Friday, August 16, 2013

Remembering Bela Lugosi October 20, 1882 - August 16, 1956

Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko aka Bela Lugosi was born in Hungary.  His dad was a banker and Bela was the youngest of four children.  He soon changed his last name to the name of his hometown of Lugos.

Bela dropped out of school at the age of 12 and began his acting career in about 1901.  He played small parts in provincial theaters, plays, and operettas.  In 1911, Lugosi moved to Budapest where he performed in dozens of roles at the National Theatre of Hungary.

During World War I, Lugosi served as an infantry lieutenant in the Austro-Hugarian Army and soon rose to the rank of captain.  He suffered injuries on the Russian front and received medals for his wounds.  He was forced to leave Hungary due to activism in the war and came to the United States having arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana by being a crewman for a merchant ship.

Lugosi made twelve movies in Hungary.  When he arrived in the U.S., Lugosi worked as a laborer and eventually landed in New York where he worked in the theater in the NYC Hungarian immigrant colony.  He performed his first Broadway play in 1922 called "The Red Poppy."  He soon got more parts and landed his first American film role in "The Silent Command" in 1923.  He continued to perform in silent film having played villain like characters.

His life would change in 1927 when Lugosi was asked to perform in the Broadway production of "Dracula" and following its success, Lugosi was called to Hollywood to act as a similar character.

Interestingly, Lugosi wasn't chosen first for his role as Dracula but another well known actor by the name of Lon Chaney was the first selection.  Lon Chaney died before the production began.  He would become Dracula and appeared in "Murders in the Rue Morgue" "The Raven" and "Son of Frankenstein" for Universal Studios.  Lugosi attempted the earn roles in other types of films but was unsuccessful.  He would appear with Boris Karloff.  It has been said that Lugosi never received top billing from Karloff and that resentment existed in their relationship.

Unfortunately, Lugosi had some problems including chronic health problems, some relating to his war injuries, as well as financial difficulties.  He would also become drug dependent from painkillers and his behavior became unstable.

Lugosi's last A film was "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and Lugosi would become nearly a recluse.  He would make an occasional appearance.  He spent time in England playing in traveling "spook shows"

He made one final film in 1955 called "The Black Sheep" but it was unsuccessful.

Register book sold at auction for nearly $11000.
Bela Lugosi died on August 16, 1956 of a heart attack while lying in his couch at his Los Angeles home at the age of 73. Rumors said that Lugosi was clutching the script for "The Final Curtain" but was proved untrue.
Lugosi funeral card at Famous Endings

Bela Lugosi died virtually penniless.  It is reported that Frank Sinatra paid for Lugosi's funeral even though the two had never met.

For his funeral, Lugosi was dressed in his Dracula regalia
(except the fangs) and hundreds of Lugosi fans lined Hollywood Boulevard to view his body at the former Utter-McKinley Mortuary (his funeral program pictured).  He was then laid to rest in the Holy Cross Cemetery at Culver City, California.
Lugosi grave at Holy Cross

Footnote:  Famous Endings attempted to acquire Bela Lugosi's register book from his funeral a few years ago.  Winning bid was nearly $11000.00.  Needless to say, all we got was a photograph of it.

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