The Truth About Bela Lugosi: Iconic Dracula's Hollywood Nightmare

By | May 1, 2019

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Left: Bela Lugosi and Helen Chandler in 'Dracula' (1931). Right: An undated publicity photo of Lugosi. Sources: IMDB; John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Moviedom's archetypal Dracula, Bela Lugosi will always be remembered as the father of horror movies. But for all his memorable scary work on the screen, he had many demons in real life. He sabotaged his own auditions, he destroyed his marriages, he wasted money faster than he could make it, and he spent the last 20 years of his life in the thrall of morphine addiction. Despite being one of the biggest stars of the early "talkie" era, Lugosi seemed to be a man driven to self-destruction. 

His portrayal of the blood-sucking Count Dracula in 1931's Dracula is one of the most important moments in cinematic history -- it not only breathed life into an industry of horror movies that continues today, but it imbued the character with a mystique and even sex appeal that still endures. Unfortunately, Lugosi had more valleys in his career than he did peaks, but he gave the world -- and horror fans especially -- something special.  

Lugosi Grew Up In Hungary Before Immigrating To America

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Before he was Bela Lugosi, horror film actor, he was Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko. Born in 1882 in Hungary, Lugosi had his eyes set on the stage since he was a young boy. He took to the theater in his home country before becoming a stage actor in Germany and changing his name to “Lugos.” Following World War I, he worked on a merchant marine ship and immigrated to the United States where he found small roles on stage but had to learn his lines phonetically.

Aside from his stage work, Lugosi found some success in playing baddies in small films, usually as an evil foreigner thanks to his “exotic” looks. Most prominently, he appeared in The Thirteenth Chair, a film directed by his future Dracula cohort Tod Browning.