Bela Lugosi photographed by Editta Sherman
Folklore states that when Bela Lugosi travelled to England to appear in a revival tour of Dracula in 1951, he found himself surrounded by amateur performers in a production that dramatically folded soon after its premiere at Brighton’s Theatre Royal. Unpaid and stranded in England, so the story goes, he appeared in Mother Riley Meets The Vampire, a quickly organised film, to raise funds to pay for passage back to America for himself and his wife.
In reality, all of the cast members were professional actors, as dictated by the rules of the British actors’ union Equity. The senior members of the cast had enjoyed long careers on the stage. Of the younger members, Richard Butler, the play’s Jonathan Harker, went on the have a long and successful career, appearing in high profile plays, TV series and films. Dracula toured the UK from April 30th to October 13th, 1951, during which time Bela Lugosi performed his signature role 229 times. While the production failed to deliver on a promised West End run, which Lugosi dreamed would restore his professional fortunes, it did not close until he announced that he did not have the energy to continue with the exhausting demands of life on the road and requested that the tour be terminated. He would never perform in the famous vampire play again.
Far from being a last-minute desperate attempt to pay his way back home, Lugosi’s participation in Mother Riley Meets The Vampire was first announced in the press over two months before filming began, long before there was any indication that the tour of Dracula would end.
Bela and Lillian leave New York aboard the S.S. Mauretania – April 3
Bela and Lillian arrive in Southampton – April 10
Bela, Lillian and Richard Eastham, Dracula’s director, dine at L’Écu de France in London – April 11
Bela guested on The Charlie Chester Show on BBC TV – April 14
Bela interviewed on the BBC Radio programme In Town Tonight – April 14
Reception for the cast and crew near The British Museum – April 15
Rehearsals begin in a banquet room above a pub in Pont Street, South Kensington, London – April 16
Lillian Lugosi’s 40th birthday – April 21
Rehearsals move to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End – April 23
Dress rehearsal at the Theatre Royal, Brighton – April 29
Theatre Royal, Brighton – April 30-May 5 (8 performances)
Lewisham Hippodrome – May 7-12 (12 performances)
Golders Green Hippodrome – May 14-19 (8 performances)
Streatham Hill Theatre – May 21-26 (8 performances)
Dudley Hippodrome – May 28-June 2 (12 performances)
Bela and Lillian visit the Accles and Pollock’s works in Oldbury – May 29
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne – June 4-9 (8 performances)
Empire Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush – June 11-16 (12 performances)
Bela attends the Sunday Pictorial Film Garden Party at Morden Hall Park, Surrey – June 16
Bela interviewed on the BBC Radio programme In Town Tonight – June 16
King’s Theatre, Glasgow – June 18-23 (7 performances)
Empire Theatre, Middlesbrough – June 25-30 (12 performances)
Bela appears at the Stockton Festival of Britain Week in Ropner Park – June 30
The Grand Opera House, Belfast – July 2-7 (12 performances)
Wood Green Empire – July 9-14 (12 performances)
The Manchester Hippodrome – July 16-21 (12 performances)
Theatre Royal, Norwich – July 23-28 (7 performances)
Bela attends a British Legion fete in Drayton, Norwich – July 28 (?)
Palace Theatre, Leicester – July 30-August 4 (12 performances)
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield – August 6-11 (7 performances)
Bela appeared at the Sheffield Gala – August 6
Bela opened a new wet pea cannery at the Bachelors factory in Sheffield – August ?
The Empire, Chatham – August 13-18 (12 performances)
Bela attends a Festival Park Fete in Gillingham – August 16
Alma Theatre, Luton – August 20-25 (12 performances)
Theatre Royal, Nottingham – August 27-September 1 (8 performances)
The Chiswick Empire – September 3-8 (12 performances)
The New Theatre, Cambridge – September 10-15 (12 performances)
The Derby Hippodrome – September 17-22 (12 performances)
No performances – September 23 – October 7
Theatre Royal, Portsmouth – October 8-13 (12 performances)
Bela’s 69th birthday – October 20
Bela begins filming Mother Riley Meets the Vampire at Nettlefold Studio – November 5
Bela and Lillian attend the London premiere of Scrooge – November 22.
Bela and Lillian leave Southampton aboard the Queen Elizabeth – December 5
Bela and Lillian arrive in New York – December 11
Bela interviewed aboard ship by Jack Mangan for the TV show Ship’s Reporter – December 11
Joan Winmill: Mary Wells (a maid)
Richard Butler: John Harker (Lucy’s fiance)
David Dawson: Dr. Seward (Lucy’s father)
Arthur Hosking: Van Helsing (a famous physician)
Eric Lindsay: Renfield (a mental patient)
John Saunders: Butterworth (an attendant)
Sheila Wynn: Lucy Seward
Bela Lugosi: Count Dracula
Decor by BERTRAM TYRER
Production and Lighting by RICHARD EASTHAM
Chatres Productions Ltd. wish to thank Messrs Routledge and White, 93 Knightsbridge, London, S.W.1 for their help and co-operation in this production.
Scenery built by Mayfair Designs
Mylon Stockings by Kayser-Bondor Ltd.
Cigarettes by Abdulla
For John C. Mather and W.H. Williams
Allfred Beale: Manager
Peter Whelpton: Stage Manager
Janet Reid: Stage Manager
Ann Coupland: Effects Manager
Douglas Bodkin: Publicity Manager
George Routledge and Gordon White: Press Representatives
The following newspaper articles have been faithfully transcribed from the original newspapers. All peculiarities of spelling and punctuation, and factual inaccuracies have been retained.
April 3, 1951
Bela and Lillian leave New York aboard the S.S. Mauretania
The S.S. Mauretania leaves New York in an undated photograph
April 10, 1951
Bela and Lillian arrive in Southampton
London Daily Graphic, April 11, 1951
“Dracula is SO charming and easy to live with”
By Daily Graphic Reporter
DRACULA is a charming husband, easy to live with, romantic and kind, but so lazy, said his wife yesterday. And Bela Lugosi – Dracula – sat in the lounge of the Mauretania, at Southampton, a half-smoked cigar in his hand, and smiled benevolently.
His wife should know. They have been married 18 years.
Bela Lugosi, 58-year-old Hungarian creator of the horror part, arrived with Mrs. Lugosi for a 26-week stage tour.
“I’ve played the part 1,200 times, so I do not need much rehearsal,” said Mr. Lugosi.
“All I need is an hour’s peace to get into the right mood.”
And Mrs. Lugosi added: “But I do not speak to him for half an hour afterwards till he has got out of the mood.”
Mr. Lugosi began his acting career playing romantic leads.
“And once he crushed the ribs of leading lady Estelle Wynwood, so he turned to horrors,” commented his wife.
London Daily Herald, April 11, 1951
Mr. Dracula is not so terrifying
An H-for-Horrific actor from Hollywood, 59-year-old Bela Lugosi, landed at Southampton yesterday.
“I have been Dracula over 1,000 times,” he said, “but I’m still not a terrifying person.”
Mr. Lugosi, who will play Dracula here for 26 weeks, set out to prove it.
Those strange hypnotic eyes on the screen?
“You can see my eyes are really a friendly blue. To give them that weird effect a light is shone through two small holes in a piece of cardboard. I have never practised or studied hypnotism.”
That unearthly booming voice?
Well, it’s just his natural voice which sounds so blood-curdling in screen cemeteries and mortuaries.
That other-world atmosphere?
“I spend at least an hour completely silent before a Dracula performance, thinking myself into the psychological state needed for such a horror part.”
Mrs. Lugosi, married 18 years, has come over as his unofficial manager. She says:
“He’s needs too much looking after to be a terrifying person to me. Children love him, too, but I have found that many women are rather scared of him. They won’t believe he hasn’t hypnotic powers.”
Bela Lugosi in Southampton on April 10, 1951
The Daily Mirror, April 11, 1951
Dracula gloats so…over his stamps
Hypnotic-eyed Bela Lugosi, 62, the villainous vampire of “Dracula”, glided in aboard the Mauritania here today with his wife, Lillian. He has brought his props..two toy mice giving bat-like squeaks, the recorded barks and howls of terrified dogs, and his sinister black cape.
“I’m going to act Dracula for the first time on an English stage,” he told me. “Wait till the audience sees this!” And he drew out-stretched fingers back behind his head. His eyes glittered. The unearthly effect was shattered by a matey nudge from Mrs. Lugosi “Stamp collecting,” she said, grinning. “That’s the only thing he really gets worked up about.”
The star of “The Phantom Killer”, “The Devil Bat” and “Night Monster” was not easily put off.
“Women even now are scared to meet my gaze for fear of being hypnotised,” he said. His eyes narrowed.
“He loves cartoon films,” whispered his trim little wife. “He’s tender and romantic, and wouldn’t really frighten a pussy,” she added affectionately.
April 11, 1951
David Lewin’s syndicated Spotlight column appeared in at least two newspapers under different sub-headings
That old Hollywood horror veteran, Bela (“Dracula”) Lugosi, arrived in London last night. He is 63 now and has been playing in the vampire business on and off for 16 years. “Horror is my business – I find it pays off best,” he says with the air of a company director.
But the business isn’t what it was since Bob Hope and Jack Benny kicked it around in a couple of film comedies. Even those other specialists in the art, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, find the old heavy make-up is liable to raise more laughter than alarm.
Mr. Lugosi, who is suitably solemn about it all, hopes the stage Dracula – “very horrific and not at all intellectual” – will bring back the old happy days when films like “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The White Zombie,” and “Devil Bat” were taken seriously.
In his off-horror moments Mr. Lugosi looks after his stamp collection, or takes the dogs for a walk. He smokes nine cigars a day.
Lugosi is a natural for the horror game: nervous fingers, dark, deep-set eyes. When he’s on the job not even his wife can speak to him for an hour before the show – or half an hour after. “He has to get himself in the mood,” she says helpfully.
Bela in Southampton on April 10, 1951
Variety, April 11, 1951
Bela Lugosi, who originally created the title role of “Dracula” on Broadway, sailed for Britain last week where he’ll star in a revival of the Bram Stoker vampire play. It’s scheduled to start a provincial tour at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, April 30, prior to a run in London’s West End.
Under banner of Chartres Productions, “Dracula” is due to tour for a possible maximum of 26 weeks, of which 10 are said to have been already booked. Deal for Lugosi was negotiated on behalf of the actor and Chartres by Gordon Films, Inc. in New York and Routledge and White, Ltd. in London.
Lillian and Bela Lugosi by Harold Clements at Waterloo Station on April 10, 1951
April 16, 1951
Rehearsals begin in a banquet room above a pub in Pont Street, South Kensington, London
The Stage, April 19, 1951
Bela Lugosi has arrived in this country to play the leading part in a new production of “Dracula,” which Chartres Productions are presenting in Brighton on April 30, with Lewisham, Golder’s Green, Streatham Hill and Dudley to follow.
April 21, 1951
Lillian Lugosi’s 40th birthday
On Lillian’s birthday, she and Bela mailed a letter to Charles Stanley, a friend in New York who had played the role of a gorilla in Lugosi’s Horror and Magic Stage Show, which he had toured from late December, 1950, until shortly before his departure for England. They used the Knightsbridge office of Routledge and White as their postal address during the tour.
In the letter, written April 20th, 1951, they wrote:
We want to thank you again for coming to see us off at the cable.
We had a very rough sea most of the time and naturally seasick. We only got out of bed for dinner. It felt good to set foot on solid ground.
The press turned out in full force on both the boat in Southampton and the station in London. They made us feel most welcome. We are very happy here and our only wish now is for the success of “Dracula.”
With kindest regards, we remain, sincerely your friends,
Bela and Lillian Lugosi”
Rehearsals move to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End
April 30-May 5, 1951
Theatre Royal, Brighton
Handbill Front & Rear
Evening Argus, April 23, 1951
First question “horrific” film actor Bela Lugosi will ask when he arrives in Brighton next week-end to play in “Dracula” at the Theatre Royal, is almost certain to be: “Is there a football match on this afternoon?”
Soccer is one of his chief interests. He sponsored one of Hungary’s leading teams and is chairman of Los Angeles soccer club.
Son of an Hungarian bank president, Bela began his stage career as a Shakespearean actor. He played straight roles for 20 years before the screen version of “Dracula” made him a star overnight. Ever since then he has been regarded as the “horror specialist.”
What is the real Mr. Lugosi like? Said a friend: “Although he’s looks pretty fearsome, he’s really a most mild man. He is generous and very good-natured.
Bela’s arrival in England was considered newsworthy even in far-off Hobart, Australia
The Mercury, April 25, 1951
“DRACULA” IS TENDER AND ROMANTIC
Hypnotic-eyed Bela Lugosi (62), the villianous vampire of “Dracula” and star of “The Phantom Killer” and “Night Monster,” has arrived in London with his wife. He brought his props – two toy mice giving bat-like squeaks, the recorded barks and howls of terrified dogs, and his sinister black cape. “I am going to act ‘Dracula’ for the first, time on the English stage,” he said throatily. “Wait till they see this!” And he drew out-stretched fingers back behind his head. His eyes glittered. The unearthly effect (below) was shattered by his trim little wife, who whispered: “He’s tender and romantic, and wouldn’t really frighten pussy. Stamp collecting’s the only thing he really gets worked up about.”
Brighton newspaper, April, 1951
American ‘Horror’ Player Comes to the Royal
MR. BELA LUGOSI, a Hollywood screen player who for many years past has specialised in depicting bats, ghouls, werewolves and other grisly creatures in American horror films, comes to the illustrious Theatre Royal next week to take the name-part in “Dracula,” the role which he first created for the cinema.
On reflection, of course, the presentation of this popular vampire story at the Theatre Royal is not so incongruous as one may at first imagine. For the Royal is a Regency theatre, and there was nothing which appealed more to the taste of Regency Enhgland than extravagant, “gothic” melodramas of horror and mystery.
Even Miss Jane Austin was understandably concerned with the vogue of these grisly novelettes. Indeed, it was during the early years of the Theatre Royal that such stories as “Frankenstein” first captured the popular imagination.”
Brighton and Hove Herald, April 28, 1951
NEXT WEEK’S SHOWS
Hollywood star, Bela Lugosi visits the THEATRE ROYAL next week in that classic of thriller plays “Dracula.” This will be its European premiere, prior to London presentation. Although this is Lugosi’s first visit to Brighton, two members of the cast, which includes Richard Butler, David Dawson, Arthur Hoskin, Eric Lindsay and John Saunders, are familiar to local theatre-goers. Playing Lucy is 21-year-old Sheila Wynn, who recently returned from a German tour of “Queen Elizabeth Slept Here,” in which she appeared at the Theatre Royal shortly before Christmas. As a maidservant is 24-year-old Joan Winmill, who makes her fourth appearance in Brighton.
In charge of the production is Richard Eastham, and the decor is by Bertram Tyrer.
The Argus, April 28, 1951
DRACULA IS A SOCCER FAN
Without his batwing cloak and fearsome make-up, Bela Lugosi, creator of “Dracula,” is just another football fan. He confessed this at Brighton today, where he opens next week in the European premiere of his famous role at the Theatre Royal.
This star of 65 horror films was a goalkeeper in Hungry in his youth and he sponsors a team in Los Angeles.
So, when he met sportsman Ald Sam Davey, Brighton’s Mayor, he was more interested in the Cup prospects and his first glimpse of the Albion than the vampire with which he has chilled filmgoers for the past 20 years.
It is his greatest ambition to play Dracula in the West End, and as he fingered a huge copy of the original Count Dracula ring he praised the Brighton production of Bram Stoker’s thriller. “We are playing it perfectly straight and it has been modernised since I played it on the American stage,” he told a reporter.
No one meeting this charming actor would imagine he can become the epitome of horror. “It takes me about half an hour to warm up before the curtain rises,” he confessed before rushing to Hove to cheer the Albion – the first English team he has seen.
Picture shows “Dracula” warming up with a little hypnotism.
(None of Brighton’s five newspapers followed up on the story of Bela attending the Brighton and Hove Albion football match. Jack Mansell, a veteran of the 1951 team, told unofficial club historian Tim Carder that if Bela did attend, neither was he introduced to the team nor was his presence announced to the crowd. Brighton and Hove Albion were not in the running for the cup in 1951. They finished 13th out of 24 clubs in the Third Division (South).)
Dress rehearsal at the Theatre Royal, Brighton
On the eve of the opening night in Brighton, Bela’s arrival in England was still being reported in Sydney, Australia
The Sunday Herald, April 29, 1951
It’s That Vampire Again!
VETERAN horror man Bela (“Dracula”) Lugosi has arrived in England, sad but determined.
The Vampire business isn’t what it used to be since the subject has been kicked around by Bob Hope and Abbott and Costello. The hypnotic-eyed star of “The White Zombie” is hoping to shudder his way back into circulation during a 26-week British stage tour in “Dracula.”
Smiling benevolently, the former Hungarian stage star said: “I’ve played the part 1,200 times, so I don’t need any rehearsal.
Sussex Daily News , May 1, 1951
JOLLY ENTERTAINMENT WITH THE BATS
Theatre Royal Brighton
IN what must surely be the most bat-infested property on Hampstead Heath, Dr. Seward and his daughter, assisted by consultants and friends, put up a really splendid show against the powers of darkness and provide what must be considered a wonderfully jolly entertainment.
Certainly the evening has any number of entertaining moments. There is the point, for instance, when poor Lucy Seward stands in her father’s library, an office containing more bats than all the mansions of Mr. Chrles Addams, and nostalgically exclaims: “I would never leave the old place; this is my home.”
And there is the moment, too (a surprise, one feels, for the late Bram Stoker) when it is revealed that Count Dracula landed at Heathrow after flying from Transylvania in an air-liner and somewhat mystified the literalminded Customs officers by firmly declaring six large boxes of earth.
However, it is up to individual customers to discover their own more hysterical bon-mots for themselves. Duty will be served here if it is indicated that the cast and the effects department go about their business with an utterly disarming gravity; and that Mr. Bela Lugosi, who turns up wearing an impressive Camembert make-up and large puffs of noisome smoke, is the dear old horror we have always affectionately thought him.
Evening Argos, May 1, 1951
THEY LIKE BEING SCARED
WHENEVER the lights dimmed and green smoke drifted on-stage during last night’s performance of “Dracula” (Theatre Royal) the audience audibly settled down in their seats, contentedly prepared to be scared out of their wits.
They were not disappointed, for this production gives the 19th century horror story the full works, complete with flying bats, eerie vapours, bloodcurdling screams, howling dogs, and, of course, the imposing Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula.
Even vampire bats, though they be five centuries old have to move with the times, and Dracula ably proves that he has brought all the latest inventions to aid him in his sucking profession – that is, with the exception of raiding the blood banks set up by the national transfusion service.
Hitherto detained in his Central European lair by the need to return to his burial earth at each sunrise, Count Dracula calmly fills six packing cases with local soil, takes a plane to Heath Row, where he tells Customs officials he needs it for horticultural purposes, and starts operations on London’s outskirts, where there is sufficient blood to satisfy even the King of Vampires.
Mr. Lugosi and his company enter merrily into the spirit of this melodramatic romp among the supernatural, and from the prologue to the final driving of a yard-long stake through the vampire’s heart, they do their upmost to set your nerves tingling. S.R.
The Herald, April 28, 1951
The Argus, April 30, 1951
Brighton Standard, May 2, 1951
SSSH! D-d-d-don’t look now, but there’s a v-v-vampire….
Providentially there are uniformed first-aid attendants on duty (at the Theatre Royal!) throughout the performance of “Dracula,” so we can all go with impunity to see this most famous of blood-curdlers.
What with the magic of Bela Lugosi’s personality – and it is a very powerful personality indeed – and a sumptuous production in which things are so brought up to date that Dracula flies from Transylvania to Hampstead by plane, this is a sort of “time of your life” show. If you haven’t previously made the acquaintance of the blood-sucking gentleman who smells of brimstone and tombstone, this is undoubtably your best chance. If you just want a rattling good night’s fun, the same applies.
Bela Lugosi out-thrills them all as the arch-monster, and, odds bats and belfries, if he doesn’t make your flesh creep, nothing will.
A first-rate company play “Dracula” for all it is worth and a bit more.
The Herald, May 5, 1951
Dracula, Shock Factory Worker
For years the dreaded Count Dracula, prince of the undead, king of the vampires, slept in his native earth in his wild haunted country of Transylvania. Perhaps there was a terror abroad that even he could not face, so he left the wasted plains of Eastern Europe, flew through th Iron Curtain one night, and, landing at Heath Row, calmly declared five boxes of his burial earth. And so the horror was on at Hampstead and we witness once more Professor Van Helsing’s immortal battle with the superhuman Dracula for the life and soul of the terror-stricken Lucy Seward.
How has this famous thriller – at the Royal this week – withstood the passage of the years? Very well, considering the horrors with which we are s0 familiar in this modern age, and the fact that the once wolf-infested plains and forests of Transylvania are now collectivised.
We are, of course, used to a more sophisticated supernatural these days, although it is refreshing – and reassuring – to be reminded that the thing from the other world can be effectively fought with such homely weapons as crosses and holy wafers.
Alas for Dracula. But let him rest at last in his tomb. He has well deserved his rest, for if this wretched soul should wake again in his coffin in that mouldering castle behind the Iron Curtain, the unromantic Soviets would probably tempt him with a full diet of fresh blood, put him on a night shift, and turn him into the nation’s number one shock factory worker. – F.U.
Brighton and Hove Herald, May 5, 1951
At the theatre
DRACULA UP TO DATE
I ENJOYED myself very much at “Dracula” (Theatre Royal), though I cannot say I gave the first-aid attendants (a kindly gesture from the St. John Ambulance Brigade) any trouble. Nor, as far as I saw, did anybody else. The male attendant produced a joke about it: “A good thing I don’t work on commission.” I suppose this was because, as one grows older, the idea of a human vampire becomes less terrifying, particularly when set beside more realistic scourges in plentiful supply.
Even so, the present production might scare us a little more than it does. It was a splendid idea to loose what looked like real bats into the lounge of Dr. Seward’s house in Hampstead; and Dracula’s sudden appearances and vanishings were highly spectacular. Dracula himself is impersonated by Bela Lugosi, who, having been doing him off and on since 1927, acquits himself with comfortable elegance. He does it very well. His hands have a noticeable magnetism, his voice has a curdling menace; and his make-up is terrific.
But he and his colleagues are handicapped by the flatfooted inconsistencies of the adaptation. It is for instance a capital error to play it in modern dress but retain the idiom of sixty years ago. Somehow the notion of the Count arriving at Heath Row by air, with six boxes of earth as luggage, at once suspends credulity. (I am tempted to write the dialogue which I imagine to have taken place between him and the Customs Officers. “Anything to declare, sir?” – “just these six boxes of earth.” – “Earth?” – And so on. I offer the idea to Mr. Alan Merville.)
There is another point of production which can be improved. We are told during the play that vampires, who return to their coffins by day, can be identified when the coffins are opened by the freshness of their complexions. But when Dracula’s coffin was found on Monday night he didn’t look at all well.
Bela Lugosi posing for the press in his dressing room
The Stage, May 8, 1951
At the Royal, on April 30, was presented by John C. Mather and W.H. Williams for Chartres Productions, Ltd., a new production of the adaptation by Hamilton Deane and J.L. Balderston of Bram Stoker’s
Mary Wells……………….Joan Winmill
John Harker…………..Richard Butler
Dr. Seward………………David Dawson
Van Helsing…………Arthur Hosking
Lucy Seward………………Sheila Wynn
Producer : Richard Eastham
Vampire bats, howling wolves and ghostly figures do not now chill the blood quite as they did 24 years ago, when “Dracula” was first produced : but the play still provides a pleasantly macabre and entertaining evening.
Certainly, if we do not feel a shudder of the spine it is not the fault of Bela Lugosi, who plays Count Dracula with silent movement and chilling speech. Mr Lugosi does well in the role, partly because he does not at any point fall into the trap of overplaying the drama. Sheila Wynn is Lucy Seward, the victim, and she manages to look worried and anaemic throughout the play. A good performance is given by Eric Lindsay as Renfield, the near-lunatic, and Arthur Hosking is a cool, convincing psychiatrist. The other, rather colourless, parts are competently played by David Dawson, Richard Butler, Joan Winmill and John Saunders.
The success of the present revival is as much due to the setting and production as to the acting. The decor by Bertram Tyrer is mystic without being unreal or unpleasant, and the production and effects of Richard Eastham are complicated but well carried out. The bats which fly above the heads of the players and the fog which accompanies Count Dracula are most realistic, but the off-stage sounds could ber improved without becoming too terrifying, and the final scene could be built up with a more dramatic climax. A small section of the audience who showed a willingness to laugh at first were soon silenced and the play was given a good reception.
Bela, Arthur Hosking, Richard Butler, David Dawson
Recollections of members of the Brighton audience
“My husband and I met him several times when he was appearing at the Theatre Royal in the town. He was a perfect gentleman, and when introduced to me said, “The pleasure is all mine.” I thought it was so charming. Another time we caught him coming out of the back of the theatre, out of the stage door. We chatted for a while as he recognized us. Then it started to rain hard, and we put him on a bus in North Street to go to Kemp Town where he was staying.” – Mrs. Vera Robinson
“It is something I often talk about because it was one of the theatrical highlights of my youth, together with seeing Laurel and Hardy and Tony Hancock. I think everybody I know knows I saw Dracula. I was only thirteen and, as far as I remember, it was for adults only, but I was big for my age and even then had a passion for the cinema and theatre. When I saw it was going to be on, I just had to have a ticket. I was on my own and was enthralled. His was a performance I have remembered down through the years; he was the definitive Dracula.” – Alan Globe
“I did go to see hin at the Theatre Royal in Brighton in Dracula, and from what I can recall of the play it was rather good. It was some years ago, I hasten to add, but I did meet him and he signed a photograph which I had of him. He was very polite and he was, I thought, somewhat shy. He asked me if I enjoyed the show, etc., but that was all, and like his photo he was smoking a cigar.” – Mrs. Pat Collins
“I did see Bela Lugosi at the Theatre Royal in “Dracula”, but I can remember little other than the pleasure I derived as a fifteen-year-old boy in seeing a Hollywood star. In fact, the only part I really remember is at the end. The stage was in darkness, just a light on him. He looked out at us and said, “When,” he could make that word threatening, “you go upstairs to bed tonight, do look under your bed before you go to sleep.” He then gave his laugh and pulled his black cloak across his body and covered his face. With that he disappeared with only the echo of his laugh with us still. Bela was not just supreme in his field, but he was suave; how can you be sinister without polish?” – Mr. M.F. Williams
The Lewisham Hippodrome – May 7-12
Lewisham Journal & Borough News, May 8, 1951
WHERE SHALL WE GO?
Bela Lugosi appears in the famous thriller, “Dracula,” at Lewisham Hippodrome all this week. Never has an actor identified himself with a role more indelibly. The two are inseparable, virtually synonymous.
Bela Lugosi was born in Lugos, Hungary, the son of the president of the largest bank and the town’s leading citizen. He made his stage debut as “Romeo” and followed with “Hamlet”, other Shakespeare plays and such classics as Ibsen’s “Ghosts”, “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Lord Byron’s “Manfred”. he began his screen career in Budapest in 1914, and then for three years served on the Russian, Serbian and Italian fronts. After the war, he fled the country as a political refugee. He made his way to Berlin, where in 1919 he resumed his film career.
From Berlin he worked his way to the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1930. After playing straight roles for 20 years, Lugosi suddenly found himself with a part from which he had not the slightest chance to escape. The play ran for two years, to be followed by the screen version which made him a film star overnight. He became a “horror” specialist and was identified with such films as “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, “Chandu, the Magician”, “The Thirteenth Chair”, “The Black Cat”, “The Raven”, “White Zombie”, “The Invisible Ray” and many others.
The success of “Dracula” gave Lugosi fame and fortune. Then England banned such films and Hollywood stopped making them. Lugosi, accustomed to a variety of roles but only considered as the “horror” specialist, was off the screen for two years and lost practically everything.
Then a small independent exhibitor booked “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” as an experiment, and a revival of Lugosi films swept the country. Lugosi, after being plunged to the depths by “Dracula” found the same character making him a star once again.
Bela, Arthur Hosking, Richard Butler and David Dawson
Hampstead News & Gazette, May 10, 1951
It Could Happen—And It Did
When attractive 21 year-old actress Sheila Wynn, of Haverstock Hill, Hampstead, was booked to play in “Dracula” with Hollywood horror star Bela Lugosi it was just another job to her.
To her family, who worried about the effect such a role might have on her mind, she said, “Don’t worry, I don’t really believe in vampires, ghosts or hypnotism or anything of that sort. It’s a lot of nonsense.”
Then a strange thing happened.
At rehearsals she was playing the part of the girl whom Dracula attacks. Bela Lugosi, playing the title role, came towards her. Her head began to swim and she swayed uncertainly. Richard Eastham, the producer, prompted her with her lines.
They just would not come. Unknown to himself, Bela Lugosi had actually hypnotised her in the way that his vampire stage part demanded.
‘I wanted to break the spell…’
“I don’t know what happened,” she told a reporter, “It was just as if the stage disappeared and a real vampire was coming to me. I wanted to break the spell but I couldn’t. they told me afterwards that, after staggering about the stage aimlessly and thoroughly frightening everybody, I went ahead and gave a perfect performance.
“I’ve had nightmares about vampires since. I’ve quite changed my views about such things since this play started. I’ve taken out books from libraries and read up the subject. There definitely is something queer that happens at night in some parts of the world.”
“Dracula” opens at the Golders Green Hippodrome next Monday. “I expect that a lot of people will say that it is childish nonsense,” said Miss Wynn. “they can if they want to. All I know is that I used to feel that way but since what happened at the rehearsal, and since studying the subject, I am not so sure.
Sheila Wynn (now Sheila Eyre) recalled her reaction to this article when interviewed by Frank at her home in 1998. “…as I was leaving for the theatre in Lewisham, where we played the week before Golders Green, I saw in the local newspaper this silly article about me—how I was absolutely mesmerized by Bela and under his power. It was nonsense. Nothing of the kind ever happened. I was very mad because it made me look like a silly girl.”
Lewisham Borough News, May 11, 1951
Bela Lugosi, “King of the Vampires,” proved too much for leading lady Sheila Wynn at Lewisham Hippodrome on Tuesday morning. With no wolfbane or sacred wafers to bar his progress, Bela was able to have his lunch in peace!
BELA ‘DRACULA’ LUGOSI AT LEWISHAM
The voice at the other end of the telephone said, “Bela Lugosi will be delighted to see you.” It was a pleasant, cultured voice, calculated to inspire confidence in nervous victims.
And confidence is needed to interview Bela Lugosi. The prospect of having a cosy chat with the man who has played “Count Dracula” 1,200 times would appeal to few people – his reputation as a sucker of human blood exceeds even that of the income tax authorities.
In any case, how was one to approach Hollywood’s most famous horror star? There was always the light-hearted, whimsical introduction – “Good Morning. My name’s Stone, and you can’t get blood, etc..”
One look at “Count Dracula”, however, and the plan was scrapped. My name isn’t Stone, and Bela Lugosi has the type of deep, penetrating eyes that can pick out a liar quicker than you can say “Garlic, gore and wolfbane.
The man who has thrilled millions of cinemagoers was preparing for a photocall at Lewisham Hippodrome on Tuesday morning. Members of the Dracula company were on stage, and the air of ordered chaos was about that characterises all branches of the theatre.
We sat on high-backed chairs in the middle of the Dracula set and talked about this and that. Mr. Lugosi, speaking with a pronounced Hungarian accent, said he found England cold after the sunshine of California.
As a member of the theatrical profession he is unique. Having played Hamlet on more than one occasion, he would like to try his skill in a comedy role!
“I have only played the role in Hungary,” he said, “I left my country in 1920 and have never been back. I do not like to live under a dictatorship of any kind, and I am now an American citizen.”
I wondered what Hollywood’s bogey man reads in his spare time. “Political science,” he said, “in which I am very interested. I never read novels, but I like to keep up with things in the newspapers and magazines – especially the diplomatic news. Everybody double-crossing everybody else!”
Mrs. Lugosi, who hails from Chicago and is of Hungarian descent, was sitting nearby. An attractive American accent floated across the stage – “Bel’ says I’m a healthy dog because my nose is cold.”
His “Old Self”
Belive it or not, the “Bel” which Mrs. Lugosi uses when referring to her husband is pronounced in exactly the same way as the French pronounce their “belle” for beautiful. And this, to the king of the Spine-Chillers!
Off-stage, however, Mr. Lugosi is a mild-mannered, inoffensive man, with a personality that would be envied by many. As the photographer took publicity “stills” of the company, he assisted with the lights and offered friendly advice.
At other times he sat unobtrusively at the side of the stage, coming out with an occasional wisecrack and calling a friendly “Hi!” to the theatre folk as they went about their work.
Eventually the “Borough News” photographer was ready for his picture. Mr Lugosi took a five-inch cigar out of his mouth, laid it reverently aside and grabbed the leading lady.
She slumped helplessly in his arms as he exposed her lily-white throat and polished up his “vampire” fangs in readiness for lunch. “Dracula” was his old self again. D.T.
Recollections of a member of the Lewisham audience
“My wife and I were in London for the Festival of Britain. While in a Southbank restaurant, I was reading a newspaper and came across an advertisement for “Dracula” at the Lewisham Hippodrome the next day. I was, and still am, a fan of Bela Lugosi so I had to see it. The next morning we took a train out to the theatre, a ten minute journey, and booked seats in the circle for the second performance at 8:40pm. The Lewisham Hippodrome was a vast variety, too large for a play. Therefore, although there was a respectable audience, it wasn’t full.
Just before the curtain rose a man came out onto the stage and announced that the actor playing Van Helsing was not available and would be replaced by someone reading from the script. With a rather rueful look, he left the stage.
When the play started it was very off-putting to watch someone reading from the script. The play itself wasn’t very smashing. We attended the theatre quite regularly in those days and the support cast were completely unknown to us. However, when Count Dracula was announced and Bela Lugosi made his entrance through the French windows the whole play changed. Although he was obviously an old man, he was very impressive and his presence was magnetic.
At the end of act one a large bat, which was supposed to be Dracula, flitted in and out. Towards the end of act two the bat made another appearance, but this time there was a loud crack as it hit the scenery and crashed to the floor. The audience tittered and the atmosphere died. Eventually the bat was whisked away, never to be seen again.
It was dark when we left the theatre and there were not many people around. While we waited for our train four people appeared on the platform. They looked very familiar so I walked along the platform. As I drew closer I recognised them as members of the cast. As I walked past them I’m sure that I heard one of them say, “I thought it went quite well.” I thought to myself, “What was it like on a bad night?”
I once saw a copy of the script, which, at the back, contained instructions for the operation of the bat. It said that the movements of the bat were as important as the play itself. It was quite complicated and required two people to operate it.
Despite the problems that night, it was worth seeing. I really didn’t mind.” – Bob Illsley
Cast member Richard Butler recalled the problems the play encountered at the Lewisham Hippodrome when I interviewed him at the National Theatre in London in 1996.
“In one theatre, the Lewisham Hippodrome where we were playing twice nightly, we were given a rough ride. But this was entirely a management error. On the first night of our one-week run our Van Helsing (Arthur Hosking), by far the largest part in the play, was indisposed. His part was taken by a dear old character actor, Alfred Beale. “Bealey”, as we called him, was actually our business manager. I thought he was a saint. He had been an actor, but I don’t think he had exercised his craft for many years. The management error was in expecting this man to go on in a leading part without the benefit of a single rehearsal. Mrs. Beale was very concerned about him, and came down to give him help and support. Bela was most concerned for him. I remember the scene on stage before the curtain went up on Van Helsing’s first appearance. There was Bealey with his script in his hands, the poor man had to read the part, and at his side was Bela with benzedrine in tablet form and a large jug of water. This had an immediate effect on Bealey and after the curtain rose he appeared not to have a care in the world as he read from his script. This was much to the audience’s displeasure and, I’m sorry to say, our hard-to-suppress amusement. I had to make an appearance in the scene, and my entrance coincided with Bealey dropping his script, which was not stapled but loose-leafed. Mrs. Beale was in the fireplace, attempting to bring poor old Bealey back onto the script, and as he skipped about the stage picking up the scattered pages, still not panicked by the laughter and shouts from the auditorium, we had to end the scene as best we could, though we were not nearly as mirthful as we had been at the start. Arthur Hosking rejoined us for the next performance.”
The Golders Green Hippodrome – May 14-19
(Courtesy of http://www.moviemonstermuseum.com/belalugosi2)
(Courtesy of http://www.moviemonstermuseum.com/belalugosi2)
Recollections of a member of the Golders Green audience
“I recall seeing Bela Lugosi in Dracula at the Golders Green Hippodrome. I was highly impressed, particularly with his costume and the lighting. I remember he signed my programme after the performance at the stage door using the special fountain pen with the vivid red ink. I remember he was most gracious. I passed this programme to a “friend” not that long ago who promptly sold it via auction for £600. I’ll remember another time! That’s something else never to be forgotten.” – David Paramor.
Dracula’s run at the Golders Green Hippodrome remained a vivid memory for cast member Richard Butler.
“… his (Bela’s) own performance was always full throttle and the customers were enthralled. Save, that is, at one theatre, the Golders Green Hippodrome, where to our amazement, we got the bird. Any reference to crucifixes, and there are many in the play, were greeted with cries of derision, and our crude special effects called forth hoots of laughter. Perhaps if Count Dracula had spent longer on stage the unruly audience would have been more amenable. It was the American version of the play, his part was extremely short. His short scenes amounted to no more than twenty minutes of the total two hours running time, but his appearances were so impressive that no one complained of being short-changed.”
Streatham Hill Theatre – May 21-26
“DRACULA” FOR STREATHAM
Hollywood star, Bela Lugosi, will come to Streatham Hill Theatre next week in that classic of thriller plays, “Dracula.”
Twenty-two years have elapsed since Hungarian-born Lugosi – now an American citizen, created Count Dracula, that strange, half-human, half vampire figure of Bram Stoker’s novel.
It was his triumph in the play, which ran for two years in America and was then filmed, that branded Bela Lugosi, who until that time had played romantic leads, as a “horror” specialist on both stage and screen.
Included in the cast are Wimbledon-born actress Joan Winmill – last seen at Streatham in “Arms and the Man,” Sheila Wynn, Richard Butler, David Dawson, Anthony (Arthur) Hosking, Eric Lindsay and John Saunders.
The Dudley Hippodrome – May 28-June 2
The News, May 26, 1951
Dudley newspaper, May, 1951
by J.L. Johnston
SO DRACULA is coming to Dudley. I can never imagine Bela Lugosi in any other setting than a high gaunt castle in Transylvania, with the webs of huge spiders thick in every corner, while the screams of hisn latest victim echo down the long passages of darkness.
It is not so many years since I had nightmares after an evening of sheer terror at the first of his films I ever saw. It will be interesting to see how much horror Mr. Lugosi (how prosaic it sounds after Count Dracula!) can conjure up in a Black Country theatre.
I am told he is to visit several factories. Perhaps one result of his interest may be a new dollar export in steel substitutes for the wooden stakes that have ended the career of many a promising vampire. That is if there is any steel to make them.
The Birmingham Mail, may 24, 1951
Sunday Mercury, May 27, 1951
by W.H. BUSH
Bela Lugosi, the Hungarian-born film star, comes to the Dudley Hippodrome in “Dracula,” the vampire play which was adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel.
Mr. Lugosi, who was a leading actor in Budapest in the early years of the century, left Europe after the First World War for the United States, where he has spent some years touring with “Dracula.”
Birmingham Mail, May 29, 1951
‘Dracula’ Show is Anti-climax
“Dracula” is portrayed at Dudley Hippodrome this week by veteran film star Bela Lugosi.
The Hungarian’s performance is impressive, but those who have seen his films will find this production an anti-climax. It lacks the effect upon which the screen can call.
Horror is so negligible that one wonders at the need of a programme note which says: “The management cannot be responsible for patrons who may feel faint or unwell but first-aid attendants are in the theatre throughout the performance.”
Bela and Lillian pose for the Birmingham Gazette
(Courtesy of Kevin Mulligan)
Birmingham Gazette, May 29, 1951
Bela Lugosi – horror with charm in ‘Dracula’
Can horror be charming?
Bela Lugosi, the Hollywood specialist in the macabre, almost persuades one that it can.
He is appearing this week at Dudley Hippodrome in that gruesome classic “Dracula”; and his performance is characterised by a majestic calmness which suggests that, while he may have supped full of horrors, his digestion is by now so perfectly attuned to the diet that there is no cause whatever for us to take alarm.
He would, it seems, have us relax in our seats and relish him, rather than sit on their edges looking anxiously for the first-aid attendants who are present at the performance. This is not, in fact, lick-lipping horror: Lugosi’s tongue is probably never far away from his cheek.
But perhaps the stage can never rival the screen in creating intensity of atmosphere, and the picture is not seen here in quite sufficient detail to be convincing. Nor does the supporting company help to weave any deep spell.
There is at least one bad performance, two or three others are no more than moderate; and only Sheila Wynn (as the victim Lucy) and Eric Lindsay (as the lunatic Renfield) bring any sense of urgency or desperation to the situation. – Brian Harvey
Weekly News, June 1, 1951
‘WARE THE – VAMPIRE
In the picture above, smiling, but apprehensive, 19-year-old typist Iris Saunders, of 22, Parsons Hill, Warley, is not quite sure about her brief encounter with “Dracula.” Though she knew that Bela Lugosi, with an outsize hypodermic needle in his hand was only demonstrating the stage act of portraying horror. Iris seemed relieved when it was all over.
“Sure I love to scare my audiences, but I reckon there are not so many actors who have started as many romances as I have,” said horror specialist Bela Lugosi, when he toured Accles and Pollock’s works, Oldbury, on Tuesday.
Bela’s view was that his stage and screen roles in Dracula, Frankenstein and other horror stories, have given the girls “just the chance they were looking for to hold their boy friends’ hands,” he told “Weekly News” stage and screen correspondent, David R. Way.
Certainly the girls who, on the previous evening, had screamed with fear as he played his famous Vampire role, gave Bela the kind of glances they normally reserve for Danny Kaye and Frank Sinatra.
There were many wide eyes as he stalked through the workshops, chatting with workmen and girls, and the star was greeted with squeals of delight as he paused to perform a terror scene over the heads of two girl welders.
Constantly odd scraps of paper were pressed into his hand and he obligingly scrawled “Bela Lugosi” in blood-red ink on every one of them.
Accompanied by his wife Lillian, Mr. Jim Partington, Mr. Alf Smith, and a small army of reporters and publicity men. Bela was often ahead of the official party, asking questions here, there and everywhere.
With his wife, Bela kept up a bright and witty conversation, although Mrs. Lugosi firmly announced: “Bela could not tell a story to save his soul. He always forgets them half-way through. There’s just one he can remember, and that takes half an hour to tell.”
“Shall I tell them the one about the elephants?” he asked. “No,” shouted Mrs. Lugosi, “that’s the one I ‘m talking about.”
However, he proved his memory by reminiscing about the good and bad times he had experienced since leaving Hungary soon after the end of the First World.
“Never become an actor, son,” said Mr. Lugosi. “There’s only one place in the world where it is worth while, Hungary.”
“Over there you have a four year training course, and once you have pass through that you have nothing to worry about. Even in your old age you still get a pension.”
“In the States,” he said, there was always the fear of unemployment.
Now in the veteran stage, Bela Lugosi still retains many of the secrets of successful “horror” acting, but he provided one or two of the reasons why Hollywood stamped him as the ideal for “H” films.
Normally he has rather small hands, but with a flick of his fingers he twisted them into one of those terrifying positions so well known to film fans, and suddenly his fingers looked immensely long and thin.
The Staffordshire Advertiser, June 1 1951
Romeo Was Horror Man’s First Role
Horror Man, 59-year-old Bela Lugosi turned from his dressing mirror, backstage of the Dudley Hippodrome on Monday, removed a cigar from between his teeth and told me, in the richly accented sepulchral voice that has thrilled and chilled millions: “I first played Count Dracula on the stage in 1927. In 1931 I made the film. It was my doom.” As he waited for his call for the first-house performance of “Dracula,” he sat relaxed in immaculate evening dress, cloak at the ready, and the face that has been the subject of more terrifying screen close-ups than any other actor—smiled. His unusually small, pale-blue eyes—eyes that have made audiences squirm—twinkled mischievously. “Since the Dracula film I have always played horror parts. They (the film producers) wanted it that way. On the stage I have played the Count 1200 times.”
He smoked more cigar.
“My first role? It will surprise you. I was 21, I played Romeo.”
Born in Transylvania, home of the vampire of Bram Stoker’s novel, he underwent four years’ hard training and achieved success as a romantic lead, starring in productions at the Royal National Theatre, Budapest. His roles included that of Hamlet. He became the John Barrymore of Europe. After World War I, he went to the United States. Following a long tour in the stage version of “Dracula,” and making the film—which is still reissued every year—he started his appearances in a succession of films as vampires, mad scientists, magicians, a well-mixed nightmare of other sinister roles, in his quieter moments frightening the Bowery Boys and Abbott and Costello.
Count Dracula had his neck-tie adjusted.
“As you know,” he rolled, “my only rival is Boris Karloff.” He chuckled, “You could say I created my own monster.”
He told me that he was engaged to play in the film of “Frankenstein,” but when on a hot day, padded and plastered up as the monster he was handed the script, he rebelled. “I found that all I had to say was ‘Ugh, ugh.’ So I told them to give it to Karloff, and I played the dwarf.”
The horror man put on his evening cloak.
“Excuse me. I have to drink a ‘blood cocktail’. So that a photographer can take a picture.”
He returned, pensive.
“Do you think that people do not like to see horror plays now?” He has not had quite the fullest reception he had hoped for on this, his third visit to England but first appearance here on the stage (he was here in 1935 and 1939 to make the films “The Mystery of the Marie Celeste” and “Dark Eyes of London”)
So Much Real Horror
All audiences on the four weeks of his tour before coming to Dudley have not been 100 per cent: “yet people all recognise me and tell me of their like for me, in the street, in the shops, at the hotel, the porter, the taxi man…”
Perhaps, he agreed, the slackening of interest in the macabre was because there had been so much real horror here during the war, and because of the flood of cheap thrillers made quickly by film producers to bring in ready cash.
Mrs. Lillian Lugosi, his wife (they have a 13-year-old son, Bela) said: “My husband has been looking forward to this appearance in England. He has dreamed for a long time of playing to British audiences.”
The horror man sighed.
“Yes, it really means something to be received on the English stage. I am hoping that we are really going to please.”
Lines Thrown Away
The play, which is an American version, has, as Mr. Lugosi told me, been sifted of “corny lines” and date trimmings. But it is a meager presentation of the essence of Bram Stoker’s plot, and what it lacks mainly, judging from Monday’s first performance, is a live cast. Two important characters, Van Helsing (Arthur Hosking) and Dr. Seward (David Dawson) regularly threw away their lines with seemingly tired familiarity. The other players had few enthusiastic moments.
In fact, the only challenge to Mr. Lugosi for acting honours was the fog which he ejected from his clothes when making entrances and exits. Mr. Lugosi plays the vampire characteristically, with a hint of good humoured, gentlemanly accomplishment which warms his performance. Seeing and hearing him as he injects interest into a now well worn vehicle will certainly please many. It is a pity to add that the play as a whole may not.
The Staffordshire Advertiser journalist who wrote this article was called Harry Ludlam. He retold the story of his meeting with Bela Lugosi in his dressing room on the opening night at the Dudley Hippodrome in his book A Biography of Bram Stoker: Creator of Dracula (New English Library Ltd, 1977)
“He sat thickly in his dressing room, his cloak about his shoulders, make-up heavy on his face and red on his lips, his deep eyes uncannily still and penetrating. It was incongruous to see one of his famous clutching hands supporting a script, as if he were still in need of one, and then the deathly voice rolled and stung – complaining of the plumbing in English hotels.
He told me his story, as much as he could in minutes and then the voice dropped more mournful still and the hands splayed their long fingers despairingly, though there was just a hint of a twinkle in his eyes. “I look in the mirror and say to myself, ‘Can it be you once played Romeo?’ He intones, “Always it is the same. When a film company is in the red they come to me and say, ‘Okay, so we make a horror film,’ and so that is what they do. It is what I always fo.”
Regretfully he drew his cloak about him and stalked off to make his entrance in a swirl of smoke.”
He wrote about the meeting again in My Quest for Bram Stoker (Adams Press, 2000).
“Shortly after the war I was sub-editor on a country newspaper in the Midlands. As a relief from the domestic news and farm prices I tried to get out now and then to interview any interesting showbiz acts on tour in, or nearly in, our circulation area (I used to cheat a bit on this). I got to Birmingham to see the Andrews Sisters, whose records I used to play the spots off, and then along came that man. He was touring Britain in the play of Dracula, and I got to interview him before his first night at the Dudley Hippodrome. He received me after obligingly drinking a “blood cocktail” for the benefit of photographers (tomato juice, suitably laced). When they had gone, we talked.
That unmistakable voice, those hypnotic eyes. They were there before me in the flesh and I could see that there had been nothing fake about them on the screen. He was now in his sixties, but like Dracula he was ageless. He was taller than I had thought. It was a shiver to hear him say my name and his hand grasp mine.
“Lugosi, Bela,” he corrected me. “In Hungary we say the last name first.” He then launched into a caustic commentary on the shortcomings of English plumbing, which he had had to endure at hotels on tour. I forget whether it was the loos or the baths or what was it that he had found so aggravating, after all, it was him I wanted to talk about, not gurgling pipes, and eventually, having got that complaint off his chest, he told me how he had started out in the theatre in Hungary, the country of his birth.
There was an amused glint in those deep, dark eyes when he told me that as a member of the Hungarian Royal National Theatre he had played romantic leads, including Romeo (in fact he had been a young idol of that theatre for ten years). His humour at this recollection seemed to be directed both at my evident surprise and at the irony of a subsequent film career drenched in horror. I have his sorrowful quote, hurriedly scribbled in an old notebook: “I look in the mirror and I say to myself, ‘Can it be you who played Romeo?’ He shrugged and smiled; for a prince of terror he had quite a disarming smile…
…My enduring memory of Bela Lugosi is of him sitting in his dressing room in his Dracula cape, an attentive woman assistant adding the final touches to his make-up while those famous clutching hands thumbed through a script. A script? Yes, although he had then played the Count more than 1,300 times on the stage he still needed that reassurance. I stayed on after our talk to see his opening performance. He was polished all right. Portentous and strong. Full of terrible menace. Twenty years after making the film of Dracula he was still the vital, living image of the vampire king.”
Recollections of a member of the Dudley audience
I saw this production of Dracula at the Dudley Hippodrome on 2nd June, 1952. My memories are of a low-budget production in a cheap box set with a rather mediocre supporting cast, but I was most impressed by Mr. Lugosi’s performance.
He would be 69 years of age, his tail suit, which he wore throughout the play, had seen better days, but the chill that he sent over the footlights was uncanny and quite frightening at times. Much more effective than the two “Draculas” seen in expensive West End productions in the 1970s, George Chakiris and Terence Stamp, I think.
His curtain speech in his guttural accent I shall never forget – “Tanks, tanks, and fen you go home tonight, remember, dere are such things!” – William Abbot
Several cinemas in Dudley cashed in on Bela’s appearance at the Hippodrome by screening his movies. Spooks Run Wild ran at both the Springfield and the Moseley Picture House, while Scared To Death could be seen at the Capital.
During Dracula’s run in Dudley, advertisements appeared in the local press announcing a forthcoming production of Don Juan In Hell at the Theatre Royal in nearby Birmingham. The cast included Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff and Agnes Moorehead. Boris Karloff did not appear in the play, his role being taken by Sir Cedric Hardwick.
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne – June 4-9
Courtesy of J.Buss of the Eastbourne Theatre Archive
Eastbourne Gazette, June 2, 1951
ALL FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT
ON THE STAGE
Devonshire Park Theatre – Today (Saturday), 2.30 and 8 p.m., “Storks Don’t Talk.” Next week, 8 p.m., matinees Wednesday and Saturday, 2.30, “Dracula,” Bela Lugosi. See advertisement on this page.
Eastbourne Gazette, June 2, 1951
Lugosi Was the First Dracula
HOLLYWOOD star Bela Lugosi comes to the Devonshire Park Theatre on Monday in that classic of thriller plays, “Dracula.”
Twenty-two years have elapsed since Hungarian-born Lugosi – now an American citizen, created Count Dracula, that strange, half-human, half vampire figure of Bram Stoker’s novel.
His triumph in the play, which ran for two years in America and was then filmed, branded Bela Lugosi, who until that time had played romantic leads, as a “horror” specialist on both stage and screen.
Included in the cast are Joan Winmill, Sheila Wynn, Richard Butler, David Dawson, Anthony (Arthur) Hosking, Eric Lindsay and John Saunders.
(This article is almost identical to the one which appeared in The Streatham Hill News on May 18, 1951, down to Arthur Hosking’s name been misquoted as Anthony.)
Eastbourne Gazette, June 6, 1951
TELL-TALE MARKS OF TERROR
‘Gazette’ Critic Was One of ‘Dracula’s’ Victims!
VICTIMS of Count Dracula, chief figure in the play at the Devonshire Park Theatre this week, are found to have two tiny punctures on the throat where their life’s blood has been sucked away by the vampire. Turning up the left sleeve of my jacket and shirt after returning home from the Monday night performance, I found that I had five small oval bruises where the very respectable lady who had been sitting on my left had gripped my arm in an agony of apprehension during a particularly hair-raising bit of histrionics.
She accompanied the sudden grip with a strangled sob of concern for the heroine. I contributed a yelp of surprise not unmixed with pain, and between us we helped build up the “H for Horrific” atmosphere in a way that must have been most satisfying to the management.
After it was all over, I exchanged no words with the respectable lad who had been sitting on my left. We parted strangers, but she gave me a faint, understanding smile – the look that passes between two persons who together have undergone some shattering and elemental experience and emerged unscathed.
HE’S DEAD, BUT….
Film star Bela Lugosi plays Count Dracula, who died 500 years ago but won’t lie down. He has, in the play, developed a technique of prolonging life indefinitely by emerging from his grave at night and drinking the blood of some living human, choosing – very reasonably – the best looking girl in the neighbourhood.
The supply of suitable sustenance around his home town in Hungary dwindling and finding it increasingly difficult to suck a living, Dracula decides to move to a district where rations are more plentiful, and he selects London.
There is, however, a snag. According to the rules laid down by the particular union to which vampires belong, it is essential that each dawn he should return to his burial earth. But you can’t keep a good vampire down, and this trifling detail is dealt with by Dracula bringing with him six large packing-cases of guaranteed genuine grave soil to which he may retire for his day’s rest.
Mr Lugosi plays Count Dracula with unctuous malignity. Throughout the play, whenever dogs howl, maniacal laughter ripples up and down, the lights dim and London fog drifts in at the windows, the audience settle down with relish to be scared out of their wits and they are not disappointed.
Tension mounts, bats fly in and out of French windows, and it is quite obvious that unless something pretty serious is done pretty soon the heroine, played with appropriate fragility by Sheila Wynn, is doomed to one of the several fates worth than death. The rest of the cast who are, without exception, convincing in their parts, combine eventually to take the necessary action, which entails a visit to a vault with a hammer and a wooden stake with one end whittled to a point.
Dracula is the part which Bela Lugosi has played many hundreds of times and which branded him as a “horror” specialist. He has made it particularly his own, and it is difficult to imagine another artiste in his place.
The play is frankly a thriller, and there is no doubt it achieves its objectives without reservations. It is well-staged and the numerous “effects” are smoothly and efficiently carried out. G.B.
* * *
Sheila Wynn returned to the Devonshire Park Theatre in 2010 to be interviewed by Mark Gratiss for the first installment of his ‘A History of Horror’ series. When asked, “Why do you think Lugosi took on the tour?” she replied:
“I think he felt his career was sinking. He was becoming less famous and less important. And I think he had a great hope that to come to England and play in the West End would bring his prestige right up again. And when the management sent the tour out I don’t think they realised the audiences had become much more sophisticated and they were inclined to giggle every night. They didn’t giggle at Brighton, I don’t think, and they certainly didn’t in Belfast, where they screamed, but there was a bit of giggling in Golders Green and also in Manchester, and I think this distressed Bela very much indeed. As he once said to me, “You know, Dracula is Hamlet to me.”
Empire Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush – June 11-16
The Cinema Studio, July, 1951
Remember last March I introduced, among other people, a young enthusiast who tried to prove his worth by going to France to make films because no one would look at him here? His name is Eric Lindsay, and now Eric has grasped the opportunity to appear on the stage in the Bela Lugosi starring production of ‘Dracula’ which is touring England, Scotland and Ireland.
I went along to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire before the company left for Glasgow, just to see how Eric was making out, and was delighted to hear the rounds of applause that greeted each of his appearances in the play. True, Eric had the rather startling role of a maniac but he persuaded the audience to believe in him as they believed in no one else in that heavily dramatic piece.
For Eric, alone, it was quite a triumph and the star name that drew audiences to see ‘Dracula’ gave them an opportunity to meet a newcomer just as it may be hoped that he can get the chance to show himself, alone day, to cinema audiences.
Sunday Pictorial Film Garden Party, June 16
Programme courtesy of http://www.turnipnet.com/whirligig/index.htm
On the afternoon of Saturday, June 16, Bela made a personal appearance at the annual Sunday Pictorial Film Garden Party at Morden Hall Park in Surrey. Other films stars in attendance included Anna Neagle, Michael Wilding, Dennis Price, Burt Lancaster and Bette Davis. The event was captured on film in a British Pathe newsreel entitled “Seeing Stars.” A relaxed Bela Lugosi is seen smoking one of his trademark cigars. Bela was also interviewed by Brian Johnston as part of a BBC outside broadcast for the In Town Tonight radio programme.
Bela at the Sunday Pictorial Film Garden Party
Click on the link below to watch the newsreel.
King’s Theatre, Glasgow – June 18-23
Evening Times, June 18th, 1951
Bela Lugosi, screen specialist in “horrific” parts, is at the King’s Theatre this week in the dramatised version of Bram Stoker’s vampire story “Dracula.”
Glasgow Newspaper, June, 1951
Mamie Crichton’s Cinema Topics
Bela Lugosi wants to switch to comedy
BELA LUGOSI, whose “Dracula” success on stage, but especially on films, has hung about his neck for 22 years, wants to get away from it all and play comedy.
For years he has been trying in America. But every time he suggested it producers and backers would say, “Lugosi? But he’s a ‘horror’ man. That’s what the customers expect of him.”
Now he’s hoping some British management will see possibilities in a change-over and give him an opportunity to leave chiller parts behind him, for a time anyway.
It’s not, he hastens to assure me, that he dislikes playing “Dracula” again.
When he first did it in America 22 years ago it was a complete change from the romantic character leads that put him at the top of his profession in his native Hungary.
It’s success was followed by an even greater film success in Hollywood, where he stayed on to make no fewer than 65 films, all “horror” films or pictures in which he played the “heavy.”
It seemed the appropriate play for his first tour of Britain, where audiences have already seen him in the movie. And indeed business has been fine on the four dates he has played so far; promises well, too, at the King’s, Glasgow, this week.
But horror, says Bela realistically, is not what it used to be.
When he did the play first, there were members of all audiences who took it literally. People screamed and fainted. First-aid staffs were kept busy. He, the vampire-man, did not then dare to pretend to bite his victim’s neck as he does now, for fear of hysterical reaction from the public.
Now the customers know it all. They have seen plenty of horror films with himself taking part. They are more sophisticated.
They still come in large numbers and enjoy it. But the most horrific bits are more inclined to draw laughs than gasps – and even the horror man finds himself strongly tempted to play it that way, especially in his curtain speech, complete with puff of vampire mist.
Bela Lugosi might have been the one and only big horror man in Hollywood, but for an incident that introduced a chiller-rival, Boris Karloff.
After making such films as “Dracula” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” his studio assigned him to play the monster in “Frankenstein.”
On a Californian summer day with the temperature rising over 100 degrees, he had a “costume” test, wearing padded clothes, rubber skull piece and putty mask.
Bad enough. Then he read the script and found no lines but only a series of monster-grunts. He declined the part and undertook to search the agencies for somebody to play it. He found bit-player Karloff, who became a big star.
Scottish Daily Express, June 19, 1951
This is Really Dracula
A vampire, we’re told in “Dracula”, has the strength of twenty men and the accumulated wisdom and cunning of the centuries; and, at the King’s, Hollywood villain Bela Lugosi convinces us that he is indeed the King Vampire himself.
He is a horrifying “un-dead” monster in voluminous evening cloak who can recoil into the form of a werewolf, a bat, or even a bank of mist that rolls down into the stalls from the library of a mental home on Hampstead Heath like a scented November night. This is melodrama in the Henry Irving tradition, magnificent, macabre, and gloriously blood curdling; not staged, but invoked and declaimed rather than acted.
Hollywood could never provide realism like this. At a lesser theatre it would be capacity twice nightly. Colin Mackay
Glasgow Herald, June 19, 1951
Satisfaction or otherwise from this stage presentation of “Dracula” at the King’s will depend largely on what one envisages beforehand. At least it will give a modified thrill, and indubitably it will arouse nothing but admiration for the acting of Bela Lugosi in the title role. He has come here tremendously interested to see the British public’s reaction to his stage interpretation of the part, and last night he must have felt gratified at the audience’s enthusiastic response.
The entire company gave a good performance – Joan Winmill as Mary Wells, a maid: Sheila Wynn as Lucy Seward: David Dawson as her doctor father: Richard Butler as her fiance: Arthur Hosking as Van Helsing, the psychiatrist who finally overcomes Dracula: Eric Lindsay as Renfield, a mental patient under Dracula’s power: and John Saunders as Butterworth, Renfield’s attendant.
Evening Bulletin, June 19, 1951
This production of “Dracula” could easily start up the old argument again. Is the theatre capable of creating the atmosphere of horror which is so realistically achieved by the cinema? I venture a small-voiced denial – although acknowledging splendid atmospheric effects by Richard Eastham.
Bela Lugosi, the infamous Count Dracula, manages to sustain to a degree a feeling of hair-raising suspense. Lucy Seward is played convincingly by Sheila Wynn, Arthur Hosking makes a successful Van Helsing, the psychiatrist; while Eric Lindsay, as Renfield the madman, is also well cast. John Saunders deserves mention for the light relief he gives as Butterworth, the mental home attendant. H.D.
Glasgow Newspaper, 1951
LUGOSI’S DRACULA CHILLS THE SPINE
Bela Lugosi brings the screen version of Dracula to life at the King’s , Glasgow, this week. In production and presentation the play is almost perfect.
Lugosi’s Count Dracula creates an atmosphere of evil and dark secrets. It is almost a relief to hear comic asides from John Saunders as Butterworth.
Eric Lindsay as the mental patient is outstanding in a capable cast.
Richard Eastham is to be congratulated for production and impressive lighting arrangements which come as near as possible to the Hollywood presentations.
A spine-chilling, but enjoyable experience. M.B.
Daily Record, June 19, 1951
Showtime with Gordon Irving
Dracula has his little joke
Even in his curtain-speech, as we leave the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, in a cloud of sweet-smelling smoke, “Dracula,” alias Mr. Bela Lugosi, has a little joke.
“And remember,” he intones, “when you get home tonight, look behind the curtains, for such things do exist…”
“Dracula” (writes Gordon Irving) is old-fashioned melodrama, pure and simple. This play (adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel) is a curiosity piece brought to life to remind us of happy less sophisticated cinema days when there was such a thing as thrills at the movies.
Now, alas, we have lost the ability to be frightened. We know too much about backstage mechanics and the like!
The play is acted with gusto and (pardon the expression!) full-blooded feeling. But don’t take it seriously! Treat it, as Mr. Lugosi does, with a sense of humour. Remember, there are such things…!
Glasgow Evening News, June 19, 1951
Count Dracula Is an Amiable Villain
Bela Lugosi, the man who has shocked us time and again in his film thrillers from Hollywood, came to the King’s Theatre in Glasgow last night to prove that he really is the most amiable of fellows.
His stage production of “Dracula” has a tongue-in-the-cheek quality which suggests that he is pulling every punch for fear of frightening Glasgow too much.
The sinister Count Dracula, indeed, does everything but doff his hat, bow to the audience, and ask their forgiveness for each and every machination.
Between times he plays weird gramophone records, drifts about in folds of mist, and waves his large hands in the air with great glee.
No So Villainous
Supporting players, among them David Dawson, Arthur Hosking, Eric Lindsay, Sheila Wynn, and Joan Winmill, take part in the fun – for fun it is – with all their might.
Lights turn green and red, bats flutter at the curtains, and secret doors open and shut with never a care in the world until the vampire is finally done to death in his coffin.
And Count Dracula himself? I’d trust him with my life any day – or night!
Glasgow Newspaper, June 19, 1951
Last Night At The Glasgow Theatres
YOU STILL TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY – IN PARTS
The Hollywood comedians have made a joke of the horror business. So Glasgow went to the King’s to laugh at Bela Lugosi being deadly serious in the horrific “Dracula.”
There were a few titters. But Mr. Lugosi won in the end – hands down.
Certainly, in 1951, much of “Dracula” seems “ham.” But there is a great deal of it that will put an end to your levity and give you food for bad dreams.
Lugosi has been playing “Dracula” for over 20 years. He still holds on to his first curtain speech: “There are such things as vampires.”
The Stage, June 21, 1951
IN THE PROVINCES
King’s. – “Dracula” brings a welcome visit from Bela Lugosi. One is apt to regard this as old-fashioned melodrama, but the acting of Bela Lugosi gives real satisfaction.
Daily Record, June 21, 1951
I dare say
Children thrive on horror
A Glasgow theatre announcement offers – Bela Lugosi in “Dracula” with Full West End Company.
For next week the same theatre will be presenting a much-respected drama of Henrik Ibsen’s – with the reservation that This Play is Not Suitable for Children.
Now there’s a slap on the ear for Bram Stoker if you like Kid stuff compared with Ibsen.
But this isn’t so funny as it looks and I would like to assure Messrs Howard and Wyndham that I’m not laughing at either of them. I cottoned on to Dracula when I was ten and loved every fangful of it. A taste for Ibsen came later.
People get foolish ideas about what is suitable fare for children. I remember how I had to sneak in to see The Bride of Frankenstein in heavy disguise in case my family got to know about it and fainted en mass. But I had shrieking nightmares about a diseased stomach a man showed us in a Band of Hope Lecture. And the family knew I was at the Band of Hope.
Ah, those were the days when we drank deep of horror in a lantern slide world of drunkards and domestic beatings-up, and had to get out to see the Vampire Bat now and then for comic relief.
I won’t suggest that life was all grim at the Band of Hope, we went to the lantern nights armed with all kinds of hysterical weapons for the mass warfare that instantly followed the dousing of the hall lights.
But for the rest, the tales were grim and dark. And they were too homely for comfort. They were corny, but they were plausible.
Now, when the Frankenstein monster broke his bonds and ambled off to tear the heads from some innocent citizens, it was horrible, but it was deliciously horrible because it was the kind of thing that couldn’t happen in Camlacrie or Paisley. I can’t speak personally for Paisley of course.
I can still remember my unholy glee when the village idiot in the “Vampire Bat” reached under his oxter and produced a live bat, drooling with affection the while. “The Drunkard’s Downfall” never stirred me to that kind of warm human sympathy.
Dracula may not be Suitable for Children. But if it isn’t, well, children aren’t what they were.
Sunday Mail, June 24, 1951
with Donald McNaughton
I had a horror session with Bela (“Dracula”) Lugosi at the King’s. Not that the experience was horrifying, but we discussed the horror legends of Central Europe. Very creepy they are, too.
What surprised me was Bela Lugosi’s taste in reading. “Dracula” is the only fiction work he has ever read; and of course, he had to read that for atmosphere. He studies economics, history, political science, etc., and he can talk on them absorbingly. He is a very pleasantly cultured horror.
Recollections of members of the Glasgow audience
“I worked part-time in the King’s Theatre in Glasgow for 8 or 9 years until 1956 when I got married. I worked back-stage on the lighting and later on the Front-of-House limes. These Front-of-House limes were used in various summer shows, Christmas shows, musicals, opera and ballet. They were seldom used for plays and we weren’t required for “Dracula” as they would spoil the atmospheric lighting on the stage. So, at these times we were ‘out of work.’ However, I did watch the play back-stage from the prompt side perch. The play was an astounding success.
Prior to the play starting, I was talking to one of the stage hands who was sitting on a chair, and when Bela Lugosi came down from the dressing rooms, my friend stood up and said, “Here’s a seat for you, Mr, Lugosi.” Bela Lugosi stared at him with those hypnotic eyes and declared, in that distinctive voice, “I don’t need a chair. Who do you think I am, Jesus Christ!” But he said it in good humour.
At the end of the play and after umpteenth curtain calls he gave an excellent speech. I can’t remember what he said except as he came to end of it, the lights dimmed and he said, “Remember, ladies and gentlemen, before you retire tonight, look behind the curtains and under the bed because…” and his voice trailed off. There was a loud bang and a large plume of smoke and he stepped back through the gap in the curtains. It was a great effect from the front of house.” – Bill Bain, lighting technician, Kings Theatre.
“My wife and I did see his performance of “Dracula” at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow in June, 1951. We were married in March of that year. It was so long ago we remember little or nothing of any detail about the actual play, although we did enjoy it as I recall. There is one dramatic incident, however, which we both remember. At the finale, after he had acknowledged the audience applause, he stood alone on stage and spoke briefly about vampires in particular and assured a hushed listening audience “that there are such things.” There immediately followed an explosive bang, a blinding flash of light and a swirl of smoke during which Lugosi completely disappeared. My hazy recollection of his reception was that he was well received – a bonus from a Glasgow audience who can be very critical. – John McCluskey
I saw the play “Dracula” at the “King’s” in June, 1951, and I remember especially the special effects – puffs of green smoke which accompanied Dracula’s appearance and disappearance from the stage. I met Bela Lugosi at the stage door after the show, and I remember that, even without his Dracula make-up, he was very pale, quiet spoken, and courteous. He kindly autographed my programme, which I still have. As I am now an O.A.P., my memories of the actual play are a little hazy, but I recall that Bela Lugosi was superb in the role of Dracula. As I recall, the play was fairly well received, although the audience was not particularly large, and I think that a fair number of the audience were really curious to see Bela Lugosi in the flesh, having seen his Dracula films. However, although I enjoyed the play, I don’t think it was an outstanding success, but, of course, Glasgow audiences both then and now can be extremely critical of shows and performers! – Mrs Elizabeth Jardine
To my husband and I it was great, it was all we could hope for. He could instill fear. His best was at the end of his last act. He asked if the audience was afraid, and did we believe in vampires. All of a sudden there was a large puff of smoke, and from the top of the back of the Balcony, he disappeared. Then came a large bat (not real), we all screamed. Then when it reached the stage, another puff of smoke and there was Bela Lugosi, smiling, open arms with his black and red satin cloak outstretched. He asked us again if we were afraid. The audience loved it and him. My husband and I went backstage to meet him and get his autograph. He was a very quiet and unassuming person. I took to him right away. To think I’d always watched his films, and now I was meeting him face-to-face. It was such a thrill. You know, Glasgow audiences have a reputation of being very difficult, but Bela won them over immediately.” – Georgina Gibson
Cast member Richard Butler recalled an advertising gaffe in Glasgow:
“We thought that we were going to have a riot in Scotland because the playbill announced, “First time in England.” Even then the Scottish Nationalists were around, and I thought we were going to have a bomb attack or something. They never changed it. I laughed like a drake when I saw that, ‘First time in England’.”
The Empire Theatre, Middlesbrough – June 25-30
The Evening Gazette, June 23, 1951
The Evening Gazette, June 26, 1951
ALL BLOOD AND BELA
“What do you want – blood?” shout baffled comics to unresponsive audiences. Judging from the reception accorded “Dracula” at the Empire, Middlesbrough, last night the comics are nearer the mark than they think.
Blood is the staple topic of this play. The characters talk it, sleep it, think it and – in one notable case – drink it.
Count Dracula, the 500-year-old vampire, is played to perfection by Mr. Bela Lugosi, of the hypnotic eye, the cloak, the sinuous fingers and the Hollywood horror films.
He appears in bursts of white mist, he disappears before the eyes of a delighted audience, he hovers with immense conviction and thirsting lips over his near-drained victim. The theatre rose to him.
As the lovely girl whose throat provides the vampire’s nightly repast Sheila Wynn plays with the same telling conviction which marks the writing of the play. Arthur Hosking, as the psychiatrist who defeats the horror, is splendid.
North-Eastern Weekly News, June 29, 1951
My Cosy Chat With Dracula
By TERENCE FEELY
THE BEDSIDE MANNER.
Like him to tuck you in at night? He’s more likely to tuck into you.
The hands and the eyes are stock-in-trade of a man with a vested interest in blood. No sucker – unless there are corpuscles in the offing.
Likes bats, wolves and blood donors, but can’t stand people with anaemia.
Unlike most people I have always maintained that Mr. Bela Lugosi has a nice, kind sort of face.
Well, now I’ve met him, and he has – in a terrifying sort of way.
That gleam in his eye, for instance. Could be humour, of course; very likely is humour. But…………
His manner is disarming. He wants, he says, to play comedy.
“I was, as a young man, an actor in the Hungarian Royal National Theatre,” he says. “I played the romantic leads.” He pauses a moment to look sinisterly romantic.
“When I came to Broadway in 1923 I played still romantic parts – Spanish lover in “The Red Puppy,” (sic) the Valentino-type sheik in “Arabesque.”
“Then they wanted someone to play Dracula. In America, they have the type system, you know, of casting. And there was no male Vampire type in existence.”
“Someone suggested an actor of the Continental school who could play any type, and mentioned me. It was such a success, I was branded then as a horror specialist, going to Hollywood in 1931.
Just as nasty
Mr. Lugosi has been in the blood-sucking business for 24 years now, feels just as nasty playing the vampire today as the first time he did it.
“He’s impossible for half-an-hour before and after each show,” his wife, Lillian, told me. “He’s still Dracula.”
Mr. Lugosi scowled. But then reassuringly, “I’m tired of gore,” he said. “I hope that in England I find some broad-minded, intelligent producer who should say, ‘Let’s give Lugosi a comedy.'”
Tired of small talk, I plunged in.
“Do you suck blood oranges?” I asked.
“All the time,” he said. Again the enigmatic gleam.
“and raw steaks?”
“When I can get them.” A slight twist of the mouth.
“Why do you never have a meal before a show?”
“I like to go on thirsting for blood.” I avoided his eyes. I had the comforting knowledge, however, that by then I didn’t look as if I had any.
He smiled a broad Slavic smile, and I felt better. Then he stopped smiling, and the gleam came back into his eyes.
I shifted uneasily. After all, he did come from Transylvania, the home of the Dracula legend.
Those fingers, too. Long, supple, magnetic in their movements. At the moment they were fastened round a double whisky. I felt for that whisky.
And that voice – foreign, easy to listen to, soothing; so soothing, gently soporific……then you wake up with a jerk and see the pale blue eyes fixed on your throat. With the gleam in them. Could have been humour, of course……
Recollections of members of the Middlesbrough audience
“Though I did not meet or talk with Bela Lugosi on his 1951 visit to Middlesbrough, I did visit the Empire Theatre and saw him in the production of ‘Dracula.’ I was 34 years of age at the time and had seen him in his Hollywood films, so it was an experience to which I looked forward.
It was a good house and I was seated in the front stalls. The audience was a receptive one; the play and the acting held the attention, and Mr. Lugosi dominated whenever he was on stage. There was never any question of haminess…even though the mist through which Dracula walked at one point was produced from what must have been a type of “Flit-Spray” under his cloak, as one seated where I was could hear the plunger’s wheeze and ss the billowing vapour emerge under the blackness of the cloak.
At the point in the play where the Crucifix is held up and the Count retreats before it one could have heard a pin drop. Dracula backed from centre-stage to stage left before the advancing cross; his gaze was fixed firmly to it and he retreated slowly without a backward glance. His line was slightly off and his thigh grazed a table, making a slight noise. This broke the spell and there was a very audible exhalation of breath throughout the theatre. Despite this slight contretemps, the curtain applause was vociferous; indeed, there were quite a few curtains taken.” – Mr. D. Towland
“I met Bela Lugosi at the stage door at the Empire Theatre, now a night club. He was in a bad mood, but he gave me his autograph. He wrote it on a Woodbine packet in red ink. It was about 5.30pm, he was with his secretary, and had just finished his afternoon show. He was staying at the Corporation Hotel, now knocked down, on the corner of Albert Road and Corporation Road.” – Thomas Alderson
The Corporation Hotel was Middlesbrough’s leading hotel during the post-war years. Other stars who stayed there included Tony Curtis.
“My wife and I attended da performance of ‘Dracula’ at the Middlesbrough Empire. We remember the play very well and recall that it was extremely well performed and quite scary. Bela Lugosi was particularly impressive and the most significant memory we have is of his extremely long white finger, which he used to dramatic effect throughout the play.
At the end of the play he came through the closed curtains to take his bow and thanked the audience most graciously. He concluded with the words, “Remember, Ladies and Gentlemen, that there are such things,” and promptly disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Afterwards we waited at the stage door to meet him, when he was very willing to sign autographs.” Ken and Olga Caswell
“I well remember the show, it being very entertaining. But what I remember about it mainly is during the scene of high drama, when Bela was about to bite a neck, a woman in the audience letting out a blood-curdling scream, then dashing from the theatre. I heard later that it was either a member of the cast or the wife of Bela Lugosi. Whichever, I understand it happened during every performance.” – Gordon Skipworth
(Commenting on Gordon Skipworth’s theory that the screaming woman was a plant, cast member Richard Butler said, ” I was never aware of any screaming lady, genuine or otherwise, fleeing from the auditorium during our performance, and can only assume that this was a one-off occurence in Middlesbrough.”)
“My bride-to-be and I attended the show in 1951, which was very good, but not very frightening. We went to the stage door after the show to meet Mr. and Mrs. Lugosi. He signed our programme in red ink, of course. He was quite pleasant to talk to, but eyed you with a strange look. His wife, however, was bizarre, she frightened the life out of me. They had a Plymouth estate car which had, would you believe, a double bed in the back. Perhaps no hotel would take them in. I wouldn’t be surprised.” Al Kraus
(I asked cast member Richard Butler if he recalled such a car being used as a publicity gimmick during the tour. “I can only say,” he replied, “that I never saw or heard of such a conveyance, and I doubt if our management could have afforded such an item. I love the detail of the make of the car and the inclusion of the double bed.”)
“On June 30th (Saturday), 1951, my age 13, my mother took me to Ropner Park, Stockton-on-Tees, to the annual show held there. At the entrance within the park gates was a trestle table stacked with catalogues for the garden show. Behind said table stood Mr. Lugosi signing the catalogues and posing for photographs (in typical style, minus cloak!) Alas, my programme has disappeared with the mists of time.” – Mr. P Worthy
“My friends Brian and Geoffrey Jarnell of Stockton actually met Bela. At the time Brian was 17 and his brother Geoffrey was 25. They were walking through Ropner Park in Stockton one afternoon when they spotted Bela sitting at a table. Brian asked if he could take his photo. Bela said, “Sure, just wait until I’ve smartened up.” Then he took out a comb and slicked back his hair. Brian took a few photos and he and Geoffrey got Bela’s autograph. Later Brian was most upset when he realised he didn’t have a film in his camera.” Irene Smith
“I didn’t see Lugosi at the Middlesbrough Empire, although I was a regular patron of that theatre at the time. He was advertised as making an appearance in public at Stockton’s Ropner Park on the Saturday. I don’t remember the occasion, but he was giving autographs. The park used to have a small Victorian-type bandstand and I think a local silver band were playing a concert. He was seated at a table in the grandstand giving away his signature and he had quite a crowd round him. I pushed my way to the front and as I waited my turn I watched him intently for some time. I can remember it as though it was yesterday. I was quite struck by the pallor of his skin and it was not make-up! He really did look as though he had risen from the grave and though he was sat down, he looked menacing and terrifying. I moved around the country at times and somewhere in my travels I lost the autograph. That’s gone, but the memory of Bela Lugosi and what he looked like I’ll never forget.” – George Stanworth
In 1994, as a result of our research, memories of Bela’s visit to Middlesbrough were recalled in the Northern Echo, Middlesbrough’s main newspaper.
Burning Issues, December 5, 1994
With reference to your column (Echo, November 28), E. Jones of St. Michael’s Grove, Stockton, is quite correct in his assertion that he saw Bela Lugosi in Ropner Park, Stockton.
It was the day of the Stockton Agricultural Show (now hijacked to Middlesbrough) and I believe the year was 1951 – although possibly 1952.
Mr. Lugosi was appearing in a stage production at the Empire Theatre, Middlesbrough.
At the agricultural show he was in attendance at an animal charity stall. For a donation to the charity one received a small book of poems and animal anecdotes and Bela Lugosi autographed it in red ink.
I remember clearly, I got one. It is one of my lasting regrets that I lost the book while away on my army service when my father moved house.
Mr. Lugosi wore sunglasses (it was a beautiful day for Stockton shows – unlike the ones now held at Middlesbrough, I am pleased to say). He was smoking a large cigar and looked and sounded exactly as in his films. My 15 and 16-year-old friends and I were very impressed.
D. Edward Thompson, Sledwick Road, Billingham.
Bela in Ropner Park, Stockton on June 30, 1951
Burning Issues, December 12, 1994
The Dracula debate continues. Burning Questions can now reveal that Bela Lugosi was a guest of honour at the Stockton Agricultural Show at Ropner Park in June 1951. At the same time he was appearing in a show at the Empire in Middlesbrough called Do You Believe in Vampires?
George Stanworth of Billingham says: “I remember when I got close to him, the ghastly pallor of his face. He looked scary even without make-up!”
Adrian Ferguson of Stockton was 16 or 17 when Lugosi appeared at the Show signing autographs. He says: “I remember that he seemed particularly interested in the dogs at the show.” Perhaps he was on the look-out for some hounds from hell.
The photo of Lugosi in last week’s Burning Questions was taken by Alan Reeve of Ingelby Berwick at the showground.
Lugosi was obviously a busy man at this time. He had recently completed a film called Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. Although he wasn’t in the region promoting the picture, perhaps he should have been. One critic called it “stupid, humourless and repulsive”.
This article contains several inaccuracies. Bela was appearing in Dracula at the Middlesbrough Empire. “Do You Believe in Vampires?” was the advertising tagline for Dracula. Filming did not begin on Mother Riley Meets the Vampire until October, 1951, four months after Bela visited Middlesbrough. Although all witness testimony claims that the event attended by Bela in Ropner Park was the Stockton Agricultural Show, I now believe that it was actually the final day of Stockton’s Festival of Britain Week, which ran from June 23rd – 30th.
The Grand Opera House, Belfast – July 2-7
Ireland’s Saturday Night, June 30, 1951
On-Stage and Off
Bela Lugosi arrives at the Grand Opera House next week to give patrons a full-blooded version of “Dracula.” One imagines that the effects men will be kept busy.
After this thriller comes a three-week “Ice Revue” season.
Belfast News-Letter, July 3, 1951
Theatres & Cinemas
Grand Opera House
Thousands of people all over the world have shuddered with horror at the gruesome career of Count Dracula, the vampire portrayed on the screen by Bela Lugosi. Now Dracula has come to Belfast in person, and though he is not quite so horrifying at close quarters as in the fantasy of film-land, Lugosi’s performance drew at least one lusty scream from a female member of last night’s audience. His own personal appearance and manner are as powerfully suggestive of evil and the supernatural as ever, and the blood-curdling descriptions of his doings by other members of the cast, still produce the desired effect, but the actual mechanics of the stage presentation fail to produce the eerie atmosphere necessary to bring a semblance of conviction to his amazing exploits. The strange mist in which we are told the vampire makes his appearance turns out to be very much a cloud of smoke – cleverly produced, but with very little mystic quality, and the cries of the werewolf off stage are obviously coming from a badly scratched record. There was, however, some effective lighting, and the excellent acting by other members of the cast, notably Arthur Hosking as the psychiatrist, and Eric Lindsay as a mental patient. Bela Lugosi brought the show to a fitting conclusion with a humourous curtain speech – which had an unsettling sting in the tail!
The Irish News, July 3, 1951
Bela Lugosi at the Opera House
The stage version of “Dracula” – that blood-curdling, spine-chilling story of bloodsuckers and vampires – which is being presented this week in the Opera House, is so well done that many people in the large audience last night must have been left pondering whether or not there are other blood-suckers in addition to income-tax collectors.
Based on the fantasy book by Bram Stoker, the play has so many thrills that it was probably in the interest of the public well-being that some elements of humour were introduced.
None other than that great Hollywood master of thrills, Bela Lugosi, plays the part of Dracula in all the horror that only a star performer of his class is capable of. The scenes are very good, particularly when he appears in a cloud of smoke to attack his victims and disappears again in similar fashion. The end comes when he is located lying in his coffin and a stake is driven through his heart.
Lugosi is ably supported by a first-class West End cast.
Belfast Telegraph, July 3, 1951
Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ has few equals in horror writing, and much of its quality is carried into the stage adaptation in which Hollywood actor Bela Lugosi is appearing at the Grand Opera House this week. There is all the stock in trade of the supernatural – a strange country mansion, secret doors, and things that go bump in the night. It is full-blooded stuff (if one can describe the activities of vampires as such!) and more than a little artificial, but with the aid of good lighting and effects, and the odd well-contrived scene, it has enough to make an entertaining evening. Bela Lugosi cultivates the eerie atmosphere with skill, and there is good support from Eric Lindsay, Arthur Hosking, Davis Dawson and Sheila Wynn.
Sheila Wynn, Bela, Joan Harding, Arthur Hosking
Recollections of members of the Belfast audience
“I think that I am correct in saying that one had to be at least 16 years old to be admitted and as I wouldn’t be that age until August 5th of that year I had to bluff my way past the doorman during that week in July. I can remember just a few things about the play ‘Dracula’ – Lugosi’s heavy accent, the drawing-room setting, the sudden nerve-jarring appearance of the ‘Vampire’ – but above all it was Lugosi’s appearance at the front of the stage after the final curtain when he spoke all it was Lugosi’s appearance at the front of the stage after the final curtain when he spoke to the it was Lugosi’s appearance at the front of the stage after the final curtain when he spoke to the audience, thanking them for their attendance and saying: ”Of course, as we all know, this is only a story thanking them for their attendance and saying: “Of course, as we all know, this is only a story and there’s no such thing as Vampires. So you don’t need to be nervous on the way home or check behind the drapes before retiring.” While he was saying this, a white mist started to rise from around his feet, moving up his legs, under his cloak, and suddenly his cloak was empty, dropping to the floor and he was gone! Very effective and more memorable after 46 years than more recent ‘special effects’.” – Gerry Leslie
Two members of the audience were interviewed on a local radio phone-in show in response to our request for information about Dracula’s run in Belfast.
The John Bennet Show, Radio Ulster, May 30, 1997
John Bennet first spoke to Eric Clark.
JB: You’ve got some news of Dracula, I understand?
EC: I remember going to the very first performance when he came to the Grand Opera House. Just before he came on, the orchestra was playing, the lights went down, beautiful coloured lights, and all of a sudden a bat came out. It was flying about on this wire and all of a sudden there was a big flash of coloured smoke as Dracula appeared. The bat flew off the thing and landed in the box where we were (laughter).
JB: Beside you?
EC: It landed right there (laughter). It was a s big as a large seagull.
JB: Who were you with?
EC: I was with my girlfriend, my chum and his wife.
JB: Were they frightened?
EC: Oh aye! I was frightened, too. It was able to move its wings. An usherette came and my chum lifted it up and handed it the usherette. Bela made a crack about it being the first time he’d let it off the lead.
JB: Oh, it wasn’t meant to do that?
EC: No, no, no. We were in the low box. You know when you come in, John? If f you’re sitting there in the front stalls, the box is the lowest one on the left-hand side. That’s where we were.
JB: You must have been pretty posh to have a box?
EC: No, they weren’t all that dear then.
EC: No, no.
JB: Was it a good play?
EC: Oh aye! He was good. He had terrific eyes, you know, and that voice was out of this world. Nobody could ever play that part, only him.
JB: He could frighten you, couldn’t he?
EC: Aye! But tell me this, John, was he Hungarian or Bulgarian?
JB: You’ve got me there! You’ve got me there!
EC: Well, he wasn’t Irish anyway.
JB: I don’t think so. It’s not a local name (laughter). I’m sure it’s not. Bela Lugosi!
EC: Do you agree with me that he was the only one who could play the part?
JB: I remember, as a youngster, going to see him in the films and we used to watch him with our hands over our eyes – watching with one eye.
John next spoke to Sammy McBride.
JB: Sammy and Flory McBride were in the front row watching Dracula in the Opera House. The local wags said that when he was here (laughter) you couldn’t buy blood oranges anywhere.
SM: We were sitting in the front row that night and I’ve still got the nail marks in my arm. It was just a year before we were married, John.
JB: Was it ’51, do you think?
SM: I think it was about then. We were married in 1952, Christmas Eve, so I think it was just before we were married. He was good, old Bela. He was a bit ham, kidding on about the blood oranges and that. But with the old black and white films of Dracula they had more atmosphere, especially when people went back to their house – some of them still had gaslight, flickering gaslight, even on the streets. Outside the Opera House at that time, John, you had another Dracula. Well, he was a Dracula of sorts. I don’t mean any offence, he’s gone now. That was Doctor McNault. He was skeletal and he used to sing St. Teresa.
JB: Wait till you hear this, Sammy. They buried him in his Dracula cloak!
SM: I wonder if he stayed there or was he like Houdini?
Wood Green Empire – July 9-14
Programme images courtesy of Dr. Jacob Bloomfield
The Observer, July 4, 1951
At the theatre
There is a promise of thrills and shudders at WOOD GREEN EMPIRE with the visit of Bela Lugosi in “Dracula,” the famous horror story by Sax Rohmer.
– “Sax Rohmer”? Bram Stoker must have been turning in his grave!
Unknown newspaper, July 10, 1951
For ten weeks now that veteran vampire BELA LUGOSI has been hawking horror up and down the country. First man into the commercial horror field, 63-year-old Lugosi finds the old formula still pays off.
“I take it very seriously,” he says. For half an hour before going on as “Dracula” Lugosi speaks to no one: concentrates on being horrific.
I can report that to date business has been better than average and that Northerners lap up the bat-man stuff more than Southerners.
“It is easier to chill them up there,” says Lugosi, dark, deep-set eyes unfreezing temporarily. “Of course I have a natural ally in the weather.”
Back in the London suburbs this week with “Dracula,” Lugosi drops some words of wisdom into the plates of all would-be actors.
“There is only one country where it pays to be an actor,” he says. “That’s in my native Hungary. There you get a four-year training, a regular salary – and a pension when you retire.”
The Manchester Hippodrome – July 16-21
The Manchester Guardian, July 16, 1951
The Manchester Guardian, July 17, 1951
The “horror on horror’s head” story of Dracula is well known and so is Bela Lugosi in its title role. His feline suavity has chilled many a marrow in theatre and cinema. He may have started with Hamlet and Manfred but it is for this kind of performance that he will be remembered. Last night a programme note that the management could not be responsible for patrons who fainted or felt unwell induced a pleasant sense of anticipation which was only partially satisfied. Horror must run smoothly in its course. It makes more than average demands on all its attendants. Mr Lugosi’s stage tricks are well conceived, but their execution could be improved. S.W.P.
Daily Despatch, July 17, 1951
“Dracula” in the flesh is just pleasantly macabre
The films do it so much better. That seemed to be the verdict of last night’s first house audience at the Manchester Hippodrome after Bela Lugosi had done his devilish best to chill any ample flesh in the title role of “Dracula.”
Vampire bats, howling dogs that resonated with the ferocity of a factory hooter made this adventure through darkest Hampstead pleasantly macabre.
But the puffs of mystically perfumed grey smoke that cloaked the worst activities of the nastiest Count who ever emerged from behind the Iron Curtain seemed all to transparently substantial.
This production lacked the weird unreality of Hollywood’s outsize spider webs, giant retorts and dusty laboratories aglow with bubbly fluid. Ernest Lewis
Daily Telegraph and Morning Post, July 17, 1951
MR. LUGOSI AS ‘DRACULA’
“Dracula,” with Bela Lugosi in the title role, reappeared at Manchester Hippodrome last night. Eric Lindsay was convincing as Renfield, the mental patient, while in a lighter vein there was good support from both Joan Windmill (sic) as the maid, and John Saunders as Butterworth, the attendant. Sheila Wynn showed talent in the difficult part of the doctor’s daughter.
Mr. Lugosi, who has played the part of Dracula over 1,300 times, cleverly cast his spell in the face of numerous distractions. These included late arrivals among the audience and audible directions from backstage.C.R.W.A.
Evening Chronicle, July 17, 1951
Joan Steps In
“I took over the part.”
A VICAR’S daughter who was born in Bury has stepped into the part of maid in the horror play “Dracula,” at the Manchester Hippodrome this week.
Joan Harding, whose father, the Rev. Leslie Hart is Vicar of Maghull, Liverpool, told me last night: “Joan Winmill who has been playing the part of the maid who is hypnotised by Dracula – Bela Lugosi – phoned last Thursday to say she was suffering from a form of nervous breakdown which made her lose her voice. So I took over the part.”
Father Was There
Until then Joan, who is 21, was effects manager of the show. In other words she was responsible for the smoke and sound effects which give a ghostly quality to the tense moments of the play.
But Joan really is an actress. She has played for two periods with the Bolton repertory Company.
Her father, who was at one time Vicar od St. Mark’s, Cheetham Hill, Manchester, came to see her last night.
Joan Harding took over the role too late for the programme to be amended.
Manchester Evening News, July 17, 1951
Bela Lugosi’s Dracula
Delighted or maybe mocking giggles greet what used to be the more horrific moments of this ancient thriller. For, alas!, in 1951 the blood refuses to curdle and the hair to rise on the scalp however many young and lovely females are bitten on the neck. Poor old Vampire! Since Bram Stoker’s day we have known blood-letting before which this little affair of werewolves is so much whimsy.
Some of the company seemed to realise this too fully. At any rate they refused to go all out and barnstorm it, which is, one imagines, the only way it can still be made to register.
Bela Lugosi’s Dracula has his sinister moments, but his great lack is vocal. He has no snarl. Of the supporting company Arthur Hosking was a credible psychiatrist from Holland, and Sheila Wynn as Lucy, Eric Lindsay as the gentleman who devours flies, and John Saunders as the harassed attendant at the mental sanitorium enliven the proceedings from time to time.
They used to carry the weaker vessels out from this play feet first. It seems almost unbelievable. Alan Bendle.
Richard Butler, Sheila Wynn, David Dawson, Bela Lugosi, Joan Harding
Evening Chronicle, July 17, 1951
Most blood-curdling thing about Mr. Bela Lugosi’s stage vehicle “Dracula” at the Manchester Hippodrome last night was that such hammy nonsense should visit the theatre at all.
For anybody over school-leaving age there was little entertainment in this stage version of the supernatural shocker about a vampire living on human blood and hunting for new recruits.
Bela Lugosi, typed in Hollywood for this sort of thing, was suave enough, but best in his curtain speech. Sheila Wynn was creditably anguished as the beauty for the beast. Mental home attendant John Saunders got a few laughs.
With the ghostly spotlight shining down on the stage one could fairly summarise: This corn is green. FRED ISAAC
Recollections of members of the Manchester audience
“As a nineteen year old I visited “Ardwick Hip” with a friend to see Bela Lugosi. Unfortunately I remember nothing of the show except being impressed with his eyes, but of course that was probably due to make-up. I do remember his parting shot about “looking under the bed before turning the lights out.” The theatre was not full, I guess his brand of entertainment was between his heyday and revival on television. My friend and I did enjoy the show I do remember.” – Beryl Goodall
“I went to see Bela Lugosi at the Manchester Hippodrome. I saw the play from the Balcony (as usual, we always bought the cheaper tickets so that we could go more often), the theatre was not particularly full as it was the first house, but it was a very realistic play and believe me, I was scared stiff! The effects were very good, for instance, when he disappeared in a puff of smoke. Then after the final curtain, he came back on stage to wish “Pleasant dreams, everybody!” – Dilys R. Flanagan
During Dracula’s run in Manchester, advertisements appeared in the local press announcing that the Gaiety Cinema would be screening Bela’s Return of the Vampire during the following week. The supporting feature was Boris Karloff’s The Devil Commands. A rare instance of Bela receiving bigger billing than Boris.
Theatre Royal, Norwich – July 23-28
Courtesy of Norwich Theatre Royal
Courtesy of Norwich Theatre Royal
Eastern Evening News, July 21, 1951
Next week’s Shows
FOR those who like their entertainment spine-chilling, Bela Lugosi is a master of the macabre. He appears in person at the Theatre Royal in “Dracula” and for those for whom both star and show are a legend, a fabulous Hollywood creation, seeing the reality at first hand should be a new and exciting experience.
Eastern Evening News, July 24, 1951
Stage version of “Dracula” quite eerie enough
The dramatic version of “Dracula” can scarcely rival the grisly horrors of Bram Stoker’s novel, which still offers a macabre experience for the average reader. Nevertheless, the present revival of the play at the Theatre Royal goes a fair way towards providing a spine-chilling “entertainment.”
The whole caboodle of eerie tricks at the disposal of the stage manager serves to create atmosphere for this vampire adventure in which the skillful lighting and aural effects are enhanced by the production of billowing clouds of supernatural mist. Above all, there is Bela Lugosi, the towering Dracula from Hollywood. He conveys a sensation of evil without any apparent effort, relying partly on his power of facial contortion and to a greater extent on his large and expressive hands.
As a contrast, Eric Lindsay, as Renfield, the mental patient, is violent in his paroxysms of lunacy with reasonably convincing effect.
Arthur Hosking has a good deal to do as Van Helsing, who emerges as a psychiatrist in this latest production, although this level-headed character still coolly tackles the most blood-curdling tasks, fortified by an astounding knowledge of vampires and their habits.
Sheila Wynn achieves an emotional intensity as Lucy, the young lady who escapes in the nick of time from eternal devilment, but John Martin and David Dawson do not appear to express sufficient appreciation of the unnerving theme of the play.
Admittedly, stage vampires do not seem to me to be quite so convincing as they were twenty years ago, but that is all the more reason why the players should be directed in unswerving pursuit of horrification. A.G.W.
Recollections of a young fan
“One of the dates was the Theatre Royal, Norwich, where my father was General Manager. I was a mere 12-year-old at the time, but well remember having the opportunity of speaking with him alone in his dressing room. I remember him sitting in a red-coloured wicker chair, smoking a cigar and I was amused to see the wicker imprints on his flesh when he stood up. Unfortunately, I was not permitted to see the play. During the week, my father arranged for Bela Lugosi to attend a British Legion fete at Drayton, a suburb of Norwich, where he signed photographs of himself for sixpence a time. He signed in blood, of course, although some wicked wags have tried to persuade me over the years that it was red ink. Then of course I should know.” – Kevin J. Allen, former manager of London’s Drury Lane, Queen’s, Lyric and Victoria Palace theatres
The run in Norwich was particularly memorable for cast member Eric Lindsay:
“We were in a guest house in Norwich, I’ll always remember, it was the only time I shared digs with him. His room was next to mine and, I could never understand it, he was up all night. I could hear them talking, but I don’t know what he was doing. When Bela came down for breakfast, he moaned “I’m ill. My head! My head!” He had me searching around the whole of Norwich for Fernet-Branca, because he would drink at night. He did drink. He woke me up one day and said: “My head! I can’t move. Go out and buy me some Fernet-Branca,” which I’d never heard of. I only know it because of Bela. It’s good for a hangover. It’s a sort of alcohol, a drink. It’s supposed to be good for curing a hangover, but it tastes vile—he gave me some. They usually stayed in a hotel. This time the hotels must have been full. We stayed in this wonderful guest house which was also a restaurant called the Cooper Kettle. Richard wasn’t there that week, somebody replaced him.”
Richard Butler temporarily left the cast after Dracula closed in Manchester to take part in army “Z” reserve training. He was replaced by John Martin for the performances in Norwich and Leicester. Richard rejoined the production for the run at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield, and stayed with the company until the tour ended.
Palace Theatre, Leicester – July 30-August 4
FILMS – By Douglas Goodlad
Never has an actor identified himself more closely with a role than has Bela Lugosi with Dracula. And never has a role so influenced an actor’s career.
Bela Lugosi was born in Lugos, Hungary, the son of the president of the largest bank and the town’s leading citizen. Strangely enough Lugos, from which Bela Lugosi derives his name, is not far from Transylvania, the setting of “Dracula.”
He became one of the leading members of Hungary’s national theatre. There was no star system in Hungary, and there were no actors out of work. An actor had a professional standing comparable to that of a lawyer or physician. Although there were no stars, it was customary for actors to play the same role throughout the year and thus the public had ample time to choose its favourites.
Bela Lugosi soon became one of those favourites.
He began his screen career in Budapest in 1914, but the war intervened and for three years he served on the Russian, Serbian and Italian fronts. After the war he was forced to flee the country as a political refugee. He made his way to Berlin where in 1919 he resumed his film career.
From Berlin he worked his way to the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1930.
He did not know a word of English when he arrived. He set about mastering the language, and eventually appeared on Broadway. Then came the offer of the title role in “Dracula.”
After playing straight roles for 20 years Lugosi suddenly found himself with a part from which he had not the slightest chance to escape. The play ran for two years, to be followed by a screen version, which made a film star overnight.
Now, 22 years after he first created that strange, half-human, half-vampire of Bram Stoker’s famous novel, Bela Lugosi brings “Dracula” back to the stage. He is at the palace next week.
Leicester Evening Mail, July 31, 1951
ROUND THE CLOCK TOWER
‘Dracula’ yearns for comedy
Calling in yesterday to see the fabulous Count Dracula – he appears on the Leicester stage this week – I found the real-life Bela Lugosi also sleeps by day and wakes by night.
“Mr. Lugosi?” they said. “He took his first look at the city early in the morning and then straight to bed as usual.”
However, I managed to chat with the star of Hollywood terror films in between performances last evening.
He told me that after 24 years of Count Dracula, he was waiting for someone to find him a comedy role. The hypnotic eyes lit up as he admitted a partiality for blood oranges and raw steaks, but actually Bela Lugosi of the stage and screen is a quiet and charming personality off-duty.
For years he has collected stamps in his spare time, instead of probing the occult. And, in Leicester, as everywhere, he is accompanied by his wife Lillian.
Everyone is enchanted by him. A girl carrying furniture on the set yesterday told me: “He’s a sweetie-pie.”
But when I asked his age…ah, the artist’s temperament appeared then I changed the subject hastily, fearing a Lugosi scowl.
Illustrated Leicester Chronicle, August 4, 1951
By Douglas Goodlad
Bela Lugosi, specialist in horror, wears little make-up to play the part of the “undead,” centuries old Count Dracula in this week’s presentation of the famous play at Leicester Palace.
His eyebrows are made to beetle rather more than they do naturally, but otherwise he achieves the horrific countenance by facial expression.
Yet see him off stage with his features relaxed, and you couldn’t hope to meet a more charming actor.
“Doesn’t he frighten you?” I asked his wife, who assured me that he did not.
“I love the part,” he said, “It’s fascinating.”
He told me that in Transylvania there are such things as vampire bats, and bloodthirsty creatures they are, too. It is easy to see how legends have grown up about the creatures half-human, half-bat.
Bela Lugosi has been in this country for 14 weeks. He is to make a picture here later on.
We shook hands. He didn’t give me one of those sinister “Goodbyes” we’ve heard from him on the screen. Nor did he disappear in a cloud of white mist.
Instead, his wife said, as I took my leave, “Bela, your tie’s crooked. Let me fix it.”
And that little domestic touch banished the undead count as effectively as a stake through the heart.
Bela smiled “Thank you,” and it was a warm human smile.
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield – August 6-11
Programme for July 30th, 1951
Courtesy of Simon Greetham
The Star August 6, 1951
Courtesy of Simon Greetham
Sheffield Star, August 6, 1951
Rain – But Not A Blank Holiday
…a feature at the gala today was the appearance of Bela Lugosi Hollywood film star appearing this week in Dracula at the Lyceum.
Sheffield Telegraph, August 7, 1951
ROUND THE SHOWS
THE SPECIALIST IN HORROR
Dear Bela Lugosi – I wouldn’t be in your shoes for all the dollars in Wall Street. When you told me in your dressing room at Sheffield Lyceum last night that you had played Count Dracula over 1,300 times since 1927 I shuddered at the thought.
It’s a grim fate to be considered by producers as “nothing else but a horror specialist.” You’re certainly a master at making the flesh creep. Last night’s audience were as enthralled as any I’ve ever seen.
I think of your large hands fondling that heavy tobaccopipe, but the audience will remember them encircling the pale neck of spellbound Lucy.
They will also recall the fine support from Eric Lindsay, Sheila Wynn, Richard Butler, David Dawson, Ralph Wilson, John Saunders, and Joan Harding.
You admit to being fascinated by the part and you infused the mysterious fascination of it into a generation unaware of your screen version.
But I sympathise with your longing to play a comedy role. Your secret ambition may be achieved when the story is picked for the film you are making in England in October.
Sheffield Star, August 7, 1951
Curtain-raiser by Heap
New “Dracula” Tones Down Horrors
The new production of “Dracula” at the Lyceum, Sheffield, is far removed from some of the old horrific versions which had members of the audience fainting.
It is all the better for the changes, too, in that the “pull” of the piece has lost little by the omission of much of the superfluous blood-curdling stuff, writes The Showman.
Bela Lugosi is a most effective “Count Dracula.” Here is a true master of his craft. His acting is just right – not overdone.
Other members of a well-balanced cast are Ralph Wilson as “Van Helsing”, Sheila Wynn as “Lucy”, Eric Lindsay as “Renfield”, the mental patient, David Dawson (Dr. Seward), Richard Butler, Joan Harding, and John Saunders.
The Stage, August 9, 1951
IN THE PROVINCES
Lyceum. – “Dracula” continues to weave its spell, but one has never been sure if this is because of sympathy for the victim, here played by Sheila Wynn with a sincere appeal, or because of that strange elemental delight in horror which Bela Lugosi brilliantly arouses. Ralph Richardson, Joan Harding, Eric Lindsay, David Dawson, and John Saunders, all sound players, complete the company.
Recollection of Royal Victoria Hotel Porter
While in Sheffield, Bela and Lillian stayed at the Royal Victoria Hotel
“My mate’s father, Robert Bradley, worked as a porter at the Royal Victoria Hotel. He once told us that while working the lift one night a familiar-sounding voice asked to be taken up in the lift. When he saw who it was, he said that he never took his eyes off him once and was glad when the guest got off. It was Bela Lugosi.” – william white
The Empire, Chatham – August 13-18
While appearing at the Empire Theatre, Bela Lugosi made a guest appearance with Audrey Hepburn at the Festival Park Fete.
Alma Theatre, Luton – August 20-25
The Pictorial, August 21, 1951
Bela Lugosi In Spine-Chiller
That Hollywood master of thrills, Bela Lugosi, is personally appearing at the Alma Theatre, Luton, this week.
He is taking the title role in “Dracula,” the fantastic story of a vampire, based on the novel by Bram Stoker.
A full West End company supports Lugosi in this spine-chiller. Many will remember the film “Dracula” and Mr. Lugosi’s fine performance in it. Now they have a chance to see him in the part in person.
The Luton News, August 23, 1951
On The Stage
Bela Lugosi As “Dracula”
Penetrating eyes, a deep deliberate voice, and eloquent hands. These make Bela Lugosi the admirable “Dracula.”
At the Alma this week he gives a convincing performance of the mythical blood-sucking monster who haunts by night – appearing and disappearing in smoke, and changing himself into a bat at will.
Both Ralph Wilson, as the psychiatrist who solves the mystery, and Eric Lindsay, a real story-book mental patient, take the honors for their natural portrayals.
Sheila Wynn evokes sympathy as the vampire’s victim.
The man who nearly stole the show was John Saunders, the witty attendant. He had all the laughs, and deserved them. Butt for most of his gags is Joan Harding, the maid.
Saturday Telegraph, August 25, 1951
Bela Lugosi making up in his dressing room for the part of “Dracula”
which he portrays at the Alma Theatre this week.
Recollections of a member of the Luton audience
” I saw Bela Lugosi in ‘Dracula’ at the Alma Theatre in Luton in 1951 (Was it really as long ago as that?). I can well remember seeing the play and although I now remember very little of it, I distinctly remember the wonderful illusion when Mr. Lugosi first appeared on stage. A large bat flew in through a window of the scenery, circled the stage a couple of times, then in a flash disappeared and Dracula stood in the middle of the stage. There was a great gasp of amazement from the audience. That’s all I can remember. I did see Mr. Lugosi at the stage door, but I did not speak to him.” – Mr. M. Henge
Theatre Royal, Nottingham – August 27-September 1
Nottingham Advertiser, August 25, 1951
Nottingham Evening News, August 28, 1951
EXCELLENT CAST IN MYSTERY PLAY
Theatre Royal: “Dracula”
The veteran, Bela Lugosi, makes his first visit to Nottingham in the play in which he made his name 24 years ago. The post-Second World War generation, however, is inclined to be entertained rather than cowed by the exploits of the vampire who sucks blood from beautiful young girls. Nevertheless “Dracula” is a first-class mystery story and Mr. Lugosi has a good supporting cast – particularly in Sheila Wynn, who plays Lucy, the final victim, who brings about Dracula’s downfall. Other leading parts are taken by Richard Butler (John), David Dawson (Dr. Seward) and Ralph Wilson (Van Helsing).
Nottingham Evening Post, August 28, 1951
Round the Theatres
The story of Dracula, as a study in undiluted evil, is probably among the most terrible things ever to have been written in the popular style. It is by no means subtle, but is none the less effective as a stage play for all that – the very thought of the vampire is sufficiently horrible in itself.
Mr. Bela Lugosi, who to many minds might also be Count Dracula himself (if it were possible to think that of so pleasant a person) has brought the stage version of “Dracula” to the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, this week, in a new production exceptionally well set in a very cleverly designed “library of Dr. Seward’s mental sanitorium,” with dark green walls and oppressive furnishings.
It is in this high, brooding chamber that all the horror happens, and happens so smoothly and terribly with only the barest provision of dialogue to carry the action along. Mr. Lugosi, who for the duration of his performance, is supported ably by Ralph Wilson as Van Helsing, the scientist; by Sheila Wynn, as Lucy Seward; David Dawson as her father, Dr. Seward; and Richard Butler as her fiancé, John Harker.
Joan Harding and John Saunders
The Nottingham Advertiser, August 28, 1951
WHAT’S ON AT THE SHOWS
Dracula no longer a spine-chiller
BUT IT STILL ENTERTAINS
Horror upon horror appears on the stage of the Nottingham Theatre Royal this week, but last night’s audience for the opening performance of “Dracula” seemed well and truly hardened to whatever was put before them.
Because amusement rather than terror was the main reaction it seems perhaps that the old story of the vampire who sucks blood from beautiful young girls and then claims them as his “brides,” has rather lost its power to chill the spine.
Perhaps it has – at any rate it has lost the power it must once have had when it made the audiences of the between-war period hold their breath.
Yet a certain appeal remains – the appeal of a rattling good mystery story neatly and concisely told with no superfluous frills.
Bela Lugosi revels in the part of Count Dracula, that mysterious Transylvanian of the Middle Ages who has survived for 500 years by sucking blood from the throats of human beings – a part he must have played thousands of times on stage and screen since he first played it in 1927.
There is an excellent supporting performance from Sheila Wynn as Lucy, the victim who finally brings about Dracula’s downfall. She endures the part with all the physical and mental vigour – and considerable imagination which is required for the most intense and high-powered drama.
There is a certain disappointment in the performances of those who play the other central characters. Richard Butler (John Harker), David Dawson (Dr. Seward) and Ralph Wilson (Van Helsing). They fail to be entirely convincing because they do not themselves seem convinced by the characters they are endeavoring to portray. whether he terrified the audience or not, Bela Lugosi – whose delightful curtain speech belied his sinister Dracula – certainly sent last night’s audience home well entertained. -B.M.C.
Nottingham Guardian, August 28, 1951
Classic ‘Dracula’ at Theatre Royal
The very name of “Dracula” has become drenched in evil associations. Mr. Bela Lugosi bears it well, with immense dignity, and with the hauteur and contempt that one imagines would come with 500 years of active existence. He has portrayed this titanic evil so often that his name, too, has become almost a legend, and his appearance at the Nottingham Theatre Royal this week in the stage version of Bram Stoker’s novel has about it something of the improbable.
But he is real enough, and so to is the cold and dark horror that hangs about the heart while this struggle between good and evil is going on on the stage – a struggle conducted, eventually, with all the barriers down, each side possessed of the most powerful means in existence to achieve success, and with good at last triumphant.
“Thank God,” cries the mental patient, his hands raised in gratification as the stake is driven into the heart of Count Dracula, “Thank God we are free!” Melodramatic? No, it is not a forced sentiment. There is a similar relief in everyone’s heart at this particular moment. There is no time wasted on melodramatic utterances; the dialogue is most austere, and merely provides explanations for the things that cannot be explained in action, or it serves as preparation for the next terrible moment. The plot follows that of the book almost precisely.
The room in which the greater part of the action happens has a claustrophobic air which the designer, Mr Bertram Tyrer, has brought to it by combining celadon green walls with heavy elaborately carved woodwork, dominated by a soaring oppressive beetle-brow doorway and a fireplace supported by the unblinking caryatids which always seem to brood on horror with serenity.
The play is a classic. Its horror is a real horror because it is produced by something unnatural and evil and not just a series of shocks to jangle the nerves. The thought og the vampire is terrible in itself.
Mr. Lugosi has an able cast to support him; Sheila Wynn is an attractive Lucy Seward, a part she plays most sympathetically, and Ralph Wilson and David Dawson are most suitably cast as Professor Van Helsing and Dr. Seward. Richard Butler is Lucy’s fiance, John Harker. As for Mr. Lugosi’s performance – well, while he is on stage he practically is Count Dracula.
Recollections of members of the Nottingham audience
“I saw his performance at the Nottingham Theatre Royal. It was absolutely awesome. I used to visit the live theatre quite frequently in those days. Indeed, in the theatrical business Nottingham was regarded as a sounding board for touring plays. The Nottingham public were supposed to be very discerning, and if it was a success here it would stand a good chance in the provinces.
Shortly before I saw the play at the ‘Royal’ I had seen a film called Abbott and Costello Meet The Monsters that also had Bela Lugosi as ‘Dracula’. It was a laugh, but a right load of old rubbish to boot. When I saw that Lugosi was coming to the ‘Royal’ I decided to see it for real. I think I was just short of 17 years old at the time.
The play was a faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s tale, and when Bela Lugosi strode on to the stage and cast his hypnotic glare round the auditorium it was as if every member of his audience had been spirited away to Transylvania, and was under his evil spell. Awesome, compelling, riveting, chilling, hypnotic – he knew the audience was his for the evening – such was the measure of the man!!
I was stunned and overpowered by his performance. I think the audience gave him a standing ovation at the end and he had to return for about half a dozen encores. I have seen some brilliant performances from some fine actors in my time, but nothing has stuck in my mind ever since like Bela Lugosi as ‘Dracula’.
Indeed, I caught my bus home and got off about half a mile from where I used to live. I ran home in mortal terror, glancing behind me to see if a figure in a black cloak or perchance a large bat was pursuing me. I went to bed, shut the bedroom window (as a precaution) and lay there quaking in fear until I fell asleep. I was really terrified, but at the same time uplifted and pleased I had seen the great man.
It wasn’t until I saw him in the flesh that I realised how tall and big he was. In his cinema performances he looked quite ordinary, but I was surprised by his true size.
Since my encounter with him at the ‘Royal’ I have seen quite a few of his films – mostly run of the mill B standard horror offerings – but in none of them du\id he display his aura or command with his majestic presence. In theatrical terms his ‘Dracula’ must rank with Gielgud’s ‘King Lear’ or Olivier’s ‘Hamlet’, and I can pay the man no higher compliment.
The memory of his 1951 ‘Dracula’ has lain dormant in my memory for nearly 45 years, but your letter brought it all back. I was privileged to see him live.” – Keith W. Eley
“It was such a long time ago since I saw “Dracula”, and I am sure stage sets have improved since then. All I remember is a black coffin on stage and actors talking for a long time around it. Then it opened very slowly (with a creak, of course) and a face with blood around the mouth (just like bright red paint) appeared and he sat up in the coffin. All the audience knew what was in the coffin, but it was a tense moment which took a long time to arrive.” – Reg Jepson
“Having been a life-long fan of Bela Lugosi, I was delighted to hear that he would be visiting the Nottingham Theatre Royal in 1951. Two friends and I wrote to him earlier on in his tour, professed our undying devotion and admiration, begged him to provide a photograph and asked whether we might meet him during his Nottingham
appearance. To our surprised delight, he replied, enclosing two photographs, signed in “blood”, naturally. One as Dracula and the other in civvies, wearing a black homburg hat, broad herring-bone overcoat and a scarf. Very sophisticated. I was initially disappointed when my friends claimed the ‘Dracula’ photo, but subsequently realised that this pose was really “old hat”, whilst my own photo was far more unusual. Included with the photos was a brief note indicating that he would be willing to meet us at the Theatre Royal. In due course, we presented ourselves at the stage door, only to be told that Bela Lugosi had not arrived. The Theatre Royal stage entrance in those long-ago days was at the end of a long, rather steep alley, which was also the approach to the back stage area of the Empire Variety Theatre, now, sadly, long gone. It was a slightly chilly evening and there was a swirl of low-lying mist along the ground, which was not unusual in Nottingham in those days.
Suddenly, from around the corner, emerged Bela Lugosi. I realise that I was an impressionable 18-year-old at the time, but everything conspired to make his appearance truly electrifying. He was dressed entirely in black, his suit covered by a Victorian style cloak and the whole ensemble completed by a very broad brimmed hat. His clothes at this meeting were identical to those worn in his 1947 film “Scared To Death.” The mist swirled around his feet as he slowly made his way up the alley, leaning heavily upon an ebony cane. From that distance he was an impressive figure and as he came nearer we realised that he was much taller than we had realised – well over six feet. To add further to his rather unearthly appearance, his skin had the texture and colour of old parchment, due, no doubt, to the morphine which he had become addicted whilst using it medically to ease the pain in his afflicted leg. This gave him a pronounced limp and this, along with a stoop of the shoulders and the very lined face, made us
realise far from a fearsome apparition he was, in fact, a sick and aging man.
We stopped him as he approached us and introduced ourselves, to little effect, as he had obviously forgotten his note. This was produced to him, along with the photos, and the corners of his eyes wrinkled as he gave that peculiarly sinister smile of his. “We have waited a long while for the chance to meet you and now you are here,” I said
rather lamely. This was the cue for the next shock of disillusionment – he was almost stone deaf! He cupped his hand to his ear. “What? What? You have travelled a long way over land and ocean to see me and now you are here,” he misinterpreted magnificently. “I know you are here, I can see you. From where have you travelled?” After much laborious explaining we finally got the message across. “So,” he said, “you see me! Now talk.”
By now, we had reached a high state of teenage angst, not knowing how to deal with the deafness of our hero nor with his totally overwhelming presence. We stammered out a few questions: “Was he travelling alone?” No, he was accompanied by his nurse (Actually his wife – Andi) who looked after him on a general basis and treated his legs. “Did he have any regrets or unfulfilled ambitions?” Yes. All his life he had wanted to make people laugh, but always the studio heads refused, saying that his image was one of a horror actor and the public would not accept him in any deviation from that role. This, he said, caused him great sadness as he knew that there was a good comedy
actor within him but no one would give him the chance to prove this. “Now,” he sighed, “it is too late. I am too old to bring laughter.” We reminded him that he had made several comedy films, appearing with alongside the likes of the Bowery Boys, the Ritz Brothers and Abbott and Costello. At the mention of these movies, Lugosi smiled. “Yes,” he said, “many of these were very funny, but it was not me that brought the laughter. It was the talents of my co-stars. I still played the heavy or the monster. What I have always wanted was to be the source of the comedy, the comedian himself. I wanted to make the audience laugh.”
We asked Lugosi to confirm the correct pronunciation of his fore-name. We had (and still do) heard it variously pronounced as “Bella”, Beela” and “Bayla.” Which was correct? “None of these are correct!” he stated, rather surprisingly. With a mysterious smile, he extended his forefinger and wagged it a couple of times, then said, “The correct pronunciation of my name is…” a theatrical pause to increase the tension, “…Baylor.” We all dutifully repeated his name in the correct manner to which he grinned and said, “Yes, that is correct, Baylor is how it is pronounced in Hungary.” Then he spun round, and disappeared through the stage door with a backward wave, to prepare for that evening’s performance.
After this meeting we attended that evening’s performance of Dracula at the theatre Royal. Regrettably, I have lost the programme over the years and have also lost contact with my two friends from those long-gone days, but the memory of that evening is still pretty fresh in my mind. There was a reasonably full house and the atmosphere was high on anticipation but low on reverence. The audience was obviously intending to have a high old time – a little similar to the average “Rocky Horror Picture Show” attendance.
The curtain went up to reveal a stark setting with a closed coffin centre-stage. Guffaws of laughter from an audience now in full festive mood. Suddenly, a bat flitted across the stage, along the tracks of very visible wire. Hoots of derision from the very naughty audience. I remember my heart sinking fast. This was not the tense, horrific evening to which I had for so long been looking forward. Suddenly, a creaking noise and the coffin lid slowly began to raise, inch by inch. A hand with a large ring upon the index finger wriggled out of the coffin and raised the lid further, finally pushing the lid completely back. The laughter of the audience mounted as, slowly, Lugosi sat up within the coffin before levering himself out of it. If he craved the laughter of the audience, he was certainly getting it. Having stepped out of the coffin, he then walked in a menacing way towards the audience. The St. John’s Ambulance Brigade, in attendance, were now busily repairing the split sides of the audience.
Then a very strange thing happened. He reached the edge of the stage and stood there, his hands holding the cloak around him, eyes glaring balefully at the audience. One of his hands suddenly shot forward, bringing the edge of his cloak with it. A gnarled finger pointed towards the audience. His mouth opened wide, his lips curled back, and he emitted a hissing snarl. As though a switch had been thrown, the laughter of the audience ceased, abruptly. He maintained this pose for several seconds and then made his exit in a stately manner to the side of the stage. The stage remained empty for a few seconds and not a sound was to be heard from the audience as the curtain slowly closed prior to the commencement of the play proper. It was a wonderful example of commanding personality against tittering idiocy.
The rest of the play proceeded to the respectful attention of the audience, apart from when the ubiquitous bat, making one of its several “horrific” appearances, suddenly stuck halfway through its flight. It struggled frantically to free itself for two or three minutes before eventually flitting off stage, never to be seen again. This was obviously more than mortal flesh could stand and the audience erupted with gleeful mirth. That apart, the play proceeded in reasonable manner, the actors doing the best they could with the rather wooded dialogue.
The end of the play brought reasonably warm applause which increased considerably when Bela Lugosi took his bow. The problem was, of course, that even in 1951 it was becoming rather “old hat”, with little real action and no gore whatsoever. Despite its subject matter, the play was ceasing its grip and thrill. One only has to look at the subsequent Hammer Films treatments of these old horror legends, together with subsequent stage versions, to understand how far the rather static traditional treatment was falling short of the changing taste of the audience.” – Roy Tomlinson
The Chiswick Empire – September 3-8
The Brentford and Chiswick Times, August 31, 1951
THE WEEK’S STAGE & SCREEN REVIEW
Next week Bela Lugosi, the well known vampire actor will be at the Empire. He has appeared in a number of films during the past few years as well as plays.
The Brentford and Chiswick Times, August 7, 1951
That master of horror films, Bela Lugosi shows at the Chiswick Empire this week that he is as effective on the stage as ever he was in the films that captured the imagination of millions a few years ago.
“Dracula” is a far better production than one would expect from the limited confines of a stage, and Lugosi holds the attention from the first minute that he enters as the sinister Count.
Eric Lindsay is good as the fly-eating Renfield, a mental patient in the home of Dr. Seward, played by David Dawson. Dr. Seward’s daughter Lucy, played by Sheila Wynn, is the girl who suffers from the mysterious malady which doctors have failed to cure. John Saunders is effective as Butterworth, the attendant, and Joan Harding capably plays the maid. David Dawson enlists our sympathy as Van Helsing, a psychiatrist.
Recollections of a member of the Chiswick audience
“On the particular night there was a queue entertainer, an accordionist, and there was a pie stall at the back of the Empire. The size of the queue indicated a full house. Apart from being seated for part of the time, I don’t remember much. The most striking thing about the play was a pall of green smoke emanating from the base of the curtain. Dracula appears from the pall of smoke and says, “Good Evening, my name is Count Dracula.” He disappears behind the curtain, a delay and the curtains open and the play begins.
Not much to go on I’m afraid, but at 11 or 12 you only remember striking events. I do remember that at the Chiswick Empire there were queues both inside and outside the theatre. When the outside queue went in it was only on a full house that a queue would be formed along the sides of the theatre inside. An usher directed people to seats if they became available. There were two shows per evening, they were then called first and second house. I was very sad about Lugosi’s addiction and his sad end. Nevertheless, he has a fame that will never die, a fitting end to the celluloid undead and the acting skill of a master of suspense.” – Mr. G. Jackson
The New Theatre, Cambridge – September 10-15
Cambridge Daily News, September 11, 1951
IT IS DRACULA IN PERSON
Play of Horror – If You Co-operate
How can one assess a production of “Dracula.” Only, we suppose, by measuring its success against the amount of horror it purveys. And perhaps audiences are not now so gullible as they were twenty-two years ago when Bela Lugosi, whom we have in this production, created the part so successfully in America.
From the usual cold first house, first night audience yesterday, there were one or two “oohs” and “ahs” and occasional nervous laughter and we can imagine that with a full house on Saturday night there might be considerable reaction.
RIDICULOUS – OR IS IT?
Of course, one starts out by saying this story of a vampire which takes a human form from sunset to sunrise and lives on the blood of other humans is ridiculous. We said that when we started to read Bram Stoker’s novel. But coiled up alone with the book and the host of detail the author gives, it is easy to let the imagination run riot and for the mind to be half convinced of it all.
In the theatre the imagination cannot play such an important part because so much has to be shown and anyway there are distractions. But the mind can become conditioned to receive this tale of the supernatural if the production and the acting are sufficiently good.
On the production side there is certainly an attempt to create atmosphere. And you can get a cynical satisfaction out of watching the artifice of the theatre being given such full rein. There are mists for Dracula to appear from and disappear into, a secret passage, wolf howls off stage and a bat makes a momentary appearance.
Aware that they have to do everything with the utmost seriousness, however, several members of the cast are inclined to overact. Since the dialogue is rather dated the total effect is sometimes like a very old-fashioned melodrama, and this is incongruous because the play is set in the present day.
As Count Dracula. king of the vampires, Bela Lugosi is sinister, suave and awe inspiring, but is not guilty of “hamming.” Neither is Sheila Wynn, who as Lucy Seward, the victim of the Count, goes through a damsel in distress part of the old school with conviction and a very pleasant voice.
David Dawson as Lucy’s father, the head of the mental sanitorium, and Ralph Wilson as Van Helsing, the psychiatrist who gets to the bottom of Dracula’s origin by study in the realm of folklore are inclined to overstate though both are well in character.
Eric Lindsay’s portrayal of a mental patient also in the toils of the vampire, is macabre in the extreme.
In the role of Lucy’s fiance, Richard Butler is suitably distraught, John Saunders introduces a welcome touch of humour as a sanitorium attendant and Joan Harding is efficient as a maid.
In all it is an excursion into the horrible that you have to be in co-operative mood to enjoy. N.G.M
Bela Lugosi and Arthur Hosking
Recollections of members of the Cambridge audience
“My friend and I were 15-years-old at that time and we both saw the show at the New Theatre and met him after. I have been to see my friend and we have tried to recall our memories of the night we met ‘Dracula’. But it was a long time ago and we don’t remember much about the show itself except to say that it seemed very dark. We think he may have used wires at some point, as he appeared to come out into the auditorium.
It was the evening performance we had been to. After it ended we went to the stage door, which was at the back of the theatre, and asked the doorman if we could wait inside to meet Bela Lugosi and get his autograph. As we stood there in the cold gloomy passage our imaginations were working overtime. Then the doors opened at the top of a flight of steps and he came through, still in full make-up and costume and seemed to float towards us. By that time we were really scared.
Maureen asked him for his autograph. He grabbed the book, signed it and then thrust it back saying, “Okay, now beat it!” We’ve never forgotten those words because “beat it” we did, pretty damn quick, so much that I’d run all the way back to our bus stop in the city centre before she’d caught up with me.
Sorry to say that neither of us have still got a show programme or autograph books, and sadly the New Theatre was demolished in the 1960s.” – Mrs. Barbara Rooney and Mrs. Maureen Fernandez
The Derby Hippodrome – September 17-22
Derby Evening Telegraph, September 15, 1951
Derby Evening Telegraph, September 18, 1951
Horror and the macabre in best “Dracula” yet
Horror and the macabre were the order at the Hippodrome last night, and very effectively put over, too. Indeed, the “atmosphere” was so well set that hardly had the curtain risen on the first act before hysteria started among the women in the “gods.” For a moment I wondered whether the whole thing would be treated as burlesque by the audience, but so well done was the production (and the lighting by Richard Eastham, and decor by Bertram Tyrer) that the audience soon settled in hushed and ominous silence waiting for “something to happen.” They were not disappointed.
I have seen Dracula twice before many years ago, but this new production by Hamilton Deane and J.L. Balderstone is the best so far. I remember how poor the film was after the play. I enjoy these horrific spectacles on occasions and like to take them on face value, but I would not advise anyone emotionally inclined or hysterical to visit the Hippodrome this week. There were moments when even my flesh creeped, and I’m hardened to the game.
The mists that betokened the presence of the vampire, and actually spread into the auditorium was most effective.
The cast was well balanced, outstanding being Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, with his impressive and dramatic turn of the head, and Eric Lindsay as the mad Renfield, with his wide, staring eyes. I felt that David Dawson, as Dr. Seward, could have made more of his part and was not strong enough. The light relief was adequately dealt with by John Saunders. – R.T.
Recollections of members of the Derby audience
“As a 13-year-old schoolboy my husband and his school pal went to see the show. After the show they decided to go to the stage door to try to get Mr. Lugosi’s autograph. The doorman asked what they wanted, and when told disappeared inside. On returning he told them to follow him, opened a door, and there sat Mr. Lugosi in his dressing room, sitting at his mirror. He asked what they wanted, and said, “How many of them are you?” He then wrote his autograph for them. My husband said he was very nice and that he had an aura about him. I think they were a little frightened at his voice and actually being with someone famous and played the parts he did, but they thanked him and left. My husband has always remembered that meeting, and he says as he gets older he realises what a nice person he was. After all, he could have just given the doorman the autographs.” – Mr. and Mrs. J. Gretton
“I do not remember much about the play, I was around 16 at the time. I only remember being quite frightened.” – Wendy Gregory
“I worked in a print works and was in the shop in front of the works when Bela Lugosi came in for some stationery. It was a very small shop and I have a vivid memory of him coming in a low door with a long black cape on. I was 15 then. I offered him a piece of paper for his autograph, but he produced a photograph. The shop was J.W. Simpson & Son, Friargate, Derby, sadly not there anymore. I didn’t go to see ‘Dracula’. The shop was only minutes away from the Hippodrome.” – Mrs Pat Bates
An autograph signed by Bela during the run at the Derby Hippodrome.
Financial record for Dracula’s run at the Derby Hippodrome.
This financial record from the personal archive of Raymond Lane, former manager of the Derby Hippodrome, is the only known surviving record of its kind for the tour. It is all the more fascinating because it also contains Raymond’s critique of the performances of the cast. The week in Derby was the most successful of the tour. Over 12 performances, the theatre sold 9, 564 tickets, earning £1136. 5s. 3d. This was bolstered by sales of programmes, £30. 8s. -, and ices, £70. 10s. 6.d, and the takings from the theatre’s bars, £159. 4s. 3d. The best week’s business at the theatre during 1951 was achieved by Red Riding Hood with £2498, while the worst was by Buster Keaton with a disappointing £504.
Speaking of the tour’s overall financial performance, Raymond said, “I’m afraid that business on the whole tour was pretty ghastly. I think that the play was twice nightly and I certainly felt that it would have been much better once nightly. I recall that when the play came to the Derby Hippodrome I produced a “Dracula Cocktail” in the bars – tomato juice with a dash of Lea and Perrins Worcester Sauce and a splash of vodka. Even that was not too popular and I think we sold about 60 in the week. I must say that it was a pretty arduous tour and business was very disappointing.”
He had fonder memories of Bela. “He was a very nice man and his wife was a pleasant lady.”
Raymond rated the performances of the cast as follows:
Bela Lugosi – Very good indeed
Sheila Wynn as “Lucy” – Very good
Ralph Wilson as “Van Helsing” – Good
Eric Lindsay as “Mental Patient” – Very good
John Saunders as “Mental Attendant” – Good – little to do
Richard Butler as “John Harker” – Poor – little to do
David Dawson as “Dr. Seward” – Bad – lacked sincerity
His assessment of the play itself was that it “tends to be too unreal for present day factual audiences.”
While Dracula took a two-week break, Variety announced a possible Australian tour of Dracula, but it failed to materialize.
Variety, Octorber 3, 1951
Bela Lugosi being dickered for Australia and offered year’s work to open at Sydney with “Dracula” sometime in January.
Theatre Royal, Portsmouth – October 8-13
Evening News, October 6, 1951
The bogy man will get you if you don’t watch out, warns that old song. And the bogy man in person visits Portsmouth next week when Bela Lugosi appears in “Dracula” at the Theatre Royal.
His reputation has been won almost entirely by portraying horrific characters in “adults only” pictures and he has made the trip from Hollywood specially to play on a provincial tour.
Few stars have more expressive hands or a more morbid voice than Mr. Lugosi and he uses them well as the half-human, half-vampire figure of Bram Stoker’s fantastic novel. Also in the cast are Sheila Wynn, who plays the helpless victim, David Dawson, Joan Harding, Eric Lindsay, and John Saunders.
Theatre Royal Coming Attraction
Evening News, October 9, 1951
STARE, HANDS, AND VOICE SPINE-CHILLING
Master Takes the Stage
Bela Lugosi is the complete master of horrific suspense, and at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, last night he was in his element as Dracula, the half-human, half-monster creation of Bram Stoker’s imagination.
Even if he is not speaking in that slow, deliberate way of his, he can conjure up all sorts of terrifying images with his penetrating stare and by a movement of his long, tapering fingers.
“Dracula” is a morbid play, but a fascinating one, and Mr. Lugosi was given a tremendous reception for his spine-chilling performance.
“I do hope Dracula won’t be in your dream,” he said after the last curtain.
The rest of the cast were quite outstanding, but Eric Lindsay, as a half-crazed “conquest” of Dracula, and Sheila Wynn, as the fearsome Count’s victim, must be singled out.
Richard Eastham was responsible for the remarkable production and lighting effects.
The Stage, October 11, 1951
IN THE PROVINCES
Royal. – Bela Lugosi makes the most of his dramatic role as “Dracula,” and he is well supported by Eric Lindsay, Sheila Wynn, David Dawson, Richard Butler, Ralph Wilson, John Saunders, and Joan Harding. Richard Eastham produced.
Recollections of a member of the Portsmouth audience
“The slowly opening lid of a coffin, swathed in green light, with an appearance of a hand is still vividly recalled. The many nurses in attendance only added to a tense and uneasy experience and we all walked home looking over our shoulders that night. What innocents we were!” – Mr. D. Rickard
“Luck to you.” An autograph signed by Bela during the run at the Theatre Royal. Portsmouth
The final performance at the Portsmouth Theatre Royal on Saturday October 13th marked both the end of the tour and Bela’s dream of a comeback on a West End stage, his sole reason for undertaking the tour. When Frank Dello Stritto interview John Chartres Mather, Dracula’s producer, in 1999, he asked him about the West End and his reasons for ending the tour.
FDS: How close did you come to getting Dracula into the West End?
JCM: Very close. The Garrick wanted us after its current play closed, but that play—I forget what it was—hung on and on. I also had discussions with the Duke of York and The Ambassador, and they were very interested. If we could have kept the tour going, I would have gotten it into one of them.
FDS: Why did the tour end?
JCM: Touring is hard work, and I never planned that we would tour for six months. Late in the tour, I received a call from Alfred Beale, “I’m a bit worried about Bela,” he said, “He came on in Act III, and started with Act I dialogue.” I went and met with Bela, and realized how tired he was. You see, he always looked so tired offstage but was always so good on stage. I had just learned to ignore it, but he was really exhausted. We were discussing some details in his dressing room when Lillian came in. “It’s
late,” she said. She took out some sort of kit, and gave Bela an injection. “You know, he’s diabetic.” I knew that wasn’t true. I had heard about some kind of injections, but didn’t think much about it, since Bela was always so good onstage.
FDS: Is that when you decided to end the tour?
JCM: No, but I didn’t quite know what to do. I still kept looking for bookings for the tour, and had lined up a few dates near Newcastle & Liverpool, but Lillian said, “Oh, don’t put us up there again.” She wanted to keep the travelling to a minimum. Two or three weeks later I visited Bela backstage in Derby. Lillian wasn’t there. I told Bela that we had to play those dates or not play at all. He looked at me a long time. “John, I can’t go on,” he said, “It’s taking too much out of me. Please finish it quickly.” I put up the closing notices that week.
FDS: But you played Portsmouth two weeks later.
JCM: Yes, I had already signed for that week, and I had to give the company two weeks notice. Those were the rules. Portsmouth was a bad week at the box office.
FDS: When was the last time you saw Bela?
JCM: I visited them after the tour ended, before he started filming the movie he made. He still looked very tired. I had no second thoughts. He sat in a chair and we just talked. He said he was glad the tour was over, but that he had enjoyed it. He told me some anecdotes from the tour, and we said goodbye. As I was leaving Lillian gave me a hug and thanked me. I was surprised that she did that. It was a side of her that I had never seen.
A week after the tour ended, on October 20th, Bela celebrated his 69th birthday. On November 5th he reported to Nettlefold Studio to begin work on Mother Riley Meets The Vampire for Renown Films
Bela on the set of Mother Roley Meets the Vampire with co-star Arthur Lucan
On November 22nd Bela and Lillian attended the premiere of Scrooge at the Regal Marble Arch Cinema in London.
Bela and Lillian at the premiere of Scrooge
On December 5th Bela and Lillian took a train from Waterloo Station in London to Southampton, where they boarded the Queen Elizabeth and returned to America. Neither would ever return to England.
Bela and Lillian bid farewell to London at Waterloo Station
on December 5, 1951
Bela and Lillian aboard the Queen Elizabeth enroute to America
Autograph said to have been obtained aboard the Queen Elizabeth
Variety, December 12, 1951
Bela Lugosi arrives in New York from Europe.