Legendary stage and screen actor of the 1910s through 1950s. He is most widely identified with his title role in the movie “Dracula” (1931). Born Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko in Lugos, Banat, Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania), he was the youngest of four children of a banker. Bela began his acting career on the stage in Hungary, playing in several Shakespearean plays (Hamlet, MacBeth, King Lear, and Richard III), and appeared in several silent movies of the Hungarian cinema under the stage name of Arisztid Olt. When World War I broke out, he became an infantry lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Army, being wounded three times. In 1917, he married Ilona Szmik, but she died without children three years later. In 1919, Bela moved to Germany and was well received in German cinema, appearing in “The Death Caravan” (1920) and other films. Following the death of his wife, in 1921 he emigrated to the US, and worked as a laborer before being spotted in the title role of the 1927 stage play “Dracula.” When Universal Pictures decided to film “Dracula” (1931), he had to campaign vigorously for the opportunity to get the same role. When the movie, “Dracula” (1931) became successful, Lugosi was given a studio contract with Universal; that same year, he became a US citizen. In 1929, he married a wealthy San Francisco widow named Beatrice Weeks, their marriage lasted only three days, and their divorce papers named actress Clara Bow as the cause of the breakup; the notoriety quickly brought him to Hollywood film attention. Due in part to his heavy accent and his success in Dracula, he was soon typecast in such B-horror films as “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1932), “Chandu the Magician” (1932), “Mark of the Vampire” (1935), “The Raven” (1935), “The Invisible Ray” (1936), “Son of Frankenstein” (1939), “The Black Cat” (1941), “Night Monster” (1942), “Voodoo Man” (1944), and “Zombies on Broadway” (1945). He was often paired with Boris Karloff, an actor most famous as the Frankenstein monster, and despite their rivalry, they remained good friends. In the 1940s, he was reduced to making B-films, and after suffering a back injury, he became addicted to morphine. On the set, he would disguise his addiction by sipping burgundy wine. He ended up making movies for Ed Wood, considered by many as the worst director in Hollywood history, and he died while shooting the now-cult classic film “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1959 – released after his death). He died of a drug related heart attack in his Los Angeles home, a copy of the script for “Final Curtain,” written by director Ed Wood, in his lap. He was buried wearing one of his many Dracula capes, per the request of his fifth wife, Hope Lininger, and his son, Bela Jr. At the time of his death, he was so poor that his family could not afford to bury him, and his friend Frank Sinatra quietly picked up the cost of the funeral. In 1997, he was honored on a 32 cent US postage stamp, part of a set of five stamps honoring “Famous Movie Monsters,” in his Dracula role.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson