This is the twentieth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous movie urban legends.
MOVIE LEGEND: Bela Lugosi learned his lines for the film Dracula phonetically – he did not speak English at the time!
STATUS: False, with a large chunk of truthiness mixed in
As the story goes, when Béla Lugosi starred in Tod Browning’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1931, he was not the first choice for the role.
That much is true.
However, one of the reasons given is that Lugosi did not even speak English at the time, but rather, had learned his lines for the popular Broadway theatrical version of the book that he was starring in (which got him the role in the film) phonetically, which is also how he learned his lines for the movie.
That is NOT true.
Amazingly enough, though, there is some truth to the story, in the sense that while it was not true for Dracula (by the time Lugosi was starring on Broadway in Dracula, he knew as much English as he ever would, which was not a lot, but enough to get by), it WAS true for Lugosi earlier in his life.
Lugosi left his native Hungary (where he was from is now part of Romania) in 1919. He ended up in Germany in 1920 where he did some acting (here he is in 1920)…
He made it to the United States in 1921.
In 1922, he made his Broadway debut in the play, The Red Poppy.
It was for THIS play that Lugosi learned his part phonetically, before he learned to speak English.
So there IS some truth to the longstanding rumor that Lugosi could not speak English when he did Dracula, it just was some outdated “truth.”
Still, can you imagine learning the part for a play without speaking the language you’d be performing in? It’s truly remarkable of Lugosi’s behalf.
MOVIE LEGEND: The car chase in The French Connection was done without any permits.
It is often said that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission, and that seems to be the motto of the William Friedkin’s The French Connection.
The 1971 film The French Connection starred Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider as cops taking down a large delivery of heroin (the titular “French Connection”). Hackman plays “Popeye” Doyle and Scheider plays Buddy Russo.
William Friedkin directed the film, which was based on the real life story of cops Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso.
The film was a big hit, both commercially and critically. At the Academy Awards the next year, the film won the Academy Award for Best Film, Friedkin won Best Director and Hackman won for Best Actor (Scheider was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Ben Johnson for The Last Picture Show).
For all the critical acclaim, though, the film is best remembered today for its dramatic car chase scene.
At one point in the film, one of the bad guys commandeers an elevated subway train to make his getaway from Popeye Doyle.
Doyle then commandeers a civilian’s car (a 1971 Pontiac LeMans) and proceeds to chase the runaway train from below.
It’s a brilliant and breathtaking chase scene, highlighted by a number of specific stunts, including a collusion during an intersection…
and Doyle almost hitting a woman and her baby…
which, in turn, causes the car to hit a pile of garbage…
The whole thing was quite elaborate, quite dangerous and done…without the permission of the City of New York!!!
The whole thing was filmed in Brooklyn (using the train that is now the D-Train), but Friedkin never got permission from the City of New York for permits to film the scene!
That, of course, is a BIT misleading, though, since what Friedkin DID have on his side was Egan and Grosso, who served as consultants for the film (they each appeared in the film as other characters than themselves). Both men were still highly connected, so while Friendkin did not technically have permission to film the car chase scene, it was as THOUGH he did, through the help of Egan and Grosso.
After all, not even a lunatic would film this chase sequence (with all the various stunt drivers involved) without clearing the streets SOMEhow.
Still, it’s pretty amazing that it was done “off the books.”
Again, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask the City of New York to let you film a dangerous car chase on city streets.
MOVIE LEGEND: A dealer raising his price for professional wrestling footage led to the making of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
STATUS: Basically True
In 1984, Malik B. Ali and Waleed B. Ali hired a young film student, John McNaughton, to direct a documentary about gangsters in the 1930s.
The documentary was called Dealers in Death: Murder and Mayhem in America, and it was narrated by the classic film star Broderick Crawford.
You can watch Dealers in Death for free on hulu.com! Just click here to watch it.
The film was a minor success (it made money, at the very least), so the Ali brothers figured McNaughton could do another movie for them. This time, they decided on a documentary about professional wrestling in Chicago in the early 20th Century.
The brothers knew a man who was willing to sell a lot of now public domain footage of early professional wrestling.
However, when the deal was just about to be completed, the man asked for a lot more money (I believe double the original asking price, but I could be wrong). The Ali brothers backed out of the deal.
But now they had a certain amount of money earmarked for a movie and nothing to do with it. So they went to McNaughton and basically said, “Here’s $110,000 – make us a horror movie.” They had no specifications besides that the film have a lot of blood in it (and, well, that it would be a horror movie, of course).
McNaughton began searching for a topic and, as luck would have it, he happened to catch an episode of 20/20 which profiled a serial killer named Henry Lee James.
With that fellow in mind, McNaughton set off to create a low-budget horror film about a serial killer titled, appropriately enough,
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
Starring Michael Rooker as Henry, the film was acclaimed for the fresh, realistic (and therefore, even more chilling) approach that McNaughton and Rooker brought to the film.
Rooker became an established actor through the film, and McNaughton soon began directing major motion pictures, such as…
Mad Dog and Glory…
and Wild Things…
And to think that things could have been dramatically different if only a guy hadn’t backed out of a deal for wrestling footage.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org