As Lennig recounts, the original director of “Frankenstein” was French filmmaker Robert Florey. In Florey’s interpretation, Frankenstein’s creation was a simple-minded monster, not the tragic and intelligent character of the novel. This turned off Lugosi, who thought the part of the monster was beneath him. Lennig writes:
“Like a true man of the theater, [Lugosi] resented that he would have no “sides” (dialogue) and would be stuck portraying a mute and heavily disguised creature capable only of grunts and growls. Anybody could do this, he stated with indignation. Aloof and perhaps somewhat intemperate, the former Hungarian matinee idol saw himself as a sexy man who had played the part of a vampire, not as a “horror” man hiding his good looks under grotesque makeup. Excited at last to be a big Hollywood star whose image adorned all Dracula’s posters, his sudden fame perhaps went to his head.”
The part Lugosi was interested in was Dr. Frankenstein. The doctor was more complex than his creation, the story’s true lead (with actual dialogue), and to play him, Lugosi wouldn’t have to conceal his good looks. Unless you’re Madeline Kahn, Frankenstein’s Monster isn’t anyone’s idea of a sex symbol.
Nonetheless, Lugosi agreed to a screen test; no images of him made up exist, so it’s unclear how close Lugosi’s monster resembled Karloff’s. A poster for “Frankenstein” was made with Lugosi’s name plastered on it, but of course, the film that arrived in theaters didn’t feature him.