Béla Lugosi -The Hungarian Dracula


Hungary has given many great talents to the world – artists, actors, scientists, inventors, musicians and the list goes on. Among the most prominent Hungarian movie stars is Béla Lugosi whose most celebrated role was playing Dracula in the epic ‘31 horror flick. Lugosi certainly did not lead a conventional life: he left his home at the age of 12, married five times, and was severely hooked on morphine. He is also one of the handful of Hungarians who received a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Read on to learn more about the famous Horror movie star!

Childhood dreams

The Hungarian actor first saw the light of day in 1882 under the name Béla Blaskó. If we just take his origin into account, he was already the perfect match to play Dracula since he was originally from Transylvania. He was born as the fourth child in an affluent banker family. Béla’s early interest in acting was frowned upon by his strict father who imagined a different path for his son. However, Béla was adamant to make it as an actor so he ran away from his family at an early age. He took on odd jobs to make ends meet and even worked in a mine for a short while. Luckily, things started to look up for him as he landed some acting jobs in rural theatres. In barely a year, his acting career shot up like a comet, and he soon conquered the Budapest theatres as well.

Source: fortepan.hu – 14652 Noémi Saly

Times of turmoil

The year 1914 marks the outbreak of WWI. This time, Lugosi chose patriotism over the stage. He volunteered to serve on the Eastern front even though he was exempted from military service as an actor. He joined the Astro-Hungarian army and fought for his country as an infantryman, suffering numerous injuries on the way. Although the war ended, the horrors of the battlefield never left his side. Lugosi later developed a severe morphine addiction which could be attributed to the traumas he carried through all his life after the war.

In 1917, he tied the knot with his first wife Ilona Szmik but the couple could not enjoy married life for long. Due to the 1918-1919 political turmoil, he decided to flee the country. His wife stayed back though to take care of her elderly parents. Lugosi first headed to Berlin and then boarded a ship to the new land with only a couple of pennies in his pocket.


Béla Lugosi and his first wife, Ilona Szmik
Source: fortepan.hu – 15098 Noémi Saly


The born of the vampire

Lugosi arrived in the States as an illegal immigrant but that did not stop him from traveling straight to New York, the capital of American theatre. He first started out with minor roles but his talent was soon discovered by bigger productions as well. Lugosi greatly struggled with his English at the beginning and requested to have his dialogues written down phonetically so he could memorize them easier. His robust build, rugged features and deep voice all came to his advantage and helped him land his most important role, playing Dracula in the famous ‘31 Hollywood movie. It truly jumpstarted his career and he soon became a household name in the city of stars. An interesting fun fact is that even after years of the first release of the well-known horror flick, he kept signing his name by adding ‘Dracula’ in the middle.

The “Castle of Dracula”; Törcsvár in Transylvania, Romania
Source: fortepan.hu – 22307 Balázs Pálfi


The tragic end

Although Dracula brought him the long-anticipated fame, it also spelled a curse on him. He also played in other hit movies such as Island of Lost Souls, White Zombie and Murders in Rue Morgue, but none of them came close to the success of Dracula. In addition, the Hungarian actor failed to deliver in different genres even though he had the chance to work with such huge names as Greta Garbo.

In 1949, he resorted to taking a significant turn in his career and tried to break into the world of television. However, his morphine addiction already took over him and things started to go downhill. The strong painkiller was prescribed by his doctors to numb the chronic pain he suffered due to his war injuries. Towards his final year, he only received minor roles in B and C-category productions. Approaching near bankruptcy, Lugosi was forced to sell his castle-like villa, which was later bought by Johnny Depp. His last two movies, Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space failed miserably. However, the biggest star of American horror movies did not even get to see the premiere of the latter as he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 73. He was placed in his grave wearing one of his old Dracula costumes in the cemetery of Culver City, California.

Source: wikipedia.com


– Eleonora Jobst –

Main picture: commons.wikimedia.org

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