Meet the Vampire: Bela Lugosi Interviewed by Barbara Barry in 1933

The New Movie Magazine, January 1933, CoverThe New Movie Magazine, January 1933

Launched in 1929, The New Movie Magazine was published by Tower Magazines, Inc. on the 10th of each month until the company went bankrupt in 1935. Tower Magazines was formed in 1928 when advertising copy writer Catherine McNelis convinced executives of Woolworth’s to back her idea to produce a series of magazines that would be sold at branches of the five-and-dime chain. In 1930, as president of Tower Magazines, McNelis claimed that the company’s publications had a combined circulation of 1.4 million, with The New Movie Magazine having the “largest circulation of any screen magazine in the world.” The claims were called into question in 1938 when Catherine McNelis, her brother, John McNelis, Tower’s circulation manager, and Joseph E. Flynn, Towers business manager, were accused of defrauding magazine advertisers out of $1 million by inflating circulation figures to increase advertising rates. Once hailed as one of America’s top 10 businesswomen, McNelis and her co-accused were found guilty and sentenced to one year and one day in prison.

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Published two days after the release of The Death Kiss, a World Wide Pictures murder mystery which reunited Dracula stars Bela Lugosi, Edward Van Sloan and David Manners, the January 1933 issue of The New Movie Magazine featured an interview with Bela Lugosi conducted by Barbara Barry at the actor’s home. Barry produced a sympathetic piece in which she sought to peel away the “fiend, in human form” image popularized by studios and the press to reveal the real man, whom she found to be “genial, sincere, and—sadly enough—misunderstood…and lonely.”

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Meet the Vampire

Wherein the monster, Dracula is unmasked by a litter of puppies

By BARBARA BARRY

The New Movie Magazine, January 1933, Image“Unseen hands seemed to clutch at my throat,” says Miss Barry, describing her meeting with Bela Lugosi. She might have pictured the scene in Dracula (above).

I talked to him. This man who dares not sleep at night. This strange being who dreads the darkness that is people with supernatural beings…evil talons, poised to strike…grinning mouths…dripping with the blood of their victims.

Quaking inwardly, I stood before the entrance of Bela Lugosi’s imposing castle in the mountains, waiting timorously, to be admitted. No sound came from within. The eerie stillness was stifling. Unseen hands seemed to clutch at my throat. Distantly, a hound bayed. I wanted to run away.

But the wide oaken door was opening…slowly…soundlessly. Desperately, I tried to turn and flee from the evil spot. But my feet were rooted to the ground….

And now, kiddies, if you’re sufficiently cooled off, permit the ducky bumps to go into retirement, comb down your top hair, and meet the most misunderstood, misrepresented man in all Hollywood!

Ever since Dracula, Bela Lugosi has been pictured as a veritable fiend in human form, a being—half man, half vampire—who cavorts with evil spirits and nips sleeping females directly south of the Adam’s apple, by night; and scampers (or flits) to his underground tomb, by day.

But don’t you believe a word of it! Auntie’s going to drive a stake through the heart of that story without further delay. And here’s how:

In the first place, any neck-nipping vampire would have a tough time finding a Hollywood female who sleeps nights.

And it would be even a tougher job for him to locate a tomb in which to lay his weary head. Because all the underground “tombs” these days are naively termed “speakeasies” and happen to be closed during those hours when self-respecting vampires are supposed to be sleeping it off. So there!

Bela Lugosi greeted me with an abstraction that was disturbing, to say the least. From the first moment, he regarded me silently, quizzically, until I began to feel as though I’d stepped from the bathtub, smack into the middle of Hollywood Boulevard. Sort of uncomfortably “de trop,” if you follow me? (And I’ll bet you would!)

Previous to the interview, a mutual friend had warned me that the Hungarian Menace was extremely temperamental and liable to leap up at the most unexpected moment, and shout: “For God’s sake, let’s get done with this!”

Consequently, every time he opened his mouth I automatically reached for my hat—until the whole thing took on the aspect of a first-class shambles!

We sat in one corner of the spacious living room and eyed each other suspiciously. An innocent bystander would have concluded that we were playing a game, wherein the first one who said a word had to wash the dishes!

A temptingly beautiful grand piano graced the center of the room before the high French windows; and directly opposite was the enormous love couch, about which the mutual friend had told me so much (which isn’t any of your business—so there!)

I was just beginning to be sorry I’d come when my unresponsive host called to another part of the house by a respectfully insistent voice, and, excusing himself briefly, he strode out, leaving me to my own devises.

*

Bela Lugosi at HomeBela Lugosi photographed in his home in the early 1930s

*

He’s gone quite awhile. But, as he hadn’t taken any luggage, I knew he’d probably be back sometime. So I waited.

After about 10 minutes of plain and fancy thumb-twiddling I began to look around for some other method of amusing myself.

It was a toss-up between the love couch and the piano. I could take a nap, or keep anybody else from taking one. The unerring penchant for making a nuisance of myself won out, and I sat down at the piano. Nobody laughed. I haven’t clipped coupons all my life for nothing. (If you think you can clip coupons for nothing, you don’t know your brokers.)

Now, I don’t play good. Not good, but plenty loud. And my choice of selections included two Hungarian melodies, “Kis Angyalom” and “Lesz Olga justst is az enyem…”

As the last note died away, I turned to face my host, who had silently returned. The change in him was almost unbelievable. His face had softened and the pale eyes were bright and suspiciously wet. The music of his homeland had turned the trick. From that moment we were friends.

Bela Lugosi is extremely sentimental about the land of his birth. In his own element, at the Hungarian Club, I have seen tears on his cheeks, heard him sob like a child, at the haunting, bittersweet melodies of his native land, played with all the primitive fierceness of the Magyars, by the gypsy orchestra.

Temperamental—and with the keen sensitiveness of the true artist—he seems pathetically out of place in the mad whirligig of light and color that is Hollywood.

His natural reticence mistaken for unsociability, Lugosi is a lone wolf. And his very loneliness lends him an air of sinister mystery, upon which the ladies and gentlemen of the press have pounced with diabolic glee.

If you could know the real Lugosi—if you could see him as he romps with his beloved dogs; listen to him as he speaks, reverently, of the land that fostered him—you would be amazed at the gentle philosophy of the genius who created fiendish Dracula.

More than anything else, he deplores the fates that have destined him to eternal fiendishness.

“In Budapest,” he said, “and in New York, I played nothing but romantic roles, until Dracula typed me, apparently forever.”

Bela Lugosi is one of the real actors in the profession. Innocently enough I made the horrible mistake of questioning his original intentions.

“What were you,” I asked, “before becoming an actor?”

He drew himself up. “I am an actor!” he said stiffly.

“I heard you the third time,” I assured him soothingly. “But, I repeat…”

“In Hungary,” he relaxed a trifle in the face of my colossal ignorance, “we are trained for the profession from childhood. We have academics that specialize in the art, and we study for it, as your American men study to be doctors, lawyers, etc.”

Which isn’t a bad idea at all. Although a few of our American contemporaries who served their apprenticeship behind the wheel of a truck, or on the business end of a shovel, are doing nicely thank you.

Lugosi’s love affairs have been many and varied—characterizing the emotional intensity so typical of the true Continental. But he prefers not to speak of them.

“That part of my life is my own,” he explained, not unkindly. “My romances have been the subject of much publicity. Often than not, the press reports have been more fictional than otherwise. I prefer not to discuss it.”

*

Clara Bow, The Brooklyn SpitfireClara Bow, The Brooklyn Spitfire

See Bela Lugosi’s Clara Bow Nude Painting Sells For $30,000 At Auction. for more details of her affair with Bela Lugosi.

*

So—you nosey little mugs—if you would know the “lowdown” on his hectic romance with the Brooklyn Bonfire, or the truth about his two unfortunate marriages—you’ll have to content yourselves with reading up the back numbers of the good old tabloids.

While refusing to discuss his romantic adventures, Lugosi makes no secret of his love for his dogs. And it is a beautiful thing to behold. For they return his affection with a worshipful adoration, a faithful devotion, that the lonely man had not found in human relationship.

When he is talking they lie quietly at his feet, following his every gesture with approving eyes. But let him rise and move across the room, and they are on him like a flash, leaping at him, barking joyously, begging, dog fashion, for a romp.

Dracula, a beautiful Doberman—whose evil eyes and strikingly sinister appearance are strongly suggestive of the fantastic being for which it is named—is his favorite.

She had recently starred in a canine Blessed Event, and Lugosi led me down to the kennel to inspect the pedigreed progeny.

*

Bela and his dogs 2

“They return his affection with a worshipful adoration, a faithful devotion, that the lonely man had not found in human relationship.”

*

Perfectly marked, the eight puppies were identical, miniature carbon copies of their sleek, graceful mother.

Lugosi’s approach was the signal for a mass attack. Yelping joyously, they surrounded him, tails wagging furiously…all eight of ’em!

Laughing happily, the Master Fiend went down on his knees, arms outstretched to encircle them all. And they mussed his hair, tugged at his tie, left multiple dusty smudges on his immaculate white flannels, while they yelped madly in concert.

I watched the scene in amazement. And, as I watched, Lugosi raised a strangely transfigured face to mine.

“My family!” he cried joyously.

An unexplainable emotion gripped me. Where was the fiend, in human form?…the diabolical Dracula?…Surely, not here…not this happy man who murmured gentle endearments to a flock of mauling puppies.

I left him there. It was a beautiful picture to carry away with me.

Mysterious? Sinister? Don’t you believe it!

The evil shadows had fallen away, and I had seen the real Lugosi. Genial, sincere, and—sadly enough—misunderstood…and lonely.

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