Oct 17, 2007

Universal Monsters Part 1

His day job was managing the Lyceum Theater in England. To supplement his income, Bram Stoker wrote fiction novels. His best known novel is Dracula but did you know it wasn't very popular at the time it was released?

When Dracula was published in 1897 sales were brisk for a time, but tapered off soon after. To make matters worse, the release in the U.S. was mismanaged and the book was instantly in public domain which meant no American profits.

It's funny to think the worlds greatest vampire may have rotted away in his inky leather bound coffin if it hadn't been for a little cinematic grave robbing.

By 1922 when German director F. W. Merneau decided to adapt Dracula to silent film, the book was dead on the shelves. (lame vampire humor) To keep it on the cheap, Merneau didn't bother with rights to the book, he simply changed Dracula's name to Count Orlock and fudged a few details. Hey, it's not a bestseller or anything, who's going to know or care, right? Merneau's Expressionist film became successful and it came to the attention of Florence Stoker.

Florence was Bram Stokers wife and the executor of his estate since his death in 1912. She sued Merneau and since her husband had spent many years in the theater, Flo's case was supported in the public arena by many popular English stage actors of the time. Well, nothing like a little celebrity to spotlight a cause. The book began to sell again.

Hamilton Deane was a stage performer with his own British Touring Company. He had been touring with a stage adaptation of Frankenstein and was looking for something new. Because of Dracula's current publicity, Deane approached Flo Stoker. Having been a stage manager himself, Bram Stoker had always imagined Dracula as a play. It probably didn't take too long to get a yes from Stoker's wife.

Dracula opened in the Grand Theatre in Derby, England in 1925 and it was so successful, Deane created a second touring company. During it's run the play was seen by American entrepreneur Horace Liveright who bought the American rights. The New York version of the play opened in 1927 with Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi as Dracula.

When Universal bought movie rights, Lugosi lobbied hard for the part. The original plan had been to make Dracula a big budget movie with a big budget star but the late 20's were depression times and Universal was close to bankruptcy. To save money, the script became a basic rewrite of the play and Lugosi was finally hired because he agreed to work cheap.

Dracula was released Valentines Day 1931 and created a sensation. Lines for the movie circled the block and Dracula saved Universal's neck. (pun intended) The golden age of horror films had begun.

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