By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Publication Date: Sept 28, 2021
Available to order on Amazon USA
Ask anyone who their favourite cinematic version of Dracula is, and it’ll either be Bela Lugosi or Gary Oldman. The former lived under the shadow of the vampire Bram Stoker brought to life, and the latter is a man who simply upped the ante. From playing Norman Stansfield in Léon: The Professional (1994) to Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight (2008), these two performers have one thing in common, they played many types of characters throughout their life. They both suffered from alcoholism and married many times.
Goldman is lucky to not get typecast but Lugosi did. Bela’s life and times are excellently handled in the graphic novel, The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula. We see something of his young life, how his father hated his decision to become an actor, his work before and after Dracula, and how he never got the recognition he truly deserved. His private life became a thing for tabloids to play up.
In order to escape certain problems, he eventually had to flee the growing hate that’s brewing pre and post World War 1. He landed in New York and continued to work on stage, but it was tough to rebuild. Because he didn’t have a firm command of the English language, he didn’t get those big roles. Henry Barton offered this Hungarian an opportunity to appear in The Red Poppy, and the rave reviews of his performance were enough for getting his foot in the door in Hollywood.
Not everyone will know Dracula began life as a play at London’s West End in 1927. After it finished its regional run, it embarked on an international tour. As a result, Lugosi was welcomed in Hollywood. When he heard the role in the cinematic treatment was up for grabs, he contacted Frank at Universal and the rest is history.
This work by award-winning cartoonist Koren Shadmi covers a lot of ground. It’s a fantastic look at not only Lugosi’s career highlights but also briefly looks at the beginnings of the horror film genre in America. One detail suspiciously missing is the importance of how Abbott & Costello Meets Frankenstein helped the genre make a comeback and gave the extended cast a chance to continue working.
The wrapping narrative turns the flashbacks into memories of a man with regrets. The pages present this man with all his vices. It’s hard to hate him since he was full of life. We see him as a character who loved women and wine. We see him having no control of his “sexual” appetite for the opposite sex. Perhaps he is more Dracula than he realizes, and we’ll never know. His dependence on drugs is also looked at, and this story gives us a chance to feel sorry for him.
Lugosi knew he’d been typecast when allowed his interpretation of what a vampire is get immortalized on film. He tried to break from it, but the media just didn’t want to take off the label. Shadmi’s story strongly puts that idea forward, and perhaps this book may well finally help break that image. His family will be happy for it.