Name: Bela Ferenec Dezso Blasko
Birth: October 20, 1882
Death: August 16, 1956
“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they play,” is just one of the many iconic lines Bela Lugosi said in his star role of Count Dracula in 1931’s Dracula.
Even after more than 50 years after his death, Lugosi remains an iconic figure in the world of classic movies and horror. He defined the image and characteristics of a vampire; the cape, his charming and suave attitude, and of course his aversion to sunlight and crosses and his affinity for blood. We can see these traits in the majority of vampire movies that have been produced since Dracula.
Lugosi was born in Lugos, Hungry (which is now a part of Romania) in 1882. He’s always had an interest in acting, and became a member of the Hungarian Royal National Theater in the beginning of the 20th century. But his theater dreams had to be put on hold while he served in World War I.
Once the war was over, he returned to theater and entered into film. But because of the political situation in Hungary, Lugosi fled to Germany, where he had a short film career, then to the United States.
Even though Lugosi didn’t know a word of English, he got onto Broadway only after a few years of being there. When Lugosi ventured to Hollywood, his accent did not matter there since it was the silent era in film. He was able to pick up some small roles including a Lon Chaney film called He Who Gets Slapped (1924).
For the next few years, Lugosi went from small role to small role until landing the role that would change his life and career in 1927 – the Broadway version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. By then, he could speak decent English, and his Hungarian accent was perfect for the role of Count Dracula.
When word got out that Universal was going to produce a film version of Dracula, Lugosi knew he had to get the part. Initially, Universal did not want him to play the part. Lon Chaney was casted to play the Count, but died shortly before production began. Lugosi offered to work for 500 dollars a week, and was, thus, casted. The movie turned out to be a great success and shot Lugosi to stardom.
When Universal decided to produce Frankenstein (1931) next, the plan was to cast Lugosi as the Monster. But Lugosi did not want to play a monster whose face was covered and only grunted on screen, so the role was given to Boris Karloff.
Karloff quickly became a star, and from then on, Lugosi never turned down a role. He acted in many more movies for Universal including The Raven (1935), The Black Cat (1934), and the role of Ygor in Son of Frankenstein (1939) and Ghost of Frankentein (1942). Lugosi even ended up playing the role of the Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).
He played many other characters similar to Count Dracula for other movie producers, but he only ever played Count Dracula one more time in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), which is considered Lugosi’s last “A” movie.
Even though Lugosi became a horror icon, he had no money and lived in near-poverty. Ed Wood, a director who was a fan of Lugosi, picked him up and casted him in his “B” rated movies, such as Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).
On August 16, 1956, Lugosi died of a heart attack at his home in Los Angeles. He was buried in one of his Dracula capes at the request of his son and fourth wife (Lugosi was married five times).
Bela Lugosi’s filmography is available here.