Old-timey monster movie fans already know the story: Boris Karloff wasn’t the first choice to play Frankenstein’s monster back in 1931. The folks at Universal Pictures wanted to cast Bela Lugosi, fresh from the success of his Dracula performance.
Apparently the original screen test didn’t go very well for the Hungarian-born actor. Depending on what you’ve read, Lugosi either looked like Prince Valiant or Buster Brown. Reportedly, his on-screen reveal was more laughable than scary.
Thus Boris Karloff got the iconic part—and the rest was celluloid history. Frankenstein was a big hit and kept the stately British actor rich and comfortable for the rest of his life. “My dear old monster,” Karloff said at the time. “I owe everything to him.” For Lugosi it was the beginning of a long slide into Grade Z pictures, drug addiction, unemployment and a squalid death.
Over the years, the Lugosi screen test has…
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