Bela Lugosi (born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó; October 20, 1882 – August 16, 1956) was a Hungarian-born stage and screen actor mostly known for his work in horror movies, in particular his performance of the title role in the 1931 version of Dracula. Following that film's success, he suffered severely from typecasting and the limitations of his heavy native accent, and spent the vast bulk of his career eking out a living in various low-budget productions, culminating (if that is the word) in his work with director Ed Wood.
Born in Lugos, Hungary (hence his stage name), he began acting in theater at a young age. He served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in World War I, getting wounded in action against Russia. Lugosi began his film career while the war was still ongoing, and also became involved in Hungarian politics and trade unions. After Bela Kun's failed communist revolution, Lugosi was marked for arrest due to his political views and fled to Germany. There Lugosi continued his career (including, oddly enough, appearing in several successful Westerns). He emigrated to the United States in 1920 and became a citizen in 1931.
After some minor film roles through the '20s (already typecast as villains) and a successful stage career (where he often played romantic and heroic characters), Lugosi achieved his Star-Making Role as Count Dracula in Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's stage adaptation of Dracula. Lugosi first took on the role in 1927, playing the Count in 261 performances on Broadway before touring the country. After the tour concluded he relocated to Los Angeles and began focusing on movie roles. Ironically, he had to lobby to play Dracula on film, as Universal initially wanted an established star for the role.note
Although Lugosi appeared in several successful films for Universal after Dracula, he failed to break through his typecasting and remained overwhelmingly cast in horror and science fiction movies, often of negligible quality. During this time, he worked on several occasions with—and was overshadowed by—his rival Boris Karloff. He managed to make a sort of comeback in death, however, when Martin Landau won an Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of Lugosi in Tim Burton's 1994 film Ed Wood.
Some of the other famous—or infamous—films in which Lugosi appeared include White Zombie, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Wolf Man, Son of Frankenstein (as Ygor, generally regarded as one of his best performances), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (in which he reprised the Dracula role), Glen or Glenda, and Plan 9 from Outer Space. He also had a supporting role in the classic Greta Garbo comedy Ninotchka, although he's still scary (he's a commissar). Many Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans will also remember him from the serial The Phantom Creeps ("Zees vill zimplify everytink!"), as well as the movies The Corpse Vanishes and Bride of the Monster ("He tampered in God's domain").
Also rather well known for being dead. It wasn't his idea, but he was buried in his Dracula costume. (A persistent urban myth holds that Peter Lorre joked at Lugosi's funeral that they should "drive a stake through his heart, just in case". In fact, Lorre wasn't even at Lugosi's funeral.)
Bela Lugosi on TV Tropes:
- Dracula (1927 Broadway production)
- The Thirteenth Chair (1929)
- Dracula (1931)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
- Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
- White Zombie (1932)
- The Black Cat (1934)
- Mark of the Vampire (1935)
- The Raven (1935)
- The Invisible Ray (1936)
- Ninotchka (1939)
- Son of Frankenstein (1939)
- The Devil Bat (1940)
- The Wolf Man (1941)
- The Corpse Vanishes (1942)
- The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
- Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
- The Body Snatcher (1945)
- Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
- Glen or Glenda (1953)
- Bride of the Monster (1955)
- Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)note
Bela Lugosi is known for these tropes:
- Abnormal Limb Rotation Range: Lugosi had double-jointed fingers, allowing him to make creepy motions with his hands.
- All in the Eyes: Multiple movies would make good use out of an illuminated close-up of Lugosi's. Dracula aside, both White Zombie and its sequel (which Lugosi wasn't actually in, funny enough) used this effect.
- Many people say that Bela wasn't that great of an actor, but pretty much everyone agrees that those eyes of his... those eyes... eyes that pierce you to your very soul. There is no escaping them... Uh. That is to say: Most people agree that he could use his eyes to amazing effect.
- Badass Cape: Dracula's long cape.
- Black Cloak: Buried with one, too, at his family's request, though against his own wishes.
- Classical Movie Vampire: His role is the Trope Maker. Most Dracula parodies follow this trope because of how renowned Lugosi's performance was.
- Compelling Voice: He made sure to try to vocalize Dracula's hypnotic voice.
- Dramatic Pause: Somewhat justified in the fact that English is quite different from Hungarian (so different that the heavy accent it leaves when transitioning to English probably made his English sound worse than it really was to most people. He was actually a very good speaker!) In fact, in 1934's The Black Cat, he has a small bit of dialogue in Hungarian, and naturally, the delivery of it flows like melted butter.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Lugosi's most notable film role before moving to America is probably that of Chingachgook in the 1920 silent two-parter Lederstrumpf.
- Fake Shemp: His character in Plan 9 from Outer Space is played in some scenes by an obvious double hiding his face behind a cape.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Bela Lugosi did not swear (not much, anyway), but Ed Wood made him give a whole lot of it.
- High Collar of Doom: By wearing the collar of the black cape up in the stage play of Dracula, turning around would blend in with the curtain and make it seem like he disappeared. In the movie version, he kept the collar up just for the heck of it, and high collars became an iconic part of the Villainous Fashion Sense.
- I Do Not Drink Wine: Dracula didn't, but Béla? It's said he was quite a fan.
- The Igor: His role in Son of Frankenstein helped codify this trope. He's the original Ygor!
- Immigrant Patriotism: Lugosi was a proud and patriotic naturalized American, though also maintained pride in his Hungarian roots.
- Large Ham: He could play the part subtly at moments, but he loved to just flourish with the role.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The man's name, and most of his characters.
- Ominous Opera Cape: The way he flourished the long, black cape as Dracula made dark capes a common villain accessory.
- Playing Against Type: He portrayed the protagonists in The Thirteenth Chair (as a dogged police inspector), The Return of Chandu (as the titular crime-fighting sorcerer) and The Black Cat (as a shell shocked psychiatrist). He had comedy roles in Broadminded and International House, and played red herring characters in murder mysteries like The Black Camel, The Death Kiss, and Murder by Television. (The latter notably sees him playing both a murder victim and his identical twin brother, an undercover cop who at the end, in true Agatha Christie style, unveils the killer via Summation Gathering.)
- Production Posse: Tod Browning, Edward Van Sloan, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr., and Ed Wood.
- The Rival: With Boris Karloff, to an extent. Lugosi resented that Karloff always received top billing when they costarred together, and they often competed for roles when they weren't collaborating. Lugosi often half-jokingly took credit for Karloff's stardom since he had turned down the role of the Monster in Frankenstein (1931) before Karloff was cast. Most film historians tend to discount stories that they had a full-on feud, however; Karloff said that after some initial tension, they became friends and enjoyed working together. Lugosi's children seem to confirm this, indicating that while the two weren't particularly close, Lugosi generally held Karloff in high esteem despite his occasional jealousy about his greater success.
- Stage Name: He was born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó (or Blaskó Béla Ferenc Dezső in Hungarian name order), and took the name Lugosi from his hometown of Lugos, Hungary (which is now Lugoj, Romania). In many of his Hungarian films, Lugosi also used the name Arisztid Olt.
- Universal Horror: The genre in which he did his most famous work.
- Vampires Are Sex Gods: He played Dracula as a seductive and charismatic villain. The studio forbade him from preying on men for exactly this reason.
- Lugosi himself became a sex symbol overnight because of Dracula.
- Vampire Vords: Averted. Even though people imagine (and frequently parody) him as speaking this way — to the point he's often imagined to be the Trope Maker — he actually had no problems pronouncing his W's.
- White-Dwarf Starlet: He got roles after Dracula, but they eventually dried up. You can see Ed Wood for a potrayal of his later years.