Hungarian Roots: Béla “Dracula” Lugosi, Horror Movie Star
Tamás Székely 2016.02.18.
In our weekly series we write about celebrities – artists, actors, musicians, sport stars and scientists – who have some Hungarian origin, yet only few would consider them as “par excellence Hungarians”. In many cases even the person concerned knows/knew only very little about his or her Hungarian roots, while others are/were proud of their “magyar” background despite lacking the ability to speak the language of their parents or grandparents. Our fifth target is:
Béla Lugosi, Hungarian-American actor, famous for portraying Count Dracula in the original film made in 1931
Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó was born in 1882 in the town of Lugos, Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania) in a Roman Catholic family of Hungarian origin. He later based his last name on his hometown, this is why the world knows him as Béla Lugosi. At the age of 12, Lugosi dropped out of school and started an stage actor career in different theaters of the country. During World War One he suffered wounds while he served as an infantryman of the Austro-Hungarian Army on the Eastern front. Due to his activism in the Communist Revolution of 1919, he was forced to leave Hungary. Lugosi emigrated to the United States in 1920 to continue his acting career in New York.
Lugosi’s first American film role came in melodrama The Silent Command in 1923. Two years later he also appeared as an Arab Sheik in Arabesque. Several more character roles followed, as villains or continental types. In 1927 Lugosi starred in a Broadway production of Dracula adapted from a Bram Stoker’s novel. It ran for three years, and was subsequently, and memorably, filmed by Tod Browning in 1931, establishing Béla Lugosi as one of the screen’s greatest personifications of pure evil. In the 1940s Lugosi starred in countless horror films as well as sequels and spoofs such as The Ghost of Frankenstein(1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
Despite the enormous success, Lugosi’s reputation declined rapidly in the following years, mainly because he rejected the roles handed to him by directors and script-writers. Sadly, Lugosi ended his career in poverty working for Edward D. Wood Jr who known as “worst director of all time”. Béla Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956 while lying on a couch in his Los Angeles home. He was buried wearing one of the Dracula costumes, because his son and fifth wife believed that it is what Béla Lugosi would have wanted.