Bela Lugosi was a Hungarian-American actor, born the youngest of four children on October 20, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary some fifty miles away from the western border of Transylvania and the Poenari Castle, the legendary home of Vlad the Impaler, the historical Dracula, whom Lugosi would portray to great acclaim on both stage and screen.
Lugosi attended the Hungarian State Gymnasium at the age of 11 but he hated the strict discipline and formality of the school and one year later dropped out and ran away from home. Lugosi was captivated by the touring troupes that he encountered on his travels and set his heart on becoming an actor. Lugosi soon landed a place in the chorus of a traveling theater company. Displaying remarkable raw talent despite his lack of education or training, Lugosi quickly ascended from the back of the chorus into leading roles as he traveled across Hungary performing with the troupe. By the early 1900s, he had been accepted into Hungary's Academy of Performing Arts with a specialty in Shakespearean acting.
Although members of the National Theater were exempt from military service, in June 1914 the highly patriotic Lugosi put his acting career on hold to fight for Hungary against Russia. During World War I he served as an infantryman in the Austro-Hungarian Army from 1914-16. There he rose to the rank of captain in the ski patrol and was awarded the Wound Medal for wounds he suffered while serving on the Russian Front. He went back to acting and before immigrating to the United States he delivered a celebrated performance as Jesus Christ in The Passion. Landing in New Orleans in 1920 he immediately made his way to New York City where an already sizeable Hungarian theatrical community welcomed him with open arms.
In 1927, Lugosi accepted the titular role in the American theatrical run of Dracula, a play based on Bram Stoker's gothic novel of the same name. Lugosi's Dracula was unlike any previous portrayals of the role. Handsome, mysterious and alluring, Lugosi's Dracula was at once so sexy and so haunting that audiences gasped when he first opened his mouth to speak. Throughout the 1930s, Lugosi was typecast as a Hollywood horror villain – playing monsters, murderers and mad scientists – in dozens of B-list films. Despite his prolific acting career and high profile, due to Universal's ruthless compensation system and his own careless spending, Lugosi lived the majority of his adult life deeply mired in debt.
Late in his life, Bela Lugosi again received star billing in movies when ambitious filmmaker Ed Wood, a fan of Lugosi, found him living in obscurity and near-poverty and offered him roles in his films, such as an anonymous narrator in Glen of Glenda and a Dr. Frankenstein-like mad scientist in Bride of the Monster. During post-production of the latter, Lugosi decided to seek treatment for his drug addiction, and the premiere of the film was said to be intended to help pay for his hospital expenses. According to Kitty Kelley’s biography of Frank Sinatra, when the entertainer heard of Lugosi's problems, he helped with expenses and visited at the hospital. Lugusi would recall his amazement at this since he did not even know the man. Lugosi was buried in 1956 wearing one of the "Dracula" cape costumes, per the request of his son and fifth wife, in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.