Pre-Code Corner: Skin and Savagery in The Sign of the Cross: 7 Vicious Pre-Code Moments

Skin and Savagery in The Sign of the Cross: 7 Vicious Pre-Code Moments

An epic tale of decadence, morality and religious persecution adorned with lust, violence, love, and everything in between, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross (1932) remains one of the most audacious pictures of the pre-Code period.

Sure, in terms of Production Code close calls, Popea (Claudette Colbert)’s milk bath and Ancaria (Joyzelle Joyner)’s “Dance of the Naked Moon” prompted me to raise my eyebrows a few times during my first viewing. But where it all went to hell for me was the Circus Maximus-set sequences near the film’s finale, modeled after the vicious Arena Games of ancient Rome.

Sign of the Cross 1932 Circus Maximus PosterThe Sign of the Cross: Making sadism look sexy.

Violence: check. Nudity: check. 10x more violence: check. When it comes down to it, I can’t think of another pre-Code procession that so ostentatiously disregarded the Production Code in such rapid succession. Not only do the proceedings in the arena disturb, but the way in which the Roman crowd interacts and revels in said perverse hostilities adds considerably to the sequence’s shock value; overall, spectator reactions run the gamut from arousal to absorption, boredom to horror. Not surprisingly, these same scenes prompted strong responses from moviegoers – some even screamed! But hey, I’m right there with them. The longer the festivities terrors ran, the more audible my whispers of ‘WTF?!’ became.

That said, below are seven of the most outrageous pre-Code moments from the Circus Maximus sequence, in no particular order (well, save for the first one):

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1. Little People vs. the Ladies (referred to in ads as “Pygmies/Dwarfs” and “Barbarians/Amazons,” respectively)

In my opinion, the most unexpected explicit act of violence of the entire games is a Barbarian woman beheading a Pygmy. Yes, we witness the head make a clean break from the body. Beheadings were a rare sight in early cinema; 1895′s The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots comes to mind, but unlike that primitive short, this trick is surprisingly seamless for its time. However, perhaps the most grotesque moment, one that sums up this whole callous display of carnage to me, follows the decapitation: after the deed is done, the perpetrator warily slides the headless man’s still-clutching hand off her torch.

Sign of the Cross 1932 savageOne (horrific) hazard of brutal battle. 

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2. Little People vs. the Ladies, Part 2

This supremely vile episode comes in a close second to #1. Not only does a member of the Barbarians stab a Pygmy warrior (like, basically impales him) but she hoists him up as a symbol of victory. The move is totally gratuitous – the guy’s still alive, for crying out loud! – though I’d expect nothing less with a crowd egging the atrocities on; even Nero (Charles Laughton) himself enthusiastically celebrates her conquest.

Sign of the Cross 1932 And I thought the headless man’s hand was bad. The aftermath of this skewering would be at least 5x more ghastly.

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3. That’s One Hungry Kitty

DeMille frequently employed cross fades during the arena sequences, and the one at the onset of this episode sizzles with innuendo: the image of an aroused woman gives way to the next attraction, a tiger. Both subjects are hella hungry, though we’re obviously talking different types here. In three rapid fire shots over the course of three seconds we snag a glimpse of the beast attacking and chomping an innocent victim. Though the images flash quickly, the sheer chaos and brevity of the incident prompts one to assume maximum grisliness.

Sign of the Cross 1932 tigerWho knows what the outcome would have been had this lady been in the ring with the tiger instead…

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4. Naked Lady Tied to a Stake While Alligators Advance Upon Her

Even on the other side of a TV screen, the sight of a congregation of alligators creeping slowly towards this unlucky, undressed woman is terrifying as hell, and no joke, the hairs on my arms spiked when one lone gator advanced into the frame and menacingly expanded his/her ferocious jaws. Not to mention, the nudity provides the woman another level of vulnerability and the situation a lower level of superfluous repugnance.  I can only hope this extra was whisked away the moment they called cut – and that she got paid mad $$$.

Sign of the Cross 1932 alligator sceneI know it’s hard to tell, but the alligator’s mouth is alarmingly close and ready to chomp in the upper right hand corner. (Also difficult to distinguish: Sharp teeth.)

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5. Naked Lady Tied to a Stake While A Gorilla Advances Upon Her

Take the scenario in #4, tie the lady to an upright stake, and substitute the alligators for one very dangerous looking (man dressed as a) gorilla. But keep the nudity and implied violence, of course. Though on the surface this is one of the most innocuous of my picks, one look at the gorilla leering at his victim and two aghast responses from the crowd tell us all we need to know. And it’s obviously not encouraging.

Sign of the Cross 1932 gorillaGorilla: What to do, what to do?

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6. The Deadliest Brass Knuckles Ever  

One warrior leaves a vicious-looking mark on the wall when his opponent dodges a punch, but the next one connects. In addition to shearing off a thin layer of skin, the move inflicts enough damage for some blood to spill out of this unfortunate man’s mouth. Blood we sometimes see in pre-Codes, but such a deathly indication as the latter? Not so much.

Sign of the Cross 1932 gladiator cuffsSerious question: What kind of human dreams up such a barbaric invention?

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7. I Thought Elephants Were Peaceful Animals?  

If I glimpsed a several-thousand pound animal lift its leg to crush me while I was chained to the ground, I’d freak the heck out like this man, too. Thankfully, we don’t witness the actual head-smashing, because what we see is about all I can stomach, anyway. But the elephants – plural, another joined in the action – are far from finished here. In a total of three shots intercut with spectator reactions, two elephants transport their winnings: one animal uses its trunk to drag a man along, while the other clutches a victim in its cavernous mouth. I read elephants are herbivores; what will these men be, their new playthings?

Sign of the Cross 1932 elephantsHow does one train an elephant to do this? Never mind. I probably don’t want to know.

Had enough yet? I have, but if you’re the inquisitive type, turn on The Sign of the Cross for the above scenes of senseless brutality – and more!

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–Kim Luperi for Classic Movie Hub

Kim Luperi is a New Jersey transplant living in sunny Los Angeles. She counts her weekly research in the Academy’s Production Code Administration files as a hobby and has written for TCM, AFI Fest, the Pre-Code Companion, MovieMaker Magazine and the American Cinematheque. You can read more of Kim’s articles at I See A Dark Theater or by following her on twitter at @Kimbo3200.

Posted in Films, Posts by Kim Luperi, Pre-Code Corner | Tagged | Leave a comment

Win Tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (50th Anniversary)” (Giveaway runs November 3 – November 25)

Win Tickets to see “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” on the Big Screen!

In Select Cinemas Nationwide Sunday, December 10 & Wednesday, December 13!

“The only thing that matters is what they feel, and how much they feel, for each other. And if it’s half of what we felt- that’s everything. “

CMH is thrilled to announce the 14th, and final, of our 14 movie ticket giveaways this year, courtesy of Fathom Events!

That said, we’ll be giving away EIGHT PAIRS of tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” – the timeless classic starring Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton— the way it was meant to be seen — on the Big Screen!

In order to qualify to win a pair of movie tickets via this contest, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, November 25 at 6 PM EST.

We will announce the winner(s) on Twitter on Sunday, November 26, between 6PM EST and 7PM EST. If a winner(s) does not have a Twitter account, we will announce that winner(s) via this blog in the comment section below.

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner TCM Big Screen Classics Fathom EventsThe film will be playing in select cinemas nationwide for a special two-day-only event on Sunday, December 10 and Wednesday, December 13 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time. Winners will be responsible for their own transportation to the Event. Only United States entries are eligible. Please click here before you enter to ensure that the Event is scheduled at a theater near you and that you are able to attend. (please note that there might be slightly different theater listings for each date)

About the film:  

Sidney Poitier delivers a commanding performance as John Prentice, who accompanies his fiancée, Joey, (Katharine Houghton) to her parents’ home – without telling them that he is black. As her parents, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy star in their final film together. Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer and written by William Rose, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was a box-office sensation across the country. It is, in the words of The New York Times, “a deft comedy and – most of all – a paean to the power of love.”

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, November 25 at 6PM EST…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

THE QUESTION:

What is it about “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” that makes it a Classic? And, if you haven’t seen it, why do you want to see it on the Big Screen? 

2) Then TWEET* (not DM) the following message:

I entered to win tickets to see “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” on the Big Screen courtesy of @ClassicMovieHub & @FathomEvents #TCMBigScreen

*If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

Please note that only United States residents are eligible to enter this giveaway contest. (see contest rules for further information)

BlogHub members ARE also eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

You can follow Fathom Events on Twitter at @fathomevents

Good Luck!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

 

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Fathom Events, TCM Big Screen Classics | 40 Comments

“Hank and Jim” Book Giveaway (Oct 30 – Dec 2)

“Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of
Henry Fonda and James Stewart”

We have TEN Copies to Give Away!

The remarkable story of two Hollywood legends who, though different in many ways, maintained a close friendship that endured through all of life’s twists and turns… 

We’ve been waiting quite some time for this one to be released! That said, CMH is thrilled to be giving away TEN COPIES of the new book, “Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart” by New York Times best-selling author, Scott Eyman, courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

In order to qualify to win one of these books via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, December 2 at 8PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick two winners on five different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.

  • Nov 4: Two Winners
  • Nov 11: Two Winners
  • Nov 18: Two Winners
  • Nov 25: Two Winners
  • Dec 2: Two Winners

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub and/or right here on this Blog in the comment section below (depending on how you entered), the day after each winner is picked at 8PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winner at 8PM EST on Sunday Nov 5.

Hank and Jim by Scott Eyman

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ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, December 2 at 8PM EST — BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) *Then TWEET (not DM) the following message (if you don’t have twitter, see below):
Just entered to win the “Hank and Jim” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @ClassicMovieHub and @SimonBooks

THE QUESTION:
What is one of your Henry Fonda and/or Jimmy Stewart films and why? 

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

Click here for the full contest rules and more details. 

Please note that only continental United States residents are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the areas noted above.

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About the book: Henry Fonda and James Stewart were two of the biggest stars in Hollywood for forty years. They became friends and then roommates as stage actors in New York, and when they began making films in Hollywood, they roomed together again. Between them they made such memorable films as The Grapes of Wrath, Mister Roberts, Twelve Angry Men, and On Golden Pond; and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Destry Rides Again, The Philadelphia Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, and Rear Window. They got along famously, with a shared interest in elaborate practical jokes and model airplanes, among other things. Fonda was a liberal Democrat, Stewart a conservative Republican, but after one memorable blow-up over politics, they agreed never to discuss that subject again. Fonda was a ladies’ man who was married five times; Stewart remained married to the same woman for forty-five years. Both men volunteered during World War II and were decorated for their service. When Stewart returned home, still unmarried, he once again moved in with Fonda, his wife, and his two children, Jane and Peter, who knew him as Uncle Jimmy. For Hank and Jim, biographer and film historian Scott Eyman spoke with Fonda’s widow and children as well as three of Stewart’s children, plus actors and directors who had worked with the men—in addition to doing extensive archival research to get the full details of their time together. This is not another Hollywood story, but a fascinating portrait of an extraordinary friendship that lasted through war, marriages, children, careers, and everything else.

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If you don’t want to wait to win, you can purchase the book by clicking here:

Good Luck!

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged , | 25 Comments

Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film Book Giveaway (via Twitter in Novemer)

“Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film”
Book Giveaway via Twitter

Time for our next book giveaway! This time, CMH is happy to say that we will be giving away FIVE COPIES of “Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film” by Alan K. Rode, courtesy of University Press of Kentucky, from Oct 30 through Dec 2. (plus ONE more copy via Facebook and this Blog, details to follow in a few days).

In order to qualify to win one of these prizes via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, Dec 2 at 10PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick a winner on five different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.

  • Nov 4: One Winner
  • Nov 11: One Winner
  • Nov 18: One Winner
  • Nov 25: One Winner
  • Dec 2: One Winner

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub, the day after each winner is picked at 10PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winner on Sunday Nov 5 at 10PM EST on Twitter. And, please note that you don’t have to have a Twitter account to enter; just see below for the details…

If you’re also on Facebook, please feel free to visit us at Classic Movie Hub on Facebook for additional giveaways (or check back on this Blog in a few days) — because we’ll be giving away ONE MORE cop via Facebook/Blog as well!

Michael Curtiz A Life in Film by Alan K Rode

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ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, Dec 2 at 1oPM EST — BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

THE QUESTION:
What is one of your favorite Michael Curtiz films and why? And, if you’re not familiar with the work of Michael Curtiz, why do you want to win this book.

2) Then TWEET (not DM) the following message*:
Just entered to win the “Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @KentuckyPress & @ClassicMovieHub

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

…..

About the Book: Academy Award–winning director Michael Curtiz (1886–1962)―whose best-known films include Casablanca (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945) and White Christmas (1954)―was in many ways the anti-auteur. During his unprecedented twenty-seven year tenure at Warner Bros., he directed swashbuckling adventures, westerns, musicals, war epics, romances, historical dramas, horror films, tearjerkers, melodramas, comedies, and film noir masterpieces. The director’s staggering output of 180 films surpasses that of the legendary John Ford and exceeds the combined total of films directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, and Howard Hawks. In the first biography of this colorful, instinctual artist, Alan K. Rode illuminates the life and work of one of the film industry’s most complex figures. He begins by exploring the director’s early life and career in his native Hungary, revealing how Curtiz shaped the earliest days of silent cinema in Europe as he acted in, produced, and directed scores of films before immigrating to the United States in 1926. In Hollywood, Curtiz earned a reputation for his explosive tantrums, his difficulty communicating in English, and his disregard for the well-being of others. However, few directors elicited more memorable portrayals from their casts, and ten different actors delivered Oscar-nominated performances under his direction. This meticulously researched biography provides a nuanced understanding of one of the most talented filmmakers of Hollywood’s golden age.

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Click here for the full contest rules. 

Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

Good Luck!

And if you can’t wait to win the book, you can purchase the on amazon via the below link (click on image):

Good Luck!

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged , | 37 Comments

Classic Movie Travels: Spencer Tracy and Milwaukee Wisconsin

Classic Movie Travels: Spencer Tracy and Milwaukee Wisconsin

“The kids keep telling me I should try this new ‘Method Acting’ but I’m too old, I’m too tired, and I’m too talented to care.” –Spencer Tracy

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are one of the most notable on-screen duos in classic cinema. They could easily handle comedy and drama, and were both fantastic actors in their own rights. While Hepburn hailed from Connecticut, Tracy was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Spencer Bonaventure Tracy was a difficult and overactive child with sporadic school attendance. His mother came from a wealthy Presbyterian family, while his father was Irish Catholic and worked as a truck salesman. Tracy also had a brother named Carroll, who was four years older than him. Tracy was raised Catholic and educated by Dominican nuns. He conceded to learning because he wanted to be able to read movie subtitles, and movies fascinated him immensely. Tracy would view certain films frequently so that he could reenact some of the scenes with his friends.

Tracy attended several schools in the Milwaukee area, which included Trowbridge Elementary School, among several others.

As a teenager, Tracy attended several Jesuit academies and his grades improved. He later attended Marquette Academy, where he met future actor Pat O’Brien. The two started attending plays together, causing Tracy to develop an interest in theater.

Younger brother Carroll Tracy, mother Carrie Tracy and Spencer Tracy. 1918 family photo Younger brother Carroll Tracy, mother Carrie Tracy and Spencer Tracy (1918 family photo)

Tracy enlisted in the Navy when he turned 18 and was stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago. He was still a student when World War I ended, and was discharged when he achieved the rank of seaman second class. Tracy returned to high school to finish his degree. In 1921, Tracy enrolled at Ripon College with the intent to study medicine.

young Spencer TracyA Young Tracy

At Ripon, Tracy was active in various school organizations and served as president of his hall. He was part of Theta Alpha Phi (theatre), Alpha Phi Omega, Eastern Debate Team, Phi Kappa Delta (Debate Honor Society), and the All College Prom Committee. Moreover, he was voted cleverest and most talented, and tied with a peer for most popular. He made his stage debut as the male lead in The Truth and was well received in the role. Tracy organized an acting company with his friends, called “The Campus Players” and went on tour. At Ripon, Tracy also performed in The Valiant (1921) as the prisoner; The Great Divide (1921) as Phillip; and in Sintram of Skaserack (1922) as Sintram. While touring with the debate team, Tracy auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City (AADA), where he was offered a scholarship after performing a scene from one of his previous roles.

Tracy began classes at AADA in 1922 and made his New York debut in The Wedding Guests. Three months later, he made his Broadway debut in R.U.R. and graduated from AADA in 1923. Tracy struggled in stock companies until his career took a positive turn when he partnered with actress Selena Royle. In 1926, Tracy was cast in the George M. Cohan play Yellow, and Cohan lauded Tracy’s acting skills. Cohan wrote a part just for Tracy in his hit play The Baby Cyclone. 

The Baby Cyclone Theater ProgramThe Baby Cyclone Theater Program

When the stock market crashed, Tracy considered abandoning the theater for a more stable life in Milwaukee, since many plays were closing. However, Tracy was offered a dramatic role in The Last Mile, which proved to be a hit. At the same time, actors from Broadway were being scouted for Vitaphone shorts. Tracy was scouted by director John Ford, who saw The Last Mile. Though Tracy was content working on stage, he was married at this point and had a son who was deaf and recovering from polio. His financial woes led him to sign with Fox and move to California.

At Fox, Tracy was typecast in comedies and appeared in mostly unpopular films. Though Tracy received some attention for his role in The Power and the Glory (1933), his next few films were unremarkable to critics. He began to struggle with alcoholism and his contract with Fox was terminated by mutual consent. His 25 films for Fox mostly lost money at the box office.

Nonetheless, MGM’s Irving Thalberg expressed interest in Tracy. His first film under the new contract was the quickly produced The Murder Man (1935), which also happened to be James Stewart‘s feature film debut. Thalberg began to strategically feature Tracy with MGM’s key actresses in order to build up his name, though Tracy did not receive top billing for these. Rather, Fury (1936) was the first film that demonstrated Tracy’s success as a lead actor. His next film, San Francisco (1936), was the highest grossing film of 1936. His public reputation grew with Libeled Lady (1936), starring Tracy alongside William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow.

William Powell, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy, Libeled Lady 1936William Powell, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy, Libeled Lady 1936

Tracy soon became an established actor, carrying out memorable roles in Boys Town (1938), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), and Father of the Bride (1950), just to name a few. He also appeared in nine films with Katharine Hepburn, which included Woman of the Year (1942), Keeper of the Flame (1943), Without Love (1945), The Sea of Grass (1947), State of the Union (1948), Adam’s Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), Desk Set (1957), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967). Tracy and Hepburn began a relationship while working on their first film, though Tracy never divorced his wife. His wife, Louise, stated that she would be Mrs. Spencer Tracy until the day she died. Tracy claimed that he could get a divorce whenever he wanted to, but he and Hepburn were content with the current arrangement. Hepburn never fought for marriage.

Tracy and HepburnTracy and Hepburn

Tracy was nominated for nine Academy Awards for Best Actor, and won it consecutively twice. When Tracy was working on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), he informed the press that this would be his last film. Tracy was in poor health and could only film for a few hours each day. Seventeen days after filming his final scene in the film, Tracy died of a heart attack.

Tracy and Hepburn Guess Who's Coming the Dinner, 1967Tracy and Hepburn, Guess Who’s Coming the Dinner, 1967

Today, Milwaukee possesses a few tributes and location that were of relevance to Tracy. Spencer’s childhood home address was 3003 St Paul Ave., in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here is the property today:

Spencer Tracy's childhood home 3003 St Paul Ave., Milwaukee, WisconsinSpencer Tracy’s childhood on St Paul Ave. in Milwaukee

Trowbridge Street Elementary School is located at 1943 E Trowbridge St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I spoke with Principal Tom Matthews, the current principal of Trowbridge, and he shared that Tracy was asked to leave Trowbridge due to issues with behavior, as was the case for him with several other schools. In fact, when asked about his education, Tracy often joked that he had one of the best schooling experiences since he attended “all of them!” His family supposedly lived kitty-corner to the school at one point. The school continues to display a plaque that documents Tracy as a notable alum.

Trowbridge Street Elementary School, 1943 E Trowbridge St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Trowbridge Street Elementary School
Spencer Tracy Plaque at Trowbridge Street Elementary School 1943 E Trowbridge St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Spencer Tracy Plaque at Trowbridge Street Elementary School

Marquette Academy is now Marquette University High School, located at 3401 W Wisconsin Ave. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Marquette Academy is now Marquette University High School, located at 3401 W Wisconsin Ave. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.Marquette Academy (now Marquette University High School)

Ripon College continues to exist as a university today, located 300 Seward St. in Ripon, Wisconsin. Tracy received an honorary degree from Ripon in 1940 in front of the college library.

Spencer Tracy received an honorary degree from Ripon College in 1940 in front of the college library.Spencer Tracy receives his honorary degree from Ripon College
Ripon College today, 300 Seward St. in Ripon, Wisconsin. Ripon College today

If you are ever in the Milwaukee area, I would highly encourage you to walk in the footsteps of Tracy throughout this historic city.

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–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

 

Posted in Classic Movie Travels, Posts by Annette Bochenek | 1 Comment

You Ain‘t Heard Nothin‘ Yet: Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era – Exclusive Post by Authors James Bawden and Ron Miller

You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet
Interviews with Classic Horror Stars

If you’re an actor best known for playing monsters, madmen or maniacal killers, how do you cope with a career image that’s so mired in the dark side of life?

Well, it’s interesting how many different solutions to that problem have been found by actors dealing with that particular dilemma. Here are some reactions to the problem from five famous actors known for their terrifying portrayals on screen — as reported in the new book You Ain‘t Heard Nothin‘ Yet: Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era:

frankenstein 1931 for you aint heard nothing yetBoris Karloff as Frankenstein (1931)

Boris Karloff, who came to fame in the 1931 Frankenstein, playing a monster built out of  body parts stolen from corpses, then jolted to life by lightning bolts put to use by the notorious Dr. Frankenstein. Karloff began by not seeing the character he was playing as a monster, but rather as a bewildered creature, struggling to understand how he fit into the world around him once Dr. Frankenstein had brought him to life.

“He was like a newborn baby, taking his first look at the world,” Karloff explained. “He wasn’t a monster then.”

Karloff refused to think of himself as a “monster actor’, saying “ I was never really a ‘horror’ actor because horror implies revulsion and my films were never gory or ugly. They were exciting, thrillers. I felt Frankenstein was more like a legend or a fairy tale.

Karloff was aware other actors felt sorry for him for being typecast as a horror movie star, but he had no regrets himself. The reason: He almost always had his name above the title in all his films after Frankenstein.

“I realized I was typed as a monster after the first film, but I’ve never minded,” Karloff said. “In fact, I’ve always been rather grateful to the Monster for it. Any actor who becomes typed is very fortunate.”

the wolf manPoor Lon Chaney Jr, as the Wolf Man

In contrast, Lon Chaney Jr. grumbled about the type-casting that ensued once he reluctantly turned to horror roles at Universal Pictures with Man-Made Monster in 1941 after winning great acclaim as a character actor for his 1939 portrayal of the dim-witted Lenny in Of Mice and Men.

Chaney especially resisted being pushed into horror roles just because his famous father, Lon Chaney Sr., had been the greatest performer of grotesque characters during the silent era. He disliked the long makeup sessions he had to endure to become his most famous monster, The Wolf Man, the werewolf he played in five films between 1941-48.

“I had to go in early in the morning and sit through four hours in the makeup chair for the scenes where I turned into a werewolf in stages,” said Chaney, “and those scenes only lasted a minute on the screen!”

And he wasn’t happy with the physical burden of playing Frankenstein’s Monster in the 1942 Ghost of Frankenstein.

“That Frankenstein outfit weighed 80 pounds“,  said Chaney, “so it was worse to have to keep it on so long and work wearing it.”

And he also scoffed at the silly ways his Wolf Man character kept being brought back to life for sequel after sequel.

Said Chaney, “It got pretty ridiculous after awhile. They would figure out some tricky way to kill me in one film and then have to think of something even more elaborate to bring me back to life in the next one.”

Still, like Karloff, Chaney was able to keep working steadily in such films, though he preferred to play straight character roles like the ones he played in non-horror classics of the 1950s like High Noon, Not As A Stranger and The Defiant Ones.

“I knew the only thing to do was to refuse all horror roles and go broke, “ Chaney said,  “ I didn’t like the idea of starving, though.”

billy-the-kid-vs-dracula-81 john caradineJohn Carradine in Billy the Kid vs Dracula (1966)

Yet another “horror actor” who had been a busy character actor in supporting roles until he began to get leading roles as monsters was John Carradine, who specialized in mad scientists, but also had his shot at playing the vampire Dracula on several occasions. He continued to play such roles in order to help finance his own Shakespearean stage company in Los Angeles, but he did have considerable regrets about some of the roles he played.

“There are pictures I wish I hadn’t done“, said Carradine. “One of them was Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966). I was broke and needed the money. Finally, I started turning down the bad ones. My conscience took over and I’d say I won’t read lines and vomit at the same time.”

Though his career was studded with great supporting roles, like the itinerant preacher in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Carradine believed it also was a real challenge for an actor to bring some kind of dignity to the kinds of horror roles he often played in poverty row productions.

Carradine explained: “I would say it’s the most difficult thing to do and do well. A bad actor would over-do them.”

As for a horror role Carradine remembered proudly, it was the serial killer of women he played in Bluebeard (1944).

“I had a chance to play a fully-developed character and even play some rather romantic scenes,” said Carradine. “ It was also the first film in which I got single star billing. It was the biggest part I ever had in a picture and certainly not the easiest to play.

Carradine also remembered with a smile the fact that it was the only film in which he not only wound up with the girl, but several of them, “Except  that I killed them all.”

actors_vincent_price_movie_legends_1322x1800_wallpaper_Wallpaper_2560x1600_www.wallpaperswa.com_Vincent Price

The actor who supplanted Karloff as the reigning king of horror pictures after his performance in House of Wax in 1953, was Vincent Price.

In his real life, Price was a collector of fine art, a gourmet cook and a very elegant and literate man. He also had no time for horror movies when he wasn’t making them.

“I never watch horror movies myself, if I can help it,” he said. “Too scary for me.”

Price managed to keep his tongue in cheek through most of his horror roles and liked to remember the good times he had with fellow actors, including several who also were known for spooky characters.

“We got Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre for a merry threesome in The Raven (1963) and the last masterwork had Boris, Basil Rathbone, Peter and I in Comedy of Terrors (1963) and it was the biggest hit of all.”

antony perkinsAnthony Perkins

Probably the least typical of the five actors interviewed was Anthony Perkins, who began his movie career as a young leading man, but was propelled to cinema immortality when he played the maniacal killer Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho and followed it up with three sequels, including one he directed himself – Psycho III.

Perkins admitted it was a bit of a struggle to find something to identify with in Norman Bates.

“Norman and I really have a great deal NOT in common,” Perkins said. “Although I have to admit there are times when I feel that Norman directed the movie [Psycho III] while I enacted the role of Norman. And somehow we shared the responsibility.”

Perkins ultimately decided to focus on the more human side of Norman, which he finally found playing Norman after he‘d undergone psychological rehabilitation in the subsequent films.

“He’s essentially likeable,” said Perkins. “He’s optimistic and he doesn’t succumb to his own vices, his own weaknesses. He’s constantly trying to find alternative ways of  living and being with other people.”

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–James Bawden and Ron Miller for Classic Movie Hub

Retired journalists James Bawden and Ron Miller are the authors of You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet, and  Conversations with Classic Film Stars, two astonishing collections of rare interviews with the greatest celebrities of Hollywood’s golden age. Conducted over the course of more than fifty years, they recount intimate conversations with some of the most famous leading men and women of the era, including Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joseph Cotten, Cary Grant, Gloria Swanson, Joan Fontaine, Loretta Young, Kirk Douglas, and many more.

You can purchase the books on amazon by clicking here:

     

 

 

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German Expressionism 101 – Part One

 

German Expressionism 101
Part One

In case you haven’t noticed, Classic Movie Hub is having a giveaway contest this month. Thanks to our long-standing partnership with Kino Lorber, we are giving away eight horror-esque movies every Sunday throughout October. Three of those of titles, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, and Metropolis, come from the groundbreaking and highly innovative German Expressionist movement. So, what better time than now to write about one of the most influential film movements of the silent era and beyond: German Expressionism.

nosferatu_shadow10 points if you can name the film this still is from!

In order to understand German Expressionism, you have to understand the historical context that birthed it. Like pretty much every other artistic movement since the inception of art itself, German Expressionism was a reaction to the harsh realities of its time. The movement emerged off the coattails of World War One – a war that had a profound effect on the German psyche.

After WWI much of Europe was left a ruinous heap of rabble and disenfranchisement. With many of its power Empires now lost to the dustbins of history, the future of many European countries were bleak unknowns and a source of constant collective anxiety.  This was especially true for Germany. You see, after the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, the Allied Powers pretty much forced Germany to “accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage.” This meant German people faced the entire economic brunt of the war – to the tune of $31.4 billion dollars AKA $442 billion in 2017 dollars…yikes!

The conditions laid forth by the treaty, coupled with the fact that Germany went headfirst into such a feckless and destructive war to begin with, caused the German people to grow increasing resentful of its leaders. They thrust their people into a war that caused nothing but devastation only to later be met with the prospect of absolute financial destitution. The future was bleak and collective malaise of despondency fell upon the nation.

Otto_Dix_The Wounded Soldier_1917Otto Dix, The Wounded Soldier, 1917

And here is where we enter the world of German Expressionism. The painting above is The Wounded Solider by Otto Dix. After serving in WWI, Dix returned home a broken, haunted man who suffered from intense PTSD. When it came to expressing the horrors of the trenches, Dix wanted his audience to react strongly to his work, feeling the mental pain and spiritual disillusionment brought upon by war. Rather than focus on painterly abilities to create an aesthetically pleasing composition and show the physical realism of war, Dix instead focused on the more abstract psychological experience of those who were part of it.

He painted a distorted figure with jagged edges, contrasted lighting and unnatural proportions that were ghoulish and horrifying in nature. Just look at the painting. Really look at it. The sunken eyes and too-wide mouth make him appear almost as a skull. His limbs and digits twist in unnatural ways and the earth around him is nothing but a black abyss of unknown shapes and textures. Heck, without the helmet on, it would be hard to even distinguish that we was a solider – for all we would know he could be an unnamed ghoul falling into madness as he descends deeper into hell.

Otto-Dix-Grossstadt-Triptychon-MitteltaI may have gotten a little carried away with that description, so enjoy this palette jazzy cleanser! (Otto Dix, Grossstadt, 1927/28)

Yes, Beautiful aesthetic realism was out and the haunting heavy stokes of expressionism was in. This movement would permeate into all aspects of German art of the time, including film, which we will discuss in Part 2 of this German Expressionist adventure.

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Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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Trick or Treat: A CMH Halloween “Universal Classic Monsters Collection” DVD Giveaway (Oct 22 – Oct 28)

A Special Halloween Treat for CMH Fans!
The Universal Classic Monsters Collection DVD Giveaway!

We’re so excited to be running a VERY SPECIAL giveaway this week, just in time to celebrate  Halloween… so prepare to be scared…

This week only, we’re giving away TWO COPIES of the classic (understatement) DVD Set, the “Universal Classic Monsters Collection.” Each DVD set contains six original Universal Classic Monster Movies: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941). How’s that for a frightfully delightful Halloween treat!

dracula 1931 bela lugosiBela Lugosi as Dracula (1931)

In order to qualify to win one of these DVD sets via this contest giveaway, you must complete the following task by Saturday, October 28 at 9PM EST. We will pick two winners via random drawings, and announce them on Sunday October 29 at 9PM EST on Twitter or this Blog (depending how you entered).

Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, 1935.Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein, 1935

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ENTRY TASK (2-parts see below) to be completed by Saturday, October 28 at 9PM EST…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) Then TWEET* (not DM) the following message:
Just entered to win the CMH Halloween “Universal Classic Monsters Collection’ #DVDGiveaway courtesy of @ClassicMovieHub

THE QUESTION:
Who is your favorite Classic Movie Monster (or actor that portrays the monster) and why? 

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

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Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) and Canadian entrants are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States or in Canada (as noted above).

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ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

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And if you can’t wait to win the DVD Set, you can purchase it on amazon via the below link (click on image):

Good Luck!

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Silents are Golden: Learning To Love Those Title Cards

Learning To Love Those Title Cards

So there you are, a wide-eyed silent film newbie, getting ready to pop in a pre-1927 film for the very first time. With your popcorn and beverage at the ready, you settle into the couch and the film begins. There’s the black and white footage (or maybe it’s tinted sepia), running slightly faster than life, and you see women in dresses and men in straw hats, and maybe you catch a few Model Ts going by.

And then…the screen goes black. And there are words. Which you must read. This, my friend, has been your first — and rather sudden — exposure to that unwieldy thing known as a title card. (Or “intertitle,” if you’re feeling fancy.)

But are title cards really that unwieldy? Certainly they can distract you from the film at first, being as old-timey as organ grinders’ monkeys and all. But I can promise you that you will get used to them. And not only will you get used to them, but they will add a level of participation to your silent film viewings that you may not have experienced before.

A Flirt’s Mistake (1914) title cardAlso, your life will be enriched by title cards like this. From A Flirt’s Mistake (1914).

Just about every silent film had title cards (which are distinct from beginning or end credit titles, might I add), with the exception of the very oldest films, as well as some ambitious dramas and a chunk of the avant-garde. They came into use around the turn of the 20th century, once films had reached the sufficient length to require some means to keep audiences from becoming confused. The earliest intertitles that we know of might be from the 42-second British film How It Feels to Be Run Over (1900), which shows a car running straight into the camera followed by a black background with few scrawled white words exclaiming, in rapid succession, “!!! Oh! Mother will be pleased.” (Let’s just call this an example of that famous dry British humor.)

How It Feels to Be Run Over (1900) title cardPossibly the very first intertitles. (Image creator unknown.)

At first, filmmakers used title cards very sparingly and only imparted the exact amount of information audiences needed to know. Some studios used them to “announce” each shot and describe what would take place, rather like those long chapter titles for serialized Victorian novels (at that time title cards were called “leaders”). As films rapidly grew more sophisticated, decorative frames would often surround the words, with studio logos in the corners. Main characters were sometimes introduced with title cards, which would also contain the names of the actors playing them. At times, the actors themselves were announced via title cards, the film cutting to each one smiling and bowing at the camera–an early version of opening credits.

By the mid- to late -1910s, titles became more elaborate and were an integral part of the overall movie experience. Ironically, the more cinematic language fell into place the more title cards seemed to be in use — they weren’t just for dialogue. Dramas often used romantic-sounding language and even bits of poetry to help convey the mood of the film. Jokey titles added to the humor of comedies. Artsy films would try out edgy fonts. Some backgrounds might be textured instead of black, while others might have paintings or cartoons.

A humorous title card from Harold Lloyd’s Haunted Spooks (1920)A humorous title card from Harold Lloyd’s Haunted Spooks (1920). 

Not only did all this keep audiences from getting eye fatigue from the frequent switches to black title cards (a possible reason why filmmakers started tinkering with painterly backgrounds) but they added to films’ artistry, too.

Why, you might wonder, didn’t studios simply use subtitles right on the images themselves? The technology available to make subtitles did exist (although it was more difficult to do than it is today). The main reason titles stayed in place was to make it easier for theaters in other countries. Simply change the language in the title cards, and presto! The foreign language version was ready to go.

Forbidden Fruit 1921 title cardEasily changed up. (From Forbidden Fruit 1921.)

Today, flowery language and textured backgrounds tend to be lost on us at first, since it takes some time to get used to the picture being repeatedly interrupted by blocks of words. You might even feel like it’s a chore. However, there’s a definite rhythm to the way silents used title cards. Let yourself get swept away by the story, and in time you’ll start to sense just when one is coming up–and even look forward to the clarification it’ll bring.

In fact, I can almost guarantee that at one point there will be a magical “ah-ha!” moment. This is when a character begins to speak and for a second you wish you could hear them, and then you brighten, realizing that a title card must be on the way. And there it is, your savior in a vintage font. That, my friend, is the moment when you’ve gone from being merely a passive observer to a participant in the film itself.

Artsy titles absorbing us in the story of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)Artsy titles absorbing us in the story of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919).

If you think of the way many folks watch movies nowadays — half-listening, with a phone in one hand — silents are a welcome change of pace. They require our rapt attention. Miss even one title card, and the film might no longer make sense. And this is a good thing, for when distractions are put aside you can truly absorb the film in front of you. You can focus on characters and plot points uninterrupted, free for a time from the normal stress of modern life (if I may be so cliched). In a sense, silents can be a tonic.

And thus, my friends, I urge you: learn to love those title cards! Far from being just the tools that helped films limp by until the talkie era finally arrived, they were a unique artform in and of themselves. And today, they can help us to more fully experience and more deeply appreciate these wonderful, historic early films.

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–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub

Lea Stans is a born-and-raised Minnesotan with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely blames on Buster Keaton). In addition to blogging about her passion at her site Silent-ology, she is a columnist for the Silent Film Quarterly and has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.

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5 Things You May Not Know about Bela Lugosi

 

5 Things You May Not Know about Bela Lugosi

Bela_Legosi_HeadershotLike today is his birthday. Happy 135th Birthday to the legend Bela Lugosi!

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1) He was born to play Dracula

Bela_Legosi_Dracula

For real tho…

Bela Lugosi was born Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko in former Austria-Hungarian Empire. His hometown of Lugos was only about fifty miles away from the western border of Transylvania and the infamous Poenari Castle, main fortress to legendary Vlad the Impaler. In case you don’t know, Vlad the Impaler is the 14th century Romanian Prince that is the basis for the character of Dracula. So, it only makes sense the man who lives a day’s walk from the home of Dracula would give the definitive portrayal.

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2) From Grade School Drop-out to The National Theater

Bela_Legosi_National_theatreCan we just admire that tie for a moment…

As a child, Bela Lugosi was something of a rebellious boy who didn’t quite gel with authority. Before he was even a teenager, Lugosi had dropped out of the Hungarian State Gymnasium then ran away from home. He worked a series of odd jobs before returning home to his mother, whose husband was able to hook-up Lugosi with a local traveling theater company. Soon after, he was accepted into the Hungarian Academy of Performing Arts where he specialized in Shakespeare. After graduating, Lugosi spent the early 1900s performing Shakespeare in traveling troupes across the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1913, he joined the Hungarian National Theater in Budapest, where he continued to play roles in plays like Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. Not bad for a grade school dropout, am I right?

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3) Ski Captain (And the World of War 1)

Bela_Legosi_WWI_uniformGlad he took off the hat for this one…

With a strong love for his homeland, Lugosi took a break from acting to fight in The Great War AKA World War 1. He served as an infantryman in the Austro-Hungarian Army for two years, rising to the rank of captain in the ski patrol while fighting against the Russians. He was awarded the Wound Medal and later discharged for injuries suffered while in battle.  Unfortunately, that injury would plague him for the rest of his life and lead his decades long battle with opioid addiction.

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4) Forced to Flee

Bela_Legosi_Forced_to_FleeDay dreaming of greener pastures…

Despite taking a hiatus from acting to serve his country, he was eventually forced to flee Hungary in 1919. Lugosi had left leaning politics in his youth and was an advocate for the actors union in Budapest. When the Hungarian Revolution took hold, his work with the union was seen as having communist, and therefore Soviet, sympathies. Seeing the writing on the walls, Lugosi fled his motherland, first going to Germany before finally settling in the US. He would become a naturalized citizen in 1931.

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5) Reports of his death were greatly exaggerated

Abbott_and_costello_meet_frankensteinBela Lugosi‘s final role in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948, director Charles Barton)

Rumor has it Universal studios originally almost hired Ian Keith to play the role of Dracula in the film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein because they thought Lugosi was dead! The film marked the final time Lugosi would play Dracula.

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Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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