Bela Lugosi. The seductive leading man – with a bite.
Who doesn’t love a good monster? We love to be scared and horrified. But lusting after these beasts? There is only one Beast sexy enough to be repel and attract us at the same time. The Vampire.
In classic works of horror literature, such as John Polidori’s novel The Vampyre (1819) and Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla (1872), vampires were sexy monsters. In Carmilla the female vampire is “slender, and wonderfully graceful. Except that her movements were languid–very languid–indeed, there was nothing in her appearance to indicate an invalid. Her complexion was rich and brilliant; her features were small and beautifully formed; her eyes large, dark, and lustrous; her hair was quite wonderful, I never saw hair so magnificently thick and long when it was down about her shoulders.”
In John Polidori’s The Vampyre (Lord Ruthven) is described thus: “In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a warmer tint, either from the blush of modestly, or from the strong emotion of passion, though it’s form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions, and gain, at least, some marks of what they might term affection.”
In contrast to these alluring vampires Bram Stokers Dracula (1897) depiction of the creature of the night is rather stark, if arresting and “His face was a strong—a very strong—aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.”
Not exactly dashing eh? As an avid reader since childhood, Stoker surely would have read Carmilla and The Vampyre, but may have seen in these novels a romanticized version of the vampire monster rather than the stuff of nightmares. Legends of vampires, largely from Eastern Europe were not romantic at all. Vampires were considered beasts of prey. When Stoker wrote the novel most associated with the modern idea of a vampire, Dracula, he based his vampire, not on romantic ideals but on a blood thirsty monster–A man, but also an otherworldly beast. We can assume he was familiar with woodcuts of Vlad Tepes (or Vlad Dracul) the Voivod (prince) who lived around 1436 in the region of Wallachia, Romania because this is where he got the title for the novel. Also, at the time he was working in the Lyceum Theatre, London and I have read that he also based the look on Henry Irvin the manager of the Lyceum. There is certainly a similarity between images of these two man and his description of the Count.
So, how did Stokers sharp featured beast become the most romantic anti-hero of pop culture of the past century? Though Stoker was not the first writer of vampire gothic fiction, his novel Dracula that has had a much more enduring legacy than any other telling of the legend. Dracula is one of the most famous novels ever written. So what caused Dracula to become such a sensation? One reason – it’s sexy, one word title “DRACULA”. And to think he was going to title it “The Undead”.
The myth of Dracula is popular in other areas of the Arts. The film industry’s depiction of Dracula has had us swooning for nearly a century. Which brings us to the suave and handsome Hungarian, Bela Lugosi. With Lugosi, Dracula went from being a hideous monster into a charming, sinister aristocrat. A sexy beast was born.
Lugosi’s Dracula was so iconic that it was used everywhere – cartoons, comics, animation and TV shows, and in merchandising.
Max Schreck’s, Nosferatu
Nine years Before Bela became the beautiful beast of the underworld Prana Film released the German Expressionist film Nosferatu starring Max Schreck. Nosferatu was based on Bram Stokers Dracula, but they changed a lot of details due to copyright issues with Stoker’s widow. Thus, Count Dracula became Count Orlok, played by Max Schreck. Like Lugosi, Schreck created quite an iconic look, but in an entirely different way. Schreck’s creepy rat-like appearance barely resembles a man at all, it is a natural denizen of the underworld. Many people think the the word “Nosferatu” means “Dracula” in Romanian, but it actually means “The Repugnant One”. Schreck was repugnant alright, downright repellent.
Lon Chaney’s, London After Midnight
Actor Lon Chaney would have done Stoker proud if his version of a Vampire had made it to the screen. Chaney had played a Vampire in London After Midnight in 1927, directed by Tod Browning and Browning wanted Chaney for the part of Dracula. Lon Chaney, the “Man of 1000 Faces” was a self taught make-up artist known for creating some pretty gruesome looks for his characters. Sadly, Chaney died before Browning made his film, but as you can see, his Dracula could have been a real shocker.
Chaney was a great actor, depicting both the inner turmoil and outer ravage of many a monster, which I will cover in another blog. Chaney’s Dracula would have been more horrific and terrifying than Lugosi’s suave, measured portrayal. Chaney didn’t do suave. Didn’t need to! Lon Chaney was a horror master and we love him for it. The beauty of Lugosi’s Dracula is, however, that he appealed to everyone – horror and non-horror fans alike, young and old.
Bela Lugosi’s, Dracula
When the stage version of Dracula premiered in London in 1924 the world got it’s first introduction to the charming, dark haired tuxedo-wearing Count Dracula, with Raymond Huntley. Huntley’s Count Dracula had a sophisticated demeanor and seductive nature that played well to a theatre audience. When the play was brought to America in the late 1920s, Bela Lugosi took over the title role. When Browning got to casting his film Dracula, he went with Lugosi, who also starred in his 1929 film The Thirteenth Chair. So, while the iconic look of Dracula was born on the London Stage, Bela Lugosi brought to life the romantic icon we all know and love today. It is probably no surprise to know that the film Dracula was released on the 14th February, 1931 under the slogan: “The Story of the strangest passion the world has ever known”.
The film Dracula became a commercial and critical success which lead to many more versions of the film being made over the years by Universal. They even had a big hit with the Hammer House of Horror films with Christopher Lee bringing great lustful energy to the title role. Since then every decade has had a version of the sexy beast of the undead – all of whom seduce the young women sensuously, until they suck her blood dry.
Let’s cast a long, cold eye on some sexy Dracula’s:
Whether or not he’s your favorite Dracula, Lugosi created the iconic on screen sexy vampire, which spawned a century of gorgeous men who want to suck your blood and seduce you at the same time. Over the years I have read many times that Bela Lugosi did not want to be typecast as Dracula. He had been a romantic leading man in Hungary, and when he moved to the US he wanted to continue to play those kinds of roles. He did end up being typecast as Dracula and his career took a different direction.However, he was a romantic leading man – with a bite! Bela Lugosi brought sex and danger to monsters on the big screen and seduced a century of film-goers.
Researched and written by: Dorothy Fletcher Bentley
Edited by: Kerry Leary
1897 – The novel Dracula, written by Bram Stoker is published
1922 – German Expressionist film Nosferatu released, with Max Schrek as Count Orlok
1924 – Theatre production of Dracula plays on the London Stage, with Raymond Huntley as Dracula
1927 – Theatre production of Dracula plays on Broadway in New York, with Bela Lugosi as Dracula
1927 – London After Midnight, Directed by Tod Browning is released, with Lon Chaney as the Vampire/Hypnotist
1930 – Lon Chaney, Tod Browning’s first choice for Dracula, dies of lung cancer
1931 – The Universal horror film Dracula, (Dir. Tod Browning) is released on Valentines Day under the slogan “The Story of the strangest passion the world has ever known”, with Bela Lugosi as Dracula