The following is an interview with acclaimed journalist and author Robert Cremer and CEO of Lugosi Enterprises Lynne Lugosi Sparks regarding the Kickstarter campaign launch for the biography, Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind the Cape, in collaboration with Clover Press. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Cremer about the genesis behind the biography, with Lugosi Sparks about her collaboration with Cremer on grandfather’s biography, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the launch of your Kickstarter campaign for Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind the Cape. What first intrigued you about Lugosi’s life and career that led to the genesis of this project?
Robert Cremer: I first “met” Béla when Universal released its package of classic horror films, Shock Theater, to TV in 1957. I was fascinated by him simply because I found myself confused as to whether he was a “good guy” or a “bad guy.” I knew he was an evil vampire, but he was so suave and charming at the same time, I just couldn’t really feel certain. This fascination with Béla never waned. Fifteen years later, while I was working as a syndicated columnist for The Hollywood Reporter, I began researching Béla’s life in the old Margaret Herrick Library on Santa Monica Boulevard out of curiosity. Quite unexpectedly, I found a great deal of contradictory and conflicting information about him, particularly regarding his personal life.
This really piqued my interest and brought me to the point of wanting to write a biography of Béla. My fate as biographer was sealed, when I read in an article that Béla’s son, Bela Lugosi, Jr., was a practicing attorney in Los Angeles. I contacted him to discuss the family’s participation in the project, because I was certain that the misinformation I found in the press and occasional articles could only be corrected with the help of the family. He arranged a meeting for me with his mother, Lillian, who was married to Béla for 20 years. When I explained my goal to her, she said to me, “Bob, I would love to do that, because the record needs to be set straight! I am tired of reading the same totally false information about his life. Béla deserves better and the truth about his life must finally come out.” We worked together on the project for months, before we made a trip to Hungary and Romania together to continue research on his earlier life. The original edition was published in 1976, but is a mere shadow of this greatly revised and expanded edition for Clover Press.
BD: How would you describe your research and creative processes in bringing this biography to life?
RC: The publisher of the original edition set a page limitation on the manuscript. This meant that I was only able to use roughly half of the material I had gathered in my interviews with Lillian, relatives, close Hungarian friends, and colleagues of Béla’s over the course of two years. This material is now included in this new edition of the biography. The family interviews provide critical depth on many aspects of Béla’s life that could only be dealt with in a cursory fashion in the original work. The additional interviews provide an even more compelling picture of the man behind the cape.
Film buffs, however, will enjoy the insider information that emerges from my interviews with producer/directors that could not be included in the original edition:
Robert Florey, originally slated to direct Frankenstein, discusses his proposed role for Béla in the film.
Edgar Ulmer discusses his battles with Universal during the production of The Black Cat.
Rowland V. Lee discusses his battles with Universal to allow Béla to craft his interpretation of Ygor in Son of Frankenstein.
Exclusive interviews with Edward D. Wood, Jr. reveal unknown information regarding the production of his cult classics with Béla: Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster, and Plan Nine from Outer Space.
The Age of the Internet opened additional avenues for information that were not available earlier. Libraries, film archives, and other sources have digitized their collections, and researchers we worked with in Béla’s hometown, Lugos, and in Budapest came up with surprising information that has made a significant contribution to the depth and accuracy of this biography. New documentation and rare photos of his childhood, as well as the correction of erroneous film titles for several of Béla’s Hungarian films, were just a few of the benefits from this additional research.
Another major factor for this authoritative, if not definitive, biography was the participation of Béla’s granddaughter Lynne Lugosi Sparks, CEO of Lugosi Enterprises and curator of the Lugosi Family Archives. She is a detective by profession, who sifted through a massive amount of still uncatalogued information in the Archives, including film stills, rare family photos, documents, letters, and artwork for inclusion in this new edition. The result is impressive. The 42 photos contained in the original edition have now been expanded to over 700 ‒ an increase of over 1,500%!
Lynne Lugosi Sparks: I first met Robert Cremer when I was a little girl, when he began researching Béla Lugosi for the original edition of the biography and was interviewing and traveling with my grandmother Lillian. (My grandmother brought me a traditional Hungarian dress from their trip to Hungary that I loved as a child and still have saved today!) To have the opportunity, 50 years later, to work with Robert Cremer on this new book about my grandfather is very special, and I believe is quite a unique situation. It has been an extremely enlightening journey to have curated the photos and documents for the book, and a true honor to be able to contribute a pictorial history of Béla Lugosi’s life to our long-time family friend’s authoritative text.
BD: There was undoubtedly a great deal of research that went into portraying Lugosi’s personal life, political activism, and career as respectfully as possible. During your research, were there any aspects of his life that surprised you or that took your work in a different direction than anticipated?
RC: All aspects of Béla’s personal and professional life were handled in a respectful manner, but this biography remains a no-holds-barred depiction of his life in every respect. The family was adamant that Béla’s story be told in an honest and straightforward way. All perspectives on events in Béla’s life are dealt with in this manner. His failings, as well as his triumphs, are depicted in the words of those who knew him, and experienced these times with him personally. A major focus of this book, for example, is to address his drug dependence head on. Lillian insisted on this. To this end, I interviewed Dr. Nicholas Langer, Béla’s attending physician at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, CA, during his rehabilitation. His interview and information from the hospital records regarding Béla’s treatment are included in the book without alteration. The result is a comprehensive description of his struggle with drugs, the reasons for his dependence, and heretofore unknown information that corrects the widespread misunderstanding of this episode in Béla’s life that was promulgated by the press and even by Béla himself! Readers will find out why!
BD: What made Clover Press the perfect home for this project?
RC: Just a look at the Clover Press catalog convinced me that this biography had found its home. Clover produces high-quality hardcover editions of works that often complement Béla’s pictorial story in subject matter. The team at Clover Press combines the best of both worlds as far as this biography is concerned: On the one hand, they are professionals who move comfortably in the new media landscape; and, on the other hand, they are fans of Béla! As a journalist who began his career sitting in front of an Underwood portable typewriter, I am amazed at the sophistication of their production and marketing approaches. I would have given Clover the name “Merlin Press” if I had had a say in it. The staff are approaching this project like dedicated fans and are making every effort to insure that Béla Lugosi: The Man Behind the Cape is a lasting tribute to the man behind the cape. I couldn’t ask for anything more as an author.