"I have chartered a ship; take us - to England. We will be leaving. Tomorrow. Eve-ning." - Bela Lugosi, as Dracula The world's original Count Dracula died a number of years ago; Raymond Huntley was born in 1904, and quickly grew to fill his role as an actor; his first professional appearance was with the Birmingham Reparatory Company at the age of 18.  He was 20 when he came to London to read for a part in Hamilton Deane's new stage play, based on Bram Stoker's novel. Eventually, he would play the part of Dracula well over 2,000 times in his career; later he would move to the silver screen in character roles, became part of the 'Hammer' Horror stable of players, and regain fame at the age of 70 as part of the cast of the BBC's 'Upstairs, Downstairs' series.  Huntley got the part of Dracula with a strange caveat; he had to provide his own evening clothes.  Hamilton Deane provided the cape, since it was considered a part of costume, rather than
personal wear.
 
Deane had licensed the rights from Flo Stoker with the intention of playing the title role himself; however, once he had worked the novel into a playable adaptation (very similar to Lugosi's 1931 film version), he dropped the role of Count to take the part of Van Helsing, a far more substantial acting role. 
 
Dean was, as mentioned earlier, a populist producer. His interests lie with the audience, and the money they brought to the box office.  In an irony lost to most at the time, he was just coming off another successful spook show production, based on a much earlier work.  He played the creature in his own production of Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein" for several years, until the play was essentially rung out.
 
Rounding out the major cast in the role of Renfield was Bernard Jukes, who by all accounts made a fine role of Dracula's mad apprentice. Taking nothing away from Dwight Frye or his successors, Jukes certainly set the benchmark high.
 
The play premiered in the Grand Theatre in Derby, England, and spent the next three years in almost continuous touring around Great Britain.  The play was a smash success, much to the delight of Flo Stoker, who owned a majority share of the profits.  At one point, Dean split the production to increase public exposure, spawning Draculas and Van Helsings across the country like Salvation Army Santas.   Eventually, the production caught the attention of vacationing American entrepreneur Horace Liveright.
 
Liveright would eventually become an incredible force in American publishing, releasing the works of such important authors as William Faulkner, E.E. Cummings, Ernest Hemmingway and T.S. Eliot, just to name a few. In this case, however, he was playing the part of theater impresario; Liveright purchased the American rights to the Deane production, and assigned young journalist/playwright John Balderston to 'Americanize' the script.  Little did Balderston know that this assignment would be the start of an incredibly important career creating many of the monsters of Golden Age Hollywood.
 
The New York premiere featured Edward Van Sloane in Deane's role as Van Helsing; he would eventually recreate his role in the Universal film.  His nemesis was played by a Hungarian expatriate who, lacking much skill in the English language, had to learn his lines phonetically.  The resulting surreal line delivery - sliding in fits and starts with hypnotic pro-nun-si-aaation - would become world famous.  As would, of course, the man himself - Bela Lugosi.  Bernard Jukes crossed the Atlantic to reprise his role as Renfield.
 
The play was a solid success, and gave Hollywood occasion to look once more at the viability of a celluloid vampire.  Times were changing quickly in Tinseltown; the silents were out, and the talkies were in.  Competition between studios was just gearing up and all of them were taking chances in order to edge the others out.  At Universal, the guard was changing; control of the studio switched
from father Carl Laemmle to son Carl Junior.  And that made all the difference.
 
By Bob Bankard
PhillyBurbs Special Sections
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