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The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi’s dead.”

-From the song Bela Lugosi’s Dead by Bauhaus
Bela Lugosi
Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko Lugosi was a star of the theater in Austria-Hungary. He was a classically trained Shakespearean actor that was whisked away from the stage to the up-and-coming silent cinema of Austria-Hungary.

World War I suddenly cut his film career short and Bela enlisted in the army. He rose to the rank of lieutenant, but the war became too much for Bela. He was discharged before it ended and claimed, “I feigned insanity in order to get out of the service and return to civilian life.”

The War ended and Bela returned to his film career. He acted in twelve more silent movies before immigrating to America.

Bela could find know work as an actor in America and at age 40 had to turn to the work of a day laborer. His body was too old to take the physically exhausting work and he threw out his back several times. He continued to audition for the theater, but his accent was viewed as comical. He couldn’t land an acting job. According to Bela, “In Hungary, acting is a profession. In America, it is a decision.”

Bela finally got a break with the starring role in the play ‘Dracula’. His accent was actually key to him landing the part. The stage play was a huge success and Universal Pictures wanted to turn it into a movie, but Bela was not asked to reprise his role for the movie version. Universal Pictures wanted Lon Chaney, but Lon Chaney was under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios . With Chaney unavailable, Universal decided to give Bela a chance to reprise his role in the film.

DRACULA starring Bela Lugosi was released by Universal Studios in 1931. It was a huge critical and box office success. It made Bela a star. After a couple of years, DRACULA was relegated to a B-level horror flick. All of the films critical acclaim was forgotten and Bela’s performance was judged as completely over-the top.

Bela’s contract was dropped by Universal and he was only offered similar Dracula-type roles in low budget films. This was a serious blow to the Shakespearean trained actor. ” I used to be the big cheese. Now I’m playing just a dumb part.” – Bela Lugosi

Bela’s back injuries were acting up with age and he was becoming dependent on the morphine his doctors were prescribing.

Bela arrived on set for the Monogram Pictures B-movies, the only gig he could get, high on morphine. In attempt to hide his drug addiction, Bela would continually sip Burgundy wine and feign intoxication. Alcoholism was far more socially acceptable than injecting morphine.

The roles in the Monogram Pictures dried up and Bela’s morphine addiction was eating away at his finances. Bela claimed, ” Without movie parts I was reduced to freak status. I couldn’t stand it. ” Bela was in and out of rehab and no one would hire him except for the eccentric cult filmmaker, Ed Wood. Bela took the role in Ed Wood’s film PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Bela didn’t care it was considered one of the worse films ever to be made. Bela was just happy to have money for morphine and was relieved to not be playing Dracula.

Bela enjoyed his favorite meal of Hungarian Goulash and Burgundy wine at his home in Los Angeles. Bela didn’t eat much in the weeks following this meal and he survived mainly on morphine.

Before filming finished on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, Bela died alone in his Los Angeles home of a heart attack on August 15, 1956. Bela’s family requested that he be buried in his Dracula costume.

“Every actor’s greatest ambition is to create his own definite and original role but I found this to be fatal.” – Bela Lugosi

The Last Supper
Hungarian Goulash
Burgundy Wine
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