Revered as the masters of the horror movie, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff are often seen as rivals, but it seems that in the beginning their careers depended entirely on each another.

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Dear Old Pals?

"My dear old monster, I owe everything to him. He's my best friend" -Karloff
"If I had one percent of the millions Dracula has made, I wouldn't be sitting here now."
-Lugosi

The Black Cat   Gift of Gab   The Raven   The Invisible Ray  
Son of Frankenstein   Black Friday   You'll Find Out   The Bodysnatcher
Some stills link to hidden soundbites or video clips


It seems redundant to dismiss either Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi over the other. It is true to say that during their peak, both actors' careers ran parallel, but that is where most similarities end. Karloff managed to maintain a run of high profile character portrayals, while Lugosi steadily found himself being cast in a stream of low budget programmers of decreasing quality. Many factors were to cause Lugosi's fall from grace, especially after Universal procured his services for Dracula at $500 a week on a seven week shooting schedule, the other studios became wise to the fact that he could be bought cheaply. Later on Lugosi would just be thankful for the work that was offered him while his lack of business acumen made his career even more precarious. The overiding factor, however, was the handicap of his thick Hungarian accent making it difficult for studios to cast him in mainstream roles. Even Boris Karloff remarked after Lugosi's death, "Poor old Bela, it was a strange thing. He was really a shy, sensitive, talented man who had a fine career on the classical stage in Europe, but he made a fatal mistake. He never took the trouble to learn our language. He had real problems with his speech and difficulty interpreting lines."
For Karloff, the opportunities to play outside the horror genre came thick and fast where he proved himself adept in these roles. After a succession of minor parts for a multitude of studios, his celebrated appearance as "the monster" in Universal's Frankenstein elevated the name of "Karloff" to star status, continuing from strength to strength while the minor studios only managed to procure his services when Karloff deemed the salary to be a secondary consideration.

The pivotal point in both their careers was during the casting of the Frankenstein monster. As the newly crowned "King of Horror", Bela was approached by Carl Laemmle Jnr. to be cast as the monster with Robert Florey assigned to the director's chair. However, tempers began to flare when Bela discovered the role was a non-speaking part. Lugosi and Florey both demanded to know why a handsome star with a superb voice be wasted in a role that, as Lugosi put it, "any half-wit extra" could play?
Bela eventually agreed to a test reel with his own make-up design. After viewing the footage, unhappy studio executives quickly reshuffled their schedules and assigned James Whale to Frankenstein's director's chair after his recent success with JOURNEY'S END.
The most likely account of Karloff's casting is when Whale, who was dining in the studio commissary spotted the potential in Karloff and invited him to test for the part. In 1935 Lugosi offered his own version of the story, "I made up for the role and had tests taken, which were pronounced okay. Then I read the script and didn't like it, so I asked to be withdrawn from the picture. Carl Laemmle said he'd permit it if I furnish an actor to play the part. I scouted the agencies and came upon Boris Karloff. I recommended him. He took the tests, and that's how he happened to become a famous star of horror pictures. My rival in fact."
Lugosi's wife Lillian supported his claim. "He made the greatest mistake of his career. He brought Boris Karloff to Universal and that put Karloff, an extra, on the map. It's a damn shame, for otherwise there would be no Boris Karloff today. Absolutely none. Bela created his own monster."
Reports of these incidents by both actors and of those who recount these remarks should be looked upon with sceptisim. Over the passing years the true accounts have been blurred by speculation and some fabrication. In any event Lugosi had clearly been the subject of harsh studio descisions, despite Universal attempting to quell any bad-feeling by teaming Lugosi and Florey for the first of three Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Karloff and Lugosi apparantly first met in March of 1932 on the set of Universal's NIGHT WORLD, a drama centered around a nightclub with Karloff cast as "Happy" MacDonald, the proprieter. Both monarchs of terror greeted each other cordially and posed for publicity photographs. Soon after Universal announced that Karloff would appear in THE INVISIBLE MAN, and they would both appear with Lionel Atwill in THE SUICIDE CLUB an adaptation from the work of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Claude Rains would take Karloff's role in The Invisible Man and THE SUICIDE CLUB never got past the planning stage. MGM. later produced "The Suicide Club" in 1936 as Trouble For Two.

The Black Cat (1934) soundbiteFinally the two stars would appear together on February 28th. 1934 as cameras began to roll for Universal's production of  The Black Cat directed by the Austrian, Edgar G. Ulmer. With a budget of over $90 thousand and made on a fifteen day shooting schedule, the film became Universal's top-grossing film of the year and one of the most disturbing exercises in Grand Guignol made during the Thirties. The script originally combined Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Black Cat", but a new script was fashioned from a story by Edgar G. Ulmer containing allusions to Aleistair Crowley and his devil worshipping activities that were currently making headlines in the nation's press. All that remains of Poe in the final release is the title and the brief appearances of a black cat representing a spectral figure. Although the script had left Poe far behind, the film managed to evoke the right Poe-like atmosphere with  visually rich photography provided by John Mescall and the magnificent art-deco sets by Charles D. Hall.The Black Cat (1934) video clip .rm
Although this continues to be a firm favourite with horror fans, the film does suffer from an inconsistant storyline. One reason for this might be the studio's reaction to the final cut. Believing the film to be too sordid for public consumption Universal ordered Ulmer to shoot three and a half more days of retakes that pushed the budget over $95 thousand. Despite these changes many critics found the film incomprehensible and even Karloff and Lugosi received short measure in the reviews.
Regardless of the film's shortcomings, no one could deny the electricity created when the two stars appeared together. Video clip .rm Karloff later recalled "Bela was very suspicious on the set. Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later when he realised I didn't go in for such nonsense, we became friends."

Relaxing on the set of Gift of the Gab (1934)Immediately following their first appearance together, Universal cast Karloff and Lugosi in an all-star curio titled GIFT OF GAB keeping both stars busy before their next horror assignment. The film directed by Karl Freund featured a host of stars with Karloff cast as "the phantom" and Lugosi as a French apache dancer with little to do other than stand in a closet holding a gun and asking "what time is it?" The film's series of sketches are bridged by a smooth talking radio announcer named Philip Gabney, (Edmund Lowe). This burlesque murder-mystery was at its best an interesting recreation of early radio, but hardly bolstered the reputation of either star.
Before production began on their next horror outing, Lugosi had been deluged with theatrical offers and was loaned out to other studios while a script was being prepared. His appearances  included the title role in the 12 chapter serial The Return of Chandu; in Mysterious Mr. Wong, his first, but not last assignment for the independent studio Monogram; and a sound remake of London After Midnight (1927) titled Mark of the Vampire for director Tod Browning. Meanwhile Karloff was kept busy on two prestigious productions that further consolidated his position as a top star. In the superb The Black Room for Columbia, audiences saw two Karloff's for the price of one in his role as twins besotted with a family curse. In a superior sequel to Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein Karloff again appeared as "Frankenstein's monster". As a note of interest BRIDE... had been planned as early as 1933 under the title THE RETURN OF FRANKENSTEIN with Karloff starring alongside Lugosi as Dr. Pretorius, the part was eventually played to great effect by Ernest Thesiger.

The Raven (1935) soundbiteFilming for The Raven began in March of 1935 after no less than seven writers had laboured on the script. Again little remained of Poe's original inspiration in Universal's final Poe adaptations. Lugosi was second-billed to Karloff for the only time during his career and received only half of the $10 thousand that Karloff was paid. Ironically it was this role as Dr. Vollin that gave him an opportunity to dominate the film over his rival.
Director Louis Friedlander (later named Lew Landers), who had only ever directed serial adventures, brought out the best in the stars, but it has to be said this is Lugosi's film. Given the lion's share of the dialogue, Lugosi gives a fine portrayal of uninhibited madness. Mix this with the heady concoction of lust, torture and warped revenge, Video Clip .rm then it is no wonder that the already nervous British censor should decide to ban American horror films only two years later.

By 1936, the horror genre had firmly been established as a cinema staple prompting Universal to team Boris and Bela once again in an adaptation of BLUEBEARD, however, when the scriptwriter Bayard Veiller ran into some problems, the property was shelved until Universal could find another suitable project. The film Bluebeard was later made with John Carradine by Publishers Releasing Corp. in 1944. Lugosi meanwhile was busy making The Mystery of the Mary Celeste in England for the fledgling Hammer film studios in a part as a half-crazed seaman. During his stay in Britain Lugosi received a number of film offers to keep him there, but these plans along with a proposed trip back to his native Hungary were changed when Universal ordered his return to begin work on The Invisible Ray.

The Invisible Ray (1936) soundbiteAlthough the first choice of director was Stuart Walker who had directed Werewolf of London, the director refused the offer when he read the script and became dissatisfied with the limited time schedule. Universal then opted for Lambert Hillyer who was well regarded as a director of Westerns from the silent era and rarely ventured out of the genre throughout his career. His only other horror offering is the well regarded sequel to DRACULA, Dracula's Daughter (1936). Working with the film's original title THE DEATH RAY, Hillyer utilised the standing sets from the Flash Gordon serial that was being filmed at the same time and added footage of Kenneth Strickfaden's electrical gadgetry from Frankenstein. Video Clip .rm The Invisible Ray The Invisible Ray (1936) soundbitebecame the blueprint for many of the science fiction classics made during the Fifties.
Initially budgeted at $167 thousand, the final cost came in at $235 thousand and several days over it's allotted shooting schedule. One of the reasons for the film's success was due in no small measure to John P. Fulton, a special effects genius whose work on The Invisible Man in 1933 secured him a permenant place in the industry. John Colton's well constructed screenplay effectively manages a tasteful understatement as many of the more gruesome scenes take place of screen. Lugosi's performance of Dr. Felix Benet was comparatively smaller than Karloff's, but no less important and both actors stood out from the otherwise mediochre cast. Ironically stock footage of this film appeared in Universal's serial adventure The Phantom Creeps with Boris Karloff in head-gear representing Lugosi's character climbing into a pit.

Shortly after THE INVISIBLE RAY's release, Universal intended to team Boris and Bela again in a film with a similar theme titled THE ELECTRIC MONSTER from a script hastily written titled "The Man in the Cab". Eventually the production was scrapped as the public's appetite for horror movies dwindled. The film would later emerge in 1940 as The Mad Monster with Lon Chaney Jnr. and Lionel Atwill in Lugosi's intended role.
The slump for Hollywood chillers seemed to reach its peak from 1937-1938 . After THE INVISIBLE RAY Karloff returned to his native Britain and appeared as a mad scientist in The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936) and Juggernaut (1936) and then in America he found he was free to take on non-horrific parts without any degree of difficulty including appearances in NIGHT KEY (1937), WEST OF SHANGHAI (1937) and in MR. WONG DETECTIVE (1938), his first association with the low budget studio Monogram. Lugosi, however, found it increasingly harder to shake off his Dracula image and producers were reluctant to cast him in anything other than horror pictures.

After losing approximately 40% of their overseas market, Universal re-issued their old horror successes Dracula and Frankenstein to renewed acclaim. Sensing that the public were ready for more, the studio began work on their third Frankenstein installment The Son of Frankenstein, considered now to be the last true classic of the series. In an ambitious attempt to recreate the excitement of the previous films, Universal extended a lavish budget that director Rowland V. Lee managed to substantially increase; elaborate sets reminiscent of Germany's silent screen classics; and above all an impressive cast.
During the negotiation of their contracts, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, who took the part of Baron Wolf von Frankenstein after Peter Lorre had refused the part, were assured handsome salaries, butLugosi & Karloff. The Son of Frankenstein (1938) Lugosi fared somewhat worse than his co-stars. Knowing of Lugosi's financial straits, Universal decided to cut his $1000 a week salary to only $500 and scheduled all his scenes to be shot in one week! When Rowland V. Lee heard of the studio's intentions he remarked "Those gaddamned sons of bitches! I'll show them. I'm going to keep Bela on this picture from the first day of shooting right up to the last!" Universal's front office was incensed. Originally Lugosi's role of Ygor didn't exist in Willis Cooper's script, but revisions ensured the role was built up to become a pivotal character as a companion to Karloff's monster giving Lugosi freedom to develop the character as he wanted. Video Clip Rowland had kept to his word, recalling later that "Bela was geatly underestimated by the studio". Lugosi also recalled "For Dracula I used no heavy make-up, but for Son of Frankenstein...God he was cute! He was first a little part, but every day the director made him bigger and finally he is  the biggest part in the picture!" Unfortunately Lugosi was never afforded this opportunity again.
Son of Frankenstein (1938)In contrast Karloff was given little to do other than lay motionless on a slab until the final reel. Video Clip The film also marked the last time Karloff would appear as the monster, excluding a brief appearance in a Halloween episode of television's "Rout 66" titled "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing" in 1962.
Two surprises befell Karloff during shooting, the first was a cake for his 51st. birthday and the second was the birth of his daughter Sara Jane by his fourth wife Dorothy Stine. En route to Britain for the film Dark Eyes of London Lugosi quipped to reporters that "as [he] and Karloff, as freshly blessed fathers, (Bela Jnr. was born in 1938), that we often get together and talk about when our children grow up and how nice it would be if they fell in love with each other."
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is the longest film in the Frankenstein series and one of the last prestigious horror films of the Thirties.

Black Friday (1940) marked the fifth and final teaming of Karloff and Lugosi at Universal. Directed by Arthur Lubin, whose hand would later turn to comedy by directing the first handful of films by Abbott and Costello, BLACK FRIDAY marked a declining interest in filmdom's foremost horror duo, managing only poor receipts at the box office. Under the original script title of FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH Lugosi was to appear as Dr. Ernest Sovac and Karloff as Prof. George Kingsley with Red Cannon as a hoodlum. Drastic changes were made that scriptwriter Curt Siodmak would later reveal were insisted by Karloff as "He was afraid of it. There was too much acting in it. It was too intricate." After the reshuffle Bela was left with a minor roll as rival gangster Eric Marnay, but Universal's cardinal sin was not having the two horror stars appear in a single scene together. Realising this faux-pas, the studio issued a statement that Lugosi had been hypnotised for the death scene by Manley P. Hall as witnessed by stagehands and Boris Karloff who wryly remarked that he was positive that Lugosi was actually hypnotised because he had never seen his fellow actor keep his back to the camera for so long.
Arthur Lubin later confessed that it had all been a stunt and there was no truth to it at all, but he also admitted that Lugosi's death scene unnerved him. "I don't think I ever saw a man die so horribly on the screen. I nearly died watching him!"
Sadly, his performance failed to help bear the brunt of studio executive decisions and he was happy just to be able to work and support his family. Many years later Curt Siodmak outraged Bela Lugosi fans by saying "Bela couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. He could only be Mee-ster Draa-cula, with that accent and those Hungarian movements of his." Richard Gordon, a New York based producer who had worked with Lugosi during his declining years in the Fifties, defended Lugosi. "Regrettably he [Siodmak] proves that he can no longer be taken seriously, and belongs inside the paper bag out of which Bela Lugosi had acted his way out when Curt Siodmak was still a child!"
In reality the film Black Friday belongs to Karloff and British born actor, Stanley Ridges whose only other horror genre credit is The Phantom Speaks (1945).

Leaving the studio that first established them as stars, Bela's career lay dormant while Karloff resumed his role as a dreanged scientist in The Man With Nine Lives and Before I Hang. He continued again as Mr. Wong in DOOMED TO DIE and appeared as Dr. Adrian in The Ape for Monogram.
In 1940 Karloff and Lugosi found themselves together again in a ludicrous mystery farce for RKO titled You'll Find Out also starring Peter Lorre. The film was primarily a vehicle for the popular Kay Kyser and his band who made a stream of musical comedies for various studios during the first half of the forties.
The film's entertainment value is mainly derived from its traditional horror elements including the somber mansion, a seance and a host of hidden passageways, but these are so diluted with awful wisecracks that there is very little left for genre fans. The mood for horror parody continued right through the Forties as typified by Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The reviews were moderate, but they highlighted the waste of the stars' talents.
In contrast, the director of YOU'LL FIND OUT, David Butler later recalled "The picture was one of the happiest I ever did. Everybody simply had fun making it." If only that sense of fun had made its way to the screen.

Once again it was rumoured that Lugosi and Karloff would star together again in THE MONSTER OF ZAMBOR, a film that probably didn't even make it past the planning stages, and then George Waggner, director of The Wolfman announced that they would both be in a "chiller diller to end all chiller-dillers" with THE CHAMBER OF HORRORS. After the film's numerous cast and script changes, it emerged in 1944 as House of Frankenstein with John Carradine replacing Lugosi as Count Dracula.
In late 1940 Boris was lured to Broadway with an inviting offer to appear as Jonathan Brewster in the play "Arsenic and Old Lace" which ran for over 1600 performances. For the film adaptation in 1944 Warner Bros. cast Raymond Massey in Karloff's role because of the latter's stage commitments. Lugosi hoped Karloff's defection to Broadway was an opportunity to star in Universl'a forthcoming horror productions, but to his disappointment Universal groomed Lon Chaney Jnr. to become their new horror star.

The Body Snatcher (1945)While Universal led the way in the manufacture of chillers, head of RKO's production unit, Val Lewton was releasing a successful series of low budget, psychological thrillers. Beginning with the highly acclaimed Cat People (1942) the films offered a much more cerebral form of terror. Lewton cast Karloff in a major supporting role for the film The Body Snatcher alongside Lugosi in a distinctly minor role as Joseph the houseman. This is the last time they would be on screen together. Director Robert Wise later commented, "As a matter of fact, it was really a manufactured role in order to work him into the film. The role was actually created for Lugosi and probably would not have existed in the screenplay if Lugosi had not been available..." Boris and Bela's last scene together is as poignant as it is moving. Supplying Joseph, (Lugosi), with brandy, graverobber Gray, (Karloff), reaches over and suffocates his victim with his hand over his mouth. Real Media Video Clip
In this final gesture Karloff had unknowingly ended their association and Lugosi was never to reach the heights of his success again.The Body Snatcher (1945)

After the horror heydays of the Thirties, Bela's film work virtually came to a standstill before the infamous actor, producer and director Ed D. Wood Jnr. cast him in three of his low, low budget features. There were guest appearances on television and radio, but the glory days were left far behind. Bela was to say "...where once I had been the master of my professional destinies, with a reportoire embracing all kinds and types of men, from Romeo to the classics of Ibsen and Rostand, I became Dracula's puppet...the shadowy figure of Dracula, more than any casting office, dictated the kinds of parts I played...never, surely has a role so influenced and dominated an actor's personal life and private fortunes..."
Bela's wife Hope Lininger, who he married in 1955, was awakened one night to see Bela stumbling around in the dark insisting that Boris Karloff was in the living room downstairs and that he needed to spruce himself up before meeting him. He died soon afterwards on August 16th. 1956.
"Poor Bela" lamented Karloff in his later years, "he was worth a lot more than he got."
In contrast Karloff's later career was filled with film roles, constant work on stage and great success on television and radio. It was only when his physical condition began to decline that Boris was ordered to take things easy. Confined to a wheelchair and with an oxygen tank nearby, scenes were shot in Los Angeles for a series of Mexican films. Returning to Britain, Boris caught a severe chill and was admitted to hospital where he died several months later aged 81 on February 2nd. 1969.

Despite rumours of animosity and friction, the evidence suggests that these two professionals treated each other with the upmost respect. To call them the best of friends would be a little strong as Lugosi, it seems, developed a certain amount of bitterness regarding his rival's success. However, I personally like to believe that the one would not have survived in the same way without the other. In one respect they created each other's images and together, not apart, they gave the horror film the foundations on which it stands today.

Bela Lugosi Filmography   Boris Karloff Filmography

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