By Gene Stevens Monsters After Midnight (c)
It’s hard to think about Bela Lugosi without waxing philosophical about who Bela was and how people perceive his film career. Despite the fact that Bela played many roles on both the stage and screen. The name of Bela Lugosi and Dracula are forever intertwined together. Chances are that most people would not even be able to name any of Bela’s other characters. But it’s a foregone conclusion that they would identify Bela as Dracula and be challenged when asked to name others who played the same role.
Bela occupies the collective consciousness of fact and fiction in people’s minds. And the movie Director Tim Burton understood this about Bela when he reintroduced Bela to the public consciousness when Martin Landau played Bela Lugosi in his movie “Ed Wood”.
Tim Burton took a lot of creative license with all of his characters in Ed Wood. But just like Ed Wood, Burton used Lugosi as a grand character in support of his main star Ed Wood (played by Johnny Depp). Lugosi was Wood’s (Depp’s) rock solid foundation. And when Lugosi died, (in both the movie and real life) Wood’s foundation was shaken into a thousand pieces. But Wood had one thing that no one else had. He had the last piece of film that documented Bela’s final scenes from his very last movie. And that was worth something in cinematic history. And those final scenes that he and Bela created eventually became part of Ed Woods most recognized movie “Plan 9 from Outer Space”. In the movie Ed Wood, while watching the Premier of Plan 9, Johnny Depp says “This is the one they will remember me for”. And with the help of Tim Burton, this became true. Because Lugosi became Tim Burton’s rock too. And Martin Landau seemed to channel Lugosi’s ghost as if he was Bela himself. His creation of Lugosi was the most uncanny and brilliant acting that many had ever seen. It was as if Bela had been reborn and it took great time and talent to make this happen. Martin had captured the essence of Bela and delivered Bela to grateful fans. I think Bela would have been pleased to see Martin’s portrayal of himself. After all, I think Bela was a true character actor who would have recognized Martin’s acting ability and faith to his art.
Many actors have played Dracula since 1931, But no actor has ever gained the notoriety that Bela Lugosi did after playing the role of the famed vampire. The big fact connected to the fantasy of Bela Lugosi is that his characterization of Dracula remains a constant in cinematic history. His personage as it is connected to Dracula seems almost eternal. I think Bela knew this, and even took the connection to his own grave in death when he decided to be buried in his Dracula Garb. Could it be that Dracula died with Bela on that day? It just could be.