Dracula’s Success Wasn’t Entirely A Good Thing For Bela Lugosi

For a role that seemed so perfect for Bela Lugosi, originally, he wasn’t even the first choice for the part. After delivering indelible performances in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Phantom of the Opera” — a film featuring one of the first jump scares in movie history — silent era star Lon Chaney was set to play Dracula. Chaney, to be sure, would have delivered something special on screen, but he passed away suddenly before production could start. Lugosi had been performing in “the vampire play” in London for over 250 performances before debuting on Broadway at the Fulton Theater in October (of course) of 1927. The play, dramatized by Hamilton Deane and John Balderston, was an unmitigated success, and Universal Pictures cast Lugosi in the role of Cheney’s replacement. 

Incredibly, Lugosi was already 49 years old when he was hired, but he was not known for any other role up to that point, setting the stage (so to speak) for audiences to forever link him to Dracula. His presence on screen was only highlighted by Karl Freund’s haunting cinematography, especially during Lugosi’s unforgettable introduction at Castle Dracula. Those purely gothic visuals combined with Lugosi’s peculiar line delivery (probably due to a language barrier) trapped Lugosi inside the minds of moviegoers for the rest of his lifetime. Even if you haven’t personally seen 1931’s “Dracula,” a picture of Lugosi is still imprinted onto your subconscious. Almost 100 years later, it’s still one of the most recognizable images in cinematic history. 

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