The Missing Link Reviews

Vampire Over London
- Bela Lugosi in Britain

by Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks. Cult Movies Press. Hardcover. 368 pages. $29.95


Vampire Over LondonOctober 2000 saw the publication of a new book, "Vampire Over London - Bela Lugosi in Britain"  by Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks.

Bela Lugosi, renowned for his stage and film portrayal of the vampire Count Dracula and for his long career in horror movies, is a legendary figure from Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s. On starring in the classic 1931 film Dracula, he became forever chained to his one great role. Today, among film historians, Lugosi is almost as famous for his relentless, ultimately unsuccessful battle against his stereotyping as a movie monster and mad doctor. So memorable was Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula that he could never quite convince producers or his public that he could play anything else. His star followed the fortunes of gothic horror movies. As the great films of the 1930s degenerated into the escapist fare of the 1940s, his career inevitably declined. 

In 1951 Lugosi spent eight months in Britain, mainly playing Dracula in a touring stage production. Every reference on Lugosi's life describes his 1951 tour as a failure, which closed after a very short run, but in actuality Lugosi's last Dracula role played at over 200 performances in 22 different cities around the United Kingdom. The original intent of this book was to set the record straight on Lugosi’s lengthy visit to Britain, a record of interest only to those few historians and enthusiasts who document his career in minute detail. In gathering the surviving records of the actor’s time in Britain, a grander purpose emerged. 1951 was very much Bela Lugosi’s last hurrah - the moving story of a fading star's last grasp at greatness, his last chance to rekindle the legend that both consumed and sustained him.
Frank and Andi have managed to interview members of the play's former cast and crew, as well as many members of the audience including Bernard Davies. In addition there is an appendix collection of long forgotten reviews.

In writing the book, the authors immersed themselves in the world of post-war British provincial theatre, and tell an insiders view of touring companies. Hamilton Deane pops up often in their story, and "Vampire Over London" contains more biographical information on Deane then has previously been published. This often overlooked actor-playwright wrote, produced and starred (as Van Helsing) in the first dramatization of Dracula in 1924.

Also included in the work is a behind-the-scenes account of Lugosi's three British films, Mystery of the Mary Celeste (1935,), Dark Eyes of London (1939) and Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1951). These three visits to Britain mirror the highs and lows of his career, many of which were a direct result of the war waged against horror films in Britain by political, civic and religious groups. The resulting censorship and ban of horror films in Britain had dire effects on Lugoi’s professional and personal life. Ironically it would be the very country which almost destroyed him that offered him one last ray of hope in 1951.

A special treat for students of Dracula is a separate appendix, "Tracing Dracula Through 'The Stage'." that takes the reader through the pertaining reviews by the trade journal of British theatre "The Stage", beginning with a review of Bram Stoker's original novel "Dracula" in 1897 to reviews of obscure provincial productions and Dracula's last appearance on the West End. With The Stage's permission, Frank and Andi have reprinted a wealth of articles they uncovered in their researches.

Bela's 1951 Dracula tour failed to generate the career comeback he desperately sought. His disappointment shaped the legacy of his time in Britain, and masked the triumphs beneath the anguish. For the very first time the full story of this forgotten episode in the career and life of one of Hollywood’s most enduring legends is told by those who were there.

"Vampire Over London - Bela Lugosi in Britain" is 368 pages plus illustrations, hard bound with dust jacket, and is available by mail order for $29.95 plus $3.00 shipping and handling (in the USA.). Each of the 1,000 copies is hand numbered, and signed by at least one of the authors. Frank lives in Houston while Andi lives in Bath, England, so copies signed by both will be very rare indeed! 
For your own copy, send a cheque to: Frank Dello Stritto, 644 East 71/2 Street, Houston, Texas. 77007 USA.

A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore
A new book from Frank J. Dello Stritto