Bela and Boris: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration

Bela LugosiWhat is your all-time favourite Karloff / Lugosi movie?
I have a tough time picking a favorite Karloff and Lugosi (pictured left as Dracula) movie. The Black Cat (1934) is a incredibly perverse shocker that matches Karloff and Lugosi evenly. Boris is a high priest of Lucifer who displays preserved female cadavers in his cellar; Bela is an avenging angel who skins Boris alive.

The Body Snatcher (1945) is a wonderful movie and, in my opinion, the greatest horror film of the 1940’s; Karloff is superb in the title role, and while Lugosi’s role is very much a supporting one, he’s excellent too. Son of Frankenstein (1939) is great also, and I have special affection for it, since, as noted, it impressed me so powerfully when I was a kid.

Did they get on well with each other off-screen?
Karloff and Lugosi had a very complex personal relationship. They were both gentlemen, and had much in common, each had left his homeland under unfortunate circumstances, each was a founder of the Screen Actors Guild, each loved sports and dogs.. and each man had at least five wives.

Bel Lugosi Boris Karloff BookThere’s absolutely no documented evidence that they ever exchanged a cross word, but at the same time, they never became friends. Lugosi, a very dominant personality, resented Karloff’s top billing and superior popularity. Karloff saw Lugosi as rather a tragedy-in-the-making and kept a distance.

Unfortunately, Karloff was right. Lugosi’s late years were a real-life horror movie, with alcohol problems and a 1955 self-commitment as a drug addict. Writing about that terribly sad ending to Lugosi’s life was almost painful… it’s a heartbreaking story.

Is it true Lugosi slept in a coffin?
That sounds apocryphal. It’s 100% true, however, that he was buried in his Dracula cape. The legend goes that Karloff came to the funeral, saw Bela in his cape, leaned over the corpse and said, “Come now, Bela — are you putting us on?” However, Karloff didn’t even attend Lugosi’s funeral.

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
I’m at work on two new books, The Very Witching Time of Night, which will contain various essays on horror films and related topics, and Hollywood Ripper, a biography of the actor Laird Cregar, who played Jack the Ripper in The Lodger(1944). I’m also working on several novels.

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi

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