Bela G. Lugosi, Defender of Celebrity Heirs

by Armand Vaquer

Above, Bela G. Lugosi at the Son of Monsterpalooza convention in October 2013.  Photo by Armand Vaquer.
Bela G. Lugosi (also known as Bela Lugosi, Jr.) is a California attorney and the only child of actor Bela Lugosi. Lugosi was born to Bela and Lillian Lugosi in 1938.

Lugosi was admitted to the California Bar in June 1964.

He is most noteworthy for his dogged pursuit of Universal Pictures for exploiting his father's image in merchandise.

The pursuit of celebrity heir rights began around 1963 when he noticed stores were selling plastic model kits of Dracula in his father's image that were licensed by Universal to Aurora Plastics Corp. Aurora also sold model kits of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster, Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man and several others, each licensed by Universal.

Lugosi contacted Universal in 1963 and asked to examine his father's contracts with the studio. Universal agreed to Lugosi's request, much to their later regret. Instead of researching his father's career, he decided to file suit against the studio for "illegally exploiting his father's image" with the theory that those rights belonged to Lugosi, Sr.'s estate. Before doing so, he attempted to extract a settlement from Universal, but was unsuccessful.

After this, he filed suit against Universal Pictures (Lugosi v. Universal Pictures), alleging that they were in "breach of contract" and "unjust enrichment" in profiting from products featuring his father's likeness as Dracula.

Lugosi's legal battles against Universal dragged on for years. Some court decisions were won, but were later reversed during appeal. Ultimately the studio prevailed when the California Supreme Court upheld an Appeals Court decision that ruled in favor of Universal.

Above, Bela Lugosi, Senior and Junior in the mid-1950s.  
However, the outcome of the Lugosi case eventually led to a new law, the California Celebrity Rights Act of 1984 (it is only effective in California, but other states have enacted similar laws). This removed deceased celebrities from the public domain and allows their heirs to collect proceeds from sales of merchandise with their likenesses.

The experience of Lugosi v. Universal Pictures made Bela G. Lugosi an expert in the field of defending the rights of celebrity heirs.

I spoke with Bela G. Lugosi at last weekend's Son of Monsterpalooza and found him an easy man to talk to (see Son of Monsterpalooza). 

Comments

  1. Good for him. All the years he lived with his father who was routinely cheated out if money, he deserves all he can get

    ReplyDelete
  2. A lot of actors from that era were being ripped off by the studios. To continue to do that to them and their families after their deaths was despicable. I'm glad Lugosi was able to do something about that.

    ReplyDelete

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