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The Immortal Count

The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi

Arthur Lennig

Publication Year: 2013

" Bela Lugosi won immediate fame for his portrayal of the immortal count in the 1931 film Dracula. After a decade of trying vainly to broaden his range and secure parts to challenge his acting abilities, Lugosi resigned himself to a career as the world's most recognizable vampire. His last years were spent as a forgotten and rather tragic figure. When he died in 1956, Lugosi could not have known that vindication of his talent would come -- his face would adorn theaters, his image would appear on greeting cards and postage stamps, his film memorabilia would sell for more than he earned in his entire career, and his Hungarian accent would be instantly recognized by millions of people. Martin Landau's Oscar-winning role as Lugosi in the 1994 film Ed Wood added an ironic twist to a career that had ended in oblivion. In 1974, devoted Lugosi fan Arthur Lennig published a highly regarded biography of the unsung actor. More than twice the length of the original and completely rewritten, The Immortal Count provides deeper insights into Lugosi's films and personality. Drawing upon personal interviews, studio memos, shooting scripts, research in Romania and Hungary, and his own recollections, Lennig has written the definitive account of Lugosi's tragic life.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

Adults often pursue projects for reasons found in their childhood, and I am no exception. In 1938, when I was five years old, my older sister took me to see Dracula and Frankenstein. That double bill left an indelible impression: thereafter, I had a night-light in my room. ...

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1. Bela

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pp. 2-13

Bay' -la Luh' -goush-schee! (It rhymes with " You-go-see.") What these often mispronounced syllables evoke! For some people he was the embodiment of dark, mysterious forces, a harbinger of evil from the world of shadows. For others he was merely a ham actor appearing in a type of film unsuitable for children and often unfit for adults. ...

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2. The Early Years

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pp. 14-51

The legendary Bela Lugosi entered this world as Béla Ferenc Dezsö Blaskó on October 20, 1882, in the small Hungarian city of Lugos, which is now a part of Romania called Lugoj. It was only when Bela was about twenty that he changed his name by modifying the spelling of his native town, becoming Béla Lugossy (meaning "from Lugos"). ...

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3. Broadway to Hollywood

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pp. 52-73

When Lugosi was chosen to play Dracula on the stage, he had little knowledge of the long and gruesome tradition of vampires. To him it was just a good role and not much more. He did not realize that it would prove to be both his salvation and his damnation. Despite his age and thick accent, Bela would find himself a star, ...

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4. The Fateful Decision

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pp. 74-101

The future career of Bela Lugosi depended not solely on his own decisions—often not wise ones-—but also on a number of complex factors. Among them were the monetary disagreements between Irving Thalberg and Lon Chaney at MGM, the opposing artistic and managerial views of Carl Laemmle Jr. and Sr. at Universal, ...

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5. Dracula—The Film

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pp. 102-131

On screens across the United States in the early months of 1931, Dracula finally arrived, a landmark motion picture that would help establish a new genre—the horror film. Despite the picture's long gestation, numerous scripts, generous budget, lengthy shooting schedule, and famous director, it was another of Universal's rough-hewn efforts. ...

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6. Fame

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pp. 132-181

Although Lugosi had been featured by Universal in Dracula and was likely to become an instant star upon its release, he could not live comfortably on the mere $3,500 Universal had paid him. (In 1951, while touring in an English production of Dracula, he remarked ruefully, "If I had one percent of the millions Dracula has made, I wouldn't be sitting here now.") ...

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7. The Peak

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pp. 182-247

Back in 1930 Lugosi met the Arch family, traditional old-world Hungarians. They were thrilled by the free-spending, flamboyant actor who often spoke of their homeland and his life on stage and in the movies. Their eighteen-year-old daughter Lillian recalled her first meeting with him: ...

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8. The Comeback

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pp. 248-281

Lugosi often said to Lillian that she should not worry about financial matters, that money should be spent and enjoyed, and that somehow more of it would always arrive when needed. The young girl trusted this attractive, flamboyant, and confident man. True, while dating her, he had gone bankrupt in October 1932, ...

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9. The War Years

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pp. 282-347

The resurgence of Lugosi's film career in 1938 and 1939 did not bring him back to the important roles of the early thirties, when he was a relatively major star. From 1940 to 1946 he would appear in numerous pictures, but except for low-budget productions and one modestly priced film (The Return of the Vampire), he played minor roles. ...

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10. The Decline

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pp. 348-397

Life would be different after the war. Everyone in the country said so! And it was. This new national mood stemmed from a growing prosperity—the cursed Depression had finally ended-—and from the belief that a great future awaited a world that had defeated the forces of evil. This switch to peacetime affected not only the movie industry, but Lugosi as well. ...

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11. The Final Years

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pp. 398-451

Now alone, Lugosi felt that his life was completely empty. There was no work and little possibility of it. He missed Lillian, despite all their difficulties, and, as he said, "I went back on the drugs. My heart was broken." Thoroughly depressed, he consoled himself with excessive drinking and self-administered injections, ...

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pp. 452-466

As the few mourners left Holy Cross Cemetery on August 18, 1956, they could not have known that the Bela Lugosi story had by no means ended. Future events involving his last two wives, his son, his possessions, his loyal fans, various film projects, and legal issues concerning his screen image and its commercial value would ultimately contain enough greed, ...

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pp. 467-490

The following list of Lugosi's feature films will not agree with existing reference works. For example, Hungarian sources incorrectly include him in Casanova, and German credits are also far from perfect. His American period is less confused, except for some roles as an unbilled bit player. ...

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Lugosi's Earnings

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pp. 491-492

Although the salaries Lugosi received for his films are not all available, a rough guess—even when stage, vaudeville, radio, and later television appearances are included—is that Lugosi from 1929 on averaged less than $10,000 a year. From these earnings one must often deduct an agent's fee of 10 percent. ...


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pp. 493-426


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pp. 527-549

Image Plates

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pp. 563-610

E-ISBN-13: 9780813143750
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813122731

Page Count: 560
Publication Year: 2013