Following the blockbuster release of Dracula in , the striving and serious actor from Transylvania would find himself typecast again and again by Hollywood , passed over for more meaty roles and given, almost without fail, the part of the cheesy villain. If Lugosi hoped that the success of Dracula would allow him to emerge from the gentleman vampire's — ahem — shadow, he was sorely mistaken.
Not only did the role take over his life; it subsumed his very identity.
When it was clear the film was going to be a monster at the box office, the over-heated publicity department of Universal Studios got busy concocting a backstory for Lugosi worthy of Bram Stoker. Gone were Lugosi's middle class parents, his teenage struggles to make ends meet in the mines and rail yards of turn-of-the-century Hungary.
In their place was a count's pedigree and a castle in the mountains of Transylvania. According to the Imaginative Conservative , the erasure of Lugosi's actual history was just one unfortunate blow he had to survive, following his star turn as the count.
The article quotes Lugosi as saying, "Never has a role so influenced and dominated an actor's life as has the role of Dracula. He has, at times, infused me with prosperity and, at other times, he has drained me of everything It's a living, but it's also a curse It's Dracula's curse.
Interestingly enough, Vlad the Impaler, Broker's inspiration for the count, was likewise a misunderstood man. He might have been a bit blood thirsty, but he was a hero , too. Hollywood is, of course, no stranger to celebrity feuds. You've got your Bette Davises vs. Whether or not the two men actually disliked each other is a matter of lively debate. What's clear, though, is that Lugosi was often on the losing end of Tinsel Town's notoriously flaky attention span.
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The rivalry all started, according to this piece on Bloody Disgusting, when Lugosi turned down the chance to play Frankenstein's monster in the film version of Mary Shelley's groundbreaking novel. The role went to Karloff instead, and soon the hollow-cheeked leading man began beating Lugosi out for roles. He even took top billing on films in which Lugosi was the star. Insult to injury, Karloff was able to move on from his appearances in silly vampire and wolfman and monster flicks to more illustrious roles, whereas Lugosi was stuck in a hall of mirrors of sorts, every new part more ridiculous and broad than the last.
Bela Lugosi became known as an actor the studios could get on the cheap. The underpayment was due in part to racism — as a non-native English speaker, Lugosi was often undervalued and taken advantage of — and Lugosi's unwillingness to engage in the age-old art of self-promotion. When his son, Bela Jr. According to this look at Lugosi's itinerant LA lifestyle, he had to borrow money from the Motion Picture Relief Fund to cover the medical costs.
The bank ultimately foreclosed on the home Lugosi and his then wife, Lillian, were living in at the time. His professional status made him exempt from the draft, but he signed up anyway and was made a lieutenant in the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. The division's mission was to launch an attack against Russian troops in Poland. He was sent to fight in the Carpathian Winter War. Wounded twice in the fighting, Lugosi received a medal for his faithful service. Later, the emotional and physical wounds of the war — not to mention the pressures of Hollywood — caught up with him and he had a very public struggle with drug addiction.
In , recently divorced from his fourth wife, he checked himself into the Los Angeles General Hospital Psychopathic Ward, hoping to kick his methadone and morphine habits. He'd developed the addictions over time, and, as this article in Open Culture shows, he'd grown so sick he could no longer live on his own. Skinny and desperate, he begged a judge to commit him. The judge sent Lugosi to a nearby hospital, where he plotted a comeback that would never materialize.
Despite playing one of the world's most blood-thirsty villains, Lugosi was a lover, not a fighter. In fact, he often told reporters that sex was the most important thing in the universe. So it should come as no surprise, perhaps, that he was married not once, not twice or even three or four times, but five.
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His first marriage, to Ilona Smzik, ended in divorce in , reportedly because his lefty politics upset his Smzik's parents. His next bride, Ilona von Montagh, divorced him after three years. For Lugosi, the third time would not prove to be the charm. According to Classic Monsters , his third bride was the wealthy widow, Beatrice Weeks, who grew so enraged over his flirtation with "It Girl" Clara Bow that she dissolved the union after only three months.
Incidentally, Lugosi persuaded Bow to pose nude for a portrait artist friend of his, and, as this article on Nitrateville reveals, he happily hung the painting in his many homes, over the possible objections of Mrs. Lugosi Number Four and Five. Speaking of, Lugosi married Lillian Arch, his fourth wife, in Lillian would produce Lugosi's only son, Bella Jr.
Lugosi's jealousy put an end to his union with Arch, who was more than three decades his junior.
His fifth and final wife, Hope Lininger, wrote him passionate letters while he tried to kick his addiction to methadone and morphine. He died a year into their marriage of a heart attack. Bela Lugosi's film career was all but dead when the B- movie D- movie? Lugosi's partnership with Wood began in with the cross-dressing cult classic, Glen or Glenda , written and directed by Wood, a known transvestite.
Lugosi plays a character named The Scientist who narrates the hackneyed and often embarrassing but also hilarious exploration of sex and gender identity. The film, daring as it is in its willingness to go where no one else would at the time, is considered one of the worst movies ever made. Wood added what footage he had of the star and used and unconvincing body double. It's worthy of its own movie — the love story of two tragically underestimated and maligned men.
Landau won an Oscar for his turn as the Hungarian heartthrob who'd fallen on hard times. Lugosi was never a contender for such an award.here
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It's enough to make one turn over in one's grave. As his career faltered, Lugosi fell victim to drug addiction. In , he checked himself into the psych ward of Los Angeles General Hospital. In some ways, this visit would echo the year his son, Bela Lugosi Jr. At that time, in , the new father was so strapped for cash he had to borrow from a Hollywood relief fund to pay the hospital bills. Nearly 20 years later, Lugosi found himself the beneficiary of an unlikely guardian angel. Without his knowledge, a beloved singer, actor, and fan was helping pay his way through rehab.
Frank Sinatra, fresh off the success of his album, In the Wee Small Hours , was quietly contributing to Lugosi's mental health fund. It was, perhaps, simply the result of admiration and compassion.
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