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The Curse of Dracula

The following is an article from Bathroom Readers' Institute 13th edition Uncle John's All-Purpose Extra Strength Bathroom Reader. Image Credit: Spiff 27 [Flickr]

In every film about Dracula, there's a curse. But did the curse extend beyond the screen ... and actually affect the people involved with bringing the character to life? Don't dismiss the idea. Read these stories ... and then decide.

Horace Liveright. The stage producer who brought Dracula - and later Frankenstein - to America made a fortune doing it. But he was a terrible businessman and spent money as fast as it came in. He made more than $2 million on Dracula alone, but was so slow to pay author Bram Stoker's widow, Florence, the royalties she was due that he lost control of the stage rights in a dispute over a delinquent payment ... of a mere $678.01. He died drunk, broke, and alone in New York in September 1933.

Helen Chandler. She was only 20 when she signed on to play the female lead Mina Murray in the 1931 film version of Dracula, but she was already close to the end of her film career. It was tragically shortened by a bad marriage and addictions to alcohol and sleeping pills. By the mid-1930s she was no longer able to find work in Hollywood, and in 1940 she was committed to a sanitarium. Ten years later she was severely burned after smoking and drinking in bed, in what may have been a suicide attempt. She died in 1965.

Dwight Frye. In the 1931 film, Frye played Renfield, the character who goes insane after meeting Dracula and spends the rest of the movie as Dracula's slave. He performed so well in that part that he was offered a similar role in the movie version of Frankenstein, As Dr. Frankenstein's hunchbacked assistant, Fritz.

Unfortunately for him, he took it - and was promptly typecast as the monster's/mad scientist's assistant for the rest of his career. He didn't get a chance to play any other type of role until 1944, when he was cast as the secretary of war in the film Wilson. Not long after he won the part, Frye had a heart attack on a Los Angeles bus and died before he was able to appear in the film.

Carl Laemmle, Jr. As president of Universal Pictures, he did more than anyone else to establish Universal as the horror movie studio of the 1930s. He left the studio after it was sold in 1936 and tried to establish himself as an independent producer. He never succeeded. A notorious hypochondriac, Laemmle eventually did come down with a debilitating disease - multiple sclerosis - in the early 1960s. He died in 1979 - 40 years to the day after the death of his father.

Bela Lugosi. Worn out by years of playing Dracula in New York and on the road, Lugosi was already sick of the vampire character by the time he began work on the film version; the indignity of being paid less than his supporting cast only made things worse. Reporter Lillian Shirley recounted one incident that took place in Lugosi's dressing room between scenes:

I was with him when a telegram arrived. It was from Henry Duffy, the Pacific Coast theatre impresario, who wanted Mr Lugosi to play Dracula for sixteen weeks. "No! Not at any price," he yelled. "When I am through with this picture I hope never to hear of Dracula again. I cannot stand it ... I do not intend that it shall possess me. No one knows what I suffer for this role."

But like a real vampire, Lugosi was trapped in his role. Dracula was a box-office smash when it premiered in 1931 and Universal eager to repeat it success, offered Lugosi the part of the monster in Frankenstein. It was the first in a series of planned monster movie roles for Lugosi that Universal hoped would turn Lugosi into "the new Lon Chaney," man of a thousand monsters.

STUBBORN KIND OF FELLOW Foolishly, Lugosi turned down the role of the Frankenstein monster because there was no dialogue - Frankenstein spoke only in grunts - and the makeup would have obscured his features, which he feared would prevent fans from knowing that he was the one under all that makeup.

The role went instead to an unknown actor names William Henry Pratt ... who changed his name to Boris Karloff [wiki] and within a year eclipsed Lugosi to become Hollywood's most famous horror star of 1930s.

"Thereafter," Davis Skal writes V Is for Vampire, "Lugosi was never able to negotiate a lucrative Hollywood contract. Dracula was the height of his Hollywood career, and also the beginning of its end." His last good role was as the monster keeper Ygor in the 1939 film Son of Frankenstein, considered to be the finest performance of his entire career.

COUNT ON HIM Lugosi played Count Dracula for a second and final time in 1948 Universal film Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, his last major-studio film. After that he was reduced to appearing in a string of low-budget films, including Ed Wood [wiki] film Bride of the Monster (1956). Wood also had cast Lugosi in his film Plan 9 From Outer Space (1958), but Lugosi died on August 16, 1956 (and was buried in full Dracula costume, cape, and makeup) ... so Wood recycled some old footage of Lugosi and hired a stand-in, who covered his face with his cape so that viewers would think he was Lugosi. When he died, Lugosi left an estate valued at $2,900.

... LAST, BUT NOT LEAST Florence Stoker. Mrs. Stoker was nearly broke when she sold Universal the movie rights to Dracula, a sale that, combined with the royalties from the novel and the London and American plays, enabled her to live in modest comfort for the rest of her life. But she never did get rich off of the property that would bring wealth to so many others. When she died in 1937, she left an estate valued at £6,913.

... Then again, Mrs. Stoker may have been luckier than she knew: After her death it was discovered that when Bram Stoker was issued copyright for Dracula in 1897, he or his agents neglected to turn over two copies of the work to the American copyright office as was required by law; and the Stoker estate failed to do so again in the 1920s when the copyright was renewed in the U.K. Since Stoker failed to comply with the requirements of the law, Dracula was technically in the public domain, which meant that anyone in the United States could have published the novel or adapted it into plays, movies or any other form without Mrs. Stoker's permission and without having to pay her a cent in royalties.

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's All-Purpose Extra Strength Bathroom Reader. The 13th book in the series by the Bathroom Reader's Institute has 504-all new pages crammed with fun facts, including articles on the biggest movie bombs ever, the origin and unintended use of I.Q. test, and more.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!


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