Bela Lugosi stands for Dracula. It is synonymous with the character, the myth and the film. It is often a condition associated with becoming an icon or being an icon. In Lugosi’s case, however, the actor’s embodiment of the Gothic creature is so absolute that one could metaphorically assert that it was Dracula who portrayed Lugosi.
In any case, what is certain is that one cannot exist without the other after the universal horror classic. Dracula (1931) theatrically released. It is a particularly strange phenomenon that the creator of the graphic novel Koren shadmi captures in exquisite detail in his new book Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula.
published by Humanoids‘ Drawn life legal notice, Shadmi’s Lugosi is a biography of one of the most titanic and tragic Hollywood figures in the history of the industry. It follows Lugosi’s career on stage, his involvement in a failed Hungarian Communist revolution that took place in 1919, his rise to international recognition thanks to the film. Dracula, and how addiction and loneliness ultimately led to her demise.
The book is phenomenally documented and structured. He embraces the theatrical character of Lugosi and leans on it to present his story as a kind of long-lasting play. This plays out even more once the story hits the exit of Dracula in 1931, which imprints on Lugosi this new capacity to remain perpetually in the role of the vampire, in varying degrees of intensity.
Much like Shaadmi’s previous biography, The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the birth of television (also published by Humanoids), Lugosi is a comprehensive look at a larger-than-life public figure and the times he lived in, which both helped shape man and then destroy him.
Rhythm corresponded with Shaadmi on his new book, Lugosi’s Theatricality Dracula inside and outside of the movie, and her favorite Lugosi movie. It follows below.
Ricardo Serrano: Bela Lugosi is not the first public figure you studied. You have a book on The twilight zoneRod Serling called The Twilight Man which also touches on the birth of television. Lugosi and Serling are two very distinct personalities and it is obvious that you treat them as such because each book definitely carries its own identity. What attracted you about Bela Lugosi’s story after working on Serling’s?
Koren Shadi: Lugosi was on my list of possible book topics for a while, I think about 5-6 years ago I was traveling upstate with my wife and we were listening to a podcast from story there were two episodes on Lugosi, I think she fell asleep, but I was totally mesmerized by her roller coaster of a lifetime. He can easily compete with Count Dracula himself for a dramatic life story. I tried to bring out his unique personality; he was a very romantic, very emotional person but also had many demons that he struggled with. If Rod Serling felt alienated from the world by his war experiences, Lugosi was alienated from the fact that he was a Hungarian immigrant with a heavy accent. They were very different people but there are a lot of similarities, both were adopted by Hollywood and then ultimately rejected.
Serrano: There is a very theatrical quality to Lugosi’s presence throughout the book, especially after he played Dracula on screen and how that influences how he presents himself everywhere. Was it intentional or was that just what his personality really was?
Shadi: It was intentional; he came from a theatrical background, and I didn’t have enough room to show him so much in the book, but he kept coming back throughout his career on stage. There is actually a scene where Tod Browning told Lugosi to tone down his exaggerated physical gestures he had been so used to from the theater. It’s a different language from cinema. The theatrical manners were also apparent in Lugosi’s personal life, it is almost as if he wanted his biography to read like a play.
Serrano: The amount of research that goes into a book like this has to be enormous, not only in terms of the character’s personal history, but also in terms of the time in which he lived. How did you choose the material that would end up in the book and was there anything that didn’t make the cut you would have liked to make?
Shadi: Most of what you do when writing a non-fiction comic book biography, I find, is chopping up information and altering the life story. With Lugosi, as was the case with Serling, a lot of things had to be edited, otherwise I would have had a 500 page graphic novel, and I can’t have it. I chose the things that seemed to me the most crucial, and the most revealing of his character. I think more than anything that I wanted the reader to feel connected to Lugosi – even though he was a little terrible at times, he was human, and I hope you can see the reasons for his flaws and eventual downfall.
Serrano: For a long time, Tim Burton Ed Bois (1994) was one of the few options available to an inquisitive audience seeking to learn more about Lugosi in an accessible way. Has the film influenced or helped you in a big way and do you think it did Lugosi’s story justice?
Shadi: I deliberately did not watch Ed Bois until I’m done writing! I had watched it as a teenager and absolutely loved it, but when I was writing the book I almost forgot about the plot of the movie. I have done a lot of independent research. Fortunately, when I watched it, I saw that there was only one or two parallel scenes from the Ed Wood / Lugosi period. There are a lot of things the movie left out and changed as well. For example, they completely excluded his wife from the picture. I understand this is made for drama, but in my script I tried to stay more true to the story of his life. I hope readers can now see the full extent of Lugosi’s incredible life through my book, and not just his sad final days. Also, what happened to Tim Burton, he really lost his mojo, didn’t he?
Serrano: I think Burton started to rely too much on CGI for his own good. You know, a string of bad movies could force him to take the same path as Lugosi as his career crumbles (although I don’t think it will end as tragically as it did for Lugosi). What is true for both is that there are undeniable classics in their filmographies. With that in mind, what’s your favorite Bela Lugosi movie?
Shadi: My favorite Lugosi movie is The black Cat (1934). This is the ultimate Lugosi /Boris Karloff strong test. It’s very beautiful visually with these amazing art deco outfits and outfits. Lugosi definitely wins this one, he gives his habit on the best performances compared to Karloff. Highly recommended.
Koren shadmi Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula will be released on September 28, 2021.