Which “monster” was a decorated World War I veteran who was wounded three times and saved the lives of his fellow soldiers? Why, that was Bela Blasko, who achieved worldwide fame when he portrayed the vampire count in Universal’s 1931 epic “Dracula”. Of course, by that time, he had changed his last name to “Lugosi”, which was derived from his hometown of Lugos, Hungary. He also never learned to drive a car.
I grew up an addict of “Creature Features” on Channel 44, WTOG-TV, out of St. Petersburg, Florida, and loved watching all of the classic horror films they screened. The host was a certain Dr. Paul Bearer (real name Dick Bennick). With so many years of regular Saturday afternoons and evenings spent with the good doctor, my brain became addled with facts and figures about all of these heroes of the dark.
Lon Chaney Sr., the renowned silent star whose most famous roles include “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, learned his acting skills in part from his deaf mute parents. He had to learn pantomime in order to communicate, a talent that greatly improved his on-screen intensity. He also was an all-around good guy, frequently helping out fellow actors and film crew without seeking any credit. Once, Chaney saw an upcoming actor named William Henry Pratt walking home from the studios and gave him a ride. So what, you say? Well, Pratt’s stage name was Boris Karloff, who went on to portray the Frankenstein monster and the original Mummy. Chaney gave Karloff indispensable advice about what he should do to make his own career improve… advice which he heeded. Karloff later co-founded the Screen Actors Guild, and was the narrator of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”, a beloved holiday cartoon.
Lon’s son Creighton Chaney would go on to become Lon Chaney, Jr., and also carve his name in the horror legend book. His most famous role was that of “The Wolf Man”, but he eventually played nearly every major horror character that had been created up to that point. Lon Jr. was known as a big-hearted guy, like his father, who helped anyone and everyone he could. This help even went beyond the grave. He donated his body to the University of Southern California for medical research.
Peter Lorre was well-known for a wide variety of roles, but mostly those with a dark twist, including the films “M” and “Mad Love”. He fled Hungary and Nazi Germany for Hollywood, later to be invited by Adolf Hitler to return to Germany and be part of their film community. With so many roles as killers in the movies, Lorre shot back a letter to the Nazis to inform them that they didn’t need his talents since they already had so many murderers in their ranks. In earlier years, Lorre studied under Dr. Sigmund Freud, which may explain his understanding of characters with, shall we say, “character flaws”.
Vincent Price was a St. Louis native, though many people still believe him to be at least partly English. His grandfather invented the first cream of tarter sauce, and his father was president of the National Candy Company. Vincent was a connoisseur of all fine things, including art and cooking. He educated Americans about fine art, selling more than 50,000 items through Sears Roebuck as part of his “Vincent Price Collection”, and publishing a variety of gourmet cookbooks. With his famous films including “House of Wax” and “The House on Haunted Hill”, he also expanded into popular music. Price’s voice can be heard on Alice Cooper’s “Devil’s Food / The Black Widow” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.
Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee enjoyed years of work together for Hammer Films in England, becoming best friends. Cushing is best known as the gaunt Dr. Frankenstein and Professor Van Helsing in the Hammer remakes of many Universal classics. Other roles for Cushing included Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Who, but perhaps his favorite role was as husband to his beloved Helen. Her 1971 death haunted him for the rest of his life, and he consistently looked forward to the day he would rejoin her. His love for his wife was commemorated in the “Helen Cushing Rose”, a special strain of flower created in 1986.
Christopher Lee has remained the longest purveyor of the classic horror genre, still appearing in films even into his 90’s. Best known in recent years for his roles in “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” films, Lee’s deep voice has also graced a variety of theater, musical, and record productions. He is related through his family to James Bond creator Ian Fleming, and appeared in Fleming’s “The Man With the Golden Gun.” Lee is also a World War II veteran, and was knighted by the Queen of England. He speaks English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Swedish, Russian, and Greek.
The author is a writer, musician, film producer, record producer, and musical arranger who was born in Somerville, New Jersey and grew up in Melbourne, Florida. firstname.lastname@example.org