Bela Lugosi is the son Lugoj forgot. I was thinking about him recently--maybe because Halloween is approaching. Of course, when one thinks about Lugosi, images of Dracula instantly come to mind. The man himself is forever associated with Dracula, and his iconic portrayal fully embodies 20th century notions of Bram Stoker's classic vampire.
Lugosi was born in 1882 as Béla Ferenc Dezsö Blaskó in Lugos, Hungary (the town only became Lugoj, Romania after 1918). He left his home at a very young age, never to return (sources cite conflicting reasons for why exactly he left. While some say he ran away because he was fed up with school, others state that he left because his father died and he had to find work). At first he labored in the mines of Resita (south of Lugoj), but it seems he found that line of work unfulfilling and decided to pursue an acting career. His quest to become an actor brought him to Szabadka, where he eventually found work with a theater group. Travelling with that group, he performed in Szeged, Temesvar (today Timisoara), Sibiu, Kolozsvar, etc. The name Lugosi, a derivation of the name of his hometown of Lugos, was the stage name he took during this period. By 1910 he began working for the Szeged theater company, and his work there eventually catapulted him to the National Theater in Budapest. After 1918, his political leanings forced him out of Hungary. He went to Germany, where he played in several films and was fairly well-recieved. But, despite his relative success in Berlin, his heart was set on emigrating to the United States. He first moved to New York, where he played Dracula on Broadway. He finally settled in Hollywood, and quickly became one of the era's most famous horror-film actors.
A while ago I decided to look for Lugosi's childhood home. Not knowing where to start, I asked some locals if they knew where the house was. No one seemed to know; in fact many people hadn't even heard of him before. Since I was getting nowhere, I put the search on hold for a while. Then, just yesterday I decided to google 'Bela Lugosi' and came up with this article, written by a Lugosi biographer who came to Lugoj on a 'pilgrimage.' He details how, after talking to a local historian and consulting town records, he located the very house where Lugosi grew up: 6 Kirchengasse (today 6 Bucegi Street), right next to the Catholic Church in the center of town.
Literally right around the corner from my apartment, I have passed by this house many times without even thinking twice. It's quite an unassuming little structure. No one lives there anymore. In fact, until recently, it housed a clothing shop--a shop where I once bought some socks. But now the shop is closed and the building is abandoned (maybe I should have bought more socks?).
One might think the town of Lugoj would want to celebrate Lugosi's legacy, but there isn't even so much as a plaque identifying his home. Although he left town at an early age, he never forgot where he came from (as evidenced by the stage name he chose). Local memory, however, has let him fall into obscurity. I find it ironic that Lugosi, an actor of international fame--arguably the most famous personality to come out of Lugoj--is virtually unknown throughout the area.