Béla Lugosi was a Hungarian-American actor of stage and screen, well known for playing Count Dracula in the Broadway play and subsequent film version. In the last years of his career he featured in several of Ed Wood's low budget films.
Lugosi's first film appearance was in the 1917 movie Az ezredes (known in English as The Colonel). Lugosi would make twelve films in Hungary between 1917 and 1918 before leaving for Germany. Following the collapse of Béla Kun's Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, left-wingers and trade unionists became vulnerable. Lugosi was proscribed from acting due to his participation in the formation of an actor's union. In exile in Germany, he began appearing in a small number of well received films, including adaptations of the Karl May novels, Auf den Trümmern des Paradieses (On the Brink of Paradise), and Die Todeskarawane (The Caravan of Death), opposite the ill-fated Jewish actress Dora Gerson. Lugosi left Germany in October 1920, intending to emigrate to the United States, and illegally entered the country at New Orleans in December 1920. He was finally legally inspected at Ellis Island in March 1921.
On his arrival in America, the 6 foot 1 inch (1.85 m), 180 lb. (82 kg) Béla worked for some time as a laborer, then entered the theater in New York City's Hungarian immigrant colony. His first major American role came in the 1923 J. Gordon Edwards directed melodrama The Silent Command opposite actors Edmund Lowe and Carl Harbaugh.
Lugosi was approached to star in a stage production adapted by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. The Horace Liveright production was successful. Despite his critically acclaimed performance on stage Lugosi was not the Universal Pictures first choice for the role of Dracula when the company optioned the rights to the Deane play and began production in 1930.
Following the success of Dracula (1931), Lugosi received a studio contract with Universal. On June 26, 1931, the actor became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956 while lying on a couch in his Los Angeles home. He was 73.