At the peak of his career in the early '30s, actor Bela Lugosi was the screen's most notorious personification of evil; the most famous and enduring Dracula, he helped usher in an era of new popularity for the horror genre, only to see his own fame quickly evaporate. Béla Ferenc Dezsõ Blaskó was born in Lugos, Hungary, on October 20, 1882. After seeing a touring repertory company as they passed through town, he became fascinated by acting, and began spending all of his time mounting his own dramatic productions with the aid of other children. Upon the death of his father in 1894, Lugosi apprenticed as a miner, later working on the railroad. His first professional theatrical job was as a chorus boy in an operetta, followed by a stint at the Budapest Academy of Theatrical Arts. By 1901, he was a leading actor with Hungary's Royal National Theatre, and around 1917 began appearing in films (sometimes under the name Arisztid Olt) beginning with A Régiséggyüjtö.
Lugosi was also intensely active in politics, and he organized an actors' union following the 1918 collapse of the Hungarian monarchy; however, when the leftist forces were defeated a year later he fled to Germany, where he resumed his prolific film career with 1920's Der Wildtöter und Chingachgook. Lugosi remained in Germany through 1921, when he emigrated to the United States. He made his American film debut in 1923's The Silent Command, but struggled to find further work, cast primarily in exotic bit roles on stage and screen. His grasp of English was virtually non-existent, and he learned his lines phonetically, resulting in an accented, resonant baritone which made his readings among the most distinctive and imitated in performing history. In 1924, Lugosi signed on to direct a drama titled The Right to Dream, but unable to communicate with his cast and crew he was quickly fired; he sued the producers, but was found by the court to be unable to helm a theatrical production and was ordered to pay fines totalling close to 70 dollars. When he refused, the contents of his apartment were auctioned off to pay his court costs -- an inauspicious beginning to his life in America, indeed.