Sunday, December 22, 2013

Why I say "Happy Holidays"

I really shouldn't like this time of year as much as I do. As the daughter of two of the most prolific drinkers who've ever shaken a swizzle stick (copyright: Laura Enright) I should hate this season for the very same reason that I hate Thanksgiving, a holiday I hate for the reasons I should hate this season.

Holidays in my family were anything but. They were often nasty, bitter affairs steeped in anger and alcohol and a soupson of hatred as one drunken parent tried his or her best to piss of the other (when they weren't starting fights with one of the kids). Thanksgiving, for example, was spent in enforced togetherness measuring how much wine was left in the second bottle of Cold Duck and trying to gauge whether the drunk my parents were falling into was a happy or angry drunk. If it was a happy drunk, we could all play cards and enjoy life. If angry...well, you can imagine the rest.

That's not to say that we didn't have some good times. Those late night poker games were a lot of fun. And when I was really young, and my parents were still trying, there was joy in the season. Unfortunately, the bad times became more frequent as time went on and left more of an impact. So holidays for me, at least when it comes to the notion of "family", don't mean a heck of a lot.

But there is something about December. 

To me it's a magical time. Part of it could be because I love winter and the romance behind it. The idea that one year, with all its joy and sadness, is grinding to a halt soon to be replaced by the hope of a new year with all its potential. That's why cultures were drawn to celebrating this time of year. December 21, the shortest day of the year with all its promise of warmth to come as the days grew longer again.

Okay, winter isn't always magical.
I was raised a Catholic. Well, when I say raised, I use the term loosely. Honestly, my parents didn't really raise me as anything. I mean, there was some vague theological discussions in my house between my mom and I when I was a kid, but neither of my parents seemed all that interested in religion outside of listing on forms that they were Catholic. I think we went to church for a few years, but that didn't last. If I hadn't spent my grade school years at a Catholic school, I probably wouldn't have gone to church at all. I didn't get much of an education at the school, but I did make it to church every Friday during lent (it got us out of class. I don't know which was worse). 

But because we were pseudo-Catholic/Christians we celebrated Christmas. We didn't go to church on Christmas, and the baby J's name barely came up, but we did celebrate Dec. 25 (with gifts and the afor mentioned drinking). So when I wished someone happy tidings at this time of year, I wished them "Merry Christmas." I remember decorations and cards that had the term "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons' Greetings" in them, and the world didn't end. But "Merry Christmas" was natural to me. 

When I was 14 I left the church. Come on, we all knew it was coming. I had a mom and a dad who couldn't stand to be in the same room, yet the church was telling me that these two getting divorced and perhaps finding a better relationship with other people was a sin. Even when I was 10 I could see through that nonsense. They're moving onto mates better suited to them would have helped out not only them but their four children who had to live with the bitterness and hatred they showed each other every day. Don't tell me divorce is a sin. Or homosexuality. Or contraception or abortion, for that matter. I could not agree with the teachings of the Catholic church, so I moved on. 

Christianity became for me one more religious philosophy out there, and each had its good points and its bad points. But I began to realize that it isn't necessary to have any religious philosophy to be a decent person. 

It's possible that it was a nun who unknowingly started me on this path. When I was in second grade a nun (I forget her name) told me that I shouldn't do good to curry God's favor. I should do good cause it's the right thing to do. I took that to heart. And even while I believed in the Christian God, I didn't do good to placate him. I did it cause it was the right thing to do. Instinctively. Without denomination. 

Which is why I'm so very receptive to the greatness of this time of year. This time of year has resonance in many cultures. Hanukkah (that's the "Judeo" part of "Judeo/Christian" that so many people like to cite) this year started Nov. 27 and ended Dec. 5. Dec. 21 marked the date of the Winter Solstice, sacred to many Pagan religions (that's the festival where so many Christmas traditions sprang from). 

Hey look! It's a Holiday Tree!!
Hell even those who don't believe in anything can enjoy the energy of this time of year as we say goodbye to the old year, with it's good and bad and usher in the new year with its promise to come. I have friends of all stripes, theologically speaking, so for me, wishing someone a "Happy Holidays" covers all bases.

There is something for everyone. That's precisely why I say "Happy Holidays." As someone who works with the public, I'm not going to be arrogant enough to presume what religion a person I encounter does and doesn't celebrate. I work with and come into contact with people of differing faiths. And what's more, I don't really care. When someone wishes me a "Merry Christmas" I take it for what it is, another human being wishing me the best at this time of year. Even today, 35 years after I said goodbye to the Catholic church, my first instinct is still to wish people a "Merry Christmas." It's how I was raised. But I've retrained myself to say, "Happy Holidays" because I want to include everyone in the joy I feel at this time of year. It doesn't detract from my life in anyway. But it opens my warm wishes to everyone, no matter their faith (or nonfaith). 

How is that a bad thing? In this fantastic nation where some very far-seeing people established the right for people to believe (or not to believe) in anything they wished, how is it a bad thing for someone to wish someone else "Happy Holidays"? I'm not taking the Christ out of Christmas. I'm doing something much more important: I'm honoring my fellow human beings, including those who don't believe in Christ. By wishing "Happy Holidays" I'm bestowing good wishes upon them without assuming what theology they follow. When a municipality names something a "holiday tree" or a "holiday parade" they're actually honoring the men who fought to create this nation by including everyone in this nation (including all those paying taxes into this great nation). Religious freedom was groundbreaking in the late 1700s when it came about in the United States (who weren't exactly united over everything). It's something that we should still honor today. Yet there are factions who piss and moan because someone is wishing someone else a "Happy Holiday" at this time of year. It's kind of sad, saying more about those people doing the moaning, than those people bestowing the wishes.

So with that, as 2013 draws to a close, I wish everyone, whatever they celebrate, happy holidays and all the best for the new year. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

For the Love of Libraries

A few weeks ago, there was a discussion in a city council meeting regarding the budget of the library for my hometown. The library was seeking a 5 percent increase in the library budget and a few members of the council as well as the mayor questioned the need for programs and certain materials available at the library.

I try to stay out of politics on this blog. I have another blog for that (Enright's Tavern). But this is an issue important to me because libraries are important to me and it seems that in these financially dicey times, the moment budget slashing is considered, the first glance is always cast in the direction of the local library: The heaviest utilized institution in a town. There are those who even consider them nonessential to a community, which is absolute rubbish. 

I will admit, libraries have changed since I was a kid. I remember the library in the town I grew up in was small and quiet (it actually started in the basement of a local hotel, then moved up to its own building nearby. Now, after getting the okay for a new building several years ago, it's quite large and beautiful). Neither of my parents finished high school, yet they both impressed upon their kids a love of reading. I didn't need much incentive. I fell in love with reading the moment I realized that I was actually understanding the words in the book I was reading (as opposed to pretending to sound out the words). My dad, an electrical contractor in the village, even served as a library trustee for a couple of decades. One of the stops of the library bookmobile was my street, outside the tavern that my grandfather built in the thirties (those were the days when not a thought was given to a library bookmobile standing outside a tavern). I used to put the horses out in the spot where the bookmobile would park and when they left, I raced my bike along on the sidewalk after them. When she got a chance to read, my mom could devour books (I envied her ability to read as fast as she did). She made sure we were regular visitors to the library. And from an early age I was drawn to the worlds and knowledge the library helped me tap into.

I learned the value of libraries. I've turned to them for researching my writing and for my reading pleasure. They are an incredible resource.

Times have changed. Libraries are still a wealth of knowledge, but they're so much more. Even in the digital age, libraries remain important for a variety of reasons: Educational, entertainment, socialization, heck even babysitting (having kids wait in a safe place after school until parents can pick them up). One part institution of learning, one part community center, they can be a focal point of a community, bringing citizens together, as the library where I've worked for 14 years did the day after Thanksgiving when the library stayed open three hours later (while City Hall and other city entities were closed all day) for a holiday open house. People came in for refreshments and holiday programs, and holiday songs were performed in the reference department. Even Santa stopped by for a storytime. It is a popular event every year and we can expect phone calls from the taxpayers beginning that morning asking what the line up is for that night. Years ago, when the library was closed for six weeks for an asbestos removal project, stores and restaurants in the area noted a significant drop in business during that time since patrons weren't visiting the library (and following up a morning at the library with a lunch at the bagel shop or some other establishment).

Our current mayor wasn't mayor during the time of the asbestos project, though it's doubtful that fact would have registered. Nor does it seem he's done any research on the library. The mayor has presented himself as a champion of the taxpayer and he's made himself blind to reality when it comes to the issue of the library and the taxpayer. I've never actually seen him in the library though I hear that when he was running for mayor years ago he was only too happy to stand outside, glad-handing the many people going in and out of the library. And he was scheduled to show at the holiday open house. So, while he understand the marketing potential of the library when it comes to self promotion, he seems to be a bit out of touch with the value of the library to the city. Consider this statement made in regards to the DVD and video game collection:

"'From a taxpayers standpoint, I don't understand why the taxpayers are paying the library to buy movies and video games for people to come in and take out for free.' He also suggested the Library Board may need to have a 'philosophical discussion' about the 'core function of your library.'"
(Source: Park Ridge Herald Advocate Nov. 21 "Park Ridge Library considering spending cuts next year")

His comment astonishes me because, aside from the taxpayers, I don't know who else he thinks is checking out the DVDs and video games. And they check them out in droves, especially before holidays when they need to entertain family or friends. Years ago, the library charged a $1 per movie fee. When that policy was stopped and the movies were free, circulation rose dramatically. It is the taxpayers popping those things on hold before they're even released. It is the taxpayers making requests to buy certain television shows. When the library decided to offer video games, it was greeted with enthusiasm by the taxpayers as parents could now save money by not buying the games that their children will use a year and then put aside.

I speak with some authority on this because I work in circulation and I'm the one checking these items out to the taxpayer

Again, the mayor might know this if he showed less disdain and more interest in the library. While patrons from other libraries are able to check the DVDs out (not the video games so far) it is indeed the people of the community, the people whose interests he claims to be watching out for who are benefitting from these and other items in the collection as they are with the programs run by the library. Those are the children of tax payers enjoying storytimes. Those are the taxpayers going to see movies or talks. Attending job seeking seminars and taking part in reading clubs.

And it was the taxpayers who voted the library #5 in a recent article on the ten best things about Park Ridge. The mayor insists that he's looking out for the taxpayers but the library is the one institution in town that gives the biggest bang for the taxpayer buck.

It is shameful for a mayor to look upon the local library, an institution vital to the health of a community, as if its some sort of fiscal black hole. Unfortunately, this is an attitude on the rise the past few years in communities across the country. As the economy began to tank in the early 2000s, library usage rose dramatically, not that you'd know by listening to leaders like the mayor of my hometown. The mayor is not alone in his cluelessness about the library and its functions. Indeed in the same article, in regards to cutting free programs, an alderman stated "that though free programs are 'nice [they} are not necessarily the core function of what a library should be.'"

Of course this alderman couldn't be more incorrect. The core function of a library is to enlighten, whether that enlightenment comes from books or programs all accessible and highly enjoyed by the taxpayers. Perhaps it isn't the library but rather people like this alderman and the mayor who need to consider the core function of a library.

I cannot understand the attitude of people like the mayor that portrays libraries as practically pointless to a community but I will be only too happy to correct that wrong-headed notion whenever I come across it. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Few Words from Charles E. Butler

A friend of mine has been writing books on vampires for several years now. I've asked him to write a guest post for my blog as a sort of book end for my 10 part series on "Dracula." 

His first book, The Romance of Dracula: A Personal Journey of the Count on Celluloid is a review of the 14 major film adaptations of Bram Stoker's immortal tale. and Vampires Everywhere: The Rise of the Movie Undead discusses other vampire movies that have helped keep the genre alive. He also has a story featured in Vampires Romance to Rippers: An Anthology of Tasty Stories. He's recently published Vampires Under the Hammer which examines 16 vampire movies made at Britain's Hammer Studios from 1957 to 1974.

In his guest post, Charles addresses the fact that while Bela Lugosi only played Dracula twice on film, he went on to play other vampires in movies for other studios, some of the movies surpassing Universal's "Dracula" in quality.

Bela Lugosi’s Best Vampire Movies

by Charles E. Butler
Bela Lugosi

Bela Lugosi was born in the Hungarian town of Lugos in 1882. His role as the undead aristocrat Count Dracula in Tod Browning’s "Dracula" (1930) is considered his greatest performance and he found himself, thanks mainly to Universal’s publicity machine, typecast very quickly. He had been paid off not to star in "Dracula’s Daughter" and was impersonated by a wax dummy. Similarly, he would be replaced by Lon Chaney Jr for "Son of Dracula," and John Carradine for House of Frankenstein (1944) and its sequel, "House of Dracula" (1945). In this period, however, came some of Lugosi’s best horror movies. "The Black Cat" (1934), "The Raven" (1935), "The Son of Frankenstein" (1939) and "The Bodysnatcher" (1945). He had turned down the role of Frankenstein’s creature in James Whale’s "Frankenstein" (1931), but later stole George Waggner’s "The Wolfman" (1941), as the haunted and cursed gypsy, Bela, even though he only occupies a few moments of screen time.                                                                                              
Bela Lugosi  in "The Wolf Man"
"Mark of the Vampire" and the later "Return of the Vampire" (1943) are Lugosi’s best vampire movies and should be discussed in more depth. The characters, Count Mora and Armand Tesla , released Lugosi and the film makers from the shackles of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897) and the movies fare better because of this. Neither was made at Universal. "Mark of the Vampire" was fashioned at MGM and was a remake of Browning’s earlier "London After Midnight" starring Lon Chaney. Browning had given the script writing reins to Guy Endore, author of "The Werewolf of Paris" (1933), and his revision had invented one of the more interesting reasons that people become vampires after death. Mora sports a bullet wound to his temple throughout the film. The censor had cut the explanation that he had abused his own daughter, Luna (Carroll Borland), forcing him to take her life and his. Both rise impressively from the grave as vampires to reveal shocks that had been bereft of Browning’s "Dracula." Unfortunately, this cover is also blown when it is revealed that the mute vampires are actually jobbing actors trying to force a murderer to confess. As Lugosi was already waning in the studio popularity stakes, this final revelation added a life-imitates-art irony to the bizarre façade of eeriness that Browning was never able to match in his masterpiece by proxy, "Dracula."

As Armand Tesla in Columbia’s "Return of the Vampire," Lugosi is a black magician who has cursed himself with vampirism. He is destroyed at the beginning of the movie, only to be unearthed by the mortar bombings of World War One. Military Police of the comedy relief variety pull the spike from his heart, believing it to be a length of shrapnel. Tesla revives and is aided by Andreas (Matt Willis), whose cloak of servitude is yak hair, a rubber snout and fangs. Andreas is a werewolf. This film was Columbia’s attempt to cash in on Universal’s own movie; "Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man" (1943), in which Lugosi played the blind Frankenstein monster.

Columbia didn’t hold the patent to the name Dracula, but this doesn’t stop director Lew Landers/Lewis Friedlander, from aping many scenes from Bela’s signature movie. Events take a turn when Andreas is taught to shuck off the hold of Armand Tesla and stand on his own two feet. At the end of the film, he stakes the vampire a second time. Lugosi melts away under the rays of the sun as his skin falls from his face like wax. Arguably, Lugosi was never better as a vampire than in this movie. As in Mark of the Vampire’s Count Mora, Armand Tesla, freed of Dracula’s very demanding constraints – a stage bound script being the worst culprit – becomes a character that holds his own hypnotic fascination. It is certainly the last time that Lugosi was taken seriously as the movie master of the undead. In 1948, he was lured back to Universal and burlesqued his famous image in "Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein," playing Count Dracula for the second and final time. In satin cape and clown white face, he takes on the role of the Mad Scientist trying to supercharge the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange), by adding the brain of Lou Costello. It is hard to believe that the film had once been conceived as a straight thriller. Following on from the lukewarm, "House of Dracula," Bela returns and has obvious fun in his old role and the film was a box office bulls eye that pulled Universal from the brink of bankruptcy in much the same way as "Dracula" had seventeen years earlier. It was also the last time that Lugosi would be taken seriously in the cinema. After "Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein," he was forced into films on the poverty row that were general slap stick comedies that ran his image into the ground quicker than a stake through the heart. "Old Mother Riley meets the Vampire" (1952), billed him opposite fading vaudevillian, Arthur Lucan. He plays a deluded scientist who believes himself to be a vampire. The only point of interest is the fact that the director of this film was John Gilling, who would go on to direct Hammer’s "Plague of the Zombies" and "The Reptile," both made in 1966. Further abominations like "Spooks Run Wild" and "Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" only accentuate the dire circumstances of the horror genre as a whole in the early 1950s.

Bela Lugosi meet Martin and Lewis wannabes:

The world was changing. Man had split the atom and the new craze known as the drive-in would take hold. Scientifically bred vampires such as "The Thing From Another World" (1951), joined the roster with alien bloodsuckers found in "Not of This Earth" (1956) and "IT! The Terror From Beyond Space" (1958) and relegated a back seat to the dire half-vampires invented by Edward D Wood Jr. and his contemporaries that Bela was reduced to. The actor himself had been fighting drug and alcohol addiction for twenty years or more and I think that it is safe to say that his need for easy money to feed his habits and his indifference to fully mastering the English language made it harder for him to secure a safe and well paying contract. He died in 1956 on August 16th, in poverty and practically forgotten. With thanks to the media push of television, video, DVD and now internet surfing, Bela Lugosi is regarded as one of the greatest of horror film stars with many web-sites and social pages doubling in their numbers almost daily. As the slogan goes, ‘Bela Lugosi’s dead!’ but his legacy, like that of his most famous role, Count Dracula, will live on forever.

The one, the only

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dracula: The Curse

This entry was just for fun. Which is why it's number ten in the chapter I originally wrote on Dracula for Vampires' Most Wanted. I thought I'd end with a light bit of trivia (despite the whole death thing going on on it). Is there a curse? Who knows?

10.  The Curse
Was there a curse on Dracula that made itself known in the lives of those taking part in its adaptations? It’s a “romantic” notion in the entertainment world to blame the misfortunes of principle players on some sort of curse attached to the production. The film “Poltergeist” comes to mind. When one considers the huge amount of people who work on a film or television show, it would be unusual not assume that there would be a few curious death stories scattered among them. Still: What’s one to say about the sad last years of the author himself as he battled critical failure and ever decreasing fortunes?   
Horace Liveright
There was F.W. Murnau who, a decade after making “Nosferatu” died in a car crash not long before the release of “Dracula” on the west coast. Then there’s Horace Liveright, the man responsible for bringing the stage production of “Dracula” to the U.S. Of course, Liveright’s fortunes were never secure thanks in large part to his own personality. He gambled often and often won, but when fate turns it can turn hard. By the time “Dracula” the movie was being made, Liveright’s fortunes had taken a downhill turn as did his health. Unable to negotiate the film rights for “Dracula” he returned to New York but could never reclaim his former glory. He died of pneumonia, busted financially and socially, Sept. 24, 1933.
Dwight Frye
Of course there are few tales more poignant then that of Lugosi, a man who scraped hard for and achieved the heights of fame only to have it slip from his grasp in an instant, never to be seen again. His Renfield did not fare quite as well either. Dwight Frye was a versatile character actor who had a successful career in theater before being cast to play the insane Renfield in the 1931 movie “Dracula”. After that, he was chosen to play the insane laboratory assistant in James Whale’s “Frankenstein” released that same year; and the insane character of Karl, in “The Bride of Frankenstein. Frye worked steadily in Hollywood and theater throughout the 30s and into the 40s but was never really given a part that would challenge his range having now been typecast as the madman or killer by appearing in three of the biggest horror blockbusters of the 30s. His last role would have been a substantial and different one, playing Secretary of War Newton D. Baker in the biopic “Wilson” but the heart condition he had concealed for years from friends and employers alike at last caught up with him on a Hollywood bus on Nov. 7, 1943, and he died at age 44, days before filming was to begin.
Helen Chandler
Helen Chandler, the ethereal actress, would have preferred the role of Alice in the film  “Alice in Wonderland” but with that part given to another actress, she joined the cast of “Dracula” as Mina Harker. She’d begun her acting career on the stage in 1917 and played in a number of productions before making her film debut in “The Music Master,” a silent film released in 1927. After Dracula, she went on to a prolific career in films, radio and theater. Her demons, however, were strong and the alcoholism she’d never be able to conquer forced her career into decline. In 1950, after falling asleep while smoking, she was disfigured in the fire, sending her deeper back into the bottle. It was during surgery for a stomach ulcer that she had a heart attack and died April 30, 1965.

One of the saddest stories of a death connected to Dracula was the story of 16-year-old boy who, after attending one of the plays performances in 1927, took his own life by jumping in front of a train at Victoria Station. The boy’s mother, confined to a mental institution had tried to killer herself four times the year before and it’s possible the boy’s own depression was fueled by the scenes of Renfield in the asylum. Another life shattered in Dracula’s wake.

I hope you enjoyed the Dracula trip. It is a fascinating story and it would seem the fictional character's lust for power and immortality was eventually achieved.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dracula: Vs. Frankenstein

Number nine in the chapter I used to propose my book Vampires' Most Wanted. I've always found the "rivalry" between Universal Studio's two greatest monsters interesting. Especially in light of how Karloff's fortunes began to rise as Lugosi's fell. And yet, the two monsters are forever linked even though their stories were published 79 years apart.

9. The Rivalry

Mary Shelley
With the fantastic success of “Dracula” Universal Studios began to realize just what might best butter its bread during the hard times of the Depression when people were looking for a little escapism in movie theaters to take their minds off the real horrors of every day poverty. With this in mind, Universal turned to adapting to film another horror classic in the hopes of keeping the gravy train running. While at a house party with friends, an unassuming young woman entered into a contest with her fellow house members and wrote what would become one of the most revered novels of all time. Like Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818, would eventually spawn stage productions. What better follow up to “Dracula” then “Frankenstein,” and what better actor to offer the role to than the man who wowed them as Dracula? 

A dashing Lugosi
When Bela Lugosi received the script, however, he was not impressed. He saw in the creature nothing that he could wrap his acting chops around. The fiend had no dialogue, simply grunts, and the make up would hide the very features that Lugosi had hoped to parlay into a career of romantic leads. It was his eventual flat-out refusal of the part to Universal executives that did the trick, and quite possibly sealed the fate of his future career. Lugosi would forever regret giving away the role that gave the man who ultimately took it a success that would forever eclipse his own. 

Boris Karloff had been in Hollywood for 10 years and had made 80 films, usually appearing in bit parts, before being noticed by director James Whale in the studio commissary one day. He was dressed in his best suit, but all Whale could notice was his face, which he felt could very well be perfect as the face of the Frankenstein monster. Born William Henry Pratt in 1887, Karloff, like Lugosi, left family expectations behind, changed his name to Boris Karloff and appeared on the stage before finding his way to Hollywood, working odd jobs between bit parts in movies. It’s likely during filming that Karloff often wondered if Lugosi had made the better decision. Arriving in the makeup chair at 4 a.m. Karloff had to sit perfectly still for five hours while the monster’s thick makeup and prosthesis were applied. He wore padding to make his relatively thin frame appear more imposing, heavy shoes to make himself taller, and steel struts to stiffen his legs for the monster’s famous gait. After shooting, it took two hours to take it all off. He lost about 30 pounds during filming. 

Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein's Monster

The effort paid off, however, judging by the reaction of a secretary who chanced upon him one day while the actor was taking a break outside between scenes. The sight of him made her faint. It was decided after that incident that a veil would be needed for any further excursions outside while in make up.

When “Frankenstein” was released it was a smash even bigger than “Dracula.” It seems only logical. The country’s appetite for film horror had been whetted by “Dracula” it was only natural that they’d want more.

It was also apparent that “Frankenstein” had a superior director in James Whale, a former stage director, who seemed more comfortable with this new medium of “talkies” than did Tod Browning whose past experience had been in silent films. There’s a desperate madness fueling the story of “Frankenstein” that Whale is able to bring out in the actors, the sets and the pacing of the movie. Though to be fair, Browning had been blazing a trail directing the first talking supernatural thriller with unexpected budget constraints brought on by the Depression. These were budget constraints that “Frankenstein” probably never felt thanks largely to the success of “Dracula.”
The Monster makes a friend
There was perhaps another reason why Karloff’s monster outdid Lugosi’s. Quite simply, Dracula was not a sympathetic character, while the Frankenstein Monster was. Drawing upon her own issues of abandonment, Mary Shelley fashioned a creature whose very creation was the stuff of horror: Dead flesh, bone, sinew, patched together and somehow sparked into life. He was in physique a monster, but would he have been so in emotion and thought were it not for the fact that his creator, horrified by his own actions, had turned his back on him? Was that when the monster truly emerged? In the novel, the monster has speech and a level of intelligence, most of it gained on his own. He also has a rage toward the man who reanimated him, then left him to fend for himself. In the movie, the level of the monster’s intelligence is questionable, and he communicates in grunts and groans, yet he is still the creature, confused, perhaps afraid, and abandoned to his own devices. How many people during the Depression felt as abandoned, confused and angry as this?

Dracula finds some food
Dracula, on the other hand, was a predator. As sensual as Lugosi played him the movie Dracula was still the cold, blood-sucking fiend of the novel, standing over the bed of an innocent woman ready to take her life to prolong his. Perhaps even worse, he passed this living death on to his victims who, as blood suckers themselves, would join him in eternal damnation. Later movies would bestow consciences onto the characters of the vampire, but the Dracula of the book, the plays and the 1931 movie was devoid of it.

Karloff and Lugosi "The Black Cat"
Karloff and Lugosi would go on to make more movies together, most successful. But Karloff’s name began to outshine Lugosi’s even on the movie poster as he was billed simply as “Karloff,” “Bela Lugosi” appearing under him in smaller letters. The studio used Lugosi’s name to help sell pictures, but when it came to parts and pay, he was no where near their golden boy Karloff. In the film “The Raven,” Karloff was originally pegged to play the scientist, Lugosi the gangster, but Karloff prefered the gangster’s part, so the two switched. Years later, in their last film together for Universal, “Black Friday,” they tried to switch roles again, but this time, the Karloff role was given to another actor and Lugosi was given what amounted to a bit part. The one time Lugosi was given the material to best Karloff was in “The Son of Frankenstein” playing the sinister of Ygor to Karloff’s mute monster. But as time went on, their careers would separate, Karloff rising and weathering any storms that might have hit it, Lugosi floundering. Karloff was able to avoid the typecasting that hit Lugosi so hard and was working with a young actors into his final years. Karloff died in 1969 at the age of 82.

Dracula and The Monster tip a glass together.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dracula: The International Touch

The eighth entry in my would-be chapter for Vampries' Most Wanted. A good story needs to be told, continuously, by many people.

8. The Spanish and British Draculas

It is the height of irony that the Spanish “Dracula,” filmed at night, with a lower budget, using the sets of the English version, is considered by many to be the superior movie. Universal, like many studios, found themselves in a quandary when it came to the advent of talkies. In English speaking countries, many theaters had yet to be wired for sound; while in the Latin countries, a big market, a movie acted in English would provide little enjoyment. To solve the problem of talkies vs. silent movies, many movies were re-cut to include written dialogue on the screen, in the fashion of silent movies. Since dubbing was a difficult at the time, studios decided it would be more lucrative to simply film a second version of the film starring a Latin cast reciting Spanish dialogue. 

Carlos Villarias and Lupita Tovar
Filming began Oct. 10, 1930, the Spanish crew starting around 8 p.m., a few hours after the American crew left. Carlos Villarias was chosen for the role of Dracula, though he lacks the sensuality that Lugosi was able to give to the role. Lupita Tovar played a much more seductive Mina than was seen in the English version, in large part due to the more revealing costumes the women wore in the Spanish version. Produced by Paul Kohner (later to wed Tovar), it was directed by George Melford who seemed to have a better grasp of the possibilities of the script. The camera work was more comfortable and imaginative. Able to watch the dailies of the English version, the production team was able to see what worked and what didn’t and seemed determined rework the shots used by the English team. Unlike Lugosi, who emerges from his coffin by way of a simple cut away; Vallarias emerges in a puff of smoke. While light shining on Lugosi’s eyes was to give the impression of Dracula’s mesmerizing affect, a simple close-up of Vallarias’ gaze proved just as powerful. Dracula’s brides are used to greater effect, more closely resembling the description of the wild brides in Stoker’s novel. 
Dracula's Brides
So efficient was the production team that they were moving faster than the set up of the sets. While retakes were being shot by the American crew, Kohner’s production, having come in at a final cost of $66,069 in 22 nights, was being previewed on the Universal set the first week of January, 1931. It would be one of the last foreign language films shot thanks to the belt tightening that studios were having to do during the Depression. Not to mention that countries were starting up their own film industries. Available for some time only at the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress and only for study by film scholars, the film can now be seen on select DVD releases of “Dracula.”
Christopher Lee
After the success of “The Curse of Frankenstein,” a retelling of the Frankenstein story released in 1957, Hammer Studios in England decided to try their hand at the Dracula legend, releasing “The Horror of Dracula” in 1958. It’s a bold and in some ways superior retelling of the story with Christopher Lee in the title roll and Peter Cushing playing his arch nemesis Van Helsing. The pair would go on to do battle in other movies of the Hammer Dracula series. The plot has been streamlined even further than the 1931 movie thanks to all the action taking place in or around Castle Dracula. Gone is Renfield and the reason to establish his connection to the Count. Jonathan Harker is back, as his is narration, in the opening but rather than a real estate lawyer, he is a man posing as a librarian in the hopes of getting close enough to destroy the vampire. In trying to destroy Dracula’s one bride, he disturbs the count who is able to attack him. 

Peter Cushing
When Van Helsing, in league with Harker, tracks his friend down to Castle Dracula, he finds the young man a vampire and puts his soul to rest. Dracula has, by this time, fled to exact revenge on Harker’s fiancé Lucy, Lucy’s brother Arthur Holmwood and Arthur’s wife Mina. At the end of the movie, Arthur and Van Helsing chase the vampire back to Castle Dracula where they dispatch him. As in the novel, Dracula never introduces himself to the family he’s terrifying. Rather, he remains on the periphery, appearing to his victims only at feeding time. While his first entrance is startling, Lee’s Dracula at first lacks the mysterious creepiness of the novel and the 1931 movie. He seems, in fact, a rather personable chap if only slightly intimidating. Yet, as the film continues and the curious need for revenge grips him, Lee’s performance turns decidedly menacing, almost feral, his sudden appearances in the rooms of his victims chillingly predatory. His vanquishing is a much more dramatic thing than in the 1931 version as we see first his foot, then his hand, then his face turn to ash as Van Helsing forces him into the light using crossed candle sticks. With the success of these two Hammer monsters, the studio went on to utilize the Mummy and the Werewolf.

(Dracula and Van Helsing working out a few things. 1958 Hammer Studios)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dracula: A Symphony of Horror

Another excerpt from the original chapter on Dracula I would have liked to have seen in my book Vampires' Most Wanted. Poor Flo. She just gets the whole play thing ironed out, is on the verge of inking a deal with Universal for the movie rights to Dracula, and suddenly out of nowhere, someone nearly steals the thunder.

7. That Other Movie

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"
In 1922 Florence Stoker, guardian of her husband’s vampire legacy took on a German film studio and won. Sort of. Dracula was perfect for the sort of eerie expressionism notable in German cinema with movies like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and “The Golem.” Businessman Enrico Dieckmann and designer/painter/architect Albin Grau had big plans for their new baby brain child Prana-Film but when it came to the movie business they were out of their league, and their biggest mistake, not acquiring the rights to Dracula from Florence Stoker, would be the company’s last. 

F.W. Murnau
Directed by F.W. Murnau, the title of the film, “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror” borrows the word Bram Stoker used in the novel (though it’s claimed that the term “nosferatu” doesn’t really mean anything) as well as the basic plot. The producers must have realized somewhat the dangerous ground they tread on for some details and names were changed. The vampire is named Count Orlock and Jonathan Harker becomes Thomas Hutter sent to work on the business transaction by his employer, Knock, who as the film progresses is the one who has the Renfield-like breakdown. As in the Stoker novel, Orlok ventures to Hutter’s home town, Wisborg, Germany leaving Hutter to find a way to make his escape and follow behind. When Hutter confronts him, Orlok bites him and turns him into a vampire. He returns to his wife Ellen who, after reading The Book of Vampires her husband has brought with him, learns that only a woman pure in heart can kill a vampire. Bravely, she gives herself to the lurking vampire, detaining him until the sun is up and he is destroyed. The idea to shoot a vampire film may have come as early as 1916 when, while serving in World War I, Ablin Grau was told by a Serbian farmer that the farmer’s father was a vampire. As with the stage play and the Hollywood movie, “Nosferatu” trims down the novel while keeping the basic premise. 

Unlike the plays and later movie, it offers us a much more frightening vampire in the form of Count Orlok played by Max Schreck (whose name, ironically, means “terror” in German). Schreck’s vampire seems a cross between a bat and a rat, with large pointy ears, rat-like teeth, and claws for fingers that appear to lengthen as the film continues on. The vampire was like the sets, stark with sharp angles and shadows. The use of shadows is particularly impressive, especially toward the end of the film when the shadow of the vampire’s hand runs along Ellen’s body and closes over her heart. The film also offers a much more exciting scene of the ship voyage as Orlok emerges from below deck to kill the crew one by one. 

Max Schrek as Count Orlok
The film premiered at the Berlin Zoo March 4, 1922 to good reviews. Florence Stoker, however, was not impressed. In fact, she was furious. Joining the Society of Authors, she hoped the organization could help her gain some money in her case of copyright infringement against Prana Films. Unfortunately by June of 1922, Prana was close to liquidation, having been driven into receivership by bad debts. The case would drag on for years. If Prana-Films could not offer money for their copyright infringement, then she would accept having the film destroyed. But success was tied up in Prana-Film’s own legal battles and the cost that would be incurred should the Society have to pursue the receiver not only in Germany but every country where he might attempt to sell “Nosferatu.” 

Count Orlok heads to the door of another victim.
Realizing that obtaining money for their copyright infringement would be next to impossible, Florence, after winning appeal after appeal, insisted instead that the copies of the film be destroyed. It was around this time that the stage rights had been sold to Hamilton Deane and the last thing she wanted was this German atrocity gumming up the works. On July 20, 1925 the final judgment was that the prints and negative would be destroyed. As she was to discover, however, there was no real way to ascertain if all the prints and negatives had indeed been destroyed. To her horror, that October, she received a brochure from a new organization The Film Society which would be screening films in the manner of private clubs. Among the titles was “Dracula” by F.W. Murnau. After some investigation it was discovered that when an importer couldn’t find a theater in London to show the movie (it was deemed too horrible), it was offered instead to the Society. Further investigation was unable to discover the actual person who held the copies of the film. 

Eventually “Nosferatu” would surface in America in 1929 but at this point, Florence had bigger fish to fry and was counseled to let the hunt for “Nosferatu” end so as not to negatively influence her negotiations for the Hollywood version of Dracula. In fact, the owner of the print was eventually tracked down and the print purchased for $400 by Universal whose creative people intended to gut it for all it was worth for their movie. It is a lucky thing for film history that Florence Stoker’s raging insistence that the film be totally destroyed was never carried out completely. The film remains an important part of the vampire story on film.

Count Orlok disintegrates in the morning sun. It's believed that this made popular the notion that sunlight is fatal to vampires.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dracula: The House of the Monsters

Entry six in the Dracula chapter I used for the proposal of Vampires' Most Wanted. The tale of Universal Studios is a fascinating one, more so than I could go into this entry. But the movie studio created some of the most enduring movie monsters ever. And were it not for their willingness to take a chance on a film adaptation of Dracula, the character's popularity might never have become what it is.

6. The Studio

Carl Laemmle, Sr.
Were it not for nickelodeons, Dracula may never have risen. In 1905, A German Jewish immigrant by the name of Carl Laemmle noted the popularity of nickelodeons while on a buying trip to Chicago. For the cost of a nickel, a person could stand at a console and watch a short silent movie played out on a screen the size of a small television. Instantly struck by the hold film had over people, he purchased several nickelodeons and when The Edison-backed Motion Picture Trust decided to start charging fees for any of the productions that ran in the machines, Laemmle and a group of others decided to start producing their own product. From there, he merged his Independent Moving Pictures Company with eight other companies and formed the Universal Film Manufacturing Company (which was later incorporated as Universal Pictures Company, Inc. in 1925). 

The beginnings of Universal Studios
In 1915 he converted a farm near Hollywood to what was the world’s largest movie studio. When it came to the movie business, Laemmle danced to his own tune. Unlike his competitors, he did not risk his money on opening a theater chain and preferred to finance all his own films rather than take on debt. He also opened up his studio to tourists, creating a chemistry with the audience who flocked to the studio’s inexpensive westerns, romances and serials. It was for a decade, the largest studio in Hollywood and found in Lon Chaney, box office gold with his horror movies “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923) and “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925). 

Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Why then, would Carl Laemmle balk at producing further horror movies to feed the bank account? He was originally against the purchase of the rights to Dracula. Later, when discussing “Frankenstein,” he would claim that he didn’t believe in the morbid genre. People didn’t want to see that sort of thing. But he felt compelled to go with it since, “Junior wanted it.” In 1928, as a 21st birthday present, Carl, Sr., handed over the studio to his son Carl, Jr., making him president of Universal. Carl, Jr. saw the potential of both talkies and the horror genre. The Great Depression hit the nation hard and monster movies connected with need of movie-goers for escapism which was growing as bank accounts were dwindling. 

Frankenstein's Monster
The Wolfman

The Mummy
Not all of Carl, Jr.’s ideas were healthy for the studio. His creation of a theater chain and occasional high-quality film productions proved too taxing financially for a studio that, like the others, was struggling to stay afloat in the poor fiscal climate. But his insistence that horror would prove to be a goldmine was all too right as the studio saw success with “Dracula,” the “Frankenstein” movies, “The Mummy,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Wolfman,” and decades later, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” These monsters would be horror staples for decades to come. In the past few decades, it brought us film terrors like “The Exorcist” and “Jaws” ; and sublime fantasies like “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.” Were it not for the success of that original monster mash, who knows where the studio would be today?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dracula: The Silver Screen

Entry four in my would-be chapter for my book Vampires' Most Wanted:

4. The Movie

The story of Dracula’s arrival on the silver screen is as involved as the novel itself due in large part to an uncertainty of adapting it to the screen; and the vast amount of adaptations floating around. In this tale, however, timing was everything for there was an even greater nemesis approaching that would ultimately impact the entire world. 

There were at this point two incarnations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (well, three if you count the unfortunate Morrell piece). The Hamilton Deane play was a slightly different version from the book. The Liveright production was a different version of the Deane play. Florence Stoker had managed to iron out rights over both productions, and a few in between (including that other movie to be discussed later), but she realized that should a film version be produced it would very likely rely heavily on the plays, not on her husband’s novel, leaving her rights further back in the dust. She had spent the past several years fighting for her rightful piece of the Dracula pie and was not about to let Hollywood take a taste without paying for it.

Universal studios was an early contender for the film rights, but was dragging its feet perhaps due partly to the amount of people involved. Along with Stoker there was Deane, Balderston and Liveright and it seemed that one was always threatening to sue the others, or Universal itself if an agreement was signed without their name on it. There was also the hesitation on the part of Carl Leammle, Sr. the man who started the movie studio. Horror just wasn’t his thing even though it had proven lucrative for him in the past. He had to be convinced by his son, Carl Leammle, Jr. to take on the project. At last, however, the principle players, rather than see the chance for a film slip away, agreed to a deal and the movie was green-lighted.

Conrad Veidt
The first choice to play Dracula was Conrad Veidt, a German actor whose heavy accent led him to return to Europe rather than face making a go of it in talkies. It was a concern of many a silent film star when sound came to the movies. The next choice was the “man of a thousand faces” himself, Lon Chaney who would ultimately play a vampire in the lost “London After Midnight,” but would lose his battle with throat cancer before getting the chance to play Dracula (in the 1943 movie “Son of Dracula,” his son, Lon Chaney, Jr., star of “The Wolfman,” would play the role his father had to pass up).
Lon Chaney as the vampire from "Vampire at Midnight"
Finally, with deal in hand, Universal hired Louis Bromfield to write the screenplay. A Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist, he was also a Broadway dramatist and was fascinated by the new style of the talking picture. What he was given to work with were two vastly different versions of the same story, each with strengths in their own right. Three stage plays (including the Morrell play) and the book. He favored the novel’s construct which would be easier filmed than it would have been staged. He also favored the idea of massive sets for Dracula’s castle and Carfax Abbey and even fancied a storyline that would meld the old, decrepit Count of the novel with the youthful Count of the New York production. Dracula would revert back to the old man during fits of hunger.

There was only one problem with putting Bromfield’s vision to print: The Great Depression, which was affecting everything nationwide including the magic of Tinseltown. It would dog every aspect of production for “Dracula” and it’s a wonder what might have been had the movie been awarded a budget larger than $355,000.

Tod Browning
Slated to direct the feature was Tod Browning, Lon Chaney’s director at Metro Goldwyn Mayer and a man who shared Chaney’s curious fascination with the grotesque (one of his most famous pictures would be the 1932 movie “Freaks” starring real side-show performers solving a murder). In his book Hollywood Gothic David J. Skal terms Browning “…a maddeningly difficult director to asses.” He had the talent, but lacked the execution of it. Browning’s drinking was legendary among his contemporaries in the industry and undoubtedly affected his work. For a man who seemed to favor the controversial, his direction of "Dracula" at times seems remarkably afraid to take chances. The movie is filled with long, static scenes that would have been better served by being interspersed with reaction shots or different angles. One shot runs nearly three minutes without a break or reaction shot that would have made it that much stronger. Dracula’s entrance is suitably spooky but his exit at the end of the film is anything less than climactic as we see Van Helsing leaning over Dracula’s coffin, the audience merely hearing the vampire’s groan as the Professor stakes him. The action cuts to Jonathan Harker helping Mina come out of the trance she was in from Dracula.

Was it Browning’s inability to get a handle on the movie that led to poor directing decisions, or rather Universal breathing down his neck to save money? It’s possible it was a bit of both. It was this cost cutting that turned Bromfield’s vision into something the much more closely resembled the plays. While the trip to Transylvania remained, the chasing of Dracula back to Transylvania was cut. Perhaps in a desire to make Renfield’s connection to the Count easier to understand, it was his character that journeyed to Castle Dracula where the Count put him under his spell. Dracula’s sea voyage to England which was supposed to show the vampire one by one wiping out the crew was reduced to stock footage of a ship sailing on the churning sea and Renfield tending the vampire’s coffin in the hold. Eventually, Dracula does come on deck, but we’re left with Lugosi gazing off camera at what must have been meant to be the crew he was about to attack. Still, this rendition did give us one of the creepiest scenes ever shot as the hold of the wrecked ship is opened the next day and Dwight Frye’s mad Renfield smiles ominously up at the camera. 

The mad Renfield guards his master's resting place
Dracula insinuates himself in the lives of Dr. Seward, his daughter Mina, her fiancé John Harker and Mina’s friend Lucy in a rather bland fashion and for no apparent reason. As in the plays, he becomes a welcomed visitor to Seward’s sanitarium until they figure out that Lucy’s death and Mina’s wasting condition can be tied to him. And Lucy as the "woman in white" was wasted as only one poorly lit scene alludes to her attacks on the young girls.

And yet, the influence this, the first talking supernatural thriller in film history had on cinema in general and the vampire genre in particular can not be discounted. Principal photography on the film was finished $14,000 under budget, which must have made the Leammles’ hearts jump for joy, as did, no doubt, eventual response to the film. The premiere was scheduled for Feb. 13, 1931 at the Roxy Theatre in New York to take advantage of Friday the 13th. When it was realized that this was the day before Valentine’s Day, they opened it Feb. 12. While not an instant smash, (it was pulled from the Roxy after eight days, grossing $112,000) the film picked up speed as it traveled across the country, eventually becoming the studio’s top money making picture of the year and vindicating Carl Leammle, Jr.’s faith in the financial potential of the horror genre and creating a few monsters all its own.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dracula: The Man Who Would Be Dracula

My editor actually wanted me to cut this entry from the book (I did manage to put it in the chapters on Scary Vampires. It was a request I couldn't honor (it's freakin' Bela Lugosi, for crying out loud). Though in some respects, the request is in keeping with the life that was Bela Lugosi's. He would touch the tiniest corner of fame, and then have it pulled away from him whether through his actions, through timing, or through circumstances.
5. The Star
The iconic look
What was it about Lugosi? Was it the regal bearing every bit the bearing of a count? Was it the strange cadence to his speech as he wrestled with words so foreign to him? Whatever it was, Bela Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula left an indelible imprint on the film going psyche and remains the archetype for the vampire decades after his performance. It seems amazing that the studio considered several other actors for the role before at last giving it to Lugosi, the man who played it so successfully on Broadway. He wore the role like a well tailored suit though in the end, the suit would be in tatters.
A young Bela Lugosi
Born Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko Oct. 20, 1882 in Hungary (not far from Transylvania) he would eventually take as a stage name a version of his home town’s name Lugos. His father was a banker and the Blasko children were expected to enter respectable careers as well. His siblings did. He couldn’t. Perhaps he had too much of the adventurer about him. Eventually he ran away to escape his father’s ruling ways. In 1913, he joined the National Theatre Company, after finding work in the back of a chorus with the Szeged theater and plenty of manual labor before that.
He was not a timid man. In 1914 he enlisted in the army to fight in the Great War. Once, while under fire from Russians, he left the tree he was using as cover to help a wounded comrade and then returned only to find that the tree had been blown away by a mortar in his absence. After his discharge he went back to the National Theatre Company and was eventually talked into Hungarian cinema by a friend. It was around this time that he became very political, trying to create a National Trade Union of Actors among theater and cinema actors; as well as writing politically orientated articles for trade journals. Decades later, he would be instrumental in forming such a union in Hollywood, though then, he did so anonymously perhaps remembering the turbulent time in Hungary. He backed the wrong horse politically and when Bela Kun’s communist regime fell, Lugosi was one of the many people fleeing from the wrath of the new government. He fled to Vienna and eventually to Germany where he found work in cinema there. In a curious coincidence, one of the people he found work with was F.W. Murnau, director of that other movie. Eventually, however, he found himself drawn to the United States and landed in New Orleans after an uncertain voyage across the ocean on a ship where the crew wasn’t exactly fond of his politics. He found his way to New York, immersed himself in the Hungarian community, and eventually found his way on the stage.
Aspiring star
His uncertainty with the English language has been given as one reason for his inability to find work. And it’s true that in the beginning he had to learn his part phonetically. But while he wasn’t a formally educated man, he was self-educated; a voracious reader who craved knowledge, perusing several periodicals daily, Hungarian and English. And he even sculpted the likeness of his own head that would appear in the 1932 play “Murdered Alive” that he starred in.
It’s possible that he would have had a more successful career had he stayed and made films in Germany. In Europe, as he explained once, an actor was expected to play a variety of rolls and play them well. In the U.S., the audience wanted to see the same thing over and over. He often bemoaned his reputation as a bogeyman, but it paid the bills.
Dracula's hungry
Dracula was a part that he lobbied for hard when the movie was being planned, even going so far as to contact Florence Stoker to help obtain the rights (his lobbying would eventually work against him with Universal executives who smelled his desperation and weren’t afraid to play off it). One can understand; he did after all perfect it on Broadway. The very traits that made him perfect for the role of Dracula, however, may have spoiled for him others. The distinct features, the mesmerizing stare, the thick accent; once that was associated with Dracula it was hard for audiences to see him for anything other than Dracula, or the characters of horror he would be compelled by financial need to return to throughout his life. Perhaps if the follow up movie he made to Dracula had been better, he might have been able to deter the typecasting. “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” based loosely on the Edgar Allen Poe tale, was given to director Robert Florey who had been scheduled to direct “Frankenstein” before it was given to James Whale. Lugosi played Dr. Mirakle, a mad scientist using virgins in an attempt to create a creature that he could breed with his ape Erik. While Lugosi’s performance was suitably unnerving, the movie itself left much to be desired thanks to some injudicious cutting.
After that he would be plagued by having to compromise, as he did when having to take $500 a week to star in Dracula. Money did not sit comfortably in Lugosi’s pocket. He was very much a man who lived for today and was also guilty of giving away money to people who needed it. Yet, fortune seemed always against him. He worked for a studio that changed hands in 1936 and the new owners were only interested in what they could get from his decreasing king of horror image. As his money troubles deepened, Universal would continue to take advantage of him and he would often work in outside, low budget productions that cemented his image further. When given something to sink his teeth into, he was perfectly up to the task as he did in the small budget “White Zombies.” 
(L to R) Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi
In his movies with Boris Karloff he was more than capable of holding his own and the common belief is that he stole the movie from him when he appeared as Ygor in “Son of Frankenstein” a role that was originally much smaller but grew as filming went on. Later he would play a notable yet small role in the Greta Garbo film “Ninotchka” which the actor hoped would prove that he could play something other than horror.
His worsening finances though left him taking whatever roles that he could. He was an actor after all, this was his craft. But he had been a star, and that’s what people were seeing; a fading star, taking whatever roles would pay the bills. And very often, they didn’t. In 1936 a ban on horror movies in Britain encouraged Universal to take them off their shooting schedule, leaving even less productions that would be open to Lugosi. When Bela Lugosi, Jr. was born in 1938, with no work coming in, Lugosi was left turning to Actor’s Relief to help pay the hospital bills. When a re-issuing to theaters of “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” resuscitated the horror market, the five-year deal he inked with Universal allowed him to buy back his beloved dogs after poor finances forced him to give them away. It brought him films, like “Ninotchka” but horror crept back in “Ghost of Frankenstein” where he reprised his role of Ygor to Lon Chaney, Jr.’s monster (Karloff had give up the role by this time); and in “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” he donned the make-up he refused over a decade before and at last played the Monster.
Abbott and Costello meet Universal Studio's big three monsters
Throughout his career, he spoke hopefully of making the transition to other roles but that reality seemed to slip further away from him. Back on the stage he saw some success replacing Karloff in the play “Arsenic and Old Lace” (many say his performance was better than Karloff’s). He reprised the role of Dracula in the film “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” a film and his performance that was well received with critics and audiences. As the years went by, however, his body of work seemed heavy with forgettable movies like “Scared to Death,” “Mother Riley Meets the Vampire” (a film he agreed to do to collect passage fare back from England) and “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.” It was in the 1950s that he met Ed Wood, a huge fan of Lugosi’s who tried to help him launch his career in earnest but poorly made films that Wood directed. It didn’t help.
In 1955, Lugosi entered rehab for a drug addiction that started during his days with Universal. Divorced from his fourth wife, he was living in an apartment and relying on the charity of friends to get him through. Upon leaving rehab three months later, he spoke glowingly of his plans to star in “The Ghoul Goes West” to be directed by Ed Wood. And in an effort to help people appreciate the danger of drug addiction, he starred in “The Devil’s Paradise,” a show that ran in a little theater in Hollywood. The “Ghoul” film never saw the light of day and on Aug. 16, 1956, he was found dead by his fifth wife. Lugosi made what he could with his career and the chances he was given. In the end, that might be all that anyone can say about their life.