Classic Video Showplace

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Bela Lugosi’s Early Years

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For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

We are counting down to RCN-TV’s Halloween Marathon here at The Showplace. 
It’s hard to have a comprehensive look at Halloween-themed movie classics without a discussion on the intriguing career of one Bela Lugosi.
Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó was born on October 20, 1882 in Lugos, Austria-Hungary. He dropped out of school at the age of 12, and at 18 began his acting career. Like the fictional Vito Corleone, Bela used his hometown in formulating his stage name.
Bela spent the next 20 years performing in foreign silent films and stage productions in various countries. He also fought in World War I and suffered injuries that would later come back to impact his acting career.
Lugosi arrived in America in October 1920 and worked odd jobs before forming a stock company comprised of fellow immigrants performing in various Eastern United States cities.
His first American film role was that of a villain in the silent movie, The Silent Command. Other film opportunities–all from New York City film companies–followed with Lugosi almost always cast in an antagonist or villainous role.
Bela was first approached about his signature role as Dracula for a Broadway production in the summer of 1927. The play was a hit and ran for 261 productions over a two-year span. The success earned Lugosi two starring movie jobs (Prisoners, The Veiled Woman). His two films were also successful, causing Lugosi to stay in Hollywood, but he failed to find any additional work in films.
He returned to his role as Dracula on the stage to continued critical acclaim. Despite this, when Universal Studios decided to produce the film version of Dracula, Lugosi was not initially cast in the titular role.
Throughout 1929 Bela continued to lobby for the part, constantly contacting Universal’s executives asking for the part. Dracula producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. also was not interested in Lugosi, in spite of the good reviews for his stage portrayal. Laemmle instead considered other actors, including Paul Muni, Chester Morris, Ian Keith, John Wray, Joseph Schildkraut, Arthur Edmund Carewe, and William Courtenay.
Lugosi happened to be in Los Angeles with a touring company of the play when the film was being cast.
Against the mounting swell of studio opinion, Lugosi ultimately won the executives over. One of the deciding factors was him accepting a paltry $500 per week salary for seven weeks of work, amounting to $3,500 for the entire production. (By comparison, supporting actress Helen Chandler was paid $750 per week and had less than half the amount of lines as the titular character had).
Bela had now captured the starring cinematic role he had long coveted. The film, along with Lugosi’s starring performance, were both major successes, but the Hungarian born actor would so begin to regret these turn of events.
We’ll have more on Lugosi’s life and career coming up next week here at “The Showplace.”
In the meantime, be on the lookout for Bela Lugosi in various horror flicks on RCN-TV like White Zombie, Ghosts on the Loose and other classics often seen this time of year. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.