Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Hollywood Gothic - The Tangled Web of Dracula From Novel To Stage To Screen"


by Armand Vaquer

Bela Lugosi achieved celluloid immortality when he signed with Universal Pictures to play the title character in the 1931 Tod Browning-directed Dracula.  Financially, he was screwed.

Lugosi portrayed the vampire king on Broadway to amazing success (amazing, as he was not all that fluent in English at the time, but he mastered the language well enough to no longer need to learn his English dialog phonetically), but he was signed to a contract for a paltry $500 per week for a seven-week shooting schedule.   One wonders what he would have received had he not been the star of the movie!

In contrast, David Manners, for his nothing role as Jonathan Harker in the same movie, was given a $2,000 per week salary (Universal also had to pay Jack Warner his loan-out fee for the use of Manners).  Part of this was Lugosi's own fault.  His campaign for the role was interpreted as "desperation" by the Laemmles (Carl Sr. and Jr.) and they took advantage.  Manners later became disenchanted with Hollywood and claimed to have never seen "his most famous film."

These and other factoids are in abundance in David J. Skal's "Hollywood Gothic - The Tangled Web of Dracula From Novel To Stage To Screen."  The edition I have is the 2004 first revision, which was a Christmas present, thanks to my Lugosi-loving daughter Amber.

Above, Bram Stoker.
Skal is a noted horror film historian who has written several books on the horror movie genre and has appeared in numerous Universal classic monster movie DVD featurettes.  (When I told him I received the book as a Christmas present, his reply was, "Hope you enjoy--happy holidays!")

As the name implies, "Hollywood Gothic - The Tangled Web of Dracula From Novel To Stage To Screen" takes a detailed look at the various incarnations of Dracula from the original 1897 Bram Stoker novel to its theatrical productions; the battles of widow Florence Stoker over the unauthorized German film Nosferatu; the tragedy of Bela Lugosi; and the various movie versions over the decades.
Above, Bela Lugosi in the 1931 "Dracula."
Plus, it delves into the court battles between Bela George Lugosi (an attorney) and Universal over merchandising rights involving Bela Lugosi’s image as Dracula after Lugosi discovered an Aurora plastic model kit bearing his father’s image as Dracula. 
 
Happily, Skal's writing style makes each phase and topic interesting and entertaining.
 
The book also has numerous photographs, most from Skal's own personal collection.

Skal refers to the 20th century as "The Dracula Century" as the character has been in the public eye (in one form or another) throughout all the century's decades.
 
"Hollywood Gothic - The Tangled Web of Dracula From Novel To Stage To Screen" is a great read and Skal's extensive research pays off in spades.

The book was published by Faber and Faber, Inc.  ISBN 0-571-21158-5.  $18.00 U.S.  370 pages.

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