By Nick Thomas ~ Above photo: Bela Lugosi in “Dracula” ~
Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó was a veteran more than 170 stage plays and several silent films in his native Hungary when forced to flee to Germany in 1919 for political reasons. Known under the stage name Arisztid Olt, the 6’ 1” actor with piercing blue eyes re-branded himself after his hometown of Lugos and appeared in a dozen German films billed as Bela Lugosi before moving to the United States in 1920.
A decade later and approaching 50, Bela Lugosi’s name would become forever etched in Hollywood history when the mesmerizing actor portrayed bloodsucking Count Dracula in Universal’s 1931 horror masterpiece, “Dracula,” a role he previously played in theaters across America for three years (see www.belalugosi.com).
Married five times, his only son – also named Bela Lugosi – may have inherited the Lugosi genes, but not the craving to act.
“I actually took my dad’s good advice and stayed away from the camera because he thought actors were too dependent on producers and agents,” said Lugosi, now in his early 80s, from Los Angeles. “He hoped I would follow some other career path, so I went to law school and worked in the area of celebrity rights.”
Nevertheless, the younger Lugosi couldn’t escape the famous name throughout life and even attempted to minimize the attention for a while growing up.
“Until I started law school, I went by Bill instead of Bela,” he said. “But it didn’t deflect the recognition. So I’ve gone by Bela G. Lugosi or Bela Lugosi Jr. most of my life and am proud of it, of course. Hardly a day has gone by that someone hasn’t recognized the name. But people are very nice, although some still think I’m my father!”
Young Bela Jr. spent much of his early life at military school, but the memories of his dad remain vivid.
“He was a very caring father, but also an authority figure,” he explained. And when mischief was afoot, his father only had to conjure up the menacing stare of his most famous character.
“Oh yeah, that look was all it took!” he said, laughing. “And no, he didn’t dress up as Dracula for Halloween which I don’t really even remember because I was away at boarding school a lot.”
Bela Lugosi only appeared twice as Dracula in feature films, the second being 1948’s “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”
“I visited him during the production,” said Lugosi. “I remember they hired a comedian to come on set to make everyone laugh and relax. I also remember everyone treating my dad with so much respect, just as I’ve heard he always treated the cast and crews he worked with.”
Despite working for two more decades after the original “Dracula” film, Lugosi says his father could never escape the role he famously created.
“He was such a versatile actor before that movie, and it typecast him, but he was proud to have made the character his own,” he said. “I’m sure he’d be amazed to know his popularity today and how fondly he’s still remembered.”