Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko was born on October 20, 1882, in Lugos, Hungary, the town from which the surname Lugosi is derived. The man who would come to be forever associated with Count Dracula was the youngest of four children born to parents who didn’t feel one way or the other about either blood or vampire bats. His father was a banker.
Bela began his stage career in 1901, and first appeared in films during World War One where he served as an infantry lieutenant and was wounded three times. He fled to Germany in 1919 as a result of his left-wing political activity (he organized an actors’ union in Hungary), and in 1920 immigrated to the United States. He eked out a living as a character actor, his first stage role in “The Red Poppy”. He could not speak English and learned the role phonetically. His performance earned him excellent reviews and his first film role as a villain in “The Silent Command” (1923).
Stardom came in 1927 with his portrayal of Count Dracula in the Broadway stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famous novel about the “King of The Vampires.” The show ran for three years and was then brought to the screen in 1931, produced by Ted Browning and starring your favorite Hungarian vampire. Landing the part was a stroke of luck, for Lon Chaney was slated for the role and would have gotten it had he not died before production could begin.
Bela still did not speak English very well at this time and once again, had to learn his part phonetically. It took him another two years to become fluent in the language. He became so famous that he reportedly received even more fan mail than Clark Gable, the hottest male star of the cinema at the time.
Unfortunately, his star plummeted because of subsequent bad roles and a morphine addiction that he tried to conceal by sipping burgundy on the set. His marriage of three days to a wealthy San Francisco widow, Beatrice Weeks, created quite a stir and placed his name in the tabloids of the day. All in all, he married five times and had one son who bears his namesake and is a lawyer in Los Angeles.
He died of a heart attack in August of 1956. He so identified with the role that made him famous that his final wish was to buried in his Dracula garb, which he was. There may have been many who followed in this famous role, but none better than the king of vampires himself, Bela Lugosi.