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Poor Bela . . .


TomJH
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Was Bela Lugosi the Rodney Dangerfield of his day? At least, as far as respect was concerned in billing? I always knew that he received second billing to Karloff whenever they were co-starred. I can sort of understand that. But there he was, fresh from the stardom of his sensational appearance as Dracula the previous year, receiving second billing to Sidney Fox (!!!) in Murders in the Rue Morgue.

 

Of course, it's Lugosi's performance as Dr. Mirakle for which the film is remembered, along with the sets and that guy in the ape suit. But why, oh why, couldn't Universal at least have given him top billing in this film? Contractual negotiations of some kind, but how many viewers went to see this one in 1932 because they were just dying to see Sidney Fox in her latest?

 

There were apparently rumours at the time about Fox's relationship with Universal mogul Carl Laemmle Jr. If true, perhaps that explains the billing. To be fair, the little remembered Fox's film career quickly peetered out (if her one dimensional performance in Murders is representative of most of her work I can understand why), and the poor girl was deemed a probable suicide with her death from an overdose of sleeping pills in 1942.

 

Aside from the tragedy of Fox's own life, though, Lugosi deserved better than second billing in Murders.

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Murders in the Rue Morgue has always existed on a very slippery slope among horror movie buffs. While I do feel that it has always been unjustly underrated, I understand the arugments against it. Robert Florey deliberately paces his film, so that we get a really good look at all the bizarre settings and brilliant Karl Fruend fogs. The love interests are merely tolerable, and while Sydney Fox is pretty damn-sexy, her performance certainly doesn't do much to validate her auspicious, top-billing over Bela Lugosi, who is clearly the whole show here!

 

 

Who knows, right? Bela would become, tragically well-accustomed to this kind of treatment through-out his career. This was one of the few, "quality-productions", atleast from a prestige stand-point that Lugosi ever made, and he received virtually no backing from the studio he had helped save, one year-prior, with his success in Dracula. Karloff had the whole studio promoting his genius, and Murders in the Rue Morgue became sort of a footnote in annals of Universal horror.

 

 

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Perhaps Lugosi's biggest problem was not only that the studio probably felt people would only see him as Dracula(which, thanks to the studio, they DID), but also his "pea soup" Hungarian accent. I have no doubt that Lugosi likely had to fight the suits' desire to relegate him to the same character roles that usually went to "Cuddles" Sakal. His classic training and central European good looks aside, they probably saw him as a one dimensional comodity. Lugosi's breadth and depth as an actor was never fully utilized by any studio, and as a result, we all missed out on what could have been many outstanding performances.

Sepiatone

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Lugosi tried his best to remove himself from the horror films genre but he didn't have much luck. The best being his role in "Ninotchka" with Garbo. According to Wiki, Universal Studios cut almost 20 minutes from MotRM" because of violent sequences in the film. This was pre-code also. Would be interesting to see of they survived somehow.

Bela didn't have much luck in his marriages either. Four months after wedding his third wife in 1929, she filed for divorce, naming Clara Bow as the other woman. There was a rumor that Frank Sinatra paid for his funeral, because Bela was so poor, but no evidence to support that.

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Dear Tom,

 

Having studied his life and filmography, I believe it boiled down to a lack of a good agent and not "playing the game" in Hollywood. Had he sought my advice in 1931, I would have counseled him to get the best agent in town (that would not have been a problem after his smashing *Dracula *success). He didn't earn very much money for a star of his name recognition, another result of a lack of good representation.

 

I also would have advised him to hit the club and party circuit more. Showing up at the "right" parties and meeting the "right" people was how so many deals were consumated. (That's still probably true.) Getting invited to the best shindigs also would not have been a problem for him after his Dracula triumph. Being seen at the "right" nightspots was also essential for publicity purposes. Lugosi was an intesenly private man who confined his social life to compatriots in the Hungarian American community. I would have told him to keep his social calendar open for poolside parties with Goldwyn, Marion Davies et al.

 

I would also have told him to demand the type of 5-7 year contract that most any star got back then. Instead, he appeared to work as a "free agent", bouncing around from one studio and production company after another. He worked for all the majors, many of the poverty row producers and a few independents.

 

Edited by: ThelmaTodd on Jan 23, 2012 7:42 PM

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I've heard that since Lugosi primarily stayed within a Hungarian community, his command of English was limited, at best. In fact, I've even heard that he spoke his dialogue for films phonetically, not really understanding everything that he was saying. This may explain some of his awkward emphasis on some words, causing some audience members to snicker at his delivery.

 

Would anyone know if this is true? This would also help to perhaps perhaps further explain why Lugosi's career was as limited as it was as far as good material was concerned.

 

I know that he had a line of dialogue in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in which he referred to people "going to masquerade ball" instead of going to the maquerade ball. Leaving out the article "the" in his delivery seems to indicate that by 1948 English was still not a language with which Lugosi was particularly comfortable.

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Carl, great thoughts! I agree wholeheartedly!!! Bela is definitely the whole show here, and how macabre, in the ways that he experiments on these women...how sleazy and horrific it all is, and that is the beauty of this early film. Bela really had a malevolence that he could convey in contrast to the sense of old world elegance and manners. He was a joy to watch in anything, and this flick is rarely screened, so it was fun to watch!

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Hello Tom,

 

The myth that *Lugosi* was just parroting lines that he didn't understand derives from when he fiirst started on the stage as a recent immigrant in the early 1920's.

 

Take a look at a bio of him on an English language website from Budapest:

 

http://www.pestiside.hu/20101029/sink-your-teeth-into-a-hungarian-stars-legacy/

 

*"As there was a rich Hungarian cultural life in New York and other cities then, Lugosi got busy with a Hungarian stage company. They were putting on Madács’s Tragedy of Man at the Lexington Theater in 1922, when Lugosi’s remarkable stage presence was noted and appreciated by off Broadway producer Henry Baron. Baron signed Lugosi to star in a play called The Red Poppy, which opened at the Greenwich Village Theater At this time Lugosi did not speak English, but was eager to learn. He was given a tutor and 12 weeks to learn to parrot the lines, even though he didn’t understand them. You could imagine his nervousness reciting lines he barely understood, to a large audience. He delivered a letter perfect performance."*

**

By the time he made it big in films, his English was more than adequate for socialising!

 

When he was interviewed by entertainment reporter *Dorothy West* in 1932 in his backyard garden as part of the "*Intimate Interviews*" series, you could plainly see and hear that his English was more than adequate

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjA8OpNblcg

 

7 minute clip

 

 

I believe he socially stuck to his own people as a form of psychological buffering. He was an alien in a strange land, very very different from the one he came from. He lived through war, revolution and political terror. (The Danube got jammed from the bodies of people executed in political purges near Budapest!) By the time he came to America, the "horror master" had seen his share of real life horror. The manic optimism and la-dee-dah of America in the 1920's and Hollywood must have struck his Hungarian temperment as rather strange.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks, ThelmaTodd. Listening to Lugosi in his 1932 Intimate Interviews it is apparent that his English was quite adequate.

 

By the way, I wish some of these Intimate Interviews would pop up on TCM. They're fun to watch even if they are somewhat staged. The only one I've seen on the channel is with Jimmy Cagney.

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>Universal Studios cut almost 20 minutes from MotRM" because of violent sequences in the film.

 

I just watched my recording last night (seen it screened before!) and wondered if the interjected snippets of the "real" chimpanzee to the "man in gorilla suit" was supposed to represent the ape **** the girl? Or do I just have a filthy mind?

 

>His classic training and central European good looks aside, they probably saw him as a one dimensional comodity. Lugosi's breadth and depth as an actor was never fully utilized by any studio

 

Well said sepiatone. I find Lugosi very charming, key to his performance as Dracula. I would have loved to have seen him in romantic leading parts. Seems we all really recognise & enjoy his intense style of acting, he doesn't come across as hammy like Laughton or Barrymore. He's just captivating.

 

In one of our screenings of a Lugosi film, they included an early short interview with Lugosi at his home. He certainly was a handsome, elegant man. I feel sorry that his talent went unrecognised by the moguls and he received such shoddy treatment as second billing & typecast roles.

I am most saddened that an entire generation will only think of him as a drug addict from that Burton film.

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Lugosi was a very distinguished and honored actor in his homeland. From a biographical article published on a Budapest website:

 

http://www.pestiside.hu/20101029/sink-your-teeth-into-a-hungarian-stars-legacy/

 

*As I look over the list of Lugosi’s credits from the Hungarian stage alone, I am astounded by their sheer number. From between 1902 and 1919, he starred in about 165 productions! That’s an average of almost 10 per year. They included Hungarian productions of Shakespeare, such as Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Macbeth, Julius Ceasar, Schiller’s Maria Stuart, Goethe’s Faust; Hungarian literary classics like Madács’s The Tragedy of Man (Az ember tragédiája) and historical play’s like II Rákóczi Fogsága by Szigligeti.*

 

*From 1917 to 1918, he starred in 9 Hungarian films, three of them directed by the legendary film genius Kertész Mihály, who went on to America as Michael Curtiz and immortality as the director of the famed movie Casablanca (1941) (often voted as one of the best and favorite movies of all time), and other film classics.*

**

 

Lugosi became a member of the prestigous *National Theater in Budapest* in 1913, an honor reserved for the most distinguished actors. Founded by nobleman and revolutionary patriot Louis Kossuth in the 1840's, the NT provided old age and retirement pensions to it's members as part of it's effort to promote the theater arts and artists.

 

 

I think Lugosi's heavy accent got him typcast in American films as mysterious, suspicious foreigner, spy, villian, bad guy, monster and mad scientist.

 

 

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>For an American english speaker, reporter Dorothy West did a good job pronouncing his name in her interview with him. (See interview link in my last post) "Bay-la".

 

Not to be confused with model and sometime actress Bayla Wegier, whom Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck christened Bella Darvi ("Darvi" being a contraction of Darryl and his wife's name, Virginia. Considering that Miss Wegier was also Zanuck's mistress at the time, Mrs Z was awfully understanding).

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His classic training and central European good looks aside, they probably saw him as a one dimensional comodity. Lugosi's breadth and depth as an actor was never fully utilized by any studio(sepiatone)

 

True. I imagine it was studio politics (what isn't) that saw Karloff rise while Lugosi was overlooked.

 

I find Lugosi very charming, key to his performance as Dracula.

 

I was embarrassed for him in his later moviews, but as you said, TikiSoo, he was charming - I also found him handsome, riveting, and very sexy as Dracula. Was his agent to blame? Could an improved diction have helped him? Or was it entirely studio politics?

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> {quote:title=willbefree25 wrote:}{quote}His classic training and central European good looks aside, they probably saw him as a one dimensional comodity. Lugosi's breadth and depth as an actor was never fully utilized by any studio(sepiatone)

>

> True. I imagine it was studio politics (what isn't) that saw Karloff rise while Lugosi was overlooked.

>

> I find Lugosi very charming, key to his performance as Dracula.

>

> I was embarrassed for him in his later moviews, but as you said, TikiSoo, he was charming - I also found him handsome, riveting, and very sexy as Dracula. Was his agent to blame? Could an improved diction have helped him? Or was it entirely studio politics?Diction was not his problem. Well....., suffice it to say, that James Whale was Mr. Big, for a time at UNIVERSAL, and we all know that Karloff, a fellow Bristisher, was Whales' boy. So it's not hard to extrapolate the reason for Lugosi being given the shaft or stake. Lugosi, on the other hand, had the sinister, dark kind of look that made him perfect for the type of parts he was given. Whether he could have eventually moved into the kind of roles essayed by a Paul Lukas is a matter of conjecture, but he could have easily moved into the kind of villainous roles played by Conrad Veidt if he would have had a Director that was willing to work with him instead of against him. However, it is important to remember that Veidt rarely starred in anything during the sound era, while LUGOSI, for the most part, had top billing in all his poverty row films. Who is to say who was the more successful or who made the better carreer decisions. Who today has the better name recognition BELA LUGOSI or CONRAD VEIDT? Certainly not Paul Lukas.

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> {quote:title=willbefree25 wrote:}{quote}His classic training and central European good looks aside, they probably saw him as a one dimensional comodity. Lugosi's breadth and depth as an actor was never fully utilized by any studio(sepiatone)

>

> True. I imagine it was studio politics (what isn't) that saw Karloff rise while Lugosi was overlooked.

>

> I find Lugosi very charming, key to his performance as Dracula.

>

> I was embarrassed for him in his later moviews, but as you said, TikiSoo, he was charming - I also found him handsome, riveting, and very sexy as Dracula. Was his agent to blame? Could an improved diction have helped him? Or was it entirely studio politics?

 

 

Diction was not his problem. Well....., suffice it to say, that James Whale was Mr. Big, for a time at UNIVERSAL, and we all know that Karloff, a fellow Bristisher, was Whales' boy. So it's not hard to extrapolate the reason for Lugosi being given the shaft or stake. Lugosi, on the other hand, had the sinister, dark kind of look that made him perfect for the type of parts he was given. Whether he could have eventually moved into the kind of roles essayed by a Paul Lukas is a matter of conjecture, but he could have easily moved into the kind of villainous roles played by Conrad Veidt if he would have had a Director that was willing to work with him instead of against him. However, it is important to remember that Veidt rarely starred in anything during the sound era, while LUGOSI, for the most part, had top billing in all his poverty row films. Who is to say who was the more successful or who made the better carreer decisions. Who today has the better name recognition BELA LUGOSI or CONRAD VEIDT? Certainly not Paul Lukas.

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