Bela Lugosi: No Traveler Returns (The Lost Years 1945 – 1951) is the tentative title for a new book currently being prepared by Bill Kaffenberger and Gary D. Rhodes. Containing a wealth of previously unpublished material, the book promises to be a treasure trove for Lugosi fans. The authors have unearthed details about many previously undocumented stage, radio and personal appearance made by Lugosi between 1945, when his Hollywood career started to fail, and 1951, when he and Lillian boarded the S.S. Mauretania in search of a comeback in a revival tour of Dracula in Britain.
Gary D. Rhodes, the author of Bela Lugosi – Dreams and Nightmares, Lugosi: His Life in Films, on Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers and White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film, is already familiar to Lugosi fans, but Bill Kaffenberger is a relatively new name in the field of Lugosi research. I asked Bill to provide some background information on himself and the new book.
I was born in Washington DC and raised in Northern Virginia. I grew up in the era when Shock Theater and horror movie hosts first came to prominence on television in the late 1950s. After seeing “Scared to Death” on a local TV station, I instantly became a fan of Bela Lugosi specifically and old fashioned “monster pictures” in general. From that start my interest in classic 1930s and 1940s films also developed.
Bela and Ian Keith in the ill-fated 1945 play No Traveler Returns. Keith was considered by Universal for the role of Dracula in the 1931 film and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
In the turbulent times of the 1960s, I was more interested in reading “monster magazines” such as Famous Monsters of Filmland than in protest marches. My best friend was a huge Boris Karloff fan. Because there was so little detailed information about their film and stage work, other than what little could be gleaned from the monster magazines, the two of us made many a trek to the Washington DC Central Library to do research in their holdings of old Motion Picture Almanacs, Film Daily Yearbooks, and microfilmed publications. Thus the idea of researching the details of Bela Lugosi’s career started early for me. But sometimes other things get in the way. I went off to college and earned a degree in English Education and at the same time expanded my growing interest in folk and folk-rock music. To make a living, I was a budget analyst by day and a musician by night, performing in various venues up and down the East Coast during the 1970s and 1980s and releasing several music CDs of original material in recent years. Still, I retained a keen interest in Lugosi and his films, scooping up as many VHS videos as I could when that format came into vogue and then, naturally, replacing them with DVDs when they became available.
Bela with spook show magician Bill Neff in 1947
Occasionally still doing film research at the Library of Congress, I happened to come across three Universal newsreels that Bela Lugosi appeared in that apparently had never been catalogued in any of the books and magazine articles about Bela. Around that same time, Gary Rhodes was starting up his World of Bela Lugosi magazine. I shared my finds with Gary at that time and he invited me to begin writing occasional articles about Lugosi for his magazine.
The Tell-Tale Heart, 1947
Although we have only met face to face once or twice, at one of the monster movie conventions held in the Washington DC area, Gary and I have kept in touch via email and the occasional phone call over the years. With the advent of the digitization and online availability of archival newspapers and magazines over the past five years or so, I began doing serious Lugosi research again. When I would find something new, such as the fact that Lugosi appeared in a successful week of “Dracula” in St. Petersburg, Florida in early 1950, I would share that information with Gary in hopes that he could use it in his work. During 2010, due to the quantity and quality of new information about Lugosi’s career that I was finding, I started my first real blog, Bela Lugosi: The Nomad Years and began publishing some of the information I had found. Still in touch with Gary, he invited me to write a series of magazine articles with him, incorporating some of the new found data about Bela. That soon morphed into an idea of writing another book about Lugosi. Thus the project that Gary and I are working on now.
The Bela Lugosi Company in Miami in 1948
The book is tentatively entitled “Bela Lugosi: No Traveler Returns (The Lost Years 1945 – 1951)”. We intend the focus to be on the causes and results of Lugosi’s fading film career, his three prominent and noble but failed attempts to return to prominence (two plays and one film), and, as well, a much closer and more detailed look at his summer stock performances, his various nightclub acts and personal appearances and his vaudeville shows than has been done previously. Between Gary’s research and mine, we have come up with quite a few surprises that we believe will satisfy the Bela Lugosi fans in particular and classic horror film buffs in general. While I wouldn’t want to give away the punch line as the old saying goes, I will say that we have uncovered multiple previously undocumented performances, interviews, advertisements and related data that will go a long way towards filling in the information gaps that exist regarding Lugosi’s non-Hollywood career.
A 1950 Spook Show
Our plan is to begin the book around the time he was doing NO TRAVELER RETURNS in California and Washington state and end the book at the time Bela and Lillian boarded the ship to go to England to revive the DRACULA play. At present, we are working on the text, plan to secure a publisher before the end of the year, and hope for as early a publication date as possible in 2012. We will keep everyone up to date as things develop during the coming months.
The book has now been published under the title of No Traveller Returns: The Lost Years of Bela Lugosi and is available at: http://www.bearmanormedia.com/