The Reason Bela Lugosi Turned Down The Role Of Frankenstein

In 1931, Hungarian-American actor Bela Lugosi played the titular role in the movie “Dracula.” The success of the film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel is often credited for rescuing a struggling Universal Studios from bankruptcy, per Mental Floss. Although Lugosi had starred in an impressive number of films since his career began in 1917, his role as Count Dracula made him a household name.

Following the film’s success, Universal Studios green-lit an adaptation of another Gothic classic, Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” According to Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s “Frankenstein: A Cultural History,” the assumption was that Lugosi would play the titular role of Dr. Frankenstein. Writer-director Robert Florey was among those who pictured Lugosi as the mad scientist, but the movie’s producers saw the actor in the role of Frankenstein’s monster, considering he had made his name playing an unsettling creature in “Dracula.”

Ultimately, Lugosi turned down the role, and it went to English actor Boris Karloff instead. “Frankenstein” was released just nine months after “Dracula.” Here’s why Frankenstein’s monster haunted Lugosi’s career for years to come.

Bela Lugosi thought the role of Frankenstein's monster was degrading

In 1931, Bela Lugosi agreed to do a screen test for the role of Frankenstein’s monster. According to “Frankenstein: A Cultural History,” an argument immediately ensued between Lugosi and the movie’s makeup artist over what the monster should look like. Due to the heavy makeup that would render him unrecognizable, along with the few substantial lines given to the monster, Lugosi turned down the role, calling it fit for “a half-wit extra,” per Gregory William Mank’s “The Very Witching Time of Night: Dark Alleys of Classic Horror Cinema.” According to Hitchcock, Lugosi shouted, “I was a star in my country, and I will not be a scarecrow over here!”

Still, Lugosi went on to play the role of Frankenstein’s monster a decade later in the cult-classic movie “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” (1943). According to Mank, Lugosi only took the role for the money, and he hated performing the monster’s guttural scream. “That yell is the worst thing about the part,” he reportedly said. “You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!”

Although the film was a commercial success, Universal Studios execs reportedly disliked Lugosi’s performance and cut his role down significantly, according to Mank. They went on to cast other actors in their subsequent horror films “Son of Dracula” (1943), “House of Frankenstein” (1944), and “House of Dracula” (1945).

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