company, be it in the West End, number one, two or three tour and some repertory theatres, was always strictly adhered to. In those days on tour when theatre dates were rarely longer than a week in any given place, companies travelled by train. The Lugosis certainly travelled with the company, though they might have a car from time to time. I sometimes travelled with John Saunders by car—as far as I can remember he was the only car owner in the company. Train calls on a Sunday morning meant assembling at the local station where the manager would assign company members to their respective carriages, which were reserved. We never travelled with the general public. There was a strict order of precedence observed, the leading members of the company travelling together, the supporting featured players—according to salary—then the rest of the actors—small parts and understudies—and the staff wardrobe mistress, carpenter, often a married pair—and the stage management in separate compartments—not with the actors. That was the start of the journey, and discrete mingling took place as the train progressed. All the Sunday papers were bought—sharing took place, of course—and, if the journey happened to be a long one, food and drink had to be bought by individuals on Saturday night as trains in those days, especially on Sunday, rarely had buffet or restaurant cars, and intermediate stops at stations en route couldn’t be relied upon to provide a buffet that would be open. Now 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. Except, that was, on certain occasions, when Lillian would say, “Now Bela has to have his injection.” That was our cue to leave. At that time Lillian had indicated that Bela had a health problem which necessitated medication, and it wasn’t until much later, after they had returned to America and poor Bela’s drug use became known, that we wondered if his “health problem” had been, in fact, his drug addiction.

AB: He committed himself to cure his addiction, apparently he had been suffering from leg pains for many years.

RB: I can remember that foot problem that he had. I can see him now, but I had to be reminded of it. Perhaps that is why he didn’t walk around? You rarely saw him except during the play. We never met him or Lillian around the town where we happened to be. He just didn’t go out. Wherever we happened to be, in England or Scotland, he knew nothing about the particular city or area, nor did he express any interest in local sights or places of interest. A car picked him up from his hotel and a car collected him from the stage door. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t walk around, he was just afraid of something happening. We didn’t even go out with Lillian, but maybe he was jealous? Maybe she wouldn’t have dreamt of saying, “Come on, boys, take me to the cathedral or take me to the pictures.”

AB: I don’t think he would have liked that.

RB: No, he wouldn’t. But he always welcomed us into his dressing room, there was never any suggestion that we weren’t welcome. From the beginning of the tour Bela’s No. 1 dressing room, wherever we played, was open house to us all, and coffee, beautiful American coffee, seemed to be always on tap, thanks to Lillian.

AB: Did the cast ever go back to his hotel after the show?

RB: No, there was no socializing after the show at all. It was before and during, but not after. Bela and Lillian always stayed in hotels during the tour, the rest of us stayed in “theatrical digs,” which in those days were still plentiful. These digs differed from ordinary lodging houses in that, in most cases, all meals were provided and geared to an actor’ working day—late breakfast and late cooked suppers after the show. Stage door keepers almost always had lists of available digs, and one could write to them in advance for recommendations. But almost all actors had their own digs address books and, as a rule, if one didn’t have an address for a future date, one consulted friends or other members of the company. The aim was to book in advance, seasonal actors often had the tour booked before the first train call—and never, if at all possible, to arrive at a new date with no address fixed. Of course, there were bad digs, too, and actors made careful notes of addresses to avoid and warned other actors about them if at all possible.

AB: Do you recall any particular incidents during the tour?

RB: Bela was always charming to us backstage, and his interest in our somewhat second-rate production never flagged. Needless to say, his own performance was always full throttle and the customers were enthralled. Save, that is, at one theatre—the Golders Green Hippodrome—where to our amazement, we got the bird. Any references to crucifixes, and there are many in the play, were greeted with cries of derision, and our crude special effects called forth hoots of laughter. Perhaps, if Count Dracula had spent longer on the stage the unruly audience would have been more amenable. It was the American version of the play, his part was extremely short. His short scenes amounted to no more than 20 minutes of the total two hours running time, but his appearances were so impressive that no one complained of being short-changed. In one theatre, the Lewisham Hippodrome where we were playing twice nightly, we were given a rough ride. But this was entirely a management error. On the first night of our one-week run our Van Helsing (Arthur Hosking), by far the largest part in the play, was indisposed. His part was taken by a dear old character actor, Alfred Beale. “Bealey”, as we called him, was actually our business manager. I thought he was a saint. He had been an actor, but I don’t think he had exercised his craft for many years. The management error was in expecting this man to go on in a leading part without the benefit of a single rehearsal. Mrs. Beale was very concerned about him, and came down to give him help and support. Bela was most concerned for him. I remember the scene on stage before the curtain went up on Van Helsing’s first appearance. There was Bealey with his script in his hands, the poor man had to read the part, and at his side was Bela with benzedrine in tablet form and a large jug of water. This had an immediate effect on Bealey and after the curtain rose he appeared not to have a care in the world as he read from his script. This was much to the audience’s displeasure and, I’m sorry to say, our hard-to-suppress amusement. I had to make an appearance in the scene, and my entrance coincided with Bealey dropping his script, which was not stapled but loose-leafed. Mrs. Beale was in the fireplace, attempting to bring poor old Bealey back onto the script, and as he skipped about the stage picking up the scattered pages, still not panicked by the laughter and shouts from the auditorium, we had to end the scene as best we could, though we were not nearly as mirthful as we had been at the start. Arthur Hosking rejoined us for the next performance. I’ll tell you one funny thing that happened. We thought that we were going to have a riot in Scotland because the playbill announced, “First Time in England.” Even then the Scottish Nationalists were around, and I thought we were going to have a bomb-attack or something. They never changed it. I laughed like a drake when I saw that, “First Time in England.”

Richard and Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral

AB: Could the play ever have really succeeded in the West End?

RB: No, it would have flopped definitely. It was such a tatty production.

AB: Could more money have turned it into a success?

RB: Not with that management. They obviously didn’t have the right standards. Out of their hands, who knows what might have happened? But by then it was a bit of a freak show. No, it wouldn’t have lasted more than two minutes.

AB: That was Bela’s whole reason for coming to Britain—he thought that he would be playing in the West End.

RB: Yes, maybe. People have lied before. That was a lying management if ever there was one.

AB: Was there any advance warning that the tour was in trouble?

RB: We got a fortnight’s notice. They had to do that or they would have had to pay us two weeks wages, and they wouldn’t have done that. Yes, we had due warning.

(Ed: The tour ended at Bela’s request. Although further dates near Newcastle and Liverpool had been lined-up by producer John C. Mather, it was clear that the production was unlikely to ever reach the West End as intended. Bela was exhausted by the tour’s punishing schedule. When John told Bela that they had to play the proposed new dates if the tour was to continue, Bela replied, “John, I can’t go on, it’s taking too much out of me.  Please finish it quickly.” The production took a two-week break before fulfilling its final contracted run at the Theatre Royal in Portsmouth from October 8th – 13th.)

AB: So you were all paid?

RB: We were paid, the actors. I don’t know about the others.

AB: It has always been claimed that Bela wasn’t paid, that he and Lillian were stranded in Britain, that’s why he appeared in the Mother Riley film.

RB: It could just be another story, an excuse for him appearing in such a poor film. I imagine it was. He never said anything, and Lillian never said to us, “Oh, they haven’t paid Bela.” I think they just slotted Bela into the film. They were just opportunistic. As you said, it was already set up, it just suited everybody, Bela and Lillian. John Saunders, sadly no longer with us, and I were friends on the tour. He played the least rewarding part in the piece, the asylum attendant. He and I were especially friendly with Lillian. We were all interested in food and cooking—what actor isn’t? As the tour was drawing to its end Lillian said, “You must visit us one evening and I’ll cook you an American corned-beef hash.” At this point Bela had already booked to play in the film, and he and Lillian had rented a house near the studio. She was as good as her word. One day, John drove us out to their house, he was the only car owner in the company, and sure enough, in their kitchen we sat down to a delicious meal while Bela and Lillian regaled us with red-hot gossip from the studios. He spoke with a heavy but perfectly understandable accent, with many Americanisms. I particularly remember tulips pronounced “toolips”.

(Ed: Despite the still persisting legend that Bela’s appearance in Mother Riley Meets the Vampire was hastily arranged to provide money to pay for his passage back to America after he and Lillian were left stranded in England when the tour collapsed after a few disastrous performances, his involvement in the film was first announced in the August 9th issue of Kinematography Weekly – three months before filming began, and two months before the tour ended.)

Richard, Anthony Hopkins, Shivaun O’Casey, and Geoffrey Whitehead rehearsing for A Provincial Life at the Royal Court Theatre in 1966

After Dracula Richard became an in-demand actor for over 40 years. He made his debut television appearance in 1952. In 1959, as Lugosi’s phantom film Lock Up Your Daughters briefly materialized, Richard did a long stint in a play of the same name on the West End. He appeared in many television series and mini-series, such as Coronation Street and Middlemarch, and played the vicar who conducts the fourth wedding in Four Weddings & A Funeral. In October 1982 Richard was guest of honor at the Dracula Society of London’s celebration of the centennial of Bela’s birth and spoke publicly for the first time about working in Dracula. Richard died in early 2004.

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Related pages and articles

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

From A To Zee: Eric Lindsay, Bela Lugosi’s Last Renfield

An Encounter With Bela Lugosi by Roy Tomlinson

Mother Riley Meets The Vampire

“Mother Riley Meets The Vampire” Robot Fails To Sell At Auction

The Return Of The “Mother Riley Meets The Vampire” Robot

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

Bela and Beatrice on their wedding day

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

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

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

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

A “Torrid Affair” with Clara Bow?

Clara Bow

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

Memphis Evening Appeal, January 17, 1931

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beatrice Woodruff, Beatrice Mills, Beatrice Weeks

Beatrice Weeks

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

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

New York Evening Telegram, January 11, 1920

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

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

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

 

Bela and Beatrice with an unidentified friend

The First Meeting in 1928

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

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

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

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

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

The Woman in Hungary, The Widow in California

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Whirlwind Marriage and Divorce of 1929

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

San Francisco Examiner, July 22, 1929

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

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

Examiner: Is she a blonde or a brunette?

Lugosi: Ooooooooo, I do not know.

Examiner: You do not know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clara Bow

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

Film Star’s Secret Love is Revealed

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

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

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

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

Lugosi Returns

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

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

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

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

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

Bela and Beatrice on their wedding day

He’s Heavy Lover

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

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

Battle Starts Early

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank J. Dello Stritto

Beginning his writing career in the pages of the 1960s amateur magazine, Photon, Frank J. Dello Stritto has built up an enviable reputation as one of the “most eloquent chroniclers of horror films. His many articles in Cult Movies Magazine, as well as his chapters in Bob Brier’s Egyptian Mummies, Bob Madison’s Dracula – The First 100 Years, Gary Don Rhodes’ Lugosi, and, of course, our own Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain have earned him a dedicated following among both his peers and fans of vintage monster and horror films. In addition to his writing, Frank is a popular speaker on the film convention circuit, a frequent guest on Joe Viglione’s Visual Radio and appeared in Gary Don Rhode’s documentary Lugosi – Hollywood’s Dracula.

For A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore – The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films (Cult Movies Press), his follow-up to Vampire Over London, Frank has collected together revised and updated versions of eight of his best articles from Cult Movies Magazine, The Vampire Strikes Back from Dracula – The First 100 Years, the transcript of his talk at the 1997 Dracula Centennial Conference in Los Angeles, and four previously unpublished essays.

The book highlights Frank’s talent for combining meticulously researched historical detail with incisive interpretation of hidden meanings. The films covered are the 1930s and 1940s monster and horror films that he saw on TV as a young boy. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that he sees parallels in them with fairy tales and classical mythology. Many writers have found themselves getting carried away when analyzing the subtexts of vintage horror films, but Frank is too skilled a writer to fall into that trap. Where one viewer sees Count Dracula as the personification of eternal evil which each new generation must defeat and all that he represents, Frank wisely concedes that he may indeed be nothing more than “a count in a cape sleeping in a coffin.”

In the introduction to his book, which is reproduced in full below, Frank traces the origin of his lifelong fascination with vintage horror films and Bela Lugosi. He also recounts how the unlikely duo of Abbott and Costello were unwittingly responsible not only for initiating the after-school TV addicts of the 1950s and 60s into the mythology of those horror films, but also for priming a whole generation for life.

Just a count in a cape sleeping in a coffin?

For anyone interested in the films and the personalities, both in front of and behind the cameras, of the golden age of horror movies, Frank’s book is essential reading. The book itself is as physically impressive as the writing. Hardbound and wonderfully illustrated throughout, with cover art by renowned artist and filmmaker Haig Demarjian, it is of a quality seldom seen these days. (Andi Brooks)

To order an individually numbered and signed copy of A Quaint & Curios Volume of Forgotten Lore – The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films, please contact Frank at: fdellostritto@hotmail.com

ONCE UPON A MIDNIGHT DREARY…

I can date the birth of my fixation on horror movies almost exactly. In the fall of 1957 Screen Gems, which had purchased broadcast rights for Universal Pictures, packaged some of Universal’s 1930s and 1940s horror movies into Shock Theatre, which it leased to television stations across America. My family lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, and our television broadcasts came from New York City where Shock Theatre played late on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, well after the bedtimes of seven year-olds like myself. Some Fridays, while I slept soundly, my nine year-old brother crept out of bed and talked my parents into letting him stay up. On Saturday mornings, he would tell me the wonders that he had seen.

On January 14, 1958 Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man aired, and the next morning I listened in awe to my brother’s description of the two monsters’ climactic battle. At that moment—sometime before lunch on Saturday the 15th—I knew that I must see this movie and all the late-night horrors for myself. I did not know that I would see them over and over again, read all that I could about them, write about them, lecture about them. And still, like Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man and Count Dracula, I would find no rest. At the time I could not appreciate that my mission had a few of the trappings of the gothic melodramas that would captivate me: a nocturnal quest driven by familial tensions, a search for arcane lore, and an obsession with a terrifying and fascinating past.

Until that Saturday morning, I was not a likely candidate to be a “monster boomer,” one of the post-World War II generation obsessed with old monster movies. Four years earlier my mother had taken me to a matinée of War of the Worlds. Science fiction was then the rage and had temporarily pushed the gothic monsters out of the limelight. When the aliens zapped a few locals with a death ray, I screamed. I continued screaming and crying for the rest of the film. This outburst led to a decree in our household that I not be exposed to such terrors in the future, either at the movies or on television. Dismissed out of hand was my request a short time later to see Rodan, a Japanese epic about gargantuan flying reptiles.

My scheme to master the lore of movie monsters took some time to launch, and I received help from an unexpected quarter. In my earliest years, my favorite television program was The Abbott & Costello Show. In their comic banter, Lou Costello—the short, fat, stupid one—is constantly browbeat and conned by Bud Abbott. Circumstances often let Costello triumph, but only after Abbott had either berated the hapless little man or done his best to explain the real world to him. Abbott in his exasperation with Costello became one of the unsung educators to my generation. Week after week, Abbott parried with Costello on topics as diverse as playing baseball or craps, paying or dodging the rent, dealing with lawyers, judges and police, visiting doctors and dentists, caring for the very young and the very old. Poor Lou never quite grasped what Abbott was talking about, but we kids did. For their young audiences, the genius of Abbott & Costello was that explaining their jokes was part of telling them.

By 1960 Abbott & Costello’s television series had long been in re-runs, but the comedy team’s feature films from the 1940s were regularly shown on Saturday afternoons at 2:00. On one such afternoon—I believe it was a sunny day and I felt some guilt that I was not outside playing—I first saw Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Bud and Lou deliver two large crates to McDougal’s House of Horrors. The crates contain “the remains of the original Count Dracula and the body of Frankenstein’s Monster.” The first crate is opened; Abbott pulls away a canvas shroud to reveal a coffin. “The Dracula Crest!” he says on seeing the emblem on the coffin lid. Did everyone know this insignia except Costello and me? Was this something I was supposed to recognize?

Lou understands enough to be terrified. Exhibit posters in the museum tell him a bit more. With a few fits and starts, he and Abbott work through the first one:

Dracula’s Legend

Count Dracula sleeps in this coffin but rises every night at sunset. Dracula can change himself at will into a vampire bat flying about the countryside. He keeps himself alive by drinking the blood of his victims. Count Dracula must return to his coffin before sunrise where he lies helpless during the day.

Abbott then reads the second poster:

 Frankenstein’s Monster

A scientist named Frankenstein made a monster by sewing together parts of old dead bodies. He gave the Monster eternal life by shooting it full of electricity. Some people claim it is not dead even now—just dormant.

 Purists might argue with the wording, but I had at last all the information I needed to start my quest. Even at this early point in the movie, Lawrence Talbot had already transformed into The Wolf Man. A few scenes later he explains: “Years ago I was bitten by a werewolf. Now, when the moon is full, I become a wolf, too.” The eternal question about vampires and werewolves—if you have to be bitten by one to become one, how did the first one become one—already nagged at me, but I left that issue to later musings.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein was once dismissed as juvenile fare. Into the 1960s it became a guilty pleasure, and as the years pass it is increasingly acknowledged as the witty thriller it is. Whatever its merits, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein introduced many baby boomers like myself to American horror and monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s. This brilliant little movie encapsulates all the virtues of far more ambitious gothic tales: a quest for eternal life, a tortured protagonist, a death struggle between intractable foes, a forbidden text with unholy knowledge. And even this movie blatantly aimed at a young audience has a curious subtext, especially in relation to the monster films that precede it.

“Lugosi’s Dracula was the most awesome and magical figure I had ever seen”

In the film, soon after Abbott & Costello read the primers for the two great movie monsters, came the moment which sealed my fate. The pivotal character in the story is Count Dracula, whose plot to revive Frankenstein’s Monster drives the other characters’ actions. I did not know then that Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula was legendary, or that his long association with the role had come to dominate his career and his legacy. All I knew as I watched Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein was that Lugosi’s Dracula was the most awesome and magical figure I had ever seen. Lugosi’s first scene in the film is without dialogue. From his coffin, Dracula locks on Costello a stare more than human, rises and waves his hand and fingers with amazing fluidity. The vampire gently taps Costello’s chest to be sure that his victim is fully under his spell, and steps back to admire his handiwork. Costello was literally dumbfounded and so was I. The comedian shakes off the trance in a few minutes. I proved not so strong—more than 40 years later I am still under Lugosi’s spell. I had yet to hear him speak, to hear that magnificent voice.

By the time that I saw Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, I had television programming on my side in my plot to see all the old horror films. By the early 1960s, the old black & white horrors were no longer deemed a threat to the young, and the airwaves were flooded with them at all times. Saturdays were saturated with 1930s and 1940s monster movies. Before the weekly Abbott & Costello movie at 2:00 on Channel 5 came a horror film at 1:00. At 7:30 on Channel 11 came Chiller Theater, and late night Saturdays usually had at least one horror. I first saw the early horrors of Universal and the German expressionists on Silents Please, a short-lived television series that played abbreviated versions of old silent films. The less specialized movie anthology programs had their share of monsters. Million Dollar Movie on Channel 9 played a single film repeatedly for a week—twice or three times each week night, and almost continuously on Saturday and Sunday—and gave the pre-video generation the opportunity to watch the same movie over and over.

“The first hardcover book I ever bought”

Within a few years I was something of an expert on 1930s and 1940s monster movies. I read all the monster movie magazines. The first hardcover book I ever bought was William K. Everson’s The Bad Guys, about movie villains. The first poems and short stories that I read of my own volition were the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The first novels I chose to read were Dracula and Frankenstein. My first sojourns from New Jersey to New York City were to museum auditoriums and revival theatres to see obscure horror movies that had yet to be released to television. My first use of a reference library was to lookup reviews and articles of horror movies in old newspapers. Horror movies, in short, were always there as I grew up, and shaped my first forays into the world beyond my home.

 By the late 1960s, I had written a few articles on old horror films for Photon, an amateur magazine. In the late 1970s, I drafted five essays on Bela Lugosi, with the intent of collecting them into a book for his centennial in 1982. But adult life caught up with me—marriage and family, a house, a lawn to mow, a career—and I abandoned the project. I remained a fan of old monster movies, but nothing more.

*          *          *

“The Man of 1,000 Faces”

Fast forward to Christmas morning, 1991. Like countless divorced dads, I puttered around my apartment, waiting for my assigned time to gather up my sons. As I ironed my shirts, I watched a documentary about philosopher and historian Joseph Campbell, author of Hero With A Thousand Faces. I pondered as I folded a shirt that the great silent movie star and master of makeup, Lon Chaney, was known as “The Man of 1,000 Faces.” Campbell explained that everyone believes in a mythology, whether its basis is historical or folklore, religious or political. He described how a mythology is necessary to fit the real world into a comprehensible pattern based on some values and tenets. I believed Campbell, but could not identify my own mythology. Time had come to fetch my sons, and I tossed the question into the heap with the unironed shirts.

*          *          *

About a year later, I first saw a copy of Cult Movies Magazine. Inside was an ad for a video, On the Trail of Bela Lugosi. The Cult Movies gang had taken a video recorder and visited “Lugosi sites” around Los Angeles: homes and apartments where he had lived; theatres where he had appeared; studios and outdoor locations where he had filmed. Not bad for $9.95, so I ordered one. The video soon arrived, and on its heels came a letter from Mike Copner, editor of Cult Movies:

I remember your name as a Lugosi fan who wrote a Karloff/Lugosi piece for Photon magazine about 20 years ago or so. I thought that was a great piece, and hope that some of our stuff will live up to your high standard…Are you doing any writing these days? I haven’t seen your name lately, but then I don’t read all the zines available, since there are so many out there these days. We don’t pay much, but if you had an article or something related to any variety of cult films, I’d sure be honored to run it in our magazine.

Cult Movies #27: The Lugosi Curse

I was stunned. The article he remembered so well had been published in Photon more than 20 years before. In my job—I was then an engineer in the oil industry—my memos and reports were forgotten almost immediately, as were the dozen or so technical articles I had co-written. Mike vividly remembered something I had written a generation before. I dug out my draft articles on Lugosi—four of the five had survived, all handwritten—and read them for the first time in many years. Still pretty good, I thought. I sent one to Mike, telling him that I would type it into a word processor after I had revised it. I was sure some of its ideas and information would be dated. After perusing recent writings on Lugosi and horror films, I was surprised that my articles still seemed rather fresh. Over the next year, Mike had published all of them in Cult Movies Magazine. In the meantime, I had recreated my fifth article on Britain’s so-called ban of horror films in 1937. Unlike the first four pieces, which are basically historical—new facts that I had unearthed on Lugosi’s life and career—the fifth article strayed into horror films’ subtext, into what may lurk just beneath the surface. Or, perhaps more accurately in the case of 1930s horrors, into what the filmmakers might have included in their works that censorship pressures of the day forced them to mask. 

Karloff  “The Uncanny” in The Mummy

I had no plans to do anything more until a friend, Egyptologist Bob Brier, asked me to look at his chapter on mummy movies in a manuscript for his new book. I had little to offer until a strange epiphany came over me. A co-worker had just returned from a business trip to China, carrying with him the latest strain of influenza. I caught it and for a week had no strength for anything more demanding than downing cold remedies and popping videos in my home machine before collapsing in bed to watch them. Universal’s four Kharis movies of the early 1940s have a combined running time of just over four hours. I watched them in sequence, again and again. Perhaps it was my near-delirium, perhaps I was unconsciously looking for something fresh to offer Bob, but I found meanings and themes that I had never seen before. It occurred to me that this is how Poe might have conceived his stories—half-asleep and half-demented from drugs. At last I had something unique to give Bob. Bob loved my rewrite. His publisher and editor did not, and deleted it. Mike Copner thought it manna from heaven and printed it immediately. I recovered from the flu, but perhaps not from the delirium. Since then, about 1994, whenever I watch an old horror film I think of something I want to write about. Some of my ideas are in the pieces which follow.

 *          *          *

In the late 20th century, interest in old horror and monster movies rapidly grew into a legitimate field of study. Renewed interest in horror films gained momentum long before I re-entered the field. In the 1960s, histories of horror films rarely rose above juvenile fare. By the 1990s, research into the making of the old horror films and the lives of the people associated with them was well established. Thanks to many dedicated film lovers, dozens of people who worked on the old monster movies have had their memories recorded; old newspaper features, trade journals and diverse documents have been digested; “lost” and unavailable films have been brought to light.

Carl Denham’s map of Skull Island

As the history behind the films was slowly documented, speculations on what might be within the films themselves multiplied rapidly. The growth of home video made such musings inevitable. For the first time, a wide viewership could watch movies often and closely, could freeze frames to study minute details (such as the contents of Dr. Frankenstein’s journal, or Carl Denham’s map of Skull Island in King Kong), and could replay garbled dialogue until it was deciphered (such as the German-accented Latin read by Van Helsing’s assistant in Dracula). In short, thanks to video, film could be studied as thoroughly as painting. And just as some meaning could be found in every detail of a Renaissance masterpiece, so could film students search for some overlooked gem in a film frame.

Many 1930s and 40s horror films have proven particularly fertile ground for interpretative analyses. Is Frankenstein’s Monster a stand-in for the unwanted child; is the doctor a classic case of womb envy? Is Dracula’s duel with Van Helsing actually between the devouring and the nurturing parent? Is King Kong the avenging black man who has broken his chains, or the natural world lashing out against technology? Or perhaps, as King Kong’s creator once said, “sometimes a black gorilla is just a black gorilla.”

Just a black gorilla?

Over the past 30 years, horror and monster films have been proposed as allegories for sexual and gender anxieties, intergenerational and familial tensions, racial and class struggles, economic and political instabilities, and fears over aging—both growing up and growing old. Whether a viewer sees any such ideas in the shadows or just a big black gorilla is entirely a personal choice. But whether one relishes the subtexts or simply cannot accept them, these films achieve a rare blend of entertainment and myth.

*          *          *

The popularity of 1930s and 1940s horror films with the post-war baby boomers may be an accident of timing. Universal’s old monster movies hit the ariwaves en masse just as the boomers began to outgrow children’s fairy tales. The monster boomers replaced one set of myths with another. Fairy tales and monster movies can be cast as sequential mythologies for young people. In their original forms, neither was intended primarily for the young. In time target audiences for fairy tales became those not too far from the womb, and for horror movies those not too far from puberty.

Target audiences for horror movies were those not too far from puberty

Fairy tales and horror both invite a wide range of interpretations, but at the cores of the perennial favorites are familial dramas. Long before the 1950s, those dramas might be quite diverse. In early variants of Cinderella’s tale, the villain is as often the father as the stepmother. Tallies of 19th century vampire stories show undead women outnumbering men. By the time the baby boomers arrived, the evildoers in fairy tales were mostly women, while in horror movies they were almost exclusively men. Portraying fairy tales as basically about bad mommies and horror movies as about bad daddies is a simplification, but not one that is trivially dismissed.

Many fairy tales open with a family in crisis. Snow White lives with a murderous stepmother; Cinderella with a sadistic one. Rather than feed Hansel and Gretel, yet another stepmother drives them from their home. By the end of the tales, the evil stepmothers are dead or vanquished, and the children are living happily everafter. Not quite, for horror movies then pick up their stories. The movies often begin with young people somewhat older than in the fairy tales, living in that promised everafter. But young Dr. Frankensteins and Dr. Jekylls are compelled to abandon comfortable lives to pursue strange and dangerous quests. The happy unions of young Mina Sewards to young Jonathan Harkers are threatened when Count Draculas come a-calling. Evil is again defeated, but not all the young people find a new happy-everafter, and some do not survive.

“compelled to abandon comfortable lives to pursue strange and dangerous quests”

Persistent themes in fairy tales are that obstacles in life must be confronted, and that young people must master their weaknesses and summon their strengths to prevail. The same is true of horror movies, but with a new concern. The dangers often include actually becoming the evil that must be destroyed. Those who confront vampires and werewolves may join their ranks. Universal’s mummy series begins and ends with the same plot: a young woman learns she is the reincarnation of an Egyptian princess and may become a living mummy. Anyone can become a Mr. Hyde or an Invisible Man. Frankenstein’s Monster is literally an amalgamation of victims. Four of the eight Universal Frankenstein movies involve a new brain going into The Monster. Only one comes from a willing donor.

Varied and scholarly interpretations abound, but fairy tales are essentially a mythology for those entering adolescent life and horror movies for those entering adult life. Horror films with their more varied plots and complex characters may be much more. Just as fairy tales are not great literature, most 1930s and 40s horror films are not great cinema. Taken as a whole, they are a rich and detailed mythology.

*          *          *

Makers of Monsters, Makers of Men…and Women!

The subtitle of this book is “The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films.” History and mythology are inseparable. Delving into what is on screen means delving into what happened off it. All the chapters in this book combine mythology and history. A few, such “Makers of Monsters, Makers of Men,” and “Monstrous Ambition” are primarily histories. Each chapter has a historical postscript with an anecdote in some way related to the main text: incidents in the lives of the people how made the films, events from outside the world of film that either influenced the movies or were influenced by them.

Movie horror’s first surges in popularity coincide with the Great Depression and World War II, when real-life presumably offered terrors that more than matched those in the movies. The early horror films owe as much to the coming of sound films in the 1920s and the aftermath of World War I as to the headlines of their own decades. Horror and monster films certainly appeared before the advent of sound in the late 1920s; but the first sustained craze for the genre came a short time after the cinema found its voice. Sound also brought increased outcries from the reformers on the evils of the movies. Pressures from the censors soon followed. Some studio bosses ignored or opposed the objections of the watchdogs, but most eventually ceded the fight.

Peter Lorre in Mad Love, pushing the boundaries to the limit

Horror films were sometimes in the forefront of the never-ending debates on film content, but by any measure of explicit content they were hardly the most daring. Yet movie censors, particularly in Britain, singled out horror for special scrutiny. That scrutiny led to a virtual ban on movie horror from 1936 to 1938. The next-to-last essay in this book, “‘H’ Is For ‘Horrific’,” deals with the protracted battle in Britain over horror films.

Many of the movie monsters—Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll & Hyde, Svengali, The Invisible Man—were born in 19th century novels. The 19th century saw the Industrial Revolution, the Darwinian revolution and the Freudian revolution. The horror novels reflect anxieties over technology, and over questions of what is man and what is self. Each of the monsters embodied the new tensions introduced by the then-modern world. Horror movies took those characters, simplified them, and served them up to the movie-going public of the 1930s and 1940s.

“..somewhere in the world, all the animals known only through fossil records must thrive.’

Among the advances in 19th century science was the inescapable conclusion that the earth had seen the extinction of countless species. “Science” long resisted the notion of extinction. Many scholars of the time, Thomas Jefferson among them, contended that somewhere in the world, all the animals known only through fossil records must thrive.  Science would drop the idea, but popular culture never did, and conjured mythical lands over the horizon.  Thus literature produced The Lost World, and the movies produced King Kong.

*          *          *

This book collects my essays on the horror and monster films that I first saw on television in my youth. Most of the pieces have been previously published in Cult Movies Magazine, but I have never stopped writing them. None of the movies that I write about ever frightened me, but they captivated me at an early age, and have never let go. Like my obsession with old black & white horror films, the writing of my essays never ends. The essays may be read individually, but have been sequenced and edited to allow a smooth progression and to remove unnecessary repetition.

The collection begins with the character and the actor who for me started it all.

“The Dracula That Never Ends”

*

Related articles

I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It 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.

Bela Lugosi and Don Marlowe

The Tell-Tale Heart Publicity Photo

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

Three Indelicate Ladies

Bela and Elaine Stritch in Three Indelicate Ladies

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

“My darling friend Virginia,

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

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

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

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

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

Truly,

Bela”

*

Don Marlowe Agency

Don Marlowe Agency publicity material

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

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

October 2nd, 1947

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

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

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

Don Marlowe ad from Mad Monsters # 3, 1962

Marlowe placed this ad in Mad Monsters #3 in 1963

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

Don Marlowe & Edward D Wood among the pallbearers

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

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

*          *          *

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

*          *          *

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

Don Marlowe duplicate item

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

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

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

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

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

Don Marlowe Agency publicity

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

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

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

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

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

“He will spot me any minute, watch.”

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

“Good evening, my young man.”

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

“Could I have your autograph, please?”

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

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

“And, young man, what is my name?”

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

The Tell-Tale Heart playbill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tell-Tale Heart 1947

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

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

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

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

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

Don Marlowe duplicate item 2

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

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

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

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

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

The president of the largest independent steel company:

The president of the largest utility company:

The president of the largest gas company:

The greatest wheat speculator:

The president of the New York Stock Exchange:

A member of the president’s cabinet:

The greatest “bear” in Wall Street:

Head of the world’s greatest monopoly:

President of the Bank of International Settlements.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of these men learned well the art of

Making money, but none of them

LEARNED HOW TO LIVE.

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

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

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

Don Marlowe promotional poster

Don Marlowe  promotional material

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

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

Bela photographed by Florance Vandamm in the December  1927 issue of Vanity Fair

Some of the most interesting stories about famous people—and not just movie stars—are based on the recollections of a single person. Truly impartial eyewitnesses are rare, and human memory is never to be fully trusted. As often as not, when new corroborating facts are discovered, old legends fall apart. But sometimes, the great little stories indeed seem true.

Robert Cremer’s 1976 biography, Lugosi The Man Behind The Cape, includes an anecdote (on pages 102-103) about the first American production of Dracula, which opened on Broadway in October 1927. Bela Lugosi, so the story goes, did not impress producer Horace Liveright and director Ira Hards in the first days of rehearsal:

{Liveright} was greatly disturbed that the weak link in the play appeared to be none other than Bela Lugosi…The cast grew edgy at Lugosi’s nonchalance on stage…Just a week before the dress rehearsal, Hards suggested that Liveright have a long talk with Lugosi.

Behind closed doors with his boss, Lugosi slipped into character as he explained his approach to his acting. “For the first time Liveright sensed the power and sheer terror Lugosi could produce even in an innocuous line.” Cremer cites no source for his anecdote. The tale almost certainly came to him indirectly from Lugosi himself, who would have told it to one of his many friends and relatives that the author interviewed years later for the biography. Lugosi died in 1956: so at least 20 years separate the actor telling the story first-hand and Cremer hearing it second-hand. And an almost 50-year gap between the actual event and its first printed account. Plenty of reason to question its accuracy.

Tod Browning, Bela Lugosi, Horace Liveright, and Dudley Murphy pose for a publicity shot in a break during the filming of Dracula

In the many interviews that Lugosi gave later, he sometimes claimed that he was fired from the production for a few days, and then brought back. In his interviews on the West Coast in 1928, where Dracula created the sensation it never did on Broadway, Lugosi had harsh criticisms for the American style of acting: too much emphasis on flash and not enough on the basics. Lugosi’s recorded interviews do not directly support the Cremer anecdote, but they are certainly consistent with it.

A tale later in Cremer, based on better evidence, is quite similar to the Liveright anecdote. In early 1954, Lugosi was rehearsing for his opening at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas. Again, he was unimpressive in his first go-throughs, and again the producer had grave doubts. Cremer interviewed Ed Wood at length for Lugosi The Man Behind The Cape; and Lugosi’s sometime agent relates his confrontation with the night club’s publicity director, Eddie Fox (page 222):

Sipping a scotch, Fox watched the rehearsal the afternoon before the premiere and motioned for Ed to come over to his table…“I’m going to cut Lugosi’s contract. The man just doesn’t have it for a comedy scene. His lines are flat and unimaginative. Why, he’ll put everyone to sleep. Pack your bags and I’ll have the cashier make out a check for your severance pay.

The Silver Slipper Saloon, Las Vegas, Nevada

A very rare photo of the Silver Slipper sign advertising the Bela Lugosi Revue

Wood begged for patience, and when the show opened the next night, Lugosi set the house aroar with laughter. Ed Wood, the infamously bad movie director, is also an infamously unreliable source. But quite believable is the simple fact that in early rehearsals, Lugosi strove to get the basics right, and saved the charisma for later.

In 1999, while researching AndiBrooks’ and my book, Vampire Over London – Bela Lugosi in Britain, I interviewed John Mather. Mather produced the 1951 stage tour of Dracula, where Lugosi gave his last performances in his great role. During the interview, the last thing on my mind was 1927, and with no provocation from me, John said:

I met Bela and Lillian when they landed in Southampton. Bela looked as if he were going to die. He always looked that way…For the first 2 or 3 days of rehearsals, he only walked through his part. I was wondering about canceling the whole thing. On the third day, Dickie Eastham asked the cast to do their read-throughs in character. Bela stood straight and awed everyone. Bela had always looked like a tired old man, very gray, very old and bent, years older than his actual age. He spoke very slowly, softly and mumbled a bit. This all changed when he was onstage. The transformation was complete: he looked 40 again, erect and towering. When he was Dracula, he had this twinkle in his eye. He was so charming, and then so evil. It was magnificent.

Here, quite unexpectedly, came a first-hand story almost identical to Cremer’s Liveright and Silver Slipper anecdotes.

Joan Harding and Bela Lugosi on stage in Britain in 1951

My personal opinion is that Lugosi’s almost being fired from Dracula in 1927 is true. What cannot be verified is whether, after Liveright closed his office door, Lugosi stared him down and crooned in a menacing tone (according to Cremer, page 103):

I understand your concern, but the performance is not until a week from tomorrow ev-e-nink. Now, we work for position. Our lines must be perfect. Yes, we save the atmosphere for a week from tomorrow ev-e-nink.

In the 1931 film version, when Dracula tells Renfield, “we will be leaving tomorrow evening,” Lugosi draws out the last two words with particular relish. Perhaps he was remembering the moment that he bested Liveright—but I can’t prove it.

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

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