Monster memories of the great Lugosi...
 

 

 

 

Collecting monster 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 does...

THE LUGOSI SCRAPBOOK

By DENNIS PHELPS

Greetings, HORROR-WOOD readers.

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 Frankenstein?

Dracula, yes...Frankenstein, no...

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 Frankenstein.

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 today?

Lugoshi as a matinee idol of stage and screen...

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.

The scrapbook...

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 Morgue.

Scrapbook item #4...

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.

Scrapbook item #6...

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 picture."

Scrapbook item #3...

An earlier article from April 20 announces that Bela Lugosi will put on the make up for Universal's Frankenstein.

Scrapbook item #7...

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.

Scrapbook item #5...

And according to a June 20th article, "He (Lugosi) is now studying makeup for the part.

Scrapbook item #2...

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 enough.

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 star.

Scrapbook item...

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 credits.

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 Monster...

 

 

Article copyright © Dennis Phelps

Return To Contents Page  Lugosi was really in a fog at that time...