Did Bela Lugosi Star in Dracula Without Knowing How to Speak English?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Bela Lugosi learned his lines for the film Dracula phonetically – he did not speak English at the time!

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 Dracula 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.

Is that 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there IS some truth to the longstanding rumor that Lugosi could not speak English when he did Dracula, it just was some outdated “truth.”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.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

One Response to “Did Bela Lugosi Star in Dracula Without Knowing How to Speak English?”

  1. […] recited his lines phonetically, which accounts for the famously stilted cadence in his delivery. As Legends Revealed explains, though, this just isn’t true. By the time of the 1931 film, Lugosi had been playing Count […]

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