Bela Lugosi, born on October 20, 1882, began his acting career when he was a teenager in Hungary — and went on to become one of the best-known actors in the world. He was a prominent name in the horror movie genre and was best known for playing the roles of vampires in horror movies. Lugosi left his homeland, Hungary, for Germany, and then emigrated to the United States. Before making the jump to the big screen, he continued to pursue his passion on Broadway, where he gave historic portrayals of characters such as Count Dracula and Ygor from “Frankenstein.”
Bela Lugosi’s name is synonymous with the horror movie genre. Famous for his thick Hungarian accent, he dominated the screen for two decades until his death. Lugosi was born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882, in Lugos, Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania), into a Hungarian-Serbian family. At 12, he dropped out of school and left home. Initially, he played minor roles in plays and operettas in provincial theaters before moving on to perform in Shakespearean plays. After that, he did dozens of roles in the National Theatre of Hungary after moving to Budapest. He then made the jump to the big screen in silent films under the name of Arisztid Olt, first appearing in “Leoni Leo” (1917).
Following political instability in Hungary, Lugosi went to Vienna and then Berlin, where he settled in 1920. He continued his acting career in German silent movies, such as “Hypnose” and “The Head of Janus.” That same year, he went to New York and continued his acting career by performing with other Hungarian expatriate actors. In 1922, he performed in his first English-language Broadway play, “The Red Poppy.” The following year, he made his first big-screen appearance in the U.S., in the silent drama, “The Silent Command.” He continued acting on stage and in silent movies for several years. In 1927, he starred in the Broadway adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, “Dracula,” which became a massive success.
In 1928, he moved to Hollywood and signed a contract with Fox Films. When Universal Pictures acquired the movie rights to the “Dracula” adaptation in which Lugosi had starred onstage, he demanded the role of the Count be played on screen as well. Eventually, he got the role, and the film turned out to be one of the most notable film adaptations of the classic. However, this success affected him in another way: for the rest of his career, he was typecast as a horror villain. The movie “Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948) was both Lugosi’s last appearance as Dracula on film and his last “A” movie. Lugosi passed away from a heart attack in 1956.
After running away from home, he begins his acting career with stage acting at the age of 20.
Lugosi appears in his first film, the Hungarian silent adventure, “Leoni Leo.”
After moving to the United States the previous year, he settles in New York City and continues his acting career.
After roles on Broadway and in silent films, Lugosi moves to California and signs a contract with Fox Films.
He stars in the titular role in the film adaptation of “Dracula,” a role he had already played on stage.
Why We Love Bela Lugosi
Lugosi was a legendary actor
He was one of many actors who made a name for themselves during one of Hollywood’s most prolific eras, the famous Golden Age of Hollywood. Despite fierce competition, Lugosi cemented his place in cinema.
His legacy lives on
Lugosi’s portrayal of Count Dracula is one of the most famous in history, and many works involving vampirism use his likeness or are dedicated to him. His name appears on songs, and he also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Lugosi was a passionate activist
In Hungary, he was a big supporter of the Hungarian Communist Party and participated in the formation of an actor’s union. In the U.S., he was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild and helped form the Hungarian-American Council for Democracy for Hungarian Jewish refugees during World War II.
5 Surprising Facts
Lugosi’s last name
He took on the last name Lugosi to honor his birthplace, Lugos in the then Kingdom of Hungary.
He was a soldier
During World War I, Lugosi rose to the rank of Lieutenant and was even awarded the Wound Medal.
He worked as a crewman
To get to America, he got himself a job as a crewman on a merchant ship that was headed there.
He was paid very little
Despite the movie “Dracula” becoming a major hit, he was paid only a small sum of $3,500 by the makers.
Lugosi’s star donor
During his last years, Lugosi was unable to cover his hospital expenses, so Frank Sinatra visited him and gave him a $100 check.
Bela Lugosi FAQs
Was Bela Lugosi buried in his Dracula costume?
Yes, Lugosi was buried in full Count Dracula costume, a decision made by his ex-wife, Lillian Arch, and their son, Bela G. Lugosi.
Why did Bela Lugosi stop playing Dracula?
He didn’t. While Lugosi only played the Count onscreen twice, he did so numerous times on stage.
Did Frank Sinatra pay for Bela Lugosi's funeral?
No, Sinatra helped cover the cost of Lugosi’s hospital expenses. His funeral was paid for by his ex-wife, Lillian Arch, and his widow, Hope Lininger.
Bela Lugosi’s birthday dates