One has only to go out on Halloween, and look at the happy faces of every kid wearing fangs and a cape, to see the influence of actor Béla Lugosi, the iconic star of 1931’s classic horror movie Dracula.
But while that may be his most memorable role, Lugosi didn’t just play dashing and dangerous, and he didn’t just act. All of which is presented in Robert Cremer’s upcoming biography, Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape, which has just launched a Kickstarter that includes some special (and exclusive) editions of the book.
In the following email interview, Cremer discusses what’s in Cape, as well as what approach he took to this biography.
First, is this version of Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape the same one you published in 1976, an expanded version of that book, or a whole new book?
Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape is, in every sense of the word, a new edition. The original edition of the book, entitled Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape, was a much more limited edition due to a page limitation determined by the publisher. Only a fraction of my extensive, exclusive interviews with Lillian Lugosi, Béla’s wife of 20 years, her sister Valeria Springer, his nephew Béla Loósz, and his closest Hungarian friend Vili Szittja, appeared in the original edition. Greater access to digitized library and archive collections of information in Romania, Hungary, and the U.S. provided additional information about Béla’s life and career unavailable at that time to us. Finally, Lynne Lugosi Sparks, curator of the Lugosi Family Archives and CEO of Lugosi Enterprises, has completed the archiving of immense amounts of information in the family archive, which was begun by her mother decades ago, is now available to fans for the first time in this revised and expanded version of the biography.
These significant additions illustrate just how different this revised and expanded biography is from the original edition. The content of the current edition has been increased by 60%. Interviews with family, relatives, and friends have increased dramatically, as has information from other sources. This has resulted in adding four new chapters in order to provide new revelations about certain periods in his life.
The story of Béla’s life has also undergone a transformation from a story into a storybook with the addition of over 700 film stills, never-before-seen family photos (some in color), original documents, historically significant correspondence, Béla’s poetry written while he was on the provincial stage in Transylvania, and original artwork by noted artists. The original edition contained a paltry 42 photos.
Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape is obviously a biography, but what makes it different from previous biographies about him, including your own?
This biography takes the reader on a “deep dive” into the private life of the famed actor with information and details contained in no previous biographies on him. The insights into various turning points in his life are revealed through the words of those who experienced these events with him. The book details his childhood in Transylvania, what forces and experiences motivated him to become an actor. Expanded chapters detail in vivid terms what led to his gradual decline into dependence on painkillers to continue working. Newly included interviews with directors Robert Florey, Edgar Ulmer, Rowland V. Lee and Edward D. Wood, Jr. detail behind-the-scenes accounts of his film career. For example:
- Why Béla was not cast in the role of Dr. Frankenstein in Frankenstein.
- Why Rowland V. Lee’s battle with Universal to allow Béla to develop the character of Ygor almost cost him his job.
- What role fishhead stew played in the legendary collaboration of Béla with Ed Wood on the cult classics Glen Or Glenda, Bride Of The Monster, and Plan 9 From Outer Space.
The exclusive nature of much of this expanded information promises readers a biography full of surprises and unexpected depth of information. Misinformation about his personal life and professional career is dispelled with striking new evidence.
Biographies can take a couple different approaches. Some are scholarly, and thick with facts; some take a more lighthearted approach, or are written more narratively; and some try to strike a balance between those approaches. What approach did you take with Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape and why was this the best one for this bio?
The book provides detailed information about events in Béla’s life that corrects numerous misconceptions. Documenting the sources for this information necessitated the use of endnotes. This might lend an academic air to the work; however, my approach was to tell his riveting story with an appropriate narrative pace. I deliberately kept the academic requirements to a minimum in order to give full rein to the dramatic momentum of the story itself. Interviewees assisted me in this effort with their vivid recollections, which enabled me to bring scenes in the biography to life with dialogue provided by them.
Béla’s story is unique, and because of this fact, I felt that telling Béla’s story as a typical biography, beginning with his childhood and ending with his death, would not do justice to him or the moral he had to tell. Yes, there is a moral to Béla’s story that I felt could best be highlighted through the use of flashback, which would help the reader to answer a central question: What factors led to Béla reaching an unparalleled pinnacle in his career in Dracula and ending his life in B-movies in Gower Gulch, dependent on methadon? His story begins with the flashback, depicting the physically punishing cross-country tours he embarked on at an advanced age in the late 1940s that led to his increasing dependence on painkillers to keep working. The flashback ends with his successful treatment for dependence on drugs and alcohol. The reader will find the answers to this question by reading the remainder of the biography, beginning with his childhood in Lugos, where he developed his passion for acting, noting the influences in his life that brought him to this point.
What emerges from this thought-provoking journey is a fuller understanding of Béla’s remarkable personal and professional standards — at once his most admirable qualities and his Achilles heel. After reading this biography, fans will enjoy Béla’s performances all the more, because they will know the story of the man behind the cape and its impact on his professional career.
Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula in 1931’s Dracula is iconic and influential. But some of the things it inspired have, of course, been less than serious. Does Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape talk at all about things like The Count from Sesame Street or Bauhaus’ “Béla Lugosi’s Dead” or how every Dracula Halloween costume also looks like him?
The points you mention, Paul, are the subject of an informative epilogue to the biography provided by my colleague and renowned Lugosi expert, Dr. Gary Rhodes, who has authored 10 books on Lugosi and his films. He delves into a surprising number of areas that capture the fuller scope of Béla’s legacy that extends far beyond his impact on film history to his all-pervasive impact on pop culture generations later. “Count Chocula” breakfast cereal, the Count von Count on Sesame Street, Halloween costumes and children’s toys, are just a few of the items highlighted by him as examples of the staying power of Béla’s definitive interpretation of Count Dracula. Rhodes relates fascinating information regarding Béla’s impact on the depiction of Count Dracula by other actors as well as on his ability to overshadow Bram Stoker’s own very different description of the Count and trademark this literary figure as his own.
Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape has just launched its Kickstarter campaign, and, as always, there are different tiers. For $150 people get the hardcover book; for $200 they get the book in a nice slipcase, and with an art print and an old school 8″x10″ headshot of Béla as Dracula; and so on. How did you decide what the different tiers would get, and are any versions exclusive to Kickstarter backers?
The folks at Clover Press [publishing this book] worked closely with me and Lynne to choose these unique items. Everything in this campaign is exclusive to Kickstarter backers; you won’t find them anywhere else. Clover plans on eventually releasing the hardcover to the broader book market, but it won’t include any of the extras. No poster, puzzle, prints, heirloom box. If you want these special items, this is where to get them.
The Kickstarter for Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape can he found here.