Who is a prime example of a iconic onscreen horror actor? I would say one of the main ones is Bela Lugosi. When Lugosi played the part of Dracula, the whole world was mesmerized by his performance. He brought to life the dark tale of the undead like no one else before had. He left behind a legacy in the horror genre and also changed forever the way we view one of our favorite monsters, vampires. Yes, vampires are monsters, well if they were real anyway. I am not talking about the romantic, let me love you and feed off of animals kind...you know who I mean..LOL
But there was so much more behind those gorgeous eyes of Lugosi, so much more about this actor and man that people just aren't aware of. Well that is where this post will hopefully give you a little more insight on the man who helped change the face of horror in cinema forever.
Born in what is now Romania in 1882 as Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko to father who was a banker and a mother who was a housewife. He later took the name of his hometown, Lugos as inspiration for his stage name! How neat is that!!
He began acting in 1903 in the theatre. He served in World War I as a Infantry Lieutenant in the Austrian-Hungry Army from 1914-1916. By 1919, he was forced to flee his homeland due to his activism in the actor's union during the time of the Hungarian Revolution. Before he was forty years old he was a thespian, a vet of the great war, and a revolutionary!
He began acting in films in 1917, the first being The Colonel. Lugosi migrated to America in 1920 and by 1922 was already performing on Broadway. He eventually won the coveted part of Dracula on Broadway and won critical acclaim for his performances. Because of his performance on stage, Hollywood came knocking on Lugosi's door and by 1931 he took the world by storm with his iconic role of the blood sucking vampire. Some say he was typecast, most of his roles afterwards were in horror films such as; White Zombie (1932) and Son of Frankenstein (1939).
After reading a great deal about him in preparation for this post, I feel that perhaps he was and due to his heavy accent it may have proved somewhat challenging to find appropriate parts for him, but that didn't mean he wasn't an amazing actor/performer. I also feel that Lugosi as some point embraced his image as a horror icon, like Al Lewis did as "Grandpa" from The Munsters.
I say, what's wrong with that? He had talent, an image, a look, a name people recognized...what he did with it was work hard until the day he passed away doing what he loved to do...acting.
Lugosi was married five times and only had one child, a son named Bela Lugosi, Jr. Doesn't he look so much like his father?? And handsome too! Woweeee hehe
Career-wise as Lugosi grew older, he also fell into making "B" horror movies. I personally love them but you know how fickle and judgemental Hollywood can be, right? It is said that his last "A" film was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948.
Lugosi in one of his earlier roles played the role of Christ and a photo from later on in his career with Vampira. One may wonder if he felt these roles in horror films were not as challenging or satisfying as the roles he played earlier in his career?
In the 1950's he began to collaborate with Ed Wood, a filmmaker, who sought out to work with Lugosi because he was a big fan of his work. They say working with Wood helped Lugosi get out of financial troubles as well as put him back in the spotlight.
From the 1940's til the early part of the 1950's Lugosi battled an addiction to pain killers. He was the first celebrity to come out and speak about addiction to the public. You can read more about it here and this link also included an interview with Lugosi.
He is an icon--it is that simple. He may have not been a millionaire when he passed away suddenly in 1956 of a heart attack, but he was a star in every sense of the word. He was and will always be a huge part of the foundation that made the genre of spooky tales we all know and love.
In the above photo (right) there is a rare gathering of the descendants of the masters of horror from Universal Pictures. Of course there is Bela Lugosi, Jr (with his daughter), Sara Karloff (Boris Karloff's daughter), Ron Chaney (the great-grandson of Lon Chaney, and grandson of Lon Chaney, Jr-with his two daughters), and Carla Laemmle who is the niece of Universal's founder Carl Laemmle. Carla is still with us at 103 years old-bless her!
Lugosi will always be remembered for playing the role of "Dracula" but I hope now you may also see that he was a passionate actor as well as a multifaceted man.