Bela Lugosi

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Bela Lugosi, around 1900

Bela Lugosi (born October 20, 1882 in Lugos , Kingdom of Hungary , Austria-Hungary , †  August 16,  1956 in Los Angeles , California ; actually Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó ) was a Hungarian actor who was best known for roles in horror films . In his early days as an actor, he also used the pseudonym "Arisztid Olt". His later stage name "Lugosi" is derived from the name of his place of birth.

Lugosi gained worldwide fame for his portrayal of Count Dracula in the 1931 novel by Tod Browning of the same name . He subsequently appeared in films of very different quality, including numerous B-films . In his last years Lugosi was often unemployed, which made him even in trash films of Edward D. Wood Jr occur. Not least because of this, Lugosi now enjoys cult status among fans of this film genre.


Childhood and youth

Bela Lugosi was born on October 20, 1882 in Lugos, Bánát, then part of Austria-Hungary , now part of Romania . He was the youngest of four children in a Hungarian family. His father was a businessman. Lugosi ran away from home when his parents decided in 1893 to send him to high school against his will. Instead, he realized his dream of an acting career. After running away from home, he played for years on various stages across Hungary. Because of his charming appearance, he was often used in the role of the teenage lover .

Time in Hungary

Lugosi began his career in what was then Hungary as a Shakespeare actor and played - still under the pseudonym Arisztid Olt - in numerous silent film productions. He was seen as Olt in a 1918 film adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray . According to his own information, during the First World War he served as a lieutenant in the infantry in the Austro-Hungarian army . Since he was exempted from military service as an actor, he volunteered for the front line on a ski patrol . Because of numerous wounds and his bravery, Lugosi was honored with several medals. After the war ended, Lugosi joined the Hungarian Communist Party.

As one of the most famous actors in Budapest , he was able to set up an actors' union. As the founder of this union, he led several protest marches against the republic under Count Mihály Károlyi . Because it became increasingly dangerous for Lugosi and his wife Ilona Szmik because of their political activities in Hungary, they had to leave the country. After the Soviet republic led by Béla Kun was crushed by the Romanian troops, active members of the Communist Party and its sub-organizations were hunted down. Lugosi was apparently on the "black list" because he had appeared publicly as a representative of the actors' union. Later, in the USA, Lugosi always kept this episode of his biography a secret because he feared being banned from the profession or even expelled because of his closeness to communism. First the two fled to Vienna before emigrating to Berlin in 1919 .

Time in Germany

Bela Lugosi stayed in Germany from 1919 to 1921. In his adopted home Berlin, he worked on various silent film productions. The first of these was Slaves foreign will of Richard Eichberg . It was here that he first used the stage name "Lugosi", derived from the name of his place of birth. Lugosi played one of the main roles in it, an evil hypnotist - a character that already points to his later preferred role type. But he wasn't yet committed to a specific genre. He took over in 1920 important roles in the Karl May films as The Caravan of Death of Joseph Stein (as an Arab sheikh) and The Devil Worshipers of Muhsin Ertuğrul (as head of the Yazidi ). In the two-part leather stocking film adaptation (also 1920, directed by Arthur Wellin ) he played a leading role again, the "last of the Mohicans " Chingachgook. Where as lost applicable film The Janus head of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1920), an adaptation of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he played the servant of the main character, making the film Lugosi's entry into the horror genre. A year later, director Murnau was to shoot the first Dracula film with Nosferatu - A Symphony of Horror - a figure that Lugosi would make almost ten years later to achieve great popularity.

Acting career in the United States

In 1921 Lugosi emigrated to the United States . He hoped that this would give him another career boost. Before he boarded the Italian freighter on which he wanted to travel to America as an auxiliary heater, however, he divorced his wife. In New York City he began to make contacts with other Hungarian actors in exile.

In addition to several smaller supporting roles in films, he also played theater here again. Although he spoke poor English and had to memorize his texts phonetically , he got good reviews. During this time he also met his second wife Ilona von Montagh.

From 1927 he played the title part in Hamilton Deane's Broadway play Dracula , which was based on motifs from the novel of the same name by the Irish writer Bram Stoker . In this role Lugosi was seen in 265 performances. Lugosi fascinated the audience with the erotic touch with which he added to the role, and for actress Carol Borland it was "pure sex on stage". During this time on the wave of success, he separated from Ilona von Montagh and became involved with his future third wife Beatrice Weeks. In 1930 the director Tod Browning planned to adapt the novel for a film. In order to get the approval of Bram Stoker's widow Florence, Lugosi mediated between the two parties. Murnaus Nosferatu had refused, whereupon he simply changed the names of the characters. Browning, however, received the rights. He planned to meet the "man with a thousand faces" Lon Chaney Sr. for the title role, but the well-known horror film succumbed to larynx cancer shortly before filming began. Browning, who had initially refused to let Lugosi play the role of Count Dracula, finally offered it to him. Despite a meager fee of $ 500 a week and no profit sharing, Lugosi accepted.

The film Dracula made Bela Lugosi a celebrated star actor in 1931 and established him in this role. As a result, he turned down the engagement as Frankenstein's monster in James Whale's film . He didn't want to hide his face behind a mask, after all, in his opinion, expression was the essence of every actor. Eventually Boris Karloff took over the role, which led to the fact that he was Hollywood's second great horror film actor alongside Lugosi after the film's success.

Bela Lugosi with Irene Ware in Chandu the Magician  (1932)

In the years that followed, Lugosi made numerous well-known films in the horror genre, in which he was mostly seen as a villain or monster. In the 1932 film Murder on Rue Morgue , based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe , he played the character of Dr. Miracle that was newly created for the filming. In White Zombie he took on the role of Legendre, owner of a mill who, at the request of a neighbor, turns a friend's wife into a zombie . White Zombie was the first film in which zombies acted in the manner of the undead. In the film Der Rabe , which was also based on a work by Edgar Allan Poe, Lugosi played alongside his competitor Boris Karloff. Lugosi played the criminal Dr. Richard Vollin, who surgically disfigured the face of the crook Edmond Bateman, played by Karloff. In 1935, directed by Tod Browning, The Mark of the Vampire was again seen in the role of the vampire, as Count Mora. In 1939 Karloff and Lugosi played side by side in Frankenstein's son . Lugosi played the hunchbacked assistant Ygor, who works for Frankenstein's son Wolf Frankenstein. In Return of the Vampire from 1944, Lugosi played the typical role of the vampire again. In 1939 Lugosi appeared in the film Ninotschka , in which he - in reference to the person of Stalin - played the Russian intelligence commissioner Razinin at the side of Greta Garbo .

Acting descent

The horror genre, which was still very popular in the 1930s, declined in popularity, which meant that Lugosi's career also stalled and he rarely got appealing roles. His now fourth wife, Lilian Archer, became pregnant during this time. In order to continue to finance the small family's life, he had to sell his Hollywood estate and move into a more modest home in the San Fernando Valley . Still, he maintained his lavish lifestyle. He kept himself and his family afloat with numerous B-movies , but could not build on the successes of earlier times. He landed one last big success as Dracula alongside the comedian duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Charles T. Barton's horror comedy Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein .

Lugosi remained without engagement several times and developed an alcohol addiction . To combat the suffering of his war injuries, he took larger and larger doses of morphine and became addicted to it. He started a drug addiction treatment that he was able to finish successfully. When Lilian Archer left him with his son, Lugosi judged his following relapse: “Then she left me. With our son. He was my flesh and blood. So I started doing drugs again. She broke my heart. ”His wife got custody of 15-year-old Bela Lugosi jr. awarded. On her birthday in 1955, Lugosi voluntarily went to a clinic to fight his addiction. This made headlines in the press, bringing Lugosi back into the conversation after years of absence. On this fact he founded his new hope to get back into the film business. After 15 weeks he was released from the clinic. On August 25, 1955, he married the film editor Hope Lininger.

In the mid-1950s, the young director Ed Wood offered him roles in some of his B-movies, which Lugosi accepted. Wood was a big fan of the Dracula films and a great admirer of Lugosis, which is why he fulfilled a wish with the appearance of Lugosis in his films. He also hoped to attract more attention to his work with the well-known name of Lugosis.

In the last year of his life, Lugosi was hardly able to work. In the 1956 film Die Schreckenskammer des Dr. Thosti was changed his role to that of a mute because he could no longer keep his text. The last time he played in the anti-drug drama Devil's Paradise Theater was in the summer .

In 1959, three years after Lugosi's death, Ed Wood cut some scenes in his film Plan 9 from Space that he had shot spontaneously with Lugosi. When Wood decided to make a film "with Lugosi", this was replaced by the chiropractor Tom Mason, who should double him. Since he had no resemblance to Lugosi, he had to cover his face with a cloak all the time. The film was "awarded" the fictional Golden Turkey Award for the worst film of all time in 1979 and has achieved cult status.


Lugosi's grave

On August 16, 1956, Lugosi was found dead in bed by Lininger at the age of 73; the cause of death was a heart attack. At the end of his life, Lugosi is said to have been obsessed with the idea that he was actually Dracula himself. Lugosi was (contrary to popular rumors) not at his own request, but at the request of his son and his fourth wife, laid out in a Dracula costume and buried in one in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City , California . Frank Sinatra paid for his funeral.


Lugosi's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Bela Lugosi has cult status these days . This is due on the one hand to his portrayal of Dracula, on the other hand to his last films under Ed Wood, which enjoy great popularity because of their unwanted comedy.

Lugosi has had a decisive influence on today's image of a vampire as a well-dressed man with a cape. Still, he never showed his teeth in his vampire films. In contrast to the vampire image that is common today, albeit folklorically false, he did not yet sport the supposedly typical canine teeth. These were first created in 1953 for the Turkish film adaptation of Dracula Drakula Istanbul'da (Dracula in Istanbul) (with Atif Kaptan in the title role), on the American continent for the first time in 1956 in the Mexican horror flick El Vampiro with German Robles in the role of Count Lavud shown and from 1958 in the hammer films of Christopher Lee set camera effectively in scene.

Bela Lugosi also found its way into pop culture. It was the subject of a song by the gothic punk band Bauhaus with the title Bela Lugosi's Dead from 1979. This song was also used by the dark metal band Opera IX , Nouvelle Vague and the Scottish synthpop trio Chvrches (for the soundtrack of the movie Vampire Academy ) gecovert . The US horror punk band Shadow Reichenstein has a number called Bela Was a Junkie , which deals with Lugosi's drug addiction. The voice sample at the beginning is from the film Ed Wood . In the genre of horror punk, in which horror B films thematically play a large role, Lugosi is regularly mentioned and quoted. For example, the American band Lugosi's Morphine was named after the actor. The American heavy metal band Vyndykator even released a concept album about Lugosi's life called Heaven Sent From Hell . In addition, Lugosi's name was the source of inspiration for the stage name of the drummer of the Berlin band Die Ärzte , Bela B.

According to one of the source books, in the role-playing world of World of Darkness there is a vampire in Los Angeles who thinks he is Dracula, the forefather of all vampires and is called Bela. He also served as the inspiration for Jim Henson for the Muppets figure Graf Zahl in Sesame Street .

Lugosi has also been shown on film. Martin Landau (known from the television series Kobra, you take over and Moon Base Alpha 1 ) played the drug-ill Lugosi in Tim Burton's Ed Wood and received an Oscar for best supporting actor in 1995 .


  • Ilona Szmik (June 25, 1917 to 1920)
  • Ilona von Montagh (September 1921 to February 1924) (divorced)
  • Beatrice Weeks (September 29, 1929 to October 2, 1929) (divorced after three days) The reason given was Clara Bow - the "other woman"
  • Lillian Arch (January 31, 1933 to July 17, 1953) (divorced), the result of this marriage was their son Bela Lugosi Jr., who was born in 1938
  • Hope Lininger (August 25, 1955 to August 16, 1956) (his death)


  • Bela Lugosi's son, Bela Lugosi Jr., is a Hollywood attorney who specializes in representing actors in order to exercise their marketing rights .
  • Bela Lugosi played the vampire Count Dracula , his most famous role, in a total of two films:


Literature (selection)

  • Harun Maye: Bela Lugosi - A lover, a dilettante. In: Hungarian Studies. Vol. 14, No. 2, January 2001, ISSN  0236-6568 , pp. 286-295, doi: 10.1556 / HStud.14.2000.2.12 .
  • Edgardo Franzosini: Bela Lugosi. Biografia di una metamorfosi (= Piccola Biblioteca Adelphi. Vol. 408). Adelphi, Milano 1998, ISBN 88-459-1370-8 .
  • Rainer Dick: Bela Lugosi. Devilish sex appeal. In: Rainer Dick: The stars of the horror film. Tilsner, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-910079-63-6 , pp. 108-117.
  • William K. Everson : Classics of the horror film (= Goldmann Magnum 10205). 2nd Edition. Goldmann, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-442-10205-7 (original title: Classics of the Horror Film ).
  • Richard Boyarski: The Films of Bela Lugosi. 2nd paperbound printing. Citadel Press, Secaucus NJ 1980, ISBN 0-8065-0808-6 .
  • Robert Cremer: Lugosi. The man behind the cape. H. Regnery Co., Chicago IL 1976, ISBN 0-8092-8137-6 .

Web links

Commons : Bela Lugosi  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b biography on
  2. cf. Daniel Sander: Hollywood's second division . In: one day , contemporary stories at Spiegel Online .
  3. ^ Dieter Krusche: Reclam's film guide . 13., rework. Edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-15-010676-1 , pp. 207 .
  4. Bela Lugosi Junior explains this in The Road to Dracula , a documentary extra on the DVD for the film Dracula (1931) .
  5. Bela Lugosi - biography