Saturday, November 10, 2018

Bela Lugosi, on paying it forward

One of my current reads is Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape, by Robert Cremer. It was published in 1976, and I'm not sure where it standings in the Lugosi Biography Rankings™, because this is the first one I've read.

It does strike me that Bela Lugosi probably should have died several times before he finally made it to the United States and become the cinematic Prince of the Undead. From what I've read thus far, he narrowly averted death (1) while serving for the Austro-Hungarian Army in the Great War and being shot or blown up multiple times, (2) while fleeing Hungary, hastily, via a straw-filled gypsy cart and open cockpit airplane following the failed Hungarian Communist Revolution; and (3) during a weeks-long journey to the United States in 1920 aboard a freighter on which he had to hide constantly from crew members who wanted to throw him overboard.

Those harrowing incidents, and especially the kindness of those who helped Lugosi survive them, inspired a philosophy that he embraced moving forward. I wanted to share this excerpt from Cremer's book about how Lugosi would pay it forward. It's the kind of inspirational little nugget we all need more of these days:
Years later, when financial security had been won, Bela did not forget the generosity ... and he made a pact with himself to repay that debt to others. It took a while to find words for this emotional lesson in is life, and when he did finally find them, they were simple and direct.

... Bela helped an aspiring drama student at the University of California, in Berkeley, by inviting her to join him in a Los Angeles engagement of Dracula. During rehearsals, Bela spared nothing in helping her with technique, delivery, and gestures. Later he showed up on the MGM lot for Mark of the Vampire to find that young actress, Carroll "Luna" Borland, was being tested for the part of his daughter. The casting director was amazing by their synchronized movements. They worked like members of the same vaudeville family. When Carroll was given the part and began to shower Bela with gratitude, he dismissed it all with a whisk of his hand, a broad grin, and a kernel of philosophical wisdom, a statement that summed up Bela's approach to life. "Carroll," he said, "many, many people have helped me along the way, so don't feel that you owe me anything. You don't. You owe that debt to someone else, someone who will need your help in the future just as you needed mine. When the opportunity comes to help someone who cannot help himself, then you must see your responsibility through. Your duty is to the future, not the past."

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