8 December 2014

Lobbying for Dracula

Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi is best remembered for his role as the vampire Count Dracula in Tod Browning's "Dracula" (1931). Many people still think he is the quintessential Dracula, not least because he was actually born in Transylvania giving him the ideal appearance and accent. Lugosi's Dracula adventure began in the summer of 1927 when he was asked to play Dracula on Broadway. The stage play was very successful, ran for 261 shows in New York before going on tour in the U.S. throughout 1928 and 1929. But despite the fact that Lugosi was a success both with audiences and theatre critics, he wasn't Universal Pictures' first choice for the film adaptation (Paul Muni and Lon Chaney were amongst the studio's first choices). Universal didn't like the fact that he was unknown to movie audiences and also feared his being foreign would be bad for box-office results. Lugosi, however, was determined to reprise his role for the screen and lobbied hard to get it. 

One of the persons Lugosi had asked to help him secure the film role was Harold Freedman. Freedman was agent to John Balderston, one of the two playwrights who had adapted Bram Stoker's novel for the stage (the other one was Hamilton Deane). In early 1930, Lugosi heard about the potential plans to bring "Dracula" to the screen and, as Freedman was trying to sell Balderston's rights to the play, he got in touch with Freedman to offer himself as the ideal Dracula. Freedman subsequently suggested Lugosi to Universal, but without success. By June 1930, Universal was still not interested in Lugosi, and on 25 June a desperate Lugosi sent Freedman this telegram: "Spent many months to promote Dracula. Spent many cables with London to bring down price. Will you please express opinion to Universal for me being the logical choice to be cast for Dracula? Your kindness will be greatly appreciated" [source]. Freedman sent him a letter back the next day, after which Lugosi wrote him this letter on 12 July: 

Source: heritage auctions/ image reproduced with permission


July 12: 1930

Mr. Harold Freedman,
Vice-Pres. & Gen. Mgr.
Brandt & Brandt Dramatic Dept.
101 Park Avenue
New York: N.Y.

Dear Mr. Freedman:

I have your letter of June 26th in reply to my wire, and wish to thank you very much for your kind effort in suggesting that I play the part in "Dracula" when it is filmed. I am sure that the success of this enterprise will be largely due to your endeavors, which I very much appreciate. 

Hoping we may have future business interests together, and again thanking you, I remain,

Yours very truly,

(signed) Béla Lugosi

N.B. If you have plays in which there are great character parts suitable to my kind of ability, I would appreciate it if you would send me copies; my permanent address is: 1146 North Hudson Avenue, Hollywood, California  
*By August 1930, Universal was still very indecisive on whom to cast for the role of Dracula. Lugosi, meanwhile, had gained the support from the trade journal "Hollywood Filmograph" that began to promote him as the ideal candidate. And director Tod Browning also supported him, saying he preferred an unknown European actor over a well-known American star. Persuaded that Lugosi was the right choice, Universal finally offered him a contract on 12 September 1930 (and they paid Lugosi a very small salary because he was so desperate to play the role).

Publicity photo for "Dracula" with Helen Chandler and Bela Lugosi.

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