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

Derek's autographed Photograph

Derek’s signed photograph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derby Programme CoverCoverof the Derby programme

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

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

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

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

A Derby Ticket

A ticket stub from Dracula’s run in Derby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derby Programme

Centre pages of the Derby programme

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

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

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

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

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

Derek's autograph

Derek’s autograph

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

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

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

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

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

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Related pages and articles

An Encounter With Bela Lugosi by Roy Tomlinson

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

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

Knee-Deep In Ice Cream, Smoke & Wayward Rubber Bats: An Interview With Richard Butler

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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Bela Lugosi’s Dracula Cape Fails To Sell At Auction

The Dracula cape worn by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 Universal classic film failed to sell in the first session of the Icons of Hollywood auction at Profiles in History on December 16th, 2011. The starting price of $1,200,000 may have been overly optimistic, but the cape wasn’t the only iconic Hollywood artifact that priced itself out of a sale. A pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz scared off potential buyers with its starting price of $2,000,000.

The surprise announcement that Bela Lugosi Jr. was auctioning his father’s cape caused consternation amongst fans. Not only were they mystified by his decision to sell such an important heirloom, which was left him by his mother, Lillian, upon her death in 1981, they also feared that the cape would disappear into the vault of an investor or be buried away in a private collection. 

The cape (Lot 589) wasn’t the only item to be put up for auction by Lugosi Jr. Among various photographs, posters and lobby cards, two were of such a personal nature that his desire to sell them seems even more surprising than his wish to sell the cape. Inscribed, “To the Sweetest Good Mother of  Mine,” a 1905 Hungarian portrait of Bela failed to reach its starting price of $1,000, while a 1940s portrait inscribed by Bela to his wife Lillian sold for $2,250. The highest selling lot was Bela’s own jumbo lobby card from Dracula, which sold for $22,500.

In addition to the lots from Bela’s estate and family, five other items, including photographs from Bela’s own collection, were offered for sale. The most interesting lot, however, was a pair of Bela’s 1930s wingtip shoes, which fetched $1,600.

In remarkable condition, Bela’s wingtip shoes

Bela wearing the shoes at the Hollywood Athletic Club sometime during the 1930s

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Below is a full list of the lots from Bela’s family and estate, with catalogue descriptions and starting and selling prices. (Andi Brooks)

Lot 585

Starting price $1,000 – unsold

Hungarian cabinet portrait ca. 1905. Silver-bromide matte print 4 ¼ “ x 7 ½”on photographer’s imprinted  card-mount. A very early original-period reprint, as it bears Lugosi’s  inscription in the print itself in Hungarian, “To the Sweetest Good Mother of Mine.” 

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Lot 586

Starting price $800 – unsold

Two vintage ca. 1920 Hungarian 3¼”x 5¼” photo-portrait postcards  of Bela Lugosi in striking poses with his facsimile signature, by “Angelo” of  Budapest. From the estate of Lugosi himself, and passed down to his heir. Cards  of this type were marketed to the public as promotions for Lugosi’s early film  and stage work in Europe, where he had already made a significant mark in the  public esteem. Tiny spot of age browning at one corner, else both Very Fine.

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Lot 587

Starting price $1,000 – sold for $1,000

Vintage oversize portrait of Bela Lugosi in his Hollywood study,  ca. 1930 – Silver-bromide 11”x 14” double-weight custom matte print, being a  contemplative portrait of  Bela Lugosi contemporaneous with his role in Dracula,  in the study of his Hollywood home, replete with the infamous nude painting of  Clara Bow which Lugosi kept close at hand until his dying day. This photograph  is from Lugosi’s estate, and passed down to his heir. Excellent condition with  virtually no trace of handling or age.

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Lot 588

Starting price $600 – unsold

Vintage profile portrait of Bela Lugosi, ca. 1930 – Silver-bromide 8”x 10” double-weight custom matte print, being a  stern profile portrait of Bela Lugosi ca. 1930. Print is of an exceptional  photographic quality for its lighting and sharpness of grain. Excellent  original condition; from Lugosi’s estate, and passed down to his heir.

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Lot 590

Starting price $20,000 – sold for $22,500

Dracula near-mint unrestored original Jumbo lobby-card  from Bela Lugosi’s own collection – (Universal, 1931)  14” x 17”original release Jumbo lobby-card  depicting Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, surrounding Helen Chandler with his  signature cape, about to anoint her with his very special “kiss”. This is not  only one of the most vital and essential images to perfectly distill the true  nature of the film, in virtually mint, totally unrestored condition, it was  also for decades, possibly even from the beginning, the property of Bela Lugosi  and passed down to his heir where it has resided to this day. Remnant trace of  scrapbook adhesive on verso margins, and very faint and insignificant handling  lines and background crease are the only signs this extraordinary artifact was  ever touched. Colors are rich and totally unfaded (the jumbo set was printed with  softer colors intentionally than the 11 x 14 set). We are not aware of another  example of this remarkable scene coming to auction previously, let alone an  original poster item of this caliber from Lugosi’s own collection. Authenticity  is beyond question on this exceptional piece. Very Fine to Near Mint.

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Lot 591

Starting price $1,000 – unsold

Vintage oversize portrait of Bela Lugosi full figure in white  linen suit, ca. 1930 – Silver-bromide 11”x 14” double-weight custom matte print, being a  standing portrait of Bela Lugosi in white linen suit with hat and cigar, and a  mischievous “Mona Lisa”smile. From Lugosi’s estate, and passed down to his  heir. Excellent condition with virtually no trace of handling or age.

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Lot 593

Collection of (16) Bela Lugosi portrait stills from his estate and  family’s collection – Mix of original and reprint portrait stills, primarily head-shots  in 8” x 10” size, all from either the estate or family of Bela Lugosi. Majority  are from the 1940’s-1950’s with the William Morris Agency credit slug in lower  margin. All in Very Fine condition.

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Lot 594

Starting price $2,000 – sold for $2,250

Vintage portrait of Bela Lugosi ca. 1940 inscribed by him to his  wife Lillian  – Silver-bromide 8”x 10” double-weight custom matte print being a  very personal, smiling portrait from the 1940’s which Bela Lugosi inscribed in  green fountain pen, “To Lillian- Bela”.  In 1933 Bela married 22-year-old  Lillian Arch, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants.  They had a son, Bela  G. Lugosi, in 1938.  From Lillian’s estate, and passed down to Bela Jr.  Very Fine condition.

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Lot 595

Starting price $300 – sold for $325

Bowery at Midnight original folded U.S.  one-sheet poster from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Monogram, 1942)  27 x 41 in. U.S. one-sheet poster folded,  for one of Lugosi’s better low-budget “programmers”. He is ably supported here  by a sexy Wanda McKay and a tough, juvenile pre-Detour Tom Neal.  Condition is Good only overall, though it benefits greatly from its provenance  of the Bela Lugosi family collection.

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Lot 596

Starting price $600 – sold for $950

The Return of the Vampire original U.S. Title-card  from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Columbia, 1943)  Original unrestored U.S. 11 x 14 in. Title  lobby-card for one of Bela Lugosi’s last roles worthy of his talent and  dignity. Good only condition, though colors are rich, with light soiling and  tape around rear margins; its strength is the provenance of Lugosi’s estate.

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Lot 597

Starting price $500 – sold for $550

The Return of the Vampire original U.S. portrait  lobby-card from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Columbia, 1943) 11 x 14 in. U.S. lobby-card, best portrait  in the set with Bela Lugosi in his signature cape, about to bite the neck of a  lovely young woman. Very decent unrestored condition (handling, and tape on  rear); its great strength is the provenance of Lugosi’s estate.

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Lot 598

Starting price $600 – sold for $850

 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein original  U.S. Title-card from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Universal, 1948)  Original unrestored U.S. 11 x 14 in. Title  lobby-card for Lugosi’s finest late-career appearance. Very light soiling from  handling, one pinhole; VG to Fine. From the estate of Bela Lugosi.

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Lot 599

Starting price $300 – sold for $400

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla original  U.S. half-sheet poster from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Jack Broder Productions, 1952)  22 x 28 in. U.S. half-sheet  poster, one fold. Film is remembered only for the presence of Bela Lugosi.  Poster is unrestored, in Good to VG condition, and is from the Bela Lugosi  family collection.

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Lot 600

Starting price $300 – sold for $550

Son of Frankenstein 1953 reissue portrait  lobby-card from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Universal, 1938/ R’53)  Near-mint unrestored 11” x 14”  portrait lobby card of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff from the 1953 Realart  reissue. From the estate of Bela Lugosi.

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Bela Lugosi’s Legendary 1931 “Dracula” Cape To Be Auctioned By Son

In a move that has taken fans by surprise, Bela Lugosi Jr. has put his father’s iconic Dracula cape up for auction. Worn by Bela in the 1931 Universal classic, the cape has a pre-sale estimate of $1,500,000 – $2,000,000. Among 16 other lots being put up for sale by Bela’s son are vintage photos and lobby cards from Bela’s own collection, including a Dracula jumbo Lobby card and title cards for The Return of the Vampire and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Speculation is rife as to what has prompted the 73 Lugosi Jr. to part with his father’s treasured cape, but he has so far not made an official statement. His mother, Lillian, who divorced Lugosi in 1953, left him the cape upon her death in 1981. Although it has often been reported that Bela was buried in the cape from the 1931 film when he died in 1956, he was actually buried in a lighter weight version which he wore when making personal appearances.

The cape and the other Lugosi lots will join a pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz in Profiles of History’s “Icons of Hollywood” auction, which will be held at the Paley Center For Media, Beverly Hills from December 15th – 17th, 2011. (Andi Brooks)

Full details of the auction are available at:

http://www.profilesinhistory.com/highlights/icons-of-hollywood-auction

Watch Andrew Schmertz’s report on the sale 

http://uk.reuters.com/video/2011/10/31/bela-lugosis-dracula-cape-up-for-auction?videoId=224062869

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