The character of Dracula has been portrayed by several actors throughout the years in various adaptations of stories about the blood-sucking count. Lon Chaney Jr., Christopher Lee, and John Carradine were some of the men who played Dracula, but perhaps the name most associated with the character is Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi. Interestingly, he played the role of a vampire four times in his career — two of those times as Count Dracula (via Bela Lugosi).
Lugosi started his acting career at a young age in Budapest, Hungary. In 1921, the actor immigrated to the United States but was given limited roles as he was not yet fluent in the English language. In 1927, Lugosi nabbed the titular role in Broadway’s “Dracula,” and it was a huge success, per Britannica. The theater production was so outstanding that Universal Studios decided to make a film adaptation. The first choice to play Dracula was Lon Chaney, who was known for his portrayal of grotesque characters on the stage and screen. However, Chaney passed away of throat cancer before filming even began, and Universal Studios needed to fill the vacant role, per Untold Horror.
Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula
After Lon Chaney’s death, Universal Studios executives didn’t have their eyes on Bela Lugosi. According to Screenrant, Conrad Veidt, Paul Muni, and John Wray were the actors being eyed to play the role of Dracula. Universal Studios believed that Lugosi was not famous enough to be cast in the role, and his name paled in comparison to the other actors that were under consideration. However, director Tod Browning believed that Lugosi was the right choice, as he had previously worked with the actor. Eventually, Browning was able to convince Universal to give Bela Lugosi the role of the first-ever portrayal of Dracula on the silver screen (via Groovy History).
“Dracula” was released in 1931. Bela Lugosi’s portrayal was praised, with many saying his Hungarian accent added appeal to the character. The film was such a success that it paved the way for Universal Pictures to be the top studio in the horror genre, per Britannica. The studio’s next horror project was an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” and Lugosi was offered to play the role. It didn’t pan out during the screen test, however, and the role went to Boris Karloff.
Bela Lugosi's other vampire portrayals
Bela Lugosi surely made a name for himself on the silver screen with “Dracula,” and he wasn’t even paid that much for it. Per Lethbridge News Now, the actor was paid only $500 a week for a seven-week shooting schedule, while his co-star David Manners made $2,000 per week. Nevertheless, Lugosi wanted the role so badly that he took what was offered to him. After Lugosi’s success as Dracula, he once again reprised the role in the 1948 film “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” He also played a vampire — though not Dracula — in the films “Mark of the Vampire” and “The Return of the Vampire” (via Vamped).
Although Lugosi portrayed many different roles in his decades-long career, he is mostly remembered as the original Count Dracula. In fact, he took the character to his grave. When Lugosi died in 1956, his wife and son decided to bury the actor with his signature Dracula garbs, complete with the cape. Contrary to popular belief, Lugosi never mentioned anything about being buried in the costume, but his family believed that’s what the actor would have wanted.
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