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Bela Lugosi Biography

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Birth Name: Bela Lugosi
Born: 10/20/1882
Birth Place: Hungary
Death Place: Hollywood, California, USA
Died: 08/16/1956

Born Béla Ferenc Dezsö Blaskó on Oct. 20, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary, Lugosi was raised by his father, Istvan, a banker, and his mother, Paula, both of whom reared their children in a Roman Catholic home. At 12 years old, he dropped out of school and by his early twenties, began acting in small roles for provincial theater. In 1911, Lugosi appeared in a number of stage productions and was a member of the National Theatre of Hungary, for whom he performed a variety of small and supporting roles. When World War I broke out, Lugosi joined the fight as a lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Army and was wounded on the Russian front after rising to captain, serving from 1914-16. Three years later, he fled his homeland during the Hungarian Revolution - a short-lived period where Communism took root after the war - and found his way first to Austria and then German, where he continued to act. Having already made his film debut in "A Leopard" (1917) under the name Arisztid Olt, Lugosi began appearing in several acclaimed German silent films, including "On the Brink of Paradise" (1920) and "The Caravan of Death" (1920).

In 1921, Lugosi intended to immigrate to the United States via New Orleans, but instead found himself entering the country through Ellis Island in New York that March. When he first arrived, Lugosi worked as a laborer before he returned to the stage in the immigrant Hungarian community, making his U.S. stage debut in "The Red Poppy" (1922) while forming the Hungarian Repertory Theatre that same year. After making his American film debut in "The Silent Command" (1923), Lugosi appeared in a number of stage productions, including a long run in "The Devil in the Cheese," before tackling his most memorable role. He made his first appearance as "Dracula" in a popular 1927 stage production in New York, playing the part for over 260 performances before Hollywood began offering him film roles - namely character spots in pictures like "How to Handle Women" (1928) and "Woman of All Nations" (1931). Though not the first choice of director Tod Browning, Lugosi went on to reprise his stage role for the feature adaptation of "Dracula" (1931), which originally had Lon Chaney slotted to play the vampire until he died of a throat hemorrhage.

Nonetheless, Lugosi made an indelible mark as Count Dracula, with his macabre appearance, strikingly theatrical performance style, and thick Hungarian accent making him the very incarnation of evil. Though at first the studio was nervous about audiences accepting a supernatural thriller, Universal Pictures was thrilled when "Dracula" became a huge box office hit, paving the way for such other horror classics as "Frankenstein" (1931), "The Mummy" (1932) and "The Invisible Man" (1933). Meanwhile, Lugosi hit the peak of his fame with starring roles in "White Zombie" (1932), "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1932) and "The Black Cat" (1934), though he was typically typecast as a horror villain - a dilemma that plagued him for the rest of his career. He tried in vain to establish himself in other genres, but often lost roles to other actors that may well have helped him branch out. For a number of films, including "The Raven" (1935), "The Invisible Ray" (1936), "Son of Frankenstein" (1939) and "Black Friday" (1940), Lugosi was paired with another horror giant, Boris Karloff, though he typically received second billing below the British star. Though reportedly he resented Karloff's success, particularly in genres outside science fiction and horror, Lugosi settled into an amicable working relationship with the actor.

Lugosi's fine supporting turn as the stern commissar in the Greta Garbo vehicle "Ninotchka" (1939) showed that he could play outside the horror and mystery genres, but his career degenerated in the 1940s despite his best efforts to break free of the mold that had been cast for him. Throughout the decade, Lugosi played a variety of killers and mad scientist roles in lackluster B flicks like "The Corpse Vanishes" (1942), "The Ape Man" (1943), "The Return of the Vampire" (1944) and "Zombies on Broadway" (1945). During this time, Lugosi's career slide went hand-in-hand with an increasing addiction to morphine due to his injuries suffered in World War I. He made his final studio film with "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948), in which he recreated Dracula alongside Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's Monster. Lugosi returned to the stage for the remainder of the decade, often recreating his role in "Dracula" or performing in "Arsenic and Old Lace." After returning from a six-month tour of England as Count Dracula in 1951, he starred in the low-budget horror comedy, "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" (1952).

At this point in his life and career, Lugosi had hit rock bottom. Heavily addicted to morphine and living in near-poverty, he was briefly rescued by wide-eyed filmmaker Ed Wood, a longtime fan of Lugosi's who nonetheless became notorious for being the worst filmmaker of all time. Wood cast Lugosi in his cross-dressing exploitation film "Glen or Glenda" (1953) as a scientist who narrates the story of a man (Wood) who becomes interested in transexuality - often considered a semi-autobiographical take on Wood's own penchant for cross-dressing. Lugosi next starred as a mad scientist in Wood's "Bride of the Monster" (1955), which turned out to be the actor's last speaking role. During post-production, Lugosi decided to enter a drug rehabilitation center and managed to wrest himself from his addictions. But his victory failed to last. Following a role as a mute in "The Black Sheep" (1956), Lugosi died on Aug. 16, 1956 of a heart attack while lying on his couch in Los Angeles. He was 73. Prior to his death, Lugosi shot test footage of him wearing one of his Dracula capes in a graveyard. Ed Wood later crammed the footage into the notorious "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (1959), widely considered to be the worst movie ever made.