Bela Lugosi was born Béla Ferenc Dezsõ Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugos, Austria-Hungary near the border of Transylvania and only miles from the legendary Count Dracula's home in the Carpathian Mountains. His parents were Paula de Vojnich and István Blasko, a banker.
By the early 1900s, Bela Lugosi was the number one star of the Hungarian Theater and toured with the National Theater of Budapest. He frequently appeared in Shakespeare's plays.
Although actors were expemt from military sevice, Bela Lugosi volunteered for service during World War I. He served as an infantry lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Army from 1914-1916. He was promoted to the rank of captain and served in the Ski Patrol. Wounded at the Russian front, he received the equivalent of the Purple Heart.
Bela Lugosi's first film appearance was in the 1917 movie Az ezredes (known in English as The Colonel). When appearing in Hungarian silent films he used the stage name of Arisztid Olt. Lugosi would make twelve films in Hungary between 1917 and 1918 before leaving for Germany.
The Hungarian Revolution followed World War I and Bela Lugosi was on the wrong side of the ruling party and was forced to flee the country. He first went to Vienna and then to Germany, where he continued his acting career.
In exile in Germany, he began appearing in a small number of well received films, including adaptations of the Auf den Trummen des Paradieses (On The Brink of Paradise)y and Die Todeskarawane (The Cavaran of Death).
Bela Lugosi left Germany in October 1920 and set sale for the United States serving as a crewman aboard a merchant ship and arrived in New Orleans in December, 1920. From New Orleans, he left for Ellis Island and officially immigrated to the United States.
Bela entered the theater in New York City's Hungarian immigrant colony. With fellow Hungarian actors he formed a small stock company that toured Eastern cities, playing for immigrant audiences.
Bela Lugosi's first Broadway play was The Red Poppy in 1922. Roles would follow in The Devil in the Cheese, Arbabesque, Open House and Murder at the Vanities.
Bela's big break came in 1927 when he landed the role of Dracula on the Broadway stage.
His first American film role came in the 1923 melodrama The Silent Command. Roles would follow in such movies as The Midnight Girl (1925), How to Handle Women (1928), The Thirteenth Chair (1929) and Renegades (1930).
In 1930, Universal Pictures obtained the rights to the Dracula play. Despite his critically acclaimed performance on stage, Lugosi was not the first choice for the role of Dracula. Lon Chaney was Universal's first choice but Lon Chaney passed away shortly before production began and the role of Dracula went to Bela Lugosi.
In 1931, Dracula opened in theaters and Bela Lugosi was now a household name. He also received a studio contract with Universal Pictures.
His performance in Dracula (1931) created such a sensation that he reportedly received more fan mail from females than even Clark Gable.
During the 1930s, Bela Lugosi appeared in such movies as Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The Whispering Shadow (1933), The Black Cat (1934), The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934), The Raven (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939).
In 1939, Bela Lugosi would play Kommissar Razinin in Ninotchka starring Greta Garbo.
During the 1940s, Bela Lugosi appeared in such movies as Black Friday (1940), The Black Cat (1941), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), The Ape Man (1943), The Body Snatcher (1945) and Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948).
Bela Lugosi's final film was Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) which was released following his death.
Bela Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956 at the age of 73 and most fittingly was buried in one of his Dracula capes. He was in such poor financial straits that Frank Sinatara quietly paid for his funeral.
Bela Lugosi's film career spanned over 40 years and over 100 movies. He is recognized for his achievements with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for motion pictures.