The Girl Who Burned Bela Lugosi’s Capes – Anne Croft Interviewed By Marcus Brien

Ann CroftAnn Croft
(Courtesy of http://www.davidcroft.co.uk/)
During our research for Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain (Cult Movies Press), Frank Dello Stritto and I were fortunate enough to be able to trace and interview many key members of the cast and crew of Bela Lugosi’s 1951 revival tour of Dracula. When our book went to press in August 2000, however, there were still several who had defeated our efforts to locate them.
We continued our research into Bela Lugosi’s British film and theatre work after publication, and eventually amassed enough new information to warrant producing a revised and expanded second edition. As we were preparing the new edition, we were contacted by writer Marcus Brien. He had been introduced to Ann Coupland, a member of the Dracula company who had continued to eluded our efforts to locate her. Ann was the effects manager during the early stages of the tour.
Although Ann seemed to have vanished into thin air after leaving the company, she was in fact in plain view. One of the difficulties we had tracing the female members of Dracula’s cast and company was that we often had no idea if they had married and therefore changed their surnames. Thanks to Marcus, we learned that not only had Ann married David Croft, one of Britain’s most famous TV sit-com writers, in 1952, but she was also used the name Ann Callender (Her mother’s maiden name) professionally. After Dracula, Ann continued working as an actress in the theatre and on television for several years before becoming a  TV presenter. She later embarked upon a successful career as an agent.

Marcus interviewed Ann at her home in Suffolk on a crisp winter’s day in December 2013. The study where the interview took place was the very room where David Croft created his numerous award-winning sit-coms. Marcus recalled that he was reasonably relaxed until he realised he was sitting three feet away from a BAFTA!  He found Ann to be warm, interesting and frank with her recollections of the 1951 tour. What stood out for him was the admiration she had for Bela Lugosi as a professional and above all as a human being. He was kind enough to ask Ann some questions on our behalf and generously shared his complete interview with us for our second edition, which was published in July, 2015. After the interview he presented Ann with a copy of the first edition of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi In Britain, which now sits proudly in her study alongside her signed version of Dracula, signed by the cast and crew of the 1951 tour, including Bela and Lillian.

Bat Head 3

British TourA publicity photo by Editta Sherman used throughout the British tour of Dracula

Bat Head 3

MB: Mrs Croft, thank you again for seeing me. Sorry, I don’t want to sound like David Frost as I’d rather just have a conversation. It’s so much easier…

AC:  (Laughs) Not at all I am delighted to see you.

MB:  Thank you. Do you mind if I start by asking how you got into theatre. What did you do when you had left school?

AC: I went to RADA…I went to P-RADA…which was the Proprietary Academy and then I went to RADA. And then when I left RADA I was lucky enough to be signed up by a very good agent at the time called Betty Farmer. And, erm, Dracula was probably my first professional job. They thought I ought to go out on tour a bit because I was a bit big-headed. I’d done quite well at RADA. When they said Bela Lugosi was coming over to do the tour, Betty sent for me as she was a great friend of John Mather’s, who was the, erm….one of the managers, and said, “You’ve got to learn about the business from the real end.” The metaphorical equivalent of sweeping the stage! Had I done a few weeks with the Old Vic before that? Carrying a spear and understudying Peggy Ashcroft, I think. We got £3 a week I think….£4.10d….and he said this tour was going out and they were going to pay £7.50…£7 10d….I went along to audition because I was going to understudy Lucy as well. And..I got the part. Turned up for rehearsals as I say and we had a big meeting, with a cup of coffee, and all the cast. As I was saying previously, Bela took one look at me and came straight across, hugged me and said, “My ideal Lucy!” , which immediately put me in the…. not very good books with the leading lady really and truthfully. (Laughs)

MB: (Laughs) No wonder Sheila finished the tour and never went sick I wouldn’t imagine after that…

AC: (Laughing.) She used to get very angry. It was nothing to do with Bela really, but when we used to leave by the stage door, people used to come and queue up for autographs. For whatever reason, they would always be queuing for Bela and all the rest of it, but as soon as I left, they always asked for my autograph as well, (Laughs) that didn’t help. Bela thought that was very, very funny. (Laughing) The fact that I was the lowest person in the cast that there possibly could be, well maybe other than the stage-hand…and er…..maybe I carried myself like a star! (Laughing)

MB: I think you’re…well you’ve still got an air about if you don’t mind me saying….you have.

AC: But anyway, he was very nice and I don’t think really obviously that they had any children of their own and I would have been about nineteen I suppose….and he was very, very kind….I had no knowledge of stage management whatsoever. Joan…Joan…I can’t remember who it was who was the….Peter Whelpton was the General sort of Manager and he became a travel agent…travel writer afterwards. We got on very well. I think it was an experience which I am very glad I had. However I wasn’t entirely sure I was learning a great deal about what I thought about as show business, which was very much. The National didn’t exist in those days, so it was The Old Vic or whatever or Comedie Francaise, which I’ve done as well.

MB: What would you say, that at that time I mean we were literally what six years after the war, was theatre, was entertainment, was it a much needed release or was it a self-indulgence at that time in terms of people being able to afford to go to theatre?

AC: I don’t know….it did quite well. Golders Green was actually a very good week. Finsbury Park was a good week. Lewisham as I explained earlier was certainly not a good week.

(Ann refers to a conversation we had before the recording in which she explained that Bela was approached by John Mathers and told of the three people in the audience at an afternoon matinée in Lewisham. Mathers said he would cancel the performance. Bela asked only if they had paid, which they had. ‘In that case we play’ he insisted. Editor’s note: Dracula did not play in Finsbury Park. Ann told Andi Brooks that it was “probably Wood Green.” )

Three artist, I mean three members of the audience and a cast of oh I don’t know what it was…ten or eleven. The other members of the cast were not in agreement with Bela, about playing, they thought that was absolutely ridiculous. ‘Give them their money back’ is what was generally said by the others. But he was the Star and what he said – went. I was actually in great sympathy with him, because I thought of these poor three people sitting in the front row. I did ask permission not to have to go and scream but I didn’t get it. (Laughs) I still had to go and do it.

MB:  You still had to do the scream and faint and…(Laughs.)

AC: And all that business yes. (Laughing)

MB:  Can I just recap as well….so you joined the tour and you would have had the rehearsals Mid-April probably time?

AC:  Yes.

MB: And then when did you actually leave the tour?

AC: I don’t know…..I was out for about ten or twelve weeks I think.

MB: And would you mind recounting the story again of how you left the tour?

AC: (Laughing) Oh well if it’s of any interest (Laughing)

MB: Of course it is.

AC: I kept my contract for years which, cause it was very amusing or at least I thought it was and it said if I was going to work for my £7 a week or whatever it was…to do the effects managing which involved the use of the….can’t remember what they called it……The Gun! I said that I didn’t know much about effects managing, but I thought I was a quick learner and thought I would do well there. I’m trying to think if that was…..did we open at Theatre Royal Brighton?

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Ann Coupland ContractAnn Croft’s contract

(Courtesy of Ann Croft)

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MB: Yes. Yes you did. The tour started in Brighton on April 30th.

AC: Because I had to….in those days Equity wasn’t all that strong and it did take a lot of rehearsal so we did run over our rehearsal time a lot. Then on one occasion they weren’t very happy with some parts of the scenery and John Mather came and said, ‘Well you can’t go back. You are going to have to paint a bat on a drop sheet.’ I said, “What?” So he says “The big drop sheet that comes down. It’s got to have this big bat on it.” So I said, well I didn’t really know what a bat looked like, a mouse with wings! So they gave me some sketches and then they all left me alone in a haunted theatre, to paint a bat on a……they were called gauzes, that’s right. The only trouble was nobody had explained to me that, erm, if you put water on the gauze…it shrinks! So I had painted this large bat, which wasn’t too bad. Went and made myself a cup of tea in the dressing room, came back and the bat was like all this…all twisted up. Because, of course, I hadn’t weighted. What you had to do was weight the gauze before you painted the bat which I hadn’t done and of course it had dried off half…it was no good me putting weights on back onto the thing. John Mather was not very pleased, he said it had cost him a lot of money. The other thing I had to do (laughing) was to throw bats on stage on sticks on wire.

MB: I’ve heard of that (laughing) there’s a few stories of that in the book (Vampire over London).

AC: It had a bat on a wire on a stick and you had to stand on the side and when the bat used to come round, its head used to go like this and it would come in and go shhhhheewww and off. Only one night I wasn’t very quick and I got it wrong and the big four poster bed that Lucy was in, this bloody bat flew round and round the four poster bed and died and stopped! (Laughing) when the wire ran out it couldn’t go any further.

MB: Well it was a dead bat at that stage you know.

AC: Again, Bela thought that was very funny and Lillian was in hysterics.

MB: Was she?

AC: Peter Whelpton was not amused at all because the audience could tell there was something not quite right about this. So they just had to play the rest of the scene with this bat, hanging like this on the four poster bed. (Laughing) It had obviously died. That was quite a funny memory actually.

MB: I mean, what an education for you.

AC: We learnt an awful lot. This gun thing you had to fill with glycerine. You plugged it in, left it on the side of the stage and heated it to a certain level when a little red light would just come on. Then you unplugged it, pressed this button and these puffs of smoke came out. And gosh it’s a funny thing to remember….I was very nervous on the opening night, I had a lot of difficulty with this gun, I had too little smoke or I had too much smoke. They were getting a bit impatient with me, but unfortunately on the actual opening night and Bela was making his first appearance. The arms are out like this and I was behind, up his cloak at the back, and I’m puffing this smoke you see that went all around. So he went on but you could hardly see him. Because there was an awful lot of smoke. I was very worried about this so I put the gun down but I didn’t switch it off. So the smoke kept on coming (laughing). The first five rows of the audience (laughing) couldn’t see anything at all. They had to open windows. John Mathers was not very pleased about that either, that was the actual opening night. I think that’s why they grew so found of me, because there were so many little silly things that happened. It did cause a lot of amusement.

MB: I think he probably admired in you, what he did; just got on with things and acted.

AC: That was the start of the show. As a cast we got on quite well. The one who played Van Helsing – wasn’t very good. He wasn’t a very good actor, I mean and Bela thought he wasn’t a very good actor either.

MB: I think it was David Dawson (incorrect, it was Arthur Hosking) at the start and then Ralph Wilson took over.

AC: And I was a bit disappointed to be perfectly honest. It’s one of the lead roles and it’s terribly important, and it was, in my opinion, as if he was reading from his script all the time and not giving Bela the build-up that he required.

MB: Where you aware at that time that his vision and hearing wasn’t the greatest?

AC: I knew his hearing wasn’t very good because my father happened to be deaf from the First World War. So of course I had a big voice and Bela never had any trouble hearing me. Not that that happened on the stage as I didn’t appear on the stage with him as such….other than under his cloak! (Laughing) But I did know his hearing was bad, I did not know…you say his sight was bad as well?

MB: His sight, yeah I mean he never let anybody see him in his glasses, and he always apparently had a script. Always read the Dracula script apparently, even before a show, I don’t know if you recall that? But literally during rehearsals he would be dependent on people’s movements for his cues, at times. So he would know when they had finished saying something, rather than the actual words.

AC: I don’t remember that on that tour at all. I know he always used to say, as I had to cue him a few times on various things, he used that he was a little hard of hearing and he was very grateful that I had a voice that carried. So that’s rather…not pronunciation…what do they call it…projection that’s it.

MB: Did he ever discuss acting with you personally?

AC: Yes, yes on a couple of occasions. He asked me what I wanted to do and I said well I suppose what I really wanted to do was go back to the Old Vic, but not as a spear carrier or understudy. And play in the West End Theatres. I understudied Vivien Leigh in (inaudible) something like that. Well I was a what they used to call a walking understudy for Tenants who were the big producers at the time. It was a regular job, I’d just had a child. And I think I never played….I played for Barbara Braiden in…what on earth was it called…all about commercial television, was a big success on tour. It was by Jerome Chodorov and Joseph Fields….Anniversary Waltz. It was a massive success on tour. When we came into the West End we under-ran 25 minutes, on the opening night. No laughs! The critics and the West End audiences those days, they often came to the theatre in Dinner Jackets and those things. They just didn’t think it was funny. It was wrongly timed. It was all about jingles and commercial television and we didn’t have jingles and commercial television in this country. So the rather smarter people, the other people saw it for what it was, which was a rip-roaring farce. But the smart people who came to the opening night, they didn’t, they all said what the hell was it all about? You know there was lots of laughs at Persil washes not only clean but white and that sort of thing. But before anybody had heard it here.

MB: So it was a bit before its time?

AC: Yes it was before its time. He came to my Dressing Room, Jerry, after the opening night. And it was Joan Winmill who was playing…..she also played the sort of little friend in Anniversary Waltz as well. That was a Tenants Production.

MB: Joan Winmill was the maid in your tour of Dracula.

AC: Yes she was. Anyway, talking about Bela: that’s what I told him I had wanted to do. I didn’t want to be a walking understudy, but I wanted to work for Tenants.

MB: Did he encourage you? Did he offer you any tips or advice?

AC: Oh very much so. But he said you must always remember that acting is a job, like any other job, and you bring your best attention to it. It was a phrase actually that David used many years later – Work comes first. If work doesn’t come first, nothing else comes afterwards. And I think that’s absolutely true. Because you can’t pay your digs, because if you’re not doing any acting you’re not going to….

MB: There’s a lot to be said for that…nothings for free?

AC: I think that also…..because he could hear me….I hadn’t really realised that particularly at the time. He and Lillian used to spend a lot of time with me. Which again I don’t think the rest of the cast…thought it was a bit strange.

MB: Did you know at that time that they had a son that they had to leave back in America? Bela Jr, and he was in a Boarding School. But literally one of the reasons they came over (to the UK) was to make sure….

AC: Was to make sure he could pay his fees….

MB: Yeah…you know work…work comes first. And obviously that caused a lot of heartache I would imagine for both of them.

AC: That’s why they probably liked a 19-year-old – still a very young person to them. So they used to take me out for coffee and things like that.

MB: Yeah…would you mind me asking how did you see their relationship? Did she mother him….

AC: I have to say that you surprised me, when you said they divorced about two years later?

MB: Yes it was in 53 I believe.

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Bela and Lillian at the premiere of ScroogeBela and Lillian Lugosi at the premiere of Scrooge in London

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AC: The impression that I got, was that they were absolutely devoted. She was very…mother hen towards him. She was always in the dressing room. Peter Whelpton used to say, “Lillian’s absolutely marvellous, she helps with the dressing and everything else. But he said she’s hardly going to let you do it is she!”but I’m not quite sure what he meant by that, whether she thought he might pat me on the head or something like that. He was never left alone with me, except on one occasion when we hadn’t got a spare cloak handy as I burnt this damned great hole in the first cloak. Lillian went off to find a replacement cloak. He was so nice about it, but he bought his own cloaks you see.

MB: How many did he have then?

AC: Three. He had three and I burnt two of them. I’m not sure if I didn’t burn three and they had to get another one from America? Cause he always, that cloak was very special.

MB: It’s well documented and whether or not the documents are true…that he did have an eye for the ladies…

AC: (Laughs)

MB: At the end of the day he was a film star, he was very handsome, you know and you were a very attractive young lady at that time……cough cough! (laughs)

AC: Well Lillian didn’t leave us alone very much I have to admit.

MB: There are also lots of stories of him being very controlling over her, as in he used to tell her what to wear as well. But I think it was very much to do with his Hungarian background.

AC: I have to say I never noticed that particularly. Not that we spent any great length of time when we went for a coffee, would be forty minutes at the most you know. You didn’t have coffee bars like today, it was some American ice cream parlour type things, particularly in Brighton. I didn’t notice him being authoritative with her at all.

MB: In public, I think a lot of people say that she was mother hen, she would even cut his food up for him and you know…I think it got to the point where they had that type of relationship where…well I think…the opinion that I’ve formed is that I think she saw a lot of people take advantage of him throughout the years. He wasn’t a good businessman when it came to money, he would just do work for the sake of it, just to keep working. I think she saw that and she tried to keep him away from people like that? And I believe from the book that you’ll read there, Ann, (Vampire over London) is that John Mathers had great issues with her. The rest of the cast loved her, but her and John Mathers didn’t get on at all.

AC: That’s interesting.

MB: So I think she felt he was being taken advantage of. He was an old man, he wasn’t well…he..

AC: I must say she fought very hard, not to get me dismissed. And I think the main reason why and he won’t like this story coming out either. The main reason why John Mathers did sack me, although they were perfectly within their rights for drinking during the show; unforgivable, was the fact that he chased me around the prop room a couple of times and hadn’t got anywhere. Well I think that came into it as well. (Laughs)

MB: You were Non-Compliant let’s say. (laughs) This is turning into a book about something else here Mrs Croft. What a fascinating period for you. Can you remember of hearing when Mr Lugosi passed away?

AC: No I only read it in the papers. I think it may have been Peter Whelpton rang me, and said had I heard and at that time I hadn’t, but it was then in that day’s paper. So he said to me at that time; well he (Bela) was still working. I don’t know what he was doing, he was half way through a movie or something?

MB: He was working with a gentleman at the time called Ed Wood.

AC: Oooo…he had the reputation for making the worst movies that were ever made. Some are shown at the Film Institute now, as examples of what not to do.

MB: I think they’re really good myself (laughs).

AC: I don’t think I have ever seen any of them. And of course he kept Bela in for the first half didn’t he? And then had a stand in for the other bits, you never saw Bela’s face again at the end of the movie it was always the shadow and the arm.

MB: That’s right and the cloak up at the eyes and the height difference was amazing too. In 55 I believe he checked himself, I believe he was one of the first ever celebrities, if you like, to ever check himself into rehab because he was addicted to painkillers, and again I believe that it was because of sciatica. He got addicted to morphine and he admitted bringing a pound of morphine or methadone back from here (the UK) back into the US, but he got off it. I think he took it so he could work, not as a recreational drug so it would make him feel good, I think to take away the pain. Do you recall any sort of images of him being on-stage as an upright Dracula figure and then off-stage as a……

AC: Yes…I remember one day mostly. I’m trying to think of the dressing room. He had an armchair, quite a high one, but you didn’t see him struggle to get out of it or like that and it wasn’t a chair like this. I’m trying to remember….there was slight tendency to suffer from headaches. Or Lillian….oh how interesting it never occurred to me in anyway whatsoever….Lillian had the phrase, “Oh Dear I think Bela may have one of his headaches.” Well maybe that was so if I saw him taking pills I would think it was for a headache. Or if he was not looking so good and I thought and now you’ve mentioned it, God it takes me right back. I just dismissed it as migraine. I thought a lot of actor’s suffered from migraine. So I never noticed the difficulty with the moving, because on stage it didn’t show at all. And off stage by the time he had struggled out of the cloak, you wouldn’t have noticed either. And as we never went out for dinner after the show, I mean on our own, we had a couple of occasions when the cast went. Well, again I wouldn’t have noticed, but if we had gone on our own I would have noticed if he’d limped or something, but we never did, so….

MB: I think they used to call them “the lightning pains” where it would come and go and like I said there was one scene where he grabbed Eric Lindsay around the throat and couldn’t let go. And I think he put everything into….

AC: That sounds more like rheumatoid arthritis because sciatica is in the main sciatic nerve. It shouldn’t affect the hands.

MB: I think he was in that much pain as he hadn’t had any medication for it that everything just froze up, everything froze up in his body in the middle of a performance.

AC: That probably frightened him, he wouldn’t have liked that. Because the audience was everything you know.

MB: Do you ever remember him talking to any of his younger fans? There’s a great story in the book about a gentleman called Derek Pickering who came to see him and he said he treated children like adults. Bela himself has worked from the age of 12 and I think his young fans were, he would treat them like adults. He would listen to them, he would show interest in them.

AC: Never noticed that particularly. But we didn’t have a lot of young people in the main. I don’t know whether it was John Mather or not, but nobody was allowed back stage. You were talking earlier about people bringing in programmes to be signed or the effects manager or the stage manager bringing them in to be signed. I don’t remember that at all. I only remember the stage door where people, well I suppose it all depended on your stage door keeper. But I never actually saw him talking to young fans, but I can well imagine as he was extremely kind, well at least I thought he was. So I can well imagine that was the truth but I never personally saw it, because I know Lillian would try and get him back to the hotel as quickly as she could. Which is one more reason why you didn’t have dinner after the show as much as anything, but he was obviously in pain.

MB: I believe so.

AC: I didn’t, I thought, it was just Lillian not letting him get too tired and the cold in Middlesbrough or somewhere like that. He wouldn’t want to be standing outside signing autographs, or having a conversation. I’m not saying he didn’t, he always signed autographs for anybody. If he was in the street or anything else, nothing was too much trouble in that respect at all. It never occurred to me but I did wonder sometimes, why we didn’t go and have meals after the show, because most people need that hour and a half to wind down. Because Lillian mothered me, I suppose, it’s funny, it never crossed my mind, they used to take me for tea, but they’d never take me to dinner. But I think she would be fussing around him and saying “enough now, enough now, get back to the hotel because you must rest.” I can remember that quite distinctly, but remember I was nineteen and he was sixty-nine. So sixty-nine at the time was very old indeed, in fact actually it was quite old for the period of time. People now live into their 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s, so sixty-nine doesn’t sound very old. People now start new careers at that age now, but to me at that time in the 1950s, or just in the 1950s, it was considered quite old.

MB: And that’s what fascinates me, is that, how he kept going and I think 280 shows in a five month period, and he never missed one. And you know I really do think the pain, it was pain management I think and I think she was doing that for him.

AC: I didn’t know, obviously, but now that you’re coming to talk about it, these were things that happened or didn’t happen, I never gave it any thought at all but I put it down to the fact that he was not a young man. And he needed plenty of rest if he was going to do a show that took out as much out of him as it did.

MB: I believe for other personal appearances, fetes, summer fetes, he used to ask other cast members to go on his behalf. He did a few but like you say the rest in between was obviously vital to him. Can I just recap on a couple of things you mentioned earlier on? You are the only person in the world who has burnt two Bela Lugosi capes….possibly three (Laughs), you used to have your hand between his legs (laughs) under his cape. When he performed can I ask did he frighten you, I know it’s a huge jump, did he have that look, the eyes that a lot of people talk about? Did he, could you see a change in him?

AC: Oh you would see the change. But Alec Guinness was the same, he used to come down and if I was standing back stage, he would look, he always had a mirror near the top corner and he used to come down and stand and look in the mirror. He always came down three minutes before he went on. And he would go and stand for a full minute, in front of the mirror, staring at himself. And I asked him once why? So he said you’re having conversations in the dressing room and depending on the type of role, you need to become that person. That’s what being a true cypher actor is all about. And the way I could do this was taking just a moment or two, to get out of myself and into the character that I’m playing. Now to think of it, Bela in a way did that, not staring at himself in a mirror but he always, because I was always with him for about five minutes before he went on, whilst we were testing these damn things (smoke gun.) And yes he did change, he started to stand up properly, the eyes did narrow. But as far as I was concerned it was just him getting ready to the job. So I was never ever frightened.

MB: And you studying acting would know it was just a character change anyway. I think for the likes of me as a fan, I think I would have been there wide-eyed in the audience if you know what I mean.

AC: Oh yes well I’m quite sure it was from the other side, unfortunately I never really saw it from the other side, except for a few seconds when I was mostly being carried out! (Laughs.)

MB: That’s the amazing part of being involved as you were. You’ve got your perspective on it, when the rest of the world, we see it what everybody else sees. Where you had a one unique perspective on that and I’d rather your perspective on that. What happened to you afterwards then, after the tour?

David and Ann Croft and childrenAnn with her husband David and two of their children

(Courtesy of http://www.davidcroft.co.uk/)

AC: I got married, I did, as I said I did the walking understudies. I had two children by the time I was twenty-two. Then my husband went up to open Tyne-Tees Television, so I went with him. I used to do a programme with Kenneth Horne called Trader Horne. I did that for a couple of years, then I had three more children in quick succession and I started coaching for Associated British (inaudible) – starlets and things like that because I was qualified to do that. So I never really acted again, then in 1964, my husband’s agent which was man called Richard Stern, had been Chief of Combined Services actually, coming back to what we were talking about before and he heard me talking about a singer that we had Chris Langham up in Tyne-Tees. He said to me have you ever thought about being an agent? And I said no, I hadn’t. So he said think about because, I’d quite like you to come and work with me and I think you would be rather good at it. So I said thank you very much, anyway I then had a contract with ATV in Birmingham. I was a television presenter and I did this programme up in Newcastle, I was on fifteen shows a week. I did the one o’clock show, all the historical shows, Guess Who, used to share a dressing room with Jimmy Saville.

MB: One question sorry I forgot to ask earlier, but for yourself it was 1951, a young lady, on tour, working. How was that seen by your family or other people was it…?

AC: Nobody worried about it at all.

MB: I can’t thank you enough for talking to me, before I go can I just mention one other gentleman who Gary Don Rhodes who has written this book here. No Traveler Returns. He is a Professor of Film Studies in Belfast. He is an American guy and he has written everything there is to know about Bela Lugosi. He is currently writing a book about his theatre tours and when I mentioned that I may have the opportunity to go and speak to you, he would be delighted, if he could ask you to write, if you would be willing, a Foreword for his future book. Because you are one of the few who are left that actually toured with him.

AC: How many are left of the original cast?

MB: I believe Eric Lindsay is still alive, Richard Butler who was in Four Weddings and a Funeral, he was the vicar in that. John Mather passed away but he went into a talent agency.

AC: He was mostly in management, I think, he went back to being an actor…did he?

MB: No I don’t think he acted, he became part of a talent agency.

AC: Yes became an agent; those that do; do and those that don’t become agents!

MB: One of the things he was involved with was casting Clint Eastwood who was out of work at time in the spaghetti westerns I think.

AC: Really. Well I can’t say I’m thrilled as I never liked him and he never liked me, so I’m not worried (Laughs.)

MB: What was he like? Obviously he tried to chase you a few times.

AC: Aggressive! Ambitious! Didn’t like anybody, whether it was Bela or not, saying no. He was trying to put the show on for not enough money. That I did know enough about show-business to realise.

MB: Trying to do it on the cheap?

AC: Very much so and I used to get talking to the stage door keepers, he was not a popular man with the managers of the theatres either. Very brusque.

MB: So from that would you say that him and Lillian probably wouldn’t have seen eye to eye?

AC: No they wouldn’t have done in fact they didn’t, I do know that. I think he meant very well but thought he would make a lot more money than he actually did. Everything was done on the cheap. There was no way, and really and truly in this day and age it wouldn’t be allowed, that they should have let me as a girl virtually straight out of RADA, work that gun. That gun was dangerous. But there should have somebody who just dealt with the gun. The person who dealt with the gun shouldn’t have been running around, pulling strings for pictures and throwing bats. It wasn’t, I didn’t mind but he expected everybody…a pint of blood you know literally.

MB: One final question if I may and it’s probably a terrible question. It’s about Mr Lugosi. If you could describe him in a couple of words, what springs to mind?

AC: Absolutely delightful. Yes I think so…well I know so actually. I was very sorry that his career had its strange ups-and-downs. I used to sort of watch out for the odd movies and things.

MB: Just incidentally had you seen the screen version of the Dracula the 1931 film before you worked with him?

AC: Yes. To John Mather’s credit, I think it was he who suggested that we did. That was his idea and it was the correct thing to do. It also built up the star image so that we all thought we were touring with a big, well we were, touring with a big star. It was the advice.

MB: This has been fascinating and it has been a pleasure for me to meet you, full stop. I can’t thank you enough.

AC:  Not at all, an absolute pleasure.

MarcusMarcus lives in Suffolk, UK with his wife Karen and baby daughter Orla. He is currently writing a screenplay on the life of Bela Lugosi. His friends Martin and Harvey Clarke thoughtfully arranged for him to meet their family friend; Ann Croft. Without them the interview would never have happened.

Marcus’ earliest memories of Lugosi are in the 1970’s with his regular appearances in the BBC2 Horror Double Bills on Saturday nights. These evenings are also some of the only memories Marcus recalls of his own father, so his interest in Lugosi provides it’s own personal nostalgia.

During his research for his screenplay Marcus has come to understand Lugosi as a person who always acted.

Bela Lugosi’s Clara Bow Nude Painting Sells For $30,000 At Auction.

Clara Bow Nude

Prominently displayed in each of his homes from when it was painted in 1929 until his death in 1956, Bela Lugosi’s nude oil painting of actress Clara Bow sold at Bonhams in New York for $30,000 on November 25th, 2013.

Until being announced as lot 138W in Bonhams’ “What Dreams Are Made Of: A Century of Movie Magic at Auction as Curated by TCM” auction, the whereabouts of the 37 3/4 x 33 1/2 inch canvas had remained a mystery since being sold by Lugosi’s widow, the former Hope Lininger, to an undisclosed art dealer before she moved to Hawaii in 1976. It is now known to have passed through at least two private collections during its “lost” years.

Lugosi commissioned his friend and fellow-Hungarian Geza Kende to paint the portrait as a memento of his brief affair with Bow, who kept a signed photo of Lugosi until her death. Despite their relationship making headlines in November 1929 when Lugosi’s third wife, Beatrice Weeks, told a reporter about it after filing suit for divorce, very few details of it are actually known.

Lot 587

This photo from Lugosi’s estate sold for $1,000 at the Icons of Hollywood auction at Profiles in History on December 16th, 2011. The catalogue described Kende’s portrait as the “infamous nude painting of  Clara Bow.”

Lugosi and Bow first met backstage after a performance of Dracula during its eight-week run at the Biltmore Theatre in Los Angeles sometime between June 24 and August 18th, 1928.  The meeting was recalled by Bow’s friend, the actor Jack Oakie, in his autobiography, Jack Oakie’s Double Takes. 

‘Suddenly she came running out (to her swimming pool, where she had left friends to take a phone call). “Come on everybody! We’ve got tickets!” she said. “We’re going down to the Biltmore to see Dracula.” She was so excited she didn’t stop to dress. She just threw a great long mink coat over her swimsuit, and we all got into her chauffeur-driven black Packard limousine. Bela Lugosi was starring in Dracula on the stage of the Biltmore Theatre downtown.

Bow had read about it. “I want to meet that man,” she said. “Do you know he doesn’t know how to speak English.” She couldn’t get over the fact that he was on stage for two hours performing in a language he couldn’t speak. Bow kept her mink coat on, and we watched Bela Lugosi in his monstrous makeup with his teeth sticking out, chewing on gals’ necks all evening. Then we went backstage.

Clara Bow In Dancing Mothers 1926

Is it? Isn’t it? Despite disagreement on the identity of the model in Geza Kende’s painting, she bears a striking resemblance to Clara Bow as seen in this publicity still for Dancing Mothers, 1926

He couldn’t speak English, but no language barrier could hide his thrill at meeting Clara Bow. He was overwhelmed with the redhead. “How do you know your lines?” Bow asked him immediately. We finally understood the Hungarian’s explanation. He told us that he memorized each word from a cue and, if by mistake another actor should ever give him a wrong line, he would be lost for the rest of the night. Bow invited him to her home, and they became very good friends.’

Neither the depth nor the length of their relationship is known. Lugosi is said to have shown off scratches on his body which he bragged were inflicted by Bow during their lovemaking. Beatrice Weeks, whose disastrous marriage to Lugosi effectively ended after only four and a half days, told a reporter from The Daily Mirror that Lugosi had confided that he and Bow had become engaged during their relationship, but had decided to spend a year apart to test the strength of their relationship and would marry after the divorce was finalized. There is no evidence to support Lugosi’s alleged claims.

The only account we have of Lugosi and Bow together after their first meeting comes from Bow biographer David Stenn in his biography Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild, in which he writes of Lugosi being invited to stay at Bow’s Malibu cottage one weekend. Upon his arrival, it was discovered that every bedroom was already occupied by other guests. One of the female guests gave up her room to him and moved in with Bow. In whose room Bow actually spent the night is unrecorded.

Clara Bow Nude postcard

A willow nude? Clara Bow in the flesh.

Despite the fact that Bow had previously posed nude for photographs and had appeared semi-nude on screen, it is not thought that she posed for Kend, who also painted an impressive full-length painting of Lugosi in the early 1930s. There is also nothing to suggest that she was even aware of the existence of the portrait, which was painted after whatever relationship they may have had was over. It has been suggested that the image was in fact conjured up from Lugosi’s memory, which may explain why several commentators have stated that it is not a painting of Bow and actually looks nothing like her.

Whatever the truth of the identity of the model, described as “a willow nude” by reporter Bob Thomas when he interviewed Lugosi at his home in October 1953, the memories Lugosi associated with the painting remained potent enough for him to compel his next two wives to live under its gaze for the duration of their marriages.

Clara Bow Nude in Lugosi HomeLugosi, Bela Jr. and fourth wife Lillian pose under the watchful gaze of Clara Bow

What could have driven him to have kept this memento of a distant brief affair on open display when married to other women? Maybe writer Adele Rogers St. John had the answer when she wrote of Bow’s effect on men, “When men fall in love with Clara Bow, they go a bit mad.” Perhaps Lugosi’s madness for Bow, like Dracula’s grip on his life and career, never ended. (Andi Brooks)

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Related articles

Whatever Happened To Beatrice Weeks? The Unhappy Story of the Third Mrs. Bela Lugosi by Frank J. Dello Stritto

Bela Lugosi Movie Cape Found in Yard Sale

There was much excitement and consternation amongst fans when Bela Lugosi Jr. mysteriously, but unsuccessfully, tried to auction the cape worn by his father in Universal’s 1931 adaptation of Dracula. The asking price of  $1,200,000 scared off any potential buyers in the Icons of Hollywood auction at Profiles in History on December 16th, 2011.

Now another cape said to have once been worn by Lugosi is being offered for sale. Perhaps befitting its uncertain provenance and rather poor condition, it is being auctioned not in the rarefied atmosphere of a famous auction house, but on eBay. It is still likely, however, to cause a great deal of excitement amongst fans and potential buyers. This previously unknown cape was found in a lot of costumes purchased by the vendor at a Hollywood yard sale a year ago. When investigating the possibility of relining the “dusty old cape,” the vendor discovered a United Costumers, Inc. label bearing the faded name of Bela Lugosi sewn into it the seams.

Following some research into the cape’s history, the vendor has established that it was not used in either Universal’s Dracula or Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein, both of which starred Lugosi as Count Dracula. It is currently unknown exactly in which movie Lugosi could have worn it. The vendor has suggested White Zombie (1932), which would make it a very interesting piece, or perhaps Spooks Run Wild, which he made for Monogram Pictures in 1941. As he wore a cape in several other movies, some solid research will have to be conducted to establish its history.  

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Could the cape be the one worn by Lugosi in White Zombie in 1932?

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The cape itself is in need of some preservation to prevent further deterioration. The cream lining is described as “badly worn, stained and distressed through its many decades of use and storage” and “coming away from the bottom seams.” The dark velvet collar is faded and splitting at the seams, while the heavy black woollen material of the cape is “heavily stained and faded with various little tears and holes due to its age and obvious deterioration from warehouse storage.”

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Lugosi wore a cape in several films, including Spooks Run Wild in 1941

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Despite its condition and currently unverifiable history, the chance to own a cape once worn by Lugosi  is a tantalising one. The current bid, with five days to go, is $560. The vendors minimum asking price is unknown, but it will certainly be within the range of more people than the $1,200,000 sought for the Dracula cape. The vendor expressed the hope that the cape “will go to a Lugosi collector who can really appreciate the value of its origins.” (Andi Brooks)

You can place your bid at:

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/320940103071?ssPageName=STRK%3AMEWAX%3AIT&_trksid=p3984.m1438.l2649

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Bela Lugosi’s Dracula Cape Fails To Sell At Auction

Bela Lugosi’s Iconic Dracula Cape Donated to The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

The Return Of The “Mother Riley Meets The Vampire” Robot

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Bela Lugosi’s Plan 9 From Outer Space Cane Sells For $10,000 Dollars At Auction

Lugosi: The Forgotten King

Lugosi The Forgotten King

 (Image courtesy of Paul Seiler)

Originally released in 1985 by Operator 13 Productions, Lugosi: The Forgotten King was a ground-breaking documentary, which the producers hoped would help to re-establish Bela Lugosi’s “fundamental contribution to the horror genre and film history in general.” In 2011, at the request of the Lugosi family, work began on updating the documentary for its first official DVD release. Operator 13 co-founder Dave Stuckey took time out from the production to talk about the project.

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How did Operator 13 productions come into being?

My compatriot Mark Gilman was a couple of years ahead of me at the University of Kansas. After he graduated, he came straight out to California and began work on a Three Stooges documentary (The Funniest Guys In The World, aka Stooge Snapshots). We were friends at school (I took his place in the band he was in when he left for CA) and I hot-footed it to Los Angeles as soon as I could. Once we finished working on the Stooges doc, we started straight away on the Lugosi project. 

What does the name mean?

The name? It’s an in-joke!  In the Three Stooges short “Uncivil Warriors”, there’s a scene where Moe, Larry & Curly – Union spies in a Confederate camp – report to a General as “Operators 12, 14 & 15”. The General asks “What happened to Operator 13?” and Curly says “He swam across the river and died of Potomic poisoning”. I don’t think at the time we even knew that the joke was an in-joke itself, referring to a 1934 Warner Bros. movie titled Operator 13! The movie starred Ted Healy, who was the Stooges’ first boss in Vaudeville and Movies. So can you call it a joke-within-a-joke-within-a-joke?

 

Forrest J. Ackerman filming Lugosi: The Forgotten King in 1984 in one of Bela’s capes

How did the original version of Lugosi: The Forgotten King come about?

Well, Mark had come up with a list of projects to follow Stooge Snapshots with, subjects for which we could come up with stills, interview subjects and a reasonable amount of footage we could scare up without having to pay a fortune! We were really on a shoestring. We are both enormous horror movie fans, so Lugosi was our instant choice. There really wasn’t any further discussion needed.

What were you hoping to achieve?

At the time, Lugosi, while not literally forgotten, had sort of lost his place in the Horror canon with respect to any movies besides Dracula. In 1985 there were the Bojarski & Creamer books…and that was about it. Home video was in it’s near-infancy, with virtually no original programming being created… We hoped, in a small way, to bring people’s attention to the real, lasting value of his work. At that time, if he was regarded at all, it was as somebody who’d become typecast and made a lot of bad career choices as a result. We wanted to shine a light on his body of work, so folks could understand just how much integrity – and fun – he brought to his films.

Research into Bela’s life and work has advanced considerably since then. Did you feel you were trailblazing at the time?

I’m not sure if ‘trailblazing’ is the right word…how about ‘trying to keep our heads above water?’ Ha ha… no question, it was difficult, given our limited resources and just the way the information chain worked in those days (funny to say ‘those days’, but it’s true). Research boiled down to: rumors, talking to film collectors, many visits to the Motion Picture Academy Library – and lots of phone calls!

Did the Lugosi family have any input in the original version?

They didn’t. We did contact Bela G. Lugosi, Lugosi’s son. He gave us tacit approval, but didn’t wish to be interviewed for the project. Luckily, we’ve since remedied that!

 

Forrest J. Ackerman, Dave Stuckey, and Mark Gilman filming at the Ackermansion in 1984

You were fortunate to have Forry Ackerman supporting you and hosting the documentary. How did that come about?

Like most American males born between 1959 and 1980, we’d cut our teeth on Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. As a fan of movies, it was as important to me growing up as Superman, Popeye or french fries! Forry, as the editor was primarily responsible for that, since so much of his personality was wrapped up in the magazine. Of course, Forry’s fan-accesibility is legendary – he and his wife once took off on a coast-to-coast car trip in the States just to drop in and meet various Famous Monsters fans! Owing to that – and his deep affection for Lugosi and his work – it just made sense to ask him first. He responded enthusiastically…and we were so glad he did. I’m not sure we could have made it without him. It certainly wouldn’t have been as much fun!

How was the original release received?

That’s another difference between then and the Information Age we live in now — it was hard to tell! Unless someone wrote you a letter, or called you on the phone…or you met in person, you never knew! We got a couple of nice reviews when it went into television syndication, and later when it went to Home Video…but that was about it.

Did the Lugosi family comment on it?

Yes. Forry Ackerman had a big bash for his 70th birthday at the legendary Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. It was the first time we’d met Bela G. Lugosi in the flesh – and he told us he appreciated the respect with which we treated his father in the documentary.

Dave Stuckey, John Carradine, and Mark Gilman filming in 1984

Why did it never receive a DVD release?

Well, weird as it is to say, DVD’s didn’t come along as a consumer format until 10 years after the documentary was released! By then, Operator 13 was dormant, Mark and I had moved on to other things separately and Lugosi: The Forgotten King floated away in a cloud of various syndication and home video contracts…

What prompted you to revisit the project?

The Lugosi family contacted Mark about us getting the ol’ doc out of the crypt, dusting it off and freshening it up with some new interviews. As I mention on our website, who *wouldn’t* take the opportunity to clean up your youthful indiscretions? Ha ha…kidding. We were proud of what we’d accomplished, but to say we didn’t really know what we were doing is an understatement! Especially from my perspective, since it was the first thing I’d cut as a budding editor. Thirty years of editing later, I value the chance to get another crack at it.

Why did the Lugosi family want to upgrade the documentary now?

You know, I can’t tell you why. I believe it was Bela G. Lugosi’s daughter’s idea. Probably just looking for new ways to get his name out there, it’s never been on DVD, the principals involved that are no longer with us, etc. There’s talk of packaging it as an extra with some Bela Lugosi movies, possibly… a few possibilities. 

Bela G. Lugosi

How involved in the project are the family?

Well, other than initiating the idea of a DVD to begin with, they were very gracious in granting us extensive interview time with Bela G. Lugosi. He’s obviously our closest connection to the actor himself – and gave us lots of insight into Lugosi the man off-stage. That’s what always seems to be missing when we read/hear about Lugosi and what we were most anxious to learn.

Do they have any editorial power?

This is a collaborative effort with them, so yes, they’ll see a cut when we get one ready.

What are you hoping to achieve this time around?

I think just to make it presentable, add some new perspective from those who worked with him and especially impart some of the observations Bela G. Lugosi had about his father.

Many of the people who knew and worked with Bela are no longer with us. Have you been able to locate any new people to interview?

We certainly have, even this many years later. What takes a couple of keystrokes now was weeks of lead-chasing back then. Our greatest regret probably was that we didn’t know that Angelo Rossito (Scared To Death, The Corpse Vanishes) was still alive…and we found out when Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome came out a couple of months after we finished the documentary!! Painful!  At any rate, we’re still shooting interviews with all the folks that are still with us: Carla Laemmle (Dracula), Louise Currie (The Ape Man, Voodoo Man), Janet Ann Gallow (Ghost of Frankenstein), Anne Jeffreys (Zombies on Broadway, Genius at Work), with more to come…

What is your approach to interviewing?

My main objective is to make the interview subjects comfortable, then jog their memories and try to guide them into personal recollections. We all know the When & Where of these actors and movies we love so much. I’m more interested in the Why & How.

Producer Mark Gilman, Associate Producer Laura McCullough, film historian Brent Walker, Lugosi co-star Louise Currie and Producer Dave Stuckey

Who have you enjoyed interviewing the most?

I don’t know that I have a favorite, really. All of our subjects have been very gracious and accommodating…and even if some of their involvement with Lugosi was tangential, they always had something new to reveal. Most have had long, notable careers in film, so they all had something to offer in terms of the film-making process in general, which is valuable.

Forry is no longer with us. How has that affected incorporating new footage?

Alas, if only Forry was still with us! As it is, we’ll make do. The new original footage will be interviews. That won’t change Forry’s narration.

What have been the technical difficulties of matching the old and new footage?

No doubt about it, it’s going to be a challenge – we’re talking about 30-year-old 16mm footage transferred to tape. But I’m confident we can make a compelling package out of it. One benefit of the re-cut is that there’s a fair amount of source material (trailers, newsreels) in much better shape than the versions we could find in 1985.

What stage of production are you in at the moment?

We’re still shooting interview footage at the moment. Once we get everyone we can, I’ll sit down and start digging into the doc.

Can you reveal any of the new treats in store on the updated version?

Hey, no peeking! Actually, I think it’s the Bela G. interview fans will find most illuminating.

When can we expect to see it in the shops?

If all goes as planned, I would guess towards late summer/fall.

Lugosi The Forgotten King (2)

What other productions are you working on at the moment?

At the moment, we’re devoting all of our time to the Lugosi project – in and around our other, ongoing work (I’ve been an editor in Television for almost 30 years, Mark & Laura also have the proverbial ‘day jobs’).

What projects do you have in mind for the future?

Well, now that we’ve got the gears turning again, there are a few things on the burner. Next up is “Monsters, Martians, and Mad Scientists: Horror in the Atomic Age”, which is self-explanatory, I think. Beyond that, a pet project for us all would be something on Film Noir. We’re looking at that for a later date.

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Thank you to Laura McCullough of Operator 13 Productions for her help in arranging this interview and providing the photographs. (Andi Brooks)

For up-to-date information on Lugosi: The Forgotten King and Monsters and Martians, and Mad Scientists: Horror in the Atomic Age please visit the Operator 13 Productions Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Operator13Productions

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UPDATE

The updated and digitally remastered edition of Lugosi: The Forgotten King is now available directly from the producers on eBay. With over an hour’s worth of new material added and fully authorized by the Lugosi Family, the new edition includes interviews with John Carradine, Carroll Borland, Alex Gordon, Ralph Bellamy, Sara Karloff, Bela G. Lugosi, Donnie Dunagan, Janet Anne Gallow, Terry Castle, Carla Laemmle, Louise Currie, Ann Jeffreys, Bob Burns and more. Currently only shipping within the US, copies of the $10 region-free DVD can be ordered at  https://www.ebay.com/itm/LUGOSI-THE-FORGOTTEN-KING-First-ever-documentary-about-horror-star-Bela-Lugosi/263620192913

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicolas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave lustre of mid-day to objects below

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

Bela as Father Christmas with Bela Jr.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick

I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

Santa Vs. Dracula The American International Toy Fair, New York, 1940He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Santa Bela

Bela Lugosi’s Dracula Cape Fails To Sell At Auction

The Dracula cape worn by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 Universal classic film failed to sell in the first session of the Icons of Hollywood auction at Profiles in History on December 16th, 2011. The starting price of $1,200,000 may have been overly optimistic, but the cape wasn’t the only iconic Hollywood artifact that priced itself out of a sale. A pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz scared off potential buyers with its starting price of $2,000,000.

The surprise announcement that Bela Lugosi Jr. was auctioning his father’s cape caused consternation amongst fans. Not only were they mystified by his decision to sell such an important heirloom, which was left him by his mother, Lillian, upon her death in 1981, they also feared that the cape would disappear into the vault of an investor or be buried away in a private collection. 

The cape (Lot 589) wasn’t the only item to be put up for auction by Lugosi Jr. Among various photographs, posters and lobby cards, two were of such a personal nature that his desire to sell them seems even more surprising than his wish to sell the cape. Inscribed, “To the Sweetest Good Mother of  Mine,” a 1905 Hungarian portrait of Bela failed to reach its starting price of $1,000, while a 1940s portrait inscribed by Bela to his wife Lillian sold for $2,250. The highest selling lot was Bela’s own jumbo lobby card from Dracula, which sold for $22,500.

In addition to the lots from Bela’s estate and family, five other items, including photographs from Bela’s own collection, were offered for sale. The most interesting lot, however, was a pair of Bela’s 1930s wingtip shoes, which fetched $1,600.

In remarkable condition, Bela’s wingtip shoes

Bela wearing the shoes at the Hollywood Athletic Club sometime during the 1930s

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Below is a full list of the lots from Bela’s family and estate, with catalogue descriptions and starting and selling prices. (Andi Brooks)

Lot 585

Starting price $1,000 – unsold

Hungarian cabinet portrait ca. 1905. Silver-bromide matte print 4 ¼ “ x 7 ½”on photographer’s imprinted  card-mount. A very early original-period reprint, as it bears Lugosi’s  inscription in the print itself in Hungarian, “To the Sweetest Good Mother of Mine.” 

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Lot 586

Starting price $800 – unsold

Two vintage ca. 1920 Hungarian 3¼”x 5¼” photo-portrait postcards  of Bela Lugosi in striking poses with his facsimile signature, by “Angelo” of  Budapest. From the estate of Lugosi himself, and passed down to his heir. Cards  of this type were marketed to the public as promotions for Lugosi’s early film  and stage work in Europe, where he had already made a significant mark in the  public esteem. Tiny spot of age browning at one corner, else both Very Fine.

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Lot 587

Starting price $1,000 – sold for $1,000

Vintage oversize portrait of Bela Lugosi in his Hollywood study,  ca. 1930 – Silver-bromide 11”x 14” double-weight custom matte print, being a  contemplative portrait of  Bela Lugosi contemporaneous with his role in Dracula,  in the study of his Hollywood home, replete with the infamous nude painting of  Clara Bow which Lugosi kept close at hand until his dying day. This photograph  is from Lugosi’s estate, and passed down to his heir. Excellent condition with  virtually no trace of handling or age.

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Lot 588

Starting price $600 – unsold

Vintage profile portrait of Bela Lugosi, ca. 1930 – Silver-bromide 8”x 10” double-weight custom matte print, being a  stern profile portrait of Bela Lugosi ca. 1930. Print is of an exceptional  photographic quality for its lighting and sharpness of grain. Excellent  original condition; from Lugosi’s estate, and passed down to his heir.

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Lot 590

Starting price $20,000 – sold for $22,500

Dracula near-mint unrestored original Jumbo lobby-card  from Bela Lugosi’s own collection – (Universal, 1931)  14” x 17”original release Jumbo lobby-card  depicting Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, surrounding Helen Chandler with his  signature cape, about to anoint her with his very special “kiss”. This is not  only one of the most vital and essential images to perfectly distill the true  nature of the film, in virtually mint, totally unrestored condition, it was  also for decades, possibly even from the beginning, the property of Bela Lugosi  and passed down to his heir where it has resided to this day. Remnant trace of  scrapbook adhesive on verso margins, and very faint and insignificant handling  lines and background crease are the only signs this extraordinary artifact was  ever touched. Colors are rich and totally unfaded (the jumbo set was printed with  softer colors intentionally than the 11 x 14 set). We are not aware of another  example of this remarkable scene coming to auction previously, let alone an  original poster item of this caliber from Lugosi’s own collection. Authenticity  is beyond question on this exceptional piece. Very Fine to Near Mint.

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Lot 591

Starting price $1,000 – unsold

Vintage oversize portrait of Bela Lugosi full figure in white  linen suit, ca. 1930 – Silver-bromide 11”x 14” double-weight custom matte print, being a  standing portrait of Bela Lugosi in white linen suit with hat and cigar, and a  mischievous “Mona Lisa”smile. From Lugosi’s estate, and passed down to his  heir. Excellent condition with virtually no trace of handling or age.

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Lot 593

Collection of (16) Bela Lugosi portrait stills from his estate and  family’s collection – Mix of original and reprint portrait stills, primarily head-shots  in 8” x 10” size, all from either the estate or family of Bela Lugosi. Majority  are from the 1940’s-1950’s with the William Morris Agency credit slug in lower  margin. All in Very Fine condition.

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Lot 594

Starting price $2,000 – sold for $2,250

Vintage portrait of Bela Lugosi ca. 1940 inscribed by him to his  wife Lillian  – Silver-bromide 8”x 10” double-weight custom matte print being a  very personal, smiling portrait from the 1940’s which Bela Lugosi inscribed in  green fountain pen, “To Lillian- Bela”.  In 1933 Bela married 22-year-old  Lillian Arch, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants.  They had a son, Bela  G. Lugosi, in 1938.  From Lillian’s estate, and passed down to Bela Jr.  Very Fine condition.

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Lot 595

Starting price $300 – sold for $325

Bowery at Midnight original folded U.S.  one-sheet poster from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Monogram, 1942)  27 x 41 in. U.S. one-sheet poster folded,  for one of Lugosi’s better low-budget “programmers”. He is ably supported here  by a sexy Wanda McKay and a tough, juvenile pre-Detour Tom Neal.  Condition is Good only overall, though it benefits greatly from its provenance  of the Bela Lugosi family collection.

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Lot 596

Starting price $600 – sold for $950

The Return of the Vampire original U.S. Title-card  from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Columbia, 1943)  Original unrestored U.S. 11 x 14 in. Title  lobby-card for one of Bela Lugosi’s last roles worthy of his talent and  dignity. Good only condition, though colors are rich, with light soiling and  tape around rear margins; its strength is the provenance of Lugosi’s estate.

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Lot 597

Starting price $500 – sold for $550

The Return of the Vampire original U.S. portrait  lobby-card from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Columbia, 1943) 11 x 14 in. U.S. lobby-card, best portrait  in the set with Bela Lugosi in his signature cape, about to bite the neck of a  lovely young woman. Very decent unrestored condition (handling, and tape on  rear); its great strength is the provenance of Lugosi’s estate.

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Lot 598

Starting price $600 – sold for $850

 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein original  U.S. Title-card from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Universal, 1948)  Original unrestored U.S. 11 x 14 in. Title  lobby-card for Lugosi’s finest late-career appearance. Very light soiling from  handling, one pinhole; VG to Fine. From the estate of Bela Lugosi.

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Lot 599

Starting price $300 – sold for $400

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla original  U.S. half-sheet poster from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Jack Broder Productions, 1952)  22 x 28 in. U.S. half-sheet  poster, one fold. Film is remembered only for the presence of Bela Lugosi.  Poster is unrestored, in Good to VG condition, and is from the Bela Lugosi  family collection.

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Lot 600

Starting price $300 – sold for $550

Son of Frankenstein 1953 reissue portrait  lobby-card from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Universal, 1938/ R’53)  Near-mint unrestored 11” x 14”  portrait lobby card of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff from the 1953 Realart  reissue. From the estate of Bela Lugosi.

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UPDATE

In an article in the online edition of The Hollywood Reporter by Gregg Kilday entitled “Why Bela Lugosi’s Family Donated Iconic Dracula Cape to Academy Museum” (posted online 7:00 AM PST 2/15/2020), Bela Lugosi’s granddaughter, Lynne Lugosi Sparks, said that the family “was actually thankful” that the cape failed to sell when pu

t up for auction at the Icons of Hollywood auction at Profiles in History on December 16th, 2011. With hindsight, she feels that the decision to place a high starting price of $1.2 million was subconsciously made to ensure that it didn’t leave the family for “some collector’s closet for the world never to see.” She added that the family “took a sigh of relief” when they learned that it was returning home from the auction. 

The heavy, floor-length black fulled wool opera cape is currently being restored by Beth Szuhay of Chrysalis Art Conservation to prepare it for the museum’s December 4th, 2020 opening. Although the overall condition of the cape is reported to be good for its age, the taupe-colored silk crepe lining requires attention for some tears due to humidity causing the wool of the cape and the silk lining to expand and shrink at different rates over its life. The restoration process will include “attaching a new backing to the silk layer and re-patching any missing bits of lining with silk dyed to match the original.”

*

You can read Gregg Kilday’s full article at: 

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/why-bela-lugosis-family-donated-iconic-dracula-cape-academy-museum-1278618

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Bela Lugosi’s Legendary 1931 “Dracula” Cape To Be Auctioned By Son

In a move that has taken fans by surprise, Bela Lugosi Jr. has put his father’s iconic Dracula cape up for auction. Worn by Bela in the 1931 Universal classic, the cape has a pre-sale estimate of $1,500,000 – $2,000,000. Among 16 other lots being put up for sale by Bela’s son are vintage photos and lobby cards from Bela’s own collection, including a Dracula jumbo Lobby card and title cards for The Return of the Vampire and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Speculation is rife as to what has prompted the 73 Lugosi Jr. to part with his father’s treasured cape, but he has so far not made an official statement. His mother, Lillian, who divorced Lugosi in 1953, left him the cape upon her death in 1981. Although it has often been reported that Bela was buried in the cape from the 1931 film when he died in 1956, he was actually buried in a lighter weight version which he wore when making personal appearances.

The cape and the other Lugosi lots will join a pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz in Profiles of History’s “Icons of Hollywood” auction, which will be held at the Paley Center For Media, Beverly Hills from December 15th – 17th, 2011. (Andi Brooks)

Full details of the auction are available at:

http://www.profilesinhistory.com/highlights/icons-of-hollywood-auction

Watch Andrew Schmertz’s report on the sale 

http://uk.reuters.com/video/2011/10/31/bela-lugosis-dracula-cape-up-for-auction?videoId=224062869

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When Dracula Did Jersey…

I was contacted last week by Lisa Rose, a feature writer for the Star-Ledger newspaper in New Jersey. She was working on a feature about Bela Lugosi’s summer stock New Jersey tour stops in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Her article, reproduced in full below, featuring quotes from Frank Dello Stritto, Bela Lugosi Jr., and Arthur Lennig, was published in The Star-Ledger on Friday, October 14, 2011. You can view the original article at: http://www.nj.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2011/10/when_dracula_did_jersey.html

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The Star-Ledger, October 14, 2011

When Dracula Did Jersey…

By Lisa Rose

lugosi1.JPG

Bela Lugosi, who won fame in “Dracula” (1931), performed in New Jersey, with shows in Trenton (above) and Newark (below).

Eyeing necks and stretching syllables, Bela Lugosi established himself as a Hollywood horror giant in 1931 with “Dracula.”

The Hungarian actor reveled in the dark romance of the role, delivering a portrayal that continues to influence depictions of lonely immortals, from “Twilight” to “True Blood.”

Lugosi’s monster movies are legend, but lesser known are his travels as a live performer. The star lurked around New Jersey stages during his pre-vampire days and toured the local summer stock circuit after fangs went out of fashion post-WWII.

Between Tinseltown and Transylvania, the Garden State is spattered with Lugosi landmarks.

The classically trained actor joined a Hungarian drama troupe in Newark after immigrating to the United States in 1920. His English-language stage debut was in Atlantic City at the now-closed Apollo Theatre. Lugosi led the cast as a conquistador named Fernando during a test run for a 1922 off-Broadway play, “The Red Poppy.”

When the drama moved to a downtown Manhattan theater, the New York Times noted: “Bela Lugosi is a newcomer of quite splendid mien, romantically handsome and young. Hungarian though he is said to be, he looks every inch the Spanish pirate of romance.”

Later in his career, he returned to the Jersey footlights in traveling productions of the black comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace.” On stages in Trenton, Newark and Landing, he vamped in a role that poked fun at his own murderous movie persona. (Boris Karloff created the character on Broadway).

Film historian Frank Dello Stritto says Jersey audiences of the era saw a different side of the actor, a man who knew little of vampires before first embracing the cape on Broadway in October 1927.

“He would bring nuances into roles that movies couldn’t capture,” says Stritto, co-author of “Vampire over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain.” “There was no time to get a great performance out of him in some of the cheaper movies he made. People like me write about his films as great events, but they would be just a week out of his life sometimes.”

lugosi2.JPG

Writer and film professor Arthur Lennig saw Lugosi onstage in “Arsenic” and in a revival of “Dracula.”

“I fell in love,” says Lennig, author of “The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi.”

Lennig continues, “I’m a heterosexual, but I fell in love. He was aristocratic, aloof, mysterious. He was seemingly more intelligent than other people. He had all those arrogant qualities that are so ingrained in me. He just had that image of a bad guy. If he worked at the local candy store, he would look like he was handing out poisoned chocolates.”

Lugosi’s son, Bela Jr., vividly remembers visiting Lake Hopatcong during an “Arsenic” tour in July 1949. Father and son bonded while boating, sinking paddles into the blue on a perfect summer day.

“It was my first experience canoeing,” says Bela Jr., 73, a lawyer in Los Angeles, who is working on a book with Lugosi scholar Gary D. Rhodes. “I was upsetting my father a bit because I kept rocking the canoe and he thought we were going to tip over.”

The actor’s last Garden State jaunt was considerably less idyllic as his health declined and his marriage fell apart. Film gigs were scarce during the tail end of the Truman years, when aliens and robots eclipsed vampires and zombies on the big screen.

“The industry died in terms of old-time horror films,” says Lennig. “They were making films about giant ants or giant rabbits, atomic bombs. The mad scientist working in his basement, that was gone. It was over. The conventional horror films, even the bad ones, they weren’t making.”

Six years before Lugosi died at age 73, he struggled to win over a new generation of cynics with an ill-fated revue. The “Big Horror & Magic Show” premiered on Dec. 26, 1950, at the RKO Capitol Theatre in Trenton and closed abruptly at the Stanley Theater in Camden on March 15, 1951.

The Gothic spectacle promised chills with 13 vignettes featuring a “carload of scenery.” Advertisements screamed “See vampire maidens and voodoo magic! See the bat man and the monster in death struggle! See a beautiful girl burned alive! See ghosts, goblins and imps of darkness fly through the air!”

Lugosi initially got a hero’s welcome in Trenton. The mayor handed him the key to the city. The actor was a special guest at a Christmas celebration hosted by the Trenton Evening Times, which printed a photo of him in a Santa suit surrounded by paperboys.

For all its promise of eeriness, the “Horror & Magic” presentation was built around a sketch co-starring Lugosi and an actor in a gorilla costume.

“The audience was wise-assed teenagers who wanted to see whether they’d get scared or not,” says Lennig. “A lot of the people who showed up didn’t even know who he was. The teenagers weren’t scared, so they started hooting. Bela wasn’t a quick responder who could play with it. He’d pause until the audience settled down. When the catcalls stopped, he went on with it until there were more catcalls and he’d stop again. It was humiliating.”

 STAR-LEDGER FILE PHOTO
Bela Lugosi Jr., son of the actor that created ‘Dracula’ on the silver screen, displays a picture of his famous dad in his Glendale, Calif., office Thursday, Sept. 25, 1997.

New medium

A preview story for the “Horror & Magic Show” included a Lugosi quote. He declared that the introduction of television was creating new challenges for performers who specialized in ghoulish characters.

“When you walk right into a person’s living room through the medium of his television screen, you have to use the subtle approach,” Lugosi said. “The old-fashioned horror actor would evoke nothing but gales of laughter.”

The tour lurched from Trenton to Paterson to Newark before its final night in Camden, where the crowd was particularly hostile. Lugosi never performed on the East Coast again. He left for England, trying to make a comeback at age 68, dusting off his coffin and cape to revive his signature role on the British stage. The goal was for “Dracula” to play the West End in London, but the road show sputtered in provincial venues.

“For a man his age, touring was tough,” says Stritto. “And this was postwar England. The train system was just starting to get back in shape. The trip really drained him. He wasn’t able to work onstage like that again. He went straight back to the West Coast, and that’s where he spent his remaining five years.”

Back in Hollywood, Lugosi got work from an ambitious fan, Ed Wood, who recruited the aging star to play a doctor in the sex-change tale, “Glen or Glenda.” They teamed up again for a no-budget thriller, “Bride of the Monster.” Footage of Lugosi turned up in the sci-fi flop, “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” released three years after he died of a heart attack in 1956.

The making of the misguided films was chronicled in the 1994 biopic “Ed Wood,” starring Johnny Depp as the title character and an Oscar-winning Martin Landau as Lugosi.

Bela Jr. feels his father was inaccurately portrayed in the movie.

“He wasn’t alone,” says Bela. “There were a lot of things in the ‘Ed Wood’ that are not true, and that’s just one of them.”

Lennig says the film inaccurately depicts Lugosi’s sentences with expletives. In real life, the actor did not swear, according to multiple historians.

Still, the picture moved Lennig to tears.

“I wasn’t crying, I was sobbing,” says Lennig. “Bela was very serious about acting, but he had that accent and he was so identifiable as Dracula. To be narrowed down to just being a spooky man is limiting. Somebody said to him, ‘In all of your movies, you’re always dying.’ He said, ‘Well, dying is a living.’ ”

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From A To Zee: Eric Lindsay, Bela Lugosi’s Last Renfield, Interviewed by Andi Brooks

 

Eric Lindsay as Zee in Las Vegas

“You have the eyes of a magician,” Bela Lugosi prophetically told Eric Lindsay when he played the role of Renfield in Lugosi’s 1951 British tour of Dracula. It was to prove no idle observation. Although Eric was working hard to establish himself as an actor, he would eventually enjoy international success as a critically acclaimed illusionist.

Born within the sound of Bow Bells in London’s City Road Hospital on November 13th, 1929, Eric discovered that he had the theatre in his blood at an early age. From his first tentative steps onto the stage in a Salvation Army production of Aida while a schoolboy, he went on to enjoy a long and varied career. As an actor, he starred in the original West End production of Tobacco Road, made films in France, appeared on British TV and, of course, toured with Bela Lugosi in his last full production of Dracula. In common with his famous predecessors, Eric earned nothing but praise from the critics for his portrayal of Renfield. As an entrepreneur, with his lifetime partner, the actor Ray Jackson, he opened two coffee bars during the great boom in the 1950s, including the fondly remembered Heaven and Hell, which was next door to the 2 I’s, the birthplace of British rock and roll. When Eric and Ray expanded into the nightclub business, their Casino De Paris club was so successful that Eric temporarily retired from the stage. When he returned, he enjoyed the biggest success of his show business career as Zee, one of the greatest British illusionists.

I first met Eric in 1997 while researching the Bela Lugosi biography Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain.  During the interview, we focused on Bela Lugosi and the British tour of Dracula. Interesting as that was, it was only six months out a fascinating life and career, about which I have long wanted to interview Eric. Now enjoying his retirement, but still working towards fulfilling two outstanding ambitions, Eric gracefully submitted to my cross-examination and dug through his archives to make this first retrospective of his life and work possible.

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When were you first attracted to performing?

At a very early age. There was a repertory theatre in Stoke Newington and my mother would take me there to see the plays. How she got the tickets I have no idea, but we used to go regularly.

Was it difficult to get tickets or was it a matter of money?

I really don’t know whether my mother bought the tickets or she was given them by a friend who worked at the theatre.

What is the first play you can remember seeing?  

No idea, but I remember seeing Private Lives. Yes, I think it was Private Lives.

Did your parents or any family members have a theatrical background?

No, not at all,but my mother loved the theatre.

What did your parents do?

My mother was a Court Dressmaker in the West End of London.  My father was a tailor and later a night-time taxi driver, so I never really saw much of my father except on his days off.

What were your first steps into the theatrical world?

 When I was evacuated and the Salvation Army were putting on a production of Aida, and I walked on carrying a palm leaf.I joined an amateur dramatic group called the Angel Players when I was about 12 or 13 and did bits and pieces with them. At first it frightened the life out of me but I loved it. It was the smell of the grease paint, the scenery and everything that went on backstage. Remember, the War was on and I had won a scholarship to go to a grammar school, but there were no grammar schools in London. They were all evacuated to the country. There were only four emergency secondary schools in London,one in each corner,east, west, north and south. I went to Parmiters Emergency Secondary School, which was at Cambridge Heath, Bethnal Green, East London, as it was the closest to home. Forget about the schooling that I had,it was the time of the major bombing and of the Buzz Bombs and we would only go to school in the mornings, and then we spent most of the time sitting under our desks as it was just useless to keep on going to the shelters. So real schooling I did not have. In the afternoons I would get a bus and take myself off to the West End of London and go to all the theatre matinees or else the cinema. I was very lucky and saw all the great actors in spectacular roles and plays. That I remember, what happened yesterday I forget! School books just did not interest me. It was the theatre. Yes!

Where were the Angel Players based?

Itwas in a school off the Pentenville Road which is between the Angel Islington and Kings Cross.I have no idea what the name of the school was.

Did you have any heroes or role models in the theatre?

Not really. When it came to magic, now that was another thing, but much later in my lifeAlthough when I was 13 my father took me to see Lyle’s Cavalcade of Mystery at, I think it was at the Aldwych Theatre in the Strand. That was something that stayed with me all my life. Cecil Lyle did the most amazing illusions. There was one called “Find the Lady” which I always remember and a levitation which when I became an illusionist, my Robert Harbin version was far better.

Where did you start your professional training?

With Marion Ross, she was my agent and she also had a drama school in London.The school was advertised in the Stage and I went along and auditioned for her and she took me on as a pupil.  She also ran a theatrical agency and I was automatically put on her books

When did you become a full-time professional actor?

When I was 17. My first role was in Barnstaple Rep. in Devon. I played Octavious in The Barretts of Wimpole Street.It was only a short engagement, for about 3 months. From there I worked in various reps for about a year before going into Tobacco Road at the Playhouse Theatre, where I understudied and then played the role of Dude. From the West End I then toured in the same production for about 6 months. I went to France to make two films, Metro Pigalle and Antoine and Antoinette.I then filled in doing odd broadcasts and TVs until I auditioned for Dracula and got the role of Renfield.

Did you have any other jobs while trying to establish yourself in the profession?

Many. My father insisted I learnt a trade as an actor’s life, he thought, was terrible,you are more out of work than in, and he was right. So he sent me to the Morris School of Hairdressing, which was opposite Selfridges in Oxford Street. I was happy because I was in the West End and I could go and see all the shows and also go to my amateur dramatic group three times a week. I also worked at the United Services Supply Company where we sold everything form a handkerchief to a tent. I also worked at the Ideal Homes Exhibition, you name it I did it!

Did you work as a hairdresser after attending the Morris School?

Yes I worked in a shop in Shaftesbury Avenue called Shacks, and hated it. I then got a job in Brewer Street in a basement below a butcher’s, and all I remember about the place was the stains of blood that would seep through from the slaughter house above. I hated that too.

How difficult was it for a young actor to get regular work?

In the theatre regular work doesn’t happen unless you are in a repertory theatre. Unfortunately those reps, which were all around the country, no longer exist.

What happened to them?

They just went out of fashion and TV arrived and people didn’t go out that often. The cost of running those theatres became so astronomical that they just weren’t viable anymore and slowly, one by one, they closed. The Arts Council used to give grants out to various theatres, but that was stopped over a time.

Eric (bottom right) in The Cinema Studio, March, 1951

What was your ambition when you began your career?

Really, I wanted to do films, but that didn’t happen for me. I suppose it’s the luck of the draw and my face didn’t just fit.

What was your experience of trying to break into films in England?

Hard! I was under contract for a short time with the Rank Organisation and was sent to the Charm School that he had. I was there with Diana Dors, Barbara Murray and Anthony Steele. Nothing really came of it. Just doing odd bits in pictures didn’t really further my career

Why did you decide to go to France to get film experience?

It was just the offer that I had from the director Henri Marchal. He saw me playing Dude in Tobacco Road at the Playhouse Theatre in London in 1949. He saw me in a matinée, and came backstage afterwards.

Could you speak French at that time?

No, although I learnt it at school for 4 years, really I hadn’t a clue.

Tell me about the films you made in France.

I played Roland in Metro Pigalle and Antoine in Antoine and Antoinette.

Eric during filming of Metro Pigalle in Paris

 What kind of films were they?

Kitchen sink, made mainly on location, which saved the cost of hiring a studio. They were violent in a way and the type that were in vogue during that period.

What was it like working in the French film industry?

Great, far more easygoing than in England.The main thing that I remember is that I was always cold and very wet from spending most of our time outdoors on location.

How long did you stay in France for?

Almost a year.The Studio that we worked in was a very large warehouse in Pigalle. The other really big studios were on the outskirts of Paris. But these were much grander than ours. I stayed in a very small family hotel off of Place Clichy and when I wasn’t filming I would be out drinking and smoking and doing the usual!

Where you tempted to stay?

I loved France and still do, but I wanted to try to make it back home.

Did your French experience open doors in the British film industry?

Not really. My working in France didn’t mean a thing when I returned. It only meant that I was off the scene for almost a year.

Next came Dracula. Had any of your previous work prepared you for such an offbeat role as Renfield?

Yes, as I said,I played Dude in Tobacco Road, and he was retarded, so I just seemed to fit into these weird parts. Maybe it was because of my large eyes?

Eric and Ruth Dunning in the West End production of Tobacco Road

In terms of your career at that point, was taking on the Dracula tour a good career move?

The role of Renfield was such a great part. It is the second major role in the play, and also whenever they weren’t talking about Count Dracula they were talking about Renfield. What more could one ask for?

Did you do any special preparation for the role?

I’d seen the film, which frightened the life out of me. Then I used to loosen up in the wings before I went on. Like running on the spot and shaking all over.

Had you worked with any of the other cast members previously?

No, but I knew Sheila Wynn who played Lucy Seward from a Coffee Shop that we would go in the afternoons called Taylors in Rupert Street.

Sheila remembered you telling her that you had saved 100 pounds during the tour. That must have been a lot of money in 1951, what were you saving for?

Ray and I had decided that we would open a coffee bar, as espresso coffee was the in thing at the time after just arriving from Italy. It was just a question of when and where.

She also said that you were very serious about your role and could be irritable backstage while waiting for your first entrance. Is that a fair comment?

True. Renfield was a very nervous soul with an hysterical laugh which I really had to work myself up to, to get into the mood. So I didn’t like anyone talking to me just before I made my entrance as it would put me off my concentration. Also I was used to getting a round of applause on every exit that I made and if I didn’t get it I was doing something wrong. The other parts in Dracula are very staid and dreary, they are just feeds for Dracula and Renfield, giving the plot of the play to the audience. So, my getting a round on every exit did not endear me to the rest of the company. Still that was something that I was used to.

Eric as Renfield and Arthur Hosking as Van Helsing in Dracula

Although Bela’s career was practically over in America, he was still viewed as a big Hollywood star in Britain. How did you feel at the prospect of working with him?

I was thrilled, excited and frightened.The man was a star. Whether he was washed up in the States really didn’t matter. He was there in the flesh and blood and I had the best role apart from his in the play. It was a gift, because although the roles of Dracula and Renfield are the smallest in the play, whenever we were not on Stage they are talking about us. The other players may tell you it was a tatty production, and the set was cheap, but with the lighting that they used it became alive in an eerie Victorian House.

Was it intimidating as a young actor to work as closely as you did with someone of Bela’s reputation and experience?

I never thought about that, I was too scared.

Scared of Bela?

Scared, no, in awe maybe?  No, never, Bela was like a big cuddly bear. He was a gentleman in every way.

How did he measure up to your expectations when you met him?

He was exactly the same as he was in films, but not so menacing. He was great and very funny.

It is said that Bela would walk through rehearsals, working for accuracy and not throwing himself into the part until the dress rehearsal, which worried producers and directors who didn’t know his work methods.

I suppose he would just mark his performance at rehearsals, but if he didn’t know the role who should. I cannot understand anyone worrying about him, after all, he was Dracula.

Sheila said that he told her that Dracula was his Macbeth. Did you get that impression?

That is perfectly true. In Hungary, he told me, where he was a big star he was at the equivalent of the Old Vic or National Theatre playing all the major roles. It was only when he went to Broadway to appear in Dracula that he got typecast and nobody saw him in another role. He was wonderful as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein, which was a completely different role. But those parts were few and far between.

Dracula was his play. He was the star. He was the whole reason for the production. How did he behave towards his fellow cast members?

He was generous in all ways.

Six months seems like an awful long time to tour. Was that unusual in those days?

No, some shows would tour for a year or years. Remember, there were so many theatres and there was no television.

How did you keep your motivation and performance fresh as the tour progressed?

It was difficult sometimes. You would get a sort of blockage with a sentence or a line, maybe through lack of real concentration. Also, Bela was inclined to add or change the odd line. So you had to be on your toes.

His interpretation of Dracula wasn’t fixed?

Sometimes he would change slightly, but not a lot. It was always basically in the same format

Both yourself and Bela received excellent reviews, even if the play itself or other cast members were criticised. Did you build a special relationship?

I like to think so. My role was a gift and I used to grab it with both hands.

The nearest the play got to the West End was the second week of rehearsals at the Duke of York’s Theatre. What do you think it would have taken to have got the play into the West End?

Luck! We did play Golders Green and Streatham Hill, both theatres close to the West End. There was always talk about us going to the Comedy Theatre for the Christmas season. It was a toss-up between Dracula and a farce which starred Mishu Auer, a comic film star also from America. The farce won, but I think it only ran for two weeks. But by that time ourDracula production had already finished.

There were some cast changes during the tour. How did they affect the production?

I don’t think it helped, but it didn’t really affect me, when I was on stage I was doing basically a solo performance which did not take in any of the other actors apart from Bela.

What did you do immediately after the tour?

Nothing, I was looking for work.

Bela and Lillian stayed in Britain until December while he made Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. Did you see him again before he left?

We had tea together at Fortnum and Masons just before they left for America.They had given me their telephone number when we finished the tour and we arranged to meet for tea before they sailed home. So Fortnum’s it was. I just remember that it was very pleasant and that they were looking forward to seeing Bela Jnr.

Did you stay in touch with him or any of the other cast members?

Only Sheila, who I would see occasionally in Taylors.I was only friendly with Sheila and Joan Winmill during the tour. Really, I had nothing in common with Richard Butler and John Saunders. They would stay in a little clique togetherand Richard Butler would treat John as a taxi service because he was the only one in the cast that had a car. The rest of the cast were old, so they used to do their own thing.

I understand that you spoke to Bela Jnr. and Lillian when you later visited America.

Yes, it was the first time I went to America in 1960. Bela had already died and I rang Bela jnr., who was a lawyer in L.A. and absolutely charming and helpful. I told him who I was and he gave me Lillian’s phone number but when I rang her she could not remember going to England or anything about the tour.

Why do you think Lillian said that? It couldn’t have been easy to forget eight months in Britain?

I think she was suffering from some sort of illness. I seem to recall that Bela Jnr. might have told me that she had been ill. So my phone call could have come at a bad time for her.

What kind of work did you do between Dracula and you and Ray opening your first coffee bar?

You name it I did it. The hundred pounds that I had saved I just kept in the bank and I made up my mind that I would not touch it until we used it for a business of some kind. I sold non-slip floor polish at the Ideal Home Exhibition. From there I decided to work as a hairdresser, although I had forgotten everything that I had learnt.  So I decided that I would start off at the top and work my way down the list of jobs for a junior assistant. The first place I went to was a salon in Davies Street, Mayfair, called Martin & Douglas. This was Lady Docker’s hairdressers and also Princess Margaret’s. The top man there was a French man called Rene who did both Lady Docker and Princess Margaret. He was a tall handsome, charismatic man with a great personality. In fact, he was a young Bela with all the French charm. He had a wicked sense of humour. I was there only two weeks and the assistant to Rene left and I got his job with really not a clue what I was supposed to do. But I coped and fortunately Rene liked me. He found me amusing. His ladies, as they sat there, would touch him up as he would lean over to either set or cut their hair. I used to catch his eye when this occurred and he would give me the odd wink. Who knows maybe he was worth touching up!

What year did you open your first coffee bar?

I think it must have been some time in 1954. Espresso coffee had just arrived in England.

Heaven & Hell, Eric and Ray’s coffee bar, next door to the famous 2 I’s

What prompted you to go into the coffee bar business?

Coffee bars were in vogue and they were full of young people who would sit there for hours at a time. I suppose they were the hip and cool people of the day.  Things then were so much simpler, there wasn’t the pressure and stress that there is today. We didn’t have any live music, we left that to the 2 I’s that was next door. Originally the 2 I’s was called the 3 I’s and it was run by three Iranians. One of them left the business and they renamed it the 2 I’s, and then two Australian wrestlers bought it and the rest is history.

Weren’t there any problems with you opening up next door to another coffee bar?

You must remember that coffee bars were all the rage in the ’50s and it was the more the merrier. So they and we were only too pleased to be next door to one another because people would go from one bar to another, backwards and forwards and that’s the way they spent their evenings.

You named your coffee bar Heaven and Hell.

Ray and I were in Paris together in Pigalle and there was a cabaret of some kind called Heaven and Hell and the name intrigued me.

How did you and Ray meet?

We appeared in a play together called Murderers Child written by Edward Rutherford at the New Lindsey Theatre in Nottinghill Gate and became friends. He was a child star from the age of 13 during the War when he appeared at the Old Vic in Oedipus Rex leading Sir Ralph Richardson onstage as the Blind Muse.

 

A portrait of Ray by Vivian

Did the success of your coffee bar mean that you quit acting at that point?

No, not at all. I worked at the Richmond Theatre, which was very close to East Sheen,and Ray did many TVs and films.I made the TV some time when Ray and I had The Regency Coffee Bar in East Sheen,don’t ask me about the date because I have no idea. The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel was a TV series that ran for about 6 months and I appeared in a couple of the segments of it.The only person I remember in it was the star Marius Goring he played the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Eric in The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel TV series in 1956

Your next venture was to open a nightclub, wasn’t it?

Yes, we opened aclub, which was called the Casino De Paris at 5-7 Denman Street, Piccadilly Circus. W.1.I think it was April 21st, 1958, the same day as Paul Raymond opened his Revue Bar.

You stopped acting at this point, didn’t you?

Yes, at the time we were making too much money.Ray continued filming.

 

Ray (left) with Richard Todd in Yangtse Incident

Were you still running the coffee bars?

Yes, but the manager that we had, slowly ran Heaven and Hell into the ground and we sold it at the same time as the 2 I’s.

What kind of entertainment did the club offer?

It was a striptease theatre.

Why striptease?

Because a new law had come into existence which allowed striptease to be performed in private members clubs. The Windmill Theatre was the only place in London where nude posing was allowed, provided the artist did not move. With this new law, providing it was a members club, artistes were allowed to move naked. We also opened another night club whilst we still had the Casino de Paris. It was called Ricky Renee’s in Covent Garden. We spent a fortune on it, but it was a disaster and we had to close it and lost a great deal of money. But that’s Show Business!

Click on the following link to watch a British Pathe newsreel film shot at Ricky Renee’s on April 20th, 1967

http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=2263)

It was during this time that you got a taste for magic and embarked on the next stage of your career as an illusionist. How did that come about?

I always had it. When I was 13 my father took me to the Aldwych or the Strand Theatre to see the Great Lyle in his Cavalcadeof Mystery, so you see I was into magic at a very early age, but it was only the big illusions that interested me.

Bela Lugosi once told you that you had magician’s eyes. Did you take him seriously at the time?

It was whilst we were on tour. Of course I took him seriously, I used it enough in my publicity.

Didn’t you also receive encouragement from the girls at your club?

I always tried to have a magician in the show at the Casino De Paris and I always produced and choreographed the show, designed the costumes and lighting, and swept the stage. In fact I did everything including the music, which was on click back. So whenever a magician was there I would dress the act with strippers as assistants and include as many illusions as possible. Basically the magicians were only used to doing small magic and that was how I met Robert Harbin, because a magician brought him in to advise him on two of Harbin’s illusions that he was using. So we became friends. I also had the first nude male magician called Malcolm Vadell who would appear nude at the end of his act from the Substitution Trunk. The magic fraternity were in shock ! But that’s Show Business !

When did you begin your career as an illusionist?

I think it was some time in 1977, I’m not quite sure.

Did you give up the club?

Yes,the lease was up, and they were supposed to be rebuilding the area, which later never happened.

How did you pick your new stage name?

I went from A to Z and realised that an illusion act could never be the star turn, or so I thought. Then it would be better if you cannot be at the top of a Bill to be at the bottom. So that’s how I got to a name beginning with Z. I came up with two names, Zarak and Zee. I decided that Zarak was too circus. Zee was much more modern. So, ZEE & Co. The Co. came from a film at the time with Elizabeth Taylor called Zee and Co. I thought the title was very with it and modern, not like Zarack, which was, as I said, a bit circus.

Zee & Co. performing the sword levitation illusion at the Magic Castle at the Cambridge Theatre in London

What was your act like?

Fabulous, if I say it myself. I only performed major illusions. I would open with flaming torches that turned in walking sticks, followed by two large diceboxes that were shown empty and from which I produced, umbrellas, flower bouquets,a chinchilla cat, which promptly vanished and turned into a silk, two enormousflags and a silk that was four metres square, from which, when placed over the dice, my female assistant appeared. She was then hypnotised, ala Bela Lugosi, and laid onto a table by my two boy assistants. She slowly floated up from the table to my fingertips. The table was removed and she floated around the stage as I passed a hoop over her. She floated down into my hands and when I shouted, “Go!” she vanished. Next I got into to a box which was already on stage and showed it empty. I placed a light into the top of the box and did a few hand silhouettes, clapped my handsand the girl reappeared by burstingthrough the paper in the front of the box. I then put her into an empty cage, spun it around, pulled off the silk and, voila, my leopard, Scorpio, was there in her place. That was the fastest change that has ever been done! (See the Zee & Co. Gallery after the interview for photos of Eric’s act.)

Earlier, you mentioned that you became friends with Robert Harbin, the renowned magician.

Robert Harbin was my mentor. He was one of the finest magicians in the world. His mind was exceptional and I was very lucky that we became friends and that I had his guidance and advice to prepare me for the Magic World as one would say. So when I decided to become an illusionist it was he who sat with me for hours as we worked out the finer points of the act. When I told him that I was going to get a leopard for the act, he said that it would “rip my throat open” and fifteen years later that is what happened. It was my fault completely and to go into how it happened would take too long. Suffice to say, he ripped my throat open and I was in hospital in Marbella for a week. He was put down by the vet, and it was all my fault.

Eric’s mentor and friend, the celebrated magician Robert Harbin

Scorpio the Indian leopard was one of the big attractions of your act, wasn’t he?

He was my Baby, I had him from 2-weeks-old. He had been abandoned by his mother and could not be left in the cage with her for fear that she would eat him. He was bottle fed for 3 months on Complan. Then as he grew he had to be weaned onto meat, which was a production in itself. Then he started to grow. As a matter of fact, I kept a diary with his measurements for 6 months, which is somewhere around. He was completely tame. I used to feed him by hand, and how he could tell the difference between my fingers and the chicken bones would amaze me every time I fed him.

I’ve seen a photo of him arriving at a theatre in a Rolls Royce. Was that usual?

No it was a one-off, just a publicity shot at Sandown Pavilion on the Isle of Wight.

Scorpio arriving at the Sandown Pavilion in style

In an interview with the TV Times you said that Scorpio began to speak.

He would make a heavy meow sound that would go into a yawn as though he was trying to shape the words. To me I understood him.

You also used a tiger in your act, didn’t you?

He was rented. I worked with him in Vegas and Reno, but I would not go near him. Far too dangerous!

The magic circle described you as the greatest illusion show in the UK.

They were perfectly right. All the hours of talking and planning with Robert Harbin paid off.

How long did it take to bring your act to that level of perfection?

Within three months of working with Ken Dodd every night, I had it down to perfection. And really, if I say so myself, we went from success to success. When we did the Magician’s Convention in Blackpool we stopped the show. They truly had not seen anything like it for years. It does sound very much as though I’m blowing my own trumpet, but it was true.

You did a “record-breaking” season with Ken Dodd in Scarborough. Was that your big break as an illusionist?

Business wise it was record-breaking and audience wise also. My big break came before that with Ken Dodd when he did his Xmas Laughter Show in Liverpool.

Where else did you perform as an illusionist?

Within 18 months Zee & Co. was appearing at the London Palladium.

After the Palladium you took your act to America. What was that like?

We were in America from the end of 1982 onwards working at the Sheraton Bal Harbour Hotel in Miami for about 6 months. We then went on to Las Vegas where I rented Juliet Prowse’s house for about a year. Ray and I loved America until we worked in Reno, which I hated. From the sophistication of Las Vegas to the unsophistication of Reno was like chalk and cheese. The audiences were basically cowboys and they thought I had come from Mars. They would sit in the show room with their cowboy hats on and their feet on the table. It was so different from Miami and Las Vegas and was not my scene at all.

Did you go to America with the act again?

No, never. I had no desire ever to work there again.

You did make a big impact in America. A review in Folie a la Carte said that you were as impressive as David Copperfield and Doug Henning.

I did my best.

Were you able to fulfil the expectations of the critics during your career? Did you continue to develop bigger and bigger illusions like Copperfield?

I didn’t have major corporations backing me. I was the one who had to pay to build all my Illusions, unlike David Copperfield.

Did you take your act to other parts of the world?

Yes. France, Spain and Portugal.

At one point you lived in Spain, didn’t you?

Yes, for ten years. It was after I finished working at the Magic Castle in London that Ray and I decided to move to Spain, mainly because of the climate. We looked around Marbella and finally decided to build a villa close by. Of course, I got carried away and basically built a palace that was enormous and quite beautiful. It took nearly two years to build, during which I was starring in the show at the Scala Melia Castilla in Madrid in a review that was built around Zee & Co. The villa had four master bedrooms – one for Ray’s mother, one for my parents, one for Ray and one for me.  By the time the villa was finished my parents had died, Ray had died, his mother had died, Scorpio had been put down and Suki, my chinchilla cat, was dead, and I was left in a bloody big house alone.

Eventually you moved back to London.

Yes, because I was sick of living in an enormous house all alone. After Ray died I never really properly worked again. It was as though all my amazing luck had gone. The date was October 25th, 1989.

Have you completely retired now?

Yes, I’m forced to………too old

When was your last professional engagement?

In Dubai in 2001 when I did a command performance for the Sultan of Dubai.

Eric (wearing sunglasses) in Dubai for the final show of his career, a command performance for the Sultan

When you look back upon your long career, are you satisfied with it?

 I have to be. I can’t change it. I have been so lucky nearly all my life, but you cannot expect everything to run smoothly all the time. It was just that the shit hit the fan when all my family died.

What was the highlight?

There were many, and also a lot of ups and downs. 

Which gave you greater satisfaction, acting or being an illusionist?

When you are an illusionist you are acting because basically you are a furniture salesman selling boxes and dreams. So you can say I had the best of both worlds.

Do you have any ambitions left?

Yes, to do a lecture tour about Bela Lugosi and Dracula and write a novel…..and stay alive long enough till my money runs out.

What kind of novel do you want to write?

Ah-ha ! ! !  You will have to ask my co-author about that! (Eric and I are currently writing a vampire novel)

*          *          *

If you are interested in hosting Eric’s Bela Lugosi and Dracula lecture, please contact andobi@hotmail.com

Eric now has his own blog, detailing his fantastic adventures in showbiz at:

http://ericlindsay.wordpress.com/

I am indebted to Andrew Jaymes for sharing both his memories of seeing Zee & Co. on stage and his collection of cuttings.

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Related pages and articles

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

1951 British Dracula Tour – Exclusive Interviews With The Cast & Company

Knee-Deep In Ice Cream, Smoke & Wayward Rubber Bats: An Interview With Richard Butler

An Encounter With Bela Lugosi by Roy Tomlinson

Mother Riley Meets The Vampire

“Mother Riley Meets The Vampire” Robot Fails To Sell At Auction

The Return Of The “Mother Riley Meets The Vampire” Robot

The Death Of Bela Lugosi

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Bela Lugosi died in his sleep at about 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, August 16th, 1956. He was 73. The cause of death was recorded as a coronary occlusion with myocardial fibrosis. His body was discovered by his fifth wife, Hope, in their apartment at 5620 Harold Way, Los Angeles, on her return from work. Although Lugosi felt that he had been forgotten in his later years, his death was deemed newsworthy enough for a photographer to rush to his apartment to snap a photograph of his body being wheeled away by the undertakers.

Undertakers removing Bela's body

 

Geza Kende’s magnificent portrait of Bela Lugosi looks on as the actor’s body is removed from his apartment

Hope told the press, “He was terrified of death. Towards the end he was very weary, but he was still afraid of death. Three nights before he died he was sitting on the edge of the bed. I asked him if he were still afraid to die. He told me that he was. I did my best to comfort him, but you might as well save your breath with people like that. They’re still going to be afraid of death.”

Bela's Death Certificate

Bela Lugosi’s death generated few in-depth obituaries. Most notices were brief, with many focusing on his much publicized addiction to drugs, which came to light when he publicly committed himself to the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California the previous April. 

 

The funeral plaque displayed at Bela Lugosi’s funeral

His funeral service was held at 2:30p.m. on Saturday August 18th at the Utter-McKinley Mortuary Chapel on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Prior to the service, his body lay in state in full Dracula garb. Although Hope told the press that “it was his wish” to be buried in his famous Dracula costume, it was actually the decision of Lugosi’s fourth wife Lillian and their son Bela Jr.

Bela photographed by David Katzman

Bela Lugosi's body on view at the funeral palour

Bela Lugosi photographed lying in state in the Strother Chapel of the Utter McKinley Mortuary by his teenage friend, David Katzman

In addition to Hope, Lillian and Bela Jr., those who attended the funeral service included Hungarian directors Zoltan Korda and Steve Sekely, Scotty Beale (assistant director on Dracula, Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Raven), Robert Boyle (associate art director on The Wolf Man), filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr. and both his current wife Kathy and former wife Norma McCarty, Glen or Glenda producer George Weiss, Forest J. Ackerman (editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland), actors and actresses Carroll Borland (Mark of the Vampire), Tor Johnson and Paul Marco (Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space), Conrad Brooks and Dudley Manlove (Plan 9 from Outer Space), Loretta King (Bride of the Monster), and Don Marlowe, one of Lugosi’s former agents. Moments before the casket was taken from the Utter McKinley Mortuary, Marlowe pushed aside official pallbearer Richard Sheffield, one of Bela’s teenage friends, to ensure he was photographed by the waiting press.

Don Marlowe & Edward D Wood among the pallbearers

Don Marlowe, back left, looks into the camera while the other pallbearers, including Edward D. Wood Jr., second right, concentrate on their footing

Bela Lugosi funeral book, pallbearers card and press clippings

Funeral book

 Bela’s funeral book, pallbearer card and newspaper clippings

Contrary to popular myth, Lillian Lugosi, not Frank Sinatra, paid for the funeral, and the burial plot. Hope Lugosi paid for the casket. Bela Lugosi was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, Los Angeles. (Andi Brooks)

Bela's grave at Holy Cross Cemetery

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Bela Lugosi’s final will, dated January 12, 1954, disproves the oft-repeated claim that he expressed a wish to be buried in his Dracula costume. 

Bela Lugosi's Will Page 1

Bela Lugosi's Will Page 2

(Will courtesy of Frank J. Dello Stritto)

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Bela Lugosi Obituaries

Bela Lugosi and Don Marlowe