Bela Lugosi is Dracula. Sure, Max Schreck did it first as Graf Orlok in Nosferatu and no one has played the role as many times as Christopher Lee, but when it comes to the most universally recognized and copied image of the famous Transylvanian count, No one is more familiar than Bela Lugosi. I mean, some people are literally born to play a part. At 6’1” with this imperious, towering presence and an accent that hinted at him being of some kind of otherworldly nobility, Bela Lugosi gave birth to the idea of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula being a charming and dangerous villain. Unfortunately, his execution of the role (coupled with alcohol and drug abuse issues) would be the downfall of his career, leading to extensive typecasting and a gradual inability to find work outside of low budget films and his ultimate role in the Ed Wood classic Plan 9 from Outer Space. But we’ll get to that later. Lugosi was born Béla Ferenc Dezsõ Blaskó in 1882 in the Lugos region of the then Kingdom of Hungary. Beginning his acting career in 1901, he left to serve as an infantry lieutenant during the First World War and was wounded three times in combat. In 1920, using a variant of the Lugos region as his new name, he emigrated to the U.S. and continued his career in acting taking various roles in films as well as continuing his stage presence with various troops of immigrant European theater companies. There were no small parts to Lugosi who treated every character he played with intensity and seriousness. In 1927 he became Count Dracula in the wildly successful Broadway adaptation of Stoker’s classic novel. It was this production of Dracula that would eventually be reworked for the screen by Universal Studios using many of the same cast members, including Lugosi reprising his role as the Count for the 1931 film. Now, unless you’re over forty, chances are you haven’t actually watched Dracula, White Zombie, or any other movie starring Bela Lugosi in your lifetime unless you just happen to love the old black and white, Universal monster pictures. That said, you’ve seen Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. The character as he portrayed him, a sort of old world aristocracy muting the terrifying evil inside, was used in part to craft Christopher Lee’s look in the Hammer films he starred in as the Count. In fact, from chocolate cereal mascots to Saturday morning monsters and even Muppets, it has been Lugosi’s Dracula in some over-exaggerated way. As a child of the eighties, my first encounters with the Count came through Scooby Doo reruns and The Monster Squad. Even today, in an age of sparkling emo vampires, it’s that Transylvanian tuxedo that all the kids wear when they go trick-or-treating. I mean, really think about this for a minute. A character from a film made 85 years ago that it’s pretty safe to say none of these kids have ever seen, is still such a powerful image in our minds and our culture that he is the epitome this ancient, nocturnal evil. Lugosi’s life spiraled even as his legacy began to grow. Cast the following year in the cult classic White Zombie as ‘Murder’ Legendre, the owner of a Haitian sugar mill worked by zombies under his command. He was evil incarnate, moreso even than his performance as Count Dracula and this was the ultimate undoing of his acting career. With his thick accent and rich performances, few in Hollywood wanted to cast him as anything other than a madman. Between his continued addictions and a romantic life that included a 4 day marriage to an heiress, he became nearly unemployable. It was here, near the end of his career and life in the 1950s that he met a young film maker named Ed Wood. Wood, who produced the equivalent of exploitation films and cheap knock offs like you’d expect to find today in a Redbox, first cast Lugosi as a doctor in Glen or Glenda, a low budget film about a man’s surgical transformation into a woman. His final role was in Wood’s own catastrophic classic Plan 9 from Outer Space. For fans of B Cinema, you immediately know the name and it’s unfortunate title as “the worst film ever made.” Lugosi played an aging man who dies and is resurrected by the alien plot. Lugosi died of a heart attack during production of the film causing the final shots to be played by an extra at a distance wearing similar wardrobe. In one final act of irony, Martin Landau who played the aged Lugosi in the 1994 film Ed Wood was awarded an Academy Award for his portrayal of the iconic actor; a prize never bestowed on Lugosi himself. While his career and life may not have been everything he had hoped they might be, Bela Lugosi has left a lingering impression on not only moviegoers but society as a whole. His performance brought life -for lack of a better phrase- to a character whose power and presence has shaped the literary and cultural evolution of generations that have followed. Do yourself a favor this Halloween season and check out some of his best work in the field: 1.) Dracula 2.) White Zombie 3.) The Devil Bat 4.) Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein 5.) Plan 9 from Outer Space Keep in mind the way that filmmaking and culture have changed since it all began a little over a century ago. Our expectations are higher, our techniques a bit more advanced, but the end result is always the same. We watch what we watch to make us think, to make us feel, and to help us escape, if only briefly, from the harshness of life. Lugosi is a consummate professional in his delivery of his roles every time, regardless the pomposity or simplicity of the character. He was and forever will be an elegant man hiding a monstrous appetite. See larger image Dracula: Complete Legacy Collection The original Dracula is one of the silver screen’s most unforgettable characters and, along with the other Universal Classic Monsters, defined the Hollywood horror genre. Dracula: Complete Legacy Collection includes all 6 films from the original legacy including the frightening classic starring Bela Lugosi and the timeless films that followed. These landmark motion pictures defined the iconic look of the famed vampire and continue to inspire countless remakes and adaptations that strengthen the legend of Dracula to this day. New From: $16.29 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.