When Dracula Invaded England

Famous Monsters of Filmland No. 35 – October, 1965

For over forty years, until the publication of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain by Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks (Cult Movies Press), the article When Dracula Invaded England gave us the most in-depth look at Bela Lugosi’s 1951 British revival tour of Dracula. Although containing many inaccuracies and juvenile in tone, it was key to the early research conducted by Frank Dello Stritto and I into the tour. Published in Famous Monsters of Filmland No. 35 in October, 1958, the article drew heavily on interviews conducted with Bela and his wife Lillian by the British press upon their arrival in Southampton aboard the  S.S. Mauretania on April 10th, 1951. Whereas the tour would be written off in a few short lines as a total disaster by most Lugosi researchers over the following four decades, Famous Monsters of Filmland, writing exactly seven years after the tour ended, and only two years after Bela’s death, hailed it as “extremely successful.” The truth lies somewhere in between. The play toured Britain for six months, and would have continued for at least another month had Bela, exhausted by age, poor health and the rigours of life on the road, not requested that it be brought to an end. Although Bela garnered mostly excellent reviews, the play was too dated and the production too under-funded to compete with more modern and sophisticated entertainments of the day. As a result, it was not a great financial success, although, despite the legend, the whole cast were paid in full. It also failed in its primary aim of securing a run in the West End, which Bela had hoped would give him one final triumphant comeback. (Andi Brooks)

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A new expanded edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain has been published by Cult Movies Press. Please see Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain” New Expanded Second Edition for details.

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For Eager Victims

On the night of 10 April 1951 the notorious Count from Transylvania invaded Great Britain and, somewhat to his surprise, found the island’s inhabitants perfectly willing to surrender!

The Master Vampire, it is reported was not accessible immediately after his arrival and was not, indeed, on hand for an interview for at least several weeks. But as his bad-will ambassador, Bela Lugosi, was present, accompanied by his 4th wife, Lillian. Unconfirmed sources insist that the latter was secretly the Bride of Dracula but her fondness for daytime appearances sheds doubt upon this statement.

Apparently convinced that Mr. Lugosi & Dracula were one and the same person, crowds of squealing teenage fans and squealing middle-aged newspaper reporters followed him wherever he went. Odd scraps of paper were constantly being pressed into his hand and he would obligingly scrawl his autograph in blood-red ink. His fans were delighted by this symbolic touch.

Female fans, who comprised the majority of the crowds present, regarded Mr. Lugosi with the same sighing idolization normally reserved for Danny Kaye or Frank Sinatra – the most popular American movie stars at the time. These girls would either watch him wide-eyed or greet him with excited giggles as he toured the country, performing mock terror scenes over delighted “victims”.

Blood (Orange)-Sucker

One reporter wasted no time in getting down to the heart, liver and kidneys of the matter. He inquired of Mr. Lugosi: “Is it true that you suck blood oranges?”

“All the time,” he replied. “I often eat 6 at one sitting.” An enigmatic gleam – possibly humor, or perhaps . . .

The reporter continued, “And raw steaks?”

“When I can get them,” Lugosi replied. Now, in addition to the gleam in his eye, there appeared a slight twist of the mouth. He was prepared to go on in this manner indefinitely when finally the reporter’s courage gave way and he made an abrupt exit. Lugosi broke into a broad Slavic smile.

It had happened before.

Bela & Lillian (Photo by Harold Clements Express)

Bela and Lillian, wearing a silver bat broach, upon their arrival at Waterloo Station on April 10, 1951

Looking Dracwards

With other reporters who preferred to avoid the subject of his affinity for the red fluid which coursed thru their veins, Lugosi indulged in a bit of nostalgic reminiscing. Asked if he shared the superstitions of his peers in Lugos, Hungary, he replied:

“I was not such a brave kid in Hungary. I was born in Transylvania where the Dracula legend comes from, and never did I go down into our cellar. It was full of bats.”

In his youth Lugosi was the goalkeeper for the football team in Transylvania – the name of which has not been… unearthed.

Having not known Lugosi as well as we, the reporters were interested in whether he found the role of the vampire prince enjoyable because he shared some of the fiend’s innate wickedness. Lugosi answered, when he recovered from the shock, that the worst thing he ever did was to steal hats!

“I was a hat hunter like the Indians who used to collect ‘headpieces’ of their enemies. In 2 years I got 1500 hats from boys of a rival school. I put them up for sale and made a lot of money.”

The conversation drifted from to the origin of his career.

“Never become an actor,” he warned one young man. “There is only one place in the world where it is worthwhile – Hungary.”

Hamlet & Horror

“Over there you have a 4-year training course, and once you have passed thru that you have nothing to worry about. Even in your old age you still get a pension. In America there is always the fear of unemployment.

“I was, as a young man, an actor in the Hungarian Royal National Theater.  I played the romantic leads. I have played the role of Hamlet on more than one occasion.” Lugosi, at that point, smiled proudly. “I have only played the role in Hungarian, tho.”

If he was so successful, they asked, why did he leave Hungary?

“I left my country in 1920 and have never been back. I do not like to live under a dictatorship of any kind, and I am now an American citizen.

“When I came to Broadway in 1923 I played still romantic parts – the Spanish lover in ‘The Red Puppy’ (sic) and the Valentino-type sheik in ‘Arabesque.’ Then they wanted someone to play Dracula. In America, you know, they have the type system of casting. And there was no male vampire type in existence.

“Someone suggested an actor of the Continental school who could play any type, and mentioned me. It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success – such a success!”

Programme for the premiere in Brighton

Horrorwood & Frankenstein

“I was branded then as a horror specialist, going to Hollywood in 1931 to recreate the stage role for the film DRACULA. If I had just one percent of the millions that film has made, I wouldn’T have the pleasure of sitting here now.”
Lillian interrupted jokingly: “No, Honey, you’d be stretched out by our lake in California, doing nothing.”
Lugosi chuckled. “You know, DRACULA is the only film to be reissued every year without a miss? Next I went on to play the mad scientist in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, and following that I was told to make a ‘costume test’ for the part of Frankenstein’s monster.”

We need not elaborate on the outcome of that venture.

Then suddenly Lugosi made an announcement which, for the monster master, was totally unexpected and almost unbelievable.

Dracula Retire?

“Horror is my business – it pays off best,” he intoned. “But I’m tired of gore. I hope that in England I find some broad-minded, intelligent producer who should say, ‘Let’s give Lugosi a comedy!”

Shortly afterward he was given a role in Glen or Glenda? – something which might be called a comedy – and then in Vampires (sic) Over London. The latter was finally released in America as My Son, The Vampire, known in England as Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. (1)

But Lugosi did not switch to comedy and abandon the horror field, as the record of his subsequent films proves. He was, however, a natural for less serious roles.

The reporters found him a mild-mannered, inoffensive gentleman with a pronounced Hungarian accent and a personality that would be envied by many. As photographers took publicity stills of the “Dracula” company, he even assisted with the lights and offered friendly advice.

At other tomes he sat quietly at the side of the stage, coming out with occasional wisecrack (sic) or calling a friendly “Hi!” to the theatre folk as they went about their work.

When all was ready for the publicity stills, he grabbed his leading lady for the play. She slumped helplessly in his arms as he exposed her lily-white throat and bared his fangs.

The flashbulbs flared, the cameras clicked and the reporters happily went on their ways.

Bela met his British fans at the Sunday Pictorial Film Garden Party at Morden Hall Park in Surrey on June 16th.

In The Mood For “Food”

The primary purpose of Lugosi’s presence was, of course, the presentation of the stage play Dracula to Britons. The premiere was on 16 June 1951, at the Theatre Royal in Brighton. (2)

Reporters of the time were let in on a few secrets hitherto or quite unknown to monster fans.

“It takes me about half an hour to warm up before the curtain rises, “  Lugosi confessed. “I never  eat before a performance – I like to go on thirsting for blood.”

Lillian explained: “He has to get himself in the mood. I can’t even talk to him for an hour before the show. And I wouldn’t want to! He’s impossible for half an hour before and after each show – he’s still Dracula!”

Normally he has rather small hands, but with a flick of the fingers he was able to twist them into one of the terrifying positions so well known to monster fans. Suddenly his fingers looked immensely long and thin.

His eyes were deep pools in which swam nameless terrors, at least as Count Dracula. Often he would warn a young girl reporter. “Never, never look into my eyes! Always I tell my leading ladies never to look into my eyes – at my forehead or nose, never my eyes. The last lady who looked into them went off – boomp! – into a hypnotic trance. I woke her with cold water.”

And many times that young girl reporter would mistake Lugosi’s usual tongue-in-cheek attitude for a fang-in-throat true account!

Dracula—1951

Concerning the British stage version of Dracula, Lugosi explained, “We are playing it perfectly straight and it has been modernized since I played it on the American stage.”

For horror, he said realistically, is not what it used to be. When the play was first presented on Broadway there were members of all audiences who took it  literally. People screamed and fainted. First-aid staffs were kept busy. Lugosi as Dracula did not then dare to pretend to bite his victim’s neck, for fear of hysterical reaction from the public!

Now the customers, especially the children, know it all. They have seen plenty of horror films with Lugosi taking part, and they are more sophisticated, as they were even in 1951.

The British production of Dracula acted on the presumption that there was still, nevertheless, a strong public demand for the old-fashioned spine-tingling horror play – provided it was properly presented. Capacity audiences endorsed this view when Dracula premiered.

No concessions were made to changing or more sophisticated tastes among the theatregoers, save for a slight modernization of the setting, with the result that demoniacal laughter often rang thru the theatre, the air was seldom free from the distant barking of dogs and wolves and from unidentifiable whistles, clammy mists swirled thru doorways and windows and, in fact, almost every feature of unabashed melodrama was present.

Strangely enough, in the more recent production, there were uniformed first-aid attendants on duty throughout the play, even tho the most horrific bits were inclined to inspire more titters than gasps. There have, however, been actual cases of shock in the audience – but those were all elderly people.

After six months on the road, the curtain came down on Dracula at Portsmouth’s Theatre Royal

Good Guy Or Bat Guy?

“I don’t scare the kids,” Lugosi said. “They know I’m the good guy at heart.”

This increased awareness among audiences, plus his desire to change to comic roles, almost caused Lugosi to react against his will. Often he found himself tempted to play Dracula for laughs – especially in his curtain speech, when he said, “There are such things as vampires,” and vanished in a puff of ghostly mist.

To play Dracula in a humorous “vein” would be one thing to which Lugosi was adverse. He frequently muttered about his role in Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein and told reporters:

“The horror business is certainly not what it used to be. Boris Karloff, a great horror specialist – look what he is driven to do. Comedy stuff in New York!”

Despite the sophistication of the audiences, the 1951 British stage production of Dracula was extremely successful. A newspaper critic of the time gave this account:

This is melodrama in the Henry Irving tradition, magnificent, macabre and gloriously bloodcurdling; not staged, but invoked, and declaimed rather than acted. Hollywood could never provide realism like this. At a lesser theatre it would be capacity twice nightly.

The Only Way To Fly

In the modernized version of Dracula most of the action took place in the asylum of Dr. Seward (Arthur Hoskins) at Hampstead Heath Row. His daughter Lucy was played by Sheila Wynn, and the attendant, furnishing comic relief, by John Saunders.

Dracula calmly filled six packing cases with local soil and took an air-liner to Heath Row, where he mystified the Customs officials by firmly declaring ordinary boxes of earth. He explained to them that he needed them “for horticultural purposes.”

With that he began operations on London’s outskirts, where the Count in black, reeking of brimstone and tombstone, claimed the blood of the living as his due.

At last Dracula was laid to rest by the final driving of a yard-long stake thru his heart.

Bits & Pieces

Bela and Lillian Lugosi each carried a token of the vampire prince to whose greatness their fame and fortune can be attributed. Bela wore the heavy silver Dracula ring – a replica of the ring worn by the actual Count Dracula! And his wife wore a silver bat on her beret. (3)

To Bela may also be given the honor of having told the very first elephant joke! During conversations with reporters and fans, while Lillian kept up a bright and witty conversational stream, the raven-haired Mrs. Lugosi firmly announced:

“Bela could not tell a story to save his soul. He always forgets them halfway thru. There’s just one he can remember, and that takes half an hour to tell.”

“Shall I tell them the one about the elephants?” he asked.

“No!” she shouted. “That’s the one I’m talking about!”

Alas, we shall never be able to hear it.

Bela visiting the home of Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman and his wife Wendayne

Dracula Without His Cape

Hitherto we have seen the several faces of Bela Lugosi: Bela the Vampire, Bela the Jester, Bela the Actor. But we have yet to see the final face – that of Bela the Man.

We shall see this thru the eyes of Lillian Lugosi:

“He tells me he loves me every single day. I think that’s very nice, don’t you? Men get so neglectful. I know when he’s angry with me – the day he doesn’t tell me he loves me.

“Bela’s good about the house, too. Only one fault – he leaves his stamp collection all over the place.”

Bela interjected, “I love stamp collecting. I love soccer. I love dogs. I used to have seven little dogs, then little Bela Jr. Came along and Lil said we must have room in the backyard to hang up the diapers, so now I have only six dogs.”

What does he read in his spare time?

“Political science, in which I am very interested. I never read novels, but I like to keep up with things in the newspapers and magazines – especially the diplomatic news. Everybody double-crossing everybody else!”

“I love women’s fashions,” he added.

“Yes,” said Lillian, “he goes with me to buy all my clothes. Only yesterday I bought some gloves and a handbag and because he didn’t like them he marched me back to the shop to change them.”

An interviewer queried Lillian: “Does he ever get up in the middle of the night and wander around in the dark?”

“Oh yes! He’s always getting up in the middle of the night. I leave a glass of milk and a pear for him in the icebox. He gets hungry round about 2:00 in the morning. Midnight snack, you know.”

In 1951 Bela Jr. was 13, when the interviewer asked, “Did you ever scare your son?”

“How could I?” interjected Dracula, prince of vampires, lord of the un-dead, master of the nosferatu, famed voivode of ages past. “He sees me in my underwear, and how can any man have any dignity in his underwear?”

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Notes

(1) Although pre-publicity for Bela’s final British film gave the title as Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire, the film was released as Mother Riley Meets the Vampire.  It was released on August 18, 1952. Glen or Glenda was not released until 1953. The confusion over the order in which the two films were released in the article arises from the fact that Mother Riley Meets the Vampire was not released in America until 1963 as My Son the Vampire. The film had failed to find distribution in America when released in 1952 under its original export title of Vampire Over London.

(2) Dracula premiered at Brighton’s Theatre Royal on April 30th, 1951, not June 16th as stated in the article.

(3) Photos of Bela and Lillian’s arrival in England show Lillian, sans beret, wearing the silver bat broach on the lapel of her overcoat.

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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

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

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

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

My Favorite Vampire by Alex Gordon

Alex, Bela, Lillian, Richard & William Everson

Alex Gordon, Bela and Lillian Lugosi, Richard Gordon, and film historian William K Evereson in the Tokay restaurant in New York

Born in London on September 8, 1922, Alex Gordon, like his younger brother and fellow film producer Richard, developed a love for films, especially westerns and horror, at an early age. They started fan clubs for their favourite stars, Gene Autry and Buster Crabbe while still at school, and pursued careers in the film business at the end of World War II. While Richard worked in the publicity department of Pathe Pictures, the distribution arm of Associated British, Alex became the one-man publicity department for Renown Pictures, a small film distributor which later moved into film production. They supplemented their earnings by writing film reviews and articles for fan magazines. Both brothers dreamed of becoming film producers, but it soon became apparent that they were unlikely to realise their ambition in the austere economic climate of  post-war Britain. Deciding to try their luck in the American film business, they emigrated to America in November, 1947 . 

Richard and Alex Gordon

Richard and Alex shared a life-long passion for films

Setting up in New York, Alex became a booker for Walter Reade theatres, while his brother worked as an assistant sales manager for Jack Hoffberg’s distribution company while freelancing as a representative for several British film outlets. They continued to indulge their passion for the cinema by interviewing film stars for British film magazines. Learning that one of their idols, Bela Lugosi, was scheduled to star in a summer stock production of Arsenic and Old Lace in nearby Sea Cliff  in August, 1948, they set out to meet and interview him. Lugosi not only consented to the interview, but also invited the brothers to dine with him and his wife at a local restaurant. Bela, who fostered hopes of  starring in a Broadway or West End revival of Dracula was intrigued when Alex told him that many fans in England had been disappointed at the cancellation of his proposed eight-week English stage tour of Dracula earlier in the year. Contacting them several months later, Bela asked Alex and Richard to take over the management of his business affairs and to try find him film and theatre work in Britain. Having recently started working for his childhood hero, Gene Autry, Alex was too busy to devote his energies to helping Bela, so Richard took on the task of trying to interest West End producers staging a production of Dracula with Bela in the lead. He found it much harder than he had anticipated, and it was not until 1951 that he was able to negotiate a British revival tour of Dracula, followed by Bela’s appearance in Mother Riley Meets The Vampire. 

Alex and Gene Autry

Alex with his childhood hero Gene Autry

When Bela and Lillian returned to America from England in December, 1951, Richard missed the opportunity to see them upon their arrival in New York before they quickly headed for California. He never met them again. Alex, who had relocated to Hollywood, took up the quest to find work for Bela. They developed a script together for a film entitled The Atomic Monster, which was intended to be the first of three Lugosi films Alex would produce and release through Jack Broder’s Realart. Instead of going ahead with the project, Broder stole the title for a Realart re-release of the 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. film Man Made Monster. Although Alex and Broder reached a financial settlement, Bela was left without work. The script was taken up and rewritten by Edward D. Wood Jr., who filmed it as Bride of the Atom (later retitled Bride of the Monster) with Bela. Alex had introduced Wood to Bela when the two were sharing an apartment. Although Alex went on to produce many films, including genre favourites The Day the World Ended (1955), The She Creature (1956), Voodoo Woman (1957), and The Atomic Submarine (1959), he was unable to get a studio to greenlight a film with Bela. Later in his career, Alex worked at 20th Century Fox, where he was responsible for rediscovering over 30 Fox films that had thought to have been lost and instituting a film restoration project. He left the studio in 1976 to take up the post of vice-president of the Gene Autry Organisation. Alex died in Los Angeles on June 23rd, 2003.  (Andi Brooks)

*          *          *

In 1963, Alex shared his memories of Bela in an article entitled My Favourite Vampire in issue number 5 of Fantastic Monsters of the Films.

Fantastic Monsters of the Films Vol.2 #5

What Bela Lugosi was really like – as revealed by the Vampire Man’s close friend, Hollywood Personality, Alex Gordon

My Favorite Vampire By Alex Gordon

When I was a boy in England, I was a very frustrated youth. Under the British movie censorship classification, horror pictures cannot be seen by anyone under the age of sixteen. Therefore, it was not until many years later that I was able to see the Bela Lugosi films. The first time I ever saw Bela on the screen was in Postal Inspector, a 1936 picture in which he played a gangster. I was also able to see The Invisible Ray, which he did with Boris Karloff, and which somehow escaped the adult horror classification. And ever since those early days, I had hoped that some day I would have the opportunity to meet Bela in person. This did not happen until 1950(1), after I had come to the United States and was living in New York. At the time, Bela was doing Arsenic and Old Lace on the stage at the Sea Cliff Summer Theatre, and my brother Richard and I went down to try and meet him. We waited near the theatre for hours and finally Bela – with his wife Lillian – drove up. We went up and introduced ourselves. They were both extremely pleasant and suggested we join them for dinner. They took us to an excellent Hungarian restaurant(2) where Bela was the center of attraction, the owner and other patrons being thrilled to see him. After dinner, we went back to the theatre and saw the show; and afterwards spent more time with the Lugosis and made a date to see them later. Mother Riley Meets The Vampire Richard Gordon, Bela and George Minter

Richard Gordon, Bela and producer George Minter on the set of Mother Riley Meets the Vampire

One of the things Bela wanted most to do was tour England with a new production of Dracula. He had made movies in England –The Mystery of the Marie Celeste(3), Dark Eyes of London – but had never appeared on the stage there. Happily, my brother, who represents British movie producers (such as the makers of the “Carry On” pictures) was able to arrange not only such a tour, but also for Bela to make another movie in England. Soon after that, in 1953, I became an independent producer in Hollywood after years of work in publicity and writing, and of course wanted to make a picture with Bela. We spent much time together, finally evolving a script entitled The Atomic Monster. For various reasons, however, the picture did not get off the ground. Meanwhile, American distributors were reluctant to buy Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire(4) – because of the British humor which they considered unsuitable for American audiences. Therefore, we put a new title on the picture, Vampire Over London(5), but still no one wanted it. I cut out all of Bela’s scenes and tried to make a new movie to be called King Robot, using all the scenes Bela was in and shooting new ones to match for the rest of the story. However, Bela had been very ill for a while and was very thin and haggard looking, and he did not match the original footage anymore. So we had to scrap that idea. While I was trying to set up a new picture, to star Bela and Boris Karloff, an independent producer (Edward D. Wood Jr.) rewrote my “Atomic Monster” script and made a very low budget picture vaguely based on it called Bride of the Monster. Poor Bela looked so very old and ill in it, that a double had to be used for many of his scenes.

Alex with Bob Steele, Warren White, an unknown man, and Edward D. Wood Jr. at Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurant in 1952.

 Courtesy of http://www.westernclippings.com/treasures/westerntreasures_gallery_3.shtml

One of his great hopes was to make Dracula in color and widescreen, and he thought the resurgence of horror movies in Hollywood after House of Wax in 1953 would mark a comeback for him. But the studios seemed to prefer other actors, like Christopher Lee when they made Horror of Dracula in color in England. The premiere of House of Wax, incidentally, was quite an event. Warner Brothers thought up a publicity stunt to have horror stars attend the premiere at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. They called Bela and asked him if he would go. Bela did not want to, but I persuaded him, as I thought it would be good publicity for our projected new picture with him and Karloff. Warners sent a limousine to pick us up at Bela’s apartment, and Bela was dressed in his Dracula cape. What he did not know was that the publicity boys wanted him to lead a gorilla (a man in a skin) on a chain into the lobby of the theatre – and I was afraid to tell him. The limousine made a stop at a large hotel, and Bela immediately asked what the stop was for. I timidly told him it was to pick up a gorilla. At first it seemed he hadn’t heard right, then he roared, “Gorilla?!” It took all my powers of persuasion to keep him from taking a taxi home.

House Of WaxBela’s arrival at the House of Wax premier with Steve Calvert in a gorilla suit was captured in a Pathe newsreel

Courtesy of http://microbrewreviews.blogspot.com/

When we drove up at the Paramount, there was a mass of photographers, newsmen, TV cameras, and hundreds of people milling around. Bela was, of course, the center of attention when he exited from the car with the gorilla on the chain. The gorilla chased after some girls while Bela shouted to me what we wanted him to do. We manipulated him over to a Red Cross stand where two nurses were selling milk for the Red Cross. The idea was to have a shot of Bela drinking milk instead of blood, but in all the bedlam he thought they wanted him to do a Dracula bit, and he suddenly grabbed the nurses by the necks. They were so surprised and shocked that they threw the milk all over him! Finally I got him inside the lobby, where a female radio-TV interviewer grabbed hold of him. I should explain here that Bela was a little hard of hearing in one ear, and he had asked for a list of questions ahead of time so that he could memorize the answers when they brought him up to the microphone. With all the noise and confusion, he felt he might not be able to hear the questions properly. Needless to say, the interviewer had mislaid her copy of the questions and started asking Bela the questions out of context with his prepared answers. I think I can leave the results to your imagination. By the time I had him seated in the auditorium, we were both completely exhausted, though the photographers had enjoyed an absolute field day. Bela did not want to stay for the film, so we left by a back door after it had started. I did not hear the end of THAT adventure for a long time.

Vampira and Bela

Vampira and Bela on the Red Skelton show

Another incident I remember well was when Bela was to do the Red Skelton Show, on which Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr were to appear in a sketch with him. Bela was worried about the show because he knew that Red Skelton did not stick to the script, but adlibbed most of the show. And Bela was a stage actor who had to learn his lines and was not used to adlibbing. Red treated him well, but he did use adlibs which almost threw Bela. But the comedian managed to fill in so well that the audience never knew. However, it was an unhappy experience for Bela. He always preferred to work from a prepared script.

A publicity shot for Dracula

When the original Dracula was reissued once more, as it was at regular intervals, we went to see it, and Bela enjoyed it again. Actually, he almost lived the part at times. When he was on tour, he could not stand the hard mattresses in most of the hotels as he had trouble with his back. So he would place his beautiful silk-lined coffin from the theatre in the middle of his hotel room and sleep in it. This is absolutely true and no publicity story. It was not done for effect, just plain comfort.

Bela was a delightful companion, gracious and kind and with a good sense of humor. He was also a man of many moods, and sometimes he would sink into deep despair. Bela loved cigars, and he also became interested in religion, hypnosis, and philosophy. He was very particular about many little things. He once asked me to sort out his desk and papers, and I found receipted bills and other statements going back twenty years, which he thought he should keep for tax and book-keeping purposes. He also kept a large collection of stills from his movies in scrapbooks.

Bela in November 1955

When he lived in his small Hollywood apartment, he would call me to walk up to the corner with him at 11pm to pick up the next morning’s LA Times. It had to be the 11pm edition, and he was quite upset if he did not get it. He liked to keep up with all the latest news and was extremely well-informed about world events. But his daily dream was to make a good comeback, and he, like so many other former great stars, found it impossible to realize that Hollywood did not want him anymore. It is so ironic that stars like Bela Lugosi are so fondly remembered by audiences the world over, and yet were unable to get a job right here in Hollywood. It is something I have always found hard to understand. Since I became a movie producer, I have always tried to use as many old-timers in my pictures as possible, despite enormous resistance from distributors, financiers, and exhibitors who consider them “has-beens.”

 At the peak of his stardom with other members of the Universal family. Bela can be seen in the back row along with Boris Karloff and James Whale. Carl Laemmle Jr., Carl Laemmle Sr., and cinematographer Karl Freund are in the front row

In a way, I think Bela regretted having turned down the role of the Frankenstein Monster in the original movie that made Boris Karloff famous. Not many remember that Bela was actually a Shakespearean actor and a romantic star before he did Dracula and became typed in horror pictures. He played Hamlet and even Uncas in The Last of the Mohicans(6), among many other roles. I always thought the old Universal film, The Raven, was one of Bela’s best roles, as well as The Invisible Ray, and of course his role of Ygor in the later Frankenstein pictures was unforgettable. It is strange for me now to see and hear Bela on TV in his old movies. It is as though he is still around and as though that friendly, uniquely unforgettable voice is still calling. His friends and fans will never forget him.

Notes: (1) Alex and Richard Gordon first meet Bela in 1948, not 1950. He performed in Arsenic and Old Lace at the Sea Cliff Summer Theatre from August 9 – 14, 1948. (2) Richard Gordon later recalled that the restaurant was a seafood restaurant. (3)Although several contemporary sources listed the film’s title as “The Mystery of the Marie Celeste,” it was released as “Mystery of the Mary Celeste.” (4) Pre-release publicity listed the title as “Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire,” but the film was released as “Mother Riley Meets the Vampire.” (5) According to an article printed in The Cinema News And Property Gazette of August 22, 1951, two months before filming began, the title “Vampire Over London” had already been selected for the American release of Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. (6) Bela played Chingachgook.

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Related articles

Film Producer Richard Gordon Dies At 85

Mystery Of The Mary Celeste

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

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

Mother Riley Meets The Vampire

Bela Lugosi At The House Of Wax Premiere

Actress And Songwriter Dolores Fuller Dies At 88

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

Robot refurbished

The costume as offered by Profiles in History on May 15th, 2011

The robot costume from Renown Picture’s Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1952) failed to reach the reserve price of $15,000 (£9,170) when offered for auction by Profiles in History of Calabasas Hills, California. Although the costume is a “remarkable science-fiction artifact” and of great interest to Lugosi enthusiasts, collectors were perhaps deterred by the over-optimistic asking price.

The costume, which had been in a private collection in England for over twenty years, made a surprise return to the spotlight when it was auctioned by Bonhams of London for £1,680 ($2,747) in December, 2010.

Robot 1

The costume as sold by Bonhams in December, 2010

Mother Riley Meets The Vampire was the fifteenth and final film in the Old Mother Riley Series, which began in 1937. A sixteenth film, Mother Riley’s Trip To Mars,  was announced by Renown in December 1951, but the project was shelved.

Mother Riley Meets The Vampire Poster

Original UK poster

The rationale behind including Bela Lugosi in the film was to make it appeal to the American market, but the dated regional humour of Mother Riley was not to the taste of American distributors. Plans to replace the scenes of Old Mother Riley with newly shot footage of Lugosi had to be abandoned because, only a year after filming Mother Riley Meets The Vampire, declining health had changed his appearance too much. Re-edited and re-titled as Vampire Over London, and later My Son, The Vampire, the film finally achieved an American release in 1963. (Andi Brooks)

Mother Riley Meets The Vampire

Old Mother Riley (Artur Lucan) inspects the robot

Bat Head 2

Related articles

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

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

Robot 1

The robot costume from Mother Riley Meets The Vampire made a surprise and completely unexpected return to the spotlight when it was auctioned at Bonhams of London in December, 2010. Listed as lot No. 18 in sale 17974 of entertainment memorabilia, the costume sold for £1,680 ($2,747) . It had been in the hands of a private collector in the Birmingham area for over twenty years. According to the vendor, it had previously been displayed in the foyer of a Birmingham cinema. Neither the vendor nor Bonhams could confirm that the costume was the original. It was described in the catalogue as:

“Believed to be the original Robot prop/costume, of  plastic, metal and wood construction, with single coloured eye-piece, several dials to chest, interior with part electrical mechanism, the knees and elbows  with rubber joints, with claw hands with internal operating mechanism, head dome  missing, height 71 inches (180cm)”

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the costume has now found its way to America and is up for auction at Profiles in History of Calabasas Hills, California as lot 1013. The missing head dome has been replaced, but not the internal electronics, and the costume is now being described as “the original screen-used Robot costume”. Although it does appear to be the same costume sold at Bonhams, in the photograph below, issued by Profiles in History, the stomach panel seems to be missing the dials seen in the above photograph issued by Bonhams.
Robot refurbished
Profiles of History will conduct an on-line auction on May 15, 2011, at 11:00 (UTC -8: PST) with an opening bid of $15,000 (£9,170). The full catalogue description reads:
“Original screen-used Robot costume from the Bela Lugosi film My Son the Vampire. (1952, Fernwood Productions)  In the time-honored British tradition of crusty, comic spinsters played by men in drag, Arthur Lucan of the long-running “Mother Riley” series falls under great peril from Bela Lugosi’s kidnap plot, sending this full-size walking (with a man inside, that is) and blinking (if one chooses to connect up the wiring again) Robot of metal, rubber, electronic components (most still present) and glass dome, which is the only replaced piece on this remarkable science-fiction artifact. Was later used in an episode of the BBC series, The Avengers.  Stands 84″ tall (to top of glass dome) and 30″ wide at shoulders. Missing internal components of the dome area, rest are more or less intact.”
The episode of The Avengers in which the robot appeared was “The See-Through Man,” which was filmed in November, 1966. The series was produced by ABC Television, not, as stated in the auction blurb, the BBC. The robot is said to have made appearances in other TV programmes. Please contact us if you have any information regarding other sightings of the robot. (Andi Brooks)
Bat Head 3
You can view the auction at
 Bat Head 3
The robot as it appeared in Mother Riley Meets The Vampire
Robot 4
Old Mother Riley (Arthur Lucan) menaced by the robot.
Bela Lugosi, Judith Furse, Ian Wilson and David Hurst admire the robot.
The robot costume in The Avengers episode The See-Through Man with Roy Kinnear.