Happy 134th Birthday, Bela Lugosi!

Bela Lugosi was born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó in Lugos, Kingdom of Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania), not far from Transylvania, 134 years ago today. Here are 10 BH Did-You-Knows:

  • Lugosi was the youngest of four children; his father was a banker. He dropped out of school at age 12 and began acting, playing small roles in regional theatre, just after the turn of the 20th century. He moved to Budapest in 2011 and began working (though still limited to minor roles) with the National Theatre of Hungary.
  • Lugosi volunteered to serve in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I; he served in the infantry, rising to the rank of captain in the ski patrol. He was injured three times.
  • Coming under scrutiny for his activism in creating an actor’s union in Hungary during the 1919 revolution, Lugosi fled the country, first to Vienna and later to Berlin. He soon came to the United States, landing in New Orleans in December 1920 as a member of the crew on a merchant ship.
  • Lugosi appeared in 12 motion pictures in Hungary 1917 and ’18 and in several more in Germany. Once in the United States, he made his way to New York, where he became active in Hungarian theatre. He made his Broadway debut in 1922 in the play The Red Poppy. His American film debut came in 1923 in The Silent Command. He would soon make several other pictures, all filmed in and around NYC.
  • In 1927, Bela Lugosi was cast as Count Dracula in the Broadway production of a play adapted from Bram Stoker‘s novel. Lugosi was a sensation in the role, but he was not the top choice for the role of the Count as the play was being developed as a movie. Director Tod Browning hoped to cast Lon Chaney, a much bigger name than Lugosi and someone Browning had worked with frequently, in the role, but Chaney’s tragic death opened the door for Lugosi to play the role he’d made famous in the legitimate theatre.
  • The film was a great success, and Lugosi soon realized that the role of Count Dracula was both a blessing and a curse, as he found himself quickly—and permanently—typecast as a horror star.
  • Lugosi, who had worked to establish an actor’s union in Hungary, was one of the organizers of the Screen Actor’s Guild (he was member no. 28).
  • Lugosi was married five times, with only one of the marriages lasting more than three years (Lugosi and his fourth wife, Lillian Arch, remained together for just over twenty years). His third marriage, to a wealthy San Francisco widow named Beatrice Weeks, ended after just a few days when Weeks discovered he was carrying on an affair with actress Clara Bow.
  • By the late 1930s, Lugosi, who suffered from sciatic neuritis, was addicted to the painkillers morphine and methadone. He would struggle with his dependency on these drugs for the rest of his life, and his career would suffer because of it.
  • Though a rumor persisted of a feud between Lugosi and fellow horror star Boris Karloff, both men’s children insisted that, though the two men weren’t close, there were no hard feelings between them. The two actors appeared in seven films together: The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), You’ll Find Out (1940), Black Friday (1940) and The Body Snatcher (1945).

Happy birthday, Bela Lugosi, wherever you may be!

Bela Lugosi

365 Nights in Hollywood: A Fiend in Follywood

Jimmy Starr began his career in Hollywood in the 1920s, writing the intertitles for silent shorts for producers such as Mack Sennett, the Christie Film Company, and Educational Films Corporation, among others. He also toiled as a gossip and film columnist for the Los Angeles Record in the 1920s and from 1930-1962 for the L.A. Herald-Express.
Starr was also a published author. In the 1940s, he penned a trio of mystery novels, the best known of which, The Corpse Came C.O.D., was made into a movie.
In 1926, Starr authored 365 Nights in Hollywood, a collection of short stories about Hollywood. It was published in a limited edition of 1000, each one signed and numbered by the author, by the David Graham Fischer Corporation, which seems to have been a very small (possibly even a vanity) press.
Here’s “A Fiend in Follywood” from that 1926 collection.



“But why on earth should I tell you of my troubles; past, present or future?”
Renee Southerland, casting director of the Royal-Arts Studio in Hollywood, laid down her gold fountain pen and glared contemptuously. Under a steady gaze from eyes that appeared alive with red hot coals, I began sending apprehensive glances toward the doorway. I had a great desire to dash through it into the open air to relieve the stinging bite of a prickly heat which began at the soles of my feet and rushed upward. I knew that I presented a countenance now as vivid red as the ruffled garter Renee wore on a well-rounded calf when she crossed her legs after the prevailing fashion among young women.
“Well, I—er—you see, Mrs. Southerland,” I managed to stammer, “I understand that Hollywood recognizes no conventions, and my experience knows it doesn’t. But the movie people of the inner circles—that’s what I’m driving at. I want to learn about the conventions within those circles.”
I certainly must have presented an extremely ludicrous appearance, standing there in the office of Royal-Art among a troop of promising young movie aspirants—whose sole hopes were in nothing but promises. I was embarrassment personified.
“Oh, I see,” Renee cooled down a bit, and my morale correspondingly ascended. “You want a ‘true confession,’ don’t you? You’re always prying into other people’s pasts—if not their business!” She smiled tauntingly and revealed something amazingly like a dimple in either cheek—a dimple which gave promising hint of a petulant loveliness that at one time must have been exhibited for male approval. For Renee Southerland was well past her youth—and married!
“But Mrs. Southerland,” I said, “I must have a good story, and if you know of a good one, please tell it to me. Mr. Ray over at Pennant Pictures suggested that I pick out a woman casting director.”
Her eyes softened. I regained my composure. One of the movie aspirants snickered, as though he had just fathomed out my predicament. Renee’s eyes again feigned that demoralizing stare.
“There’s no work for you extras today!” she said, haughtily. “Get out of here—come back tomorrow.”
She herded the disappointed and crest-fallen crowd through the door and with an emphatic thrust she slammed it tight.
“I think we can have a little privacy now,” she said, seating herself spryly in a swivel chair. “And I’ll tell you the story of the most crushing incident in my life, and which also crushed someone else just a little bit more than it did me.”

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