movie memorabilia can be fun and even exciting, as Dennis Phelps,
ace collector, has demonstrated in this electronic pages several
times over the years. Now, he comes back to HORROR-WOOD to
show us his latest big find, something that will be of great
interest to any classic horror film fan, concerning as it
By DENNIS PHELPS
Many of you remember me as the
guy who wrote articles about collecting horror
movie autographs, collecting horror
props, and friend of make up man Harry Thomas
and film maker Ted V.
Mikels. I am also a huge fan of the actor Bela Lugosi.
Most of us remember Bela Lugosi
from his famous role in the 1931 Universal film Dracula. Many
are fans of his role as Igor in Son Of Frankenstein. Others
feel his role in White Zombie was his greatest triumph. In
1943, Bela Lugosi put on heavy makeup and padding to play
Frankenstein's monster in Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.
But, did you know that Bela Lugosi was cast in the 1931 version of
Dracula was a huge financial
success in February 1931. The studio was billing Bela Lugosi as the
new "Lon Chaney". Anxious for another successful horror film, Bela
Lugosi was cast in the 1931 film
Many questions are still
unanswered. How did Bela get cast in Frankenstein? Did the
changing of Directors affect Lugosi's role in the film? Did Bela
Lugosi agree to play Dr. Frankenstein, only to be pressured into
playing the monster? What would his makeup look like? Were Bela's
makeup tests as the monster successful or a disaster? Why do no
photos of Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein monster exist
Jack Pierce's personal photo
albums have no photos of Lugosi from this film. Did Lugosi refuse
the role because the monster had no dialog and his face was to be
completely covered under heavy makeup? Was Lugosi powerful enough to
break a Universal Studios contract for these two reasons or is there
another answer? Perhaps the answers to these questions are in Bela
Lugosi's personal scrapbook.
First, let me tell you a little
history of the scrapbook.
Bela and his wife Lillian put
together four or five scrapbooks with the help of professional
clipping services. Lugosi also brought home movie studio press books
to add to the scrapbooks. Late in his life, Bela was befriended by
Richard Sheffield, who ran errands, cleaned his desk and refilled
his water cooler. Richard even started a Bela Lugosi fan club to try
to revive the aging actor's career.
Bela eventually gave the
scrapbooks to his young friend and fan. Over the years, Richard kept
the scrapbooks under his bed, and at a friend's house. When Forry
Ackerman had a big auction in the 1980's, Richard Sheffield sold the
scrapbooks at auction to several collectors. The collector who
purchased the scrapbook from 1931-33 placed the scrapbook on eBay,
where I purchased it.
Let's browse through Bela
Lugosi's personal scrapbook and answer these questions. The answers
were printed in various newspapers in 1931 and 1932. How did Bela
Lugosi get cast in the 1931 version of Frankenstein? According to
Los Angeles CA RECORD dated April 22, Lugosi's agent signed him to a
long term Universal contract while the actor was in Hawaii filming
The Black Camel. Lugosi was "surprised" to learn that he
would star in Frankenstein and Murders In The Rue
According to this article,
Lugosi's agent signed him up for the role, without his knowledge. He
was probably authorized to act on Lugosi’s behalf because this 1931
and Lugosi was in Hawaii.
Did the changing of Directors
effect Bela Lugosi's role in the film? Did James Whale fire Lugosi
from Frankenstein and hire Boris Karloff? Before James Whale,
Robert Florey was to direct Frankenstein. But according to
Filmograph magazine (Hollywood, CA), dated April 25, 1931:
"... George Melford will direct Frankenstein; Bela Lugosi is
the star..." George Melford was the director of the Spanish version
of Dracula in 1931.
On May 16, Robert Florey was
signed to Universal and would "probably" direct Frankenstein.
Robert Florey went on to direct Lugosi in Murders In The Rue
Morgue. A June 30th article in the scrapbook states James Whale
renewed his Universal contract and will direct Frankenstein.
Was Bela going to play Dr.
Frankenstein or the monster? While several articles announce Bela
will have the title role, featured role or lead role, an article
from the June 8th Los Angeles Examiner states "...Bela
Lugosi, the star, speaks never a word in the
An earlier article from April 20
announces that Bela Lugosi will put on the make up for Universal's
None of the articles mentioned
Bela Lugosi would play Dr. Frankenstein.
What did Bela Lugosi's makeup
look like as the monster? Probably not like Boris Karloff's makeup
in the finished film. The various scrapbook articles describe the
monster as eight feet tall, with 12-inch shoes to complete the
illusion. The monster will be "a weird creature resembling a man of
the Neanderthal age whose mentality is astounding in some respects
but whose heart is that of a monster."
Carl Laemmle, Jr. planed "to make
the character on the screen appear even more awesome than Chaney's
Hunchback of Notre Dame."
According to the Union of San
Diego, CA (June 28, 1931) "When Lugosi is made up, only his chin and
eyes will be visible, grease paint and putty completely covering the
rest of his face." But according to the LA Record of June 7, Lugosi
was having problems with the makeup.
And according to a June 20th
article, "He (Lugosi) is now studying makeup for the
Perhaps these were the reasons
that Jack Pierce's photo albums contain no photos of Lugosi as the
monster in 1931.
Could Bela Lugosi break a
Universal contract because he didn't like the makeup and the monster
had no dialog? I doubt that argument would be strong
The Hollywood Filmograph
magazine dated January 2, 1932 offers a solution: "Bela Lugosi next
to play Frankenstein, but he told Carl Laemmle, Jr. that he figured
physically he was not strong enough to give the strength and power
to the characterization and begged to be given another; this was
done and he was given Murders In The Rue Morgue while Boris Karloff
played Frankenstein and immediately became a
The exact date that Lugosi was
replaced with Karloff is unknown. In the opening credits of
Frankenstein, the monster is listed as being played by "?"
and Boris Karloff’s name is not shown on screen until the closing
There you have the truth right
from Bela Lugosi's personal scrapbook... at least the truth as told
in official press releases in 1931 and 1932. I will bring this
scrapbook to The Monster Bash. Anyone who wishes to look through it
is welcome; email me here.
Thanks, Dennis, for
letting us peek through one of Bela Lugosi's scrapbooks. It
certainly sheds some light on what was happening with Lugosi during
the critical time he was slated to appear as the Frankenstein
Monster (and ended up with Murders In The Rue Morgue as a
sort of consolation prize). If only they had cast Lugosi as
Doctor Frankenstein and some unknown actor named Karloff to play the
Article copyright © Dennis
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