Category Archives: Celebrities

Bela Lugosi: More than just a Vampire

by George Khoury

“Even as a young person, I sensed that Dad was anything but an average man. His road was one that few could have traveled. People have often asked me to describe Dad’s real character, but this is impossible because he was such a complicated personality: devil, angel, king, pauper, political activist, and humanitarian, wise man, counselor, and above all, a man who loved everything life had to offer. He put a personal stamp on everything he did from carving a roast beef to playing a character on the stage,” said the son. To us he was always doomed and marked as….Dracula.

Bela Lugosi was a star on screen, the stage, radio and he did it in two different countries and in two different languages.

Newsweek recently said that there were over 3 million internet citations on a Google search for “Dracula” while on the screen; there were 167 Dracula films; 7 television series and one serial.

To know Bela is to strip away the Dracula template and appreciate a Renaissance man from the Old World who followed his many passions.

Bela was born in 1882 in the Hungarian village of Lugos. It was a 14th century town with a population of 16,000 and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire we learned about in school. But as a twist of fate, Lugos was a mere 50 miles from Vlad Tepes’s castle. Vlad was the Rumanian prince that Bram Stoker based his novel, “Dracula” upon. If you have not read the book you should-it is a magnificent of love versus evil.
Lugosi, who took the name of his village, learned at an early age that school was not for him. At age twelve, Bela left home and walked 300 miles to Resita (a larger city) to seek any job in the theater. “They tried to give me little parts in their plays, but I was so uneducated, so stupid, people just laughed at me. I got the taste of the stage and the rancid taste of humiliation,” Bela once said.

By 1902, thanks to working hard and never quitting, he was established as the leading actor in Hungary. Touring with the National Theater of Budapest, he was known for his new interpretation of Shakespearian plays. He played the various roles with a lusty swagger that brought great attention to the females in the audience.

With a strong desire to perform, he took any roles on the American stage. When he took English-speaking roles, he memorized the lines phonically since he still did not master the language.

His big break came in 1927 when he was the lead in a Broadway play, “Dracula.” Researching the reviews it seems as though doctors and nurses had to be in attendance to car for the women in the audience who were overcome by the suave sensuality of Lugosi’s vampire. The show ran for 500 performances and toured for two years to great notices. His mannerism, the use of his hands and eyes as storytelling devices are a study in fundamental stage craft.

For the role Bela earned $3500 and nothing more. He missed on all promotional sales.

In 1931 Bela was offered the role of “Frankenstein” and turn it down thinking it was below him and really was not acting. The part went to Karloff and launched his career.

Lugosi lived in style, hunting dogs, limos, exotic cars, a few wives, and in 1932 filed for bankruptcy. Universal Studios seeking to capitalize on his fame, teamed Lugosi with Boris Karloff and together they make an endless series of horror films-some masterful and well crafted while others were forgettable.

Slowly, Karloff started to get top billing. “I am definitely typed, doomed to be an exponent of evil, but I want sympathetic roles,” he said.

By 1938 the phone didn’t ring and he had to seek help from the Actor’s Relief and friends to pay the hospital bills for the birth of Bela Jr. “Horror to me, is sitting, night and day, day and night, by the telephone, thinking,’ now comes the call for work. Horror is knowing that if the call did not come, there would be no food in the ice box, no light, no heat nor a place for my baby to lay his head, nor a roof over the head of his Mother. There is no agony like it.”

During the early 1940’s, Horror makes a comeback with all the Son of this and the Bride of that series that Universal cranked out. In some he played the tortured and crippled Ygor where he endured over 35 pounds of makeup and in another even Frankenstein.

With his career fading and being locked into the Dracula role he continued to perform. Again he took to the road and played summer stock and small theaters. The reviews of his shows at army bases revealed a chemistry he had for those in uniform. In many instances he was a parody of himself and the audience appreciated him.

As the 1950s approached he was in deep financial straits. He tried to go through the AA program but his current wife didn’t appreciate finding his empty bottles hidden around the house.

In late October of 1953, he moved into a small apartment after selling many of his personal items. “I have no plans. I told my agent to find me a TV job, but I haven’t heard from him. I am open to suggestions…if there is money.”

Ed Wood, the filmmaker and a fan approached Bela with visions of performing in Las Vegas, a radio show, a touring show, a comic book series and films.
By April 1955 Bela sought public help. “I don’t have a dime left, I am dependent on my friends for food and I have a small old age pension. I am anxious to rehabilitate myself,” he told a judge. Bela Lugosi is addicted to prescription painkillers brought on from a war injury. After three months he is released from a sanitarium. He tells a friend how surprised he was that Frank Sinatra would visit since he didn’t even know Sinatra. It wasn’t made public but Frank Sinatra send him money to live and would ultimately pay for the funeral.

On a sunny August 16 day in 1956, Bela’s fifth wife found him dead on his couch.
“I am afraid of dying. I am very much afraid of dying. But not of death.”
Lugosi was buried wearing one of the Dracula capes, as a request from his wife and son.

Even in death he lives. Ed Wood released, Plan 9 From Outer Space, which critics have universally have branded the worst film made. There is a few minutes of Bela in the film but since he died during production, ever the economist, Wood had his wife’s chiropractor complete the Bela scenes by holding a cape over his mouth and face.

Bela Lugosi, Jr. went on to become a famous Hollywood lawyer while the family manages a website and controls the likeness of Bela. We now have a stamp with the image of Bela Lugosi as Dracula.

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Buster Crabbe-from Tarzan, to Flash Gordon to Chili

George Khoury

He was the only actor to play Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers in those great cliff-hanger serials we used to enjoy. He earned a Bronze Medal at the 1928 Olympics for the 1500 meter free style. In 1932 he got his dream fulfilled and won a Gold Medal at the Olympics 400 meter. Clarence Linden Crabbe came home a hero ready to either become an actor or lawyer.

Growing up in Honolulu Buster was the perfect hero Hollywood was seeking. Tall, blonde with chiseled features and blessed with the ability to make you think he was moving even when standing still, Buster was a new and exciting commodity.

By 1933 Buster started his career in film by starring in the Tarzan serial, Tarzan the Fearless This serial opened the door to over one hundred films. In the 1933, 1941 and the 1952 he played a knock off of Tarzan. He broadened his portfolio in 1933 to include, The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi alongside Betty Grable and Search for Beauty in 1934.

In 1936 Buster became Flash Gordon in the popular serial, Flash Gordon. Followed by two sequels, release in 1938 and 1940. The series was shown later extensively shown on American television in the 1950s and 60s, then edited for release on home video. He battled Ming the Merciless, played with great skill by Charles Middleton. Middleton was a well-known foil to Laurel and Hardy.

Buster portrayed Western folk hero, Billy the Kid, in 36 films, then starred as Buck Rogers. In some movies he is credited as “Larry Crabbe” or “Larry (Buster) Crabbe”. His sidekick in most of his westerns was actor Al St.John.

In 1939 Crabbe reunited with Betty Grable for a lead role in the mainstream comedy hit Million Dollar Legs. Crabbe is the only actor to play Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers — the top three syndicated comic strip heroes of the 1930s.

Recognizing the power of the new medium-television, Crabbe took the plunge by starring in his own action
series. In 1951 and until 1954, he hosted his own television shown in New York City. Building upon his name recognition, Buster starred in his own television series-Capt. Gallant of the Foreign Legion. It was a simplistic show that had Buster solving the problems of people he knew and acting as the sources of Truth and Honor and Wisdom. He was an early incarnation of Chuck Norris’s Ranger Walker.

Sensing his time had passed him as an actor, Buster spent the 1950s as stockbroker and businessman. He bought property in upstate New York and opened a swimming camp for children.

He became a Vice-President of Sales for a New Jersey pool company as well as their spokesman. He became a commercial pitchman for Hormel Chili, Icy Hot and the Magic Mold Body shirt.

Buster Crabbe knew tragedy. His daughter Sande died from Anorexia.
Buster never stepped beyond his boundary of who he was. He was never involved in scandal, never endorsed a political candidate and never said a foolish word. You had the sense that he a rock solid friend and always knew the right thing to do.
Buster Crabbe died April 23, 1983.

Some say my acting rose to the level of incompetence and then leveled off.
I was a lot better actor than most people gave me credit for. I didn’t have any training. But I feel if I had been given the chance, I could have become a really good, top-rated actor. I didn’t make it like Gable or Boyer. But I wonder what would have happened if things had been different.

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Doris Day – The Sweetheart of Show Business

The doctor walked back into the room with a gloomy face and sat down next to his patient, a teenage girl whose dream was to be a dancer. A young girl who’s every waking moment was thoughts of appearing on the professional stage.

Several weeks earlier, Doris Mary Ann Kappelhof of Cincinnati Ohio was a passenger in a serious car accident, which resulted in an injury to her leg. So after many weeks of rest and x-rays, the doctor, who did not have pleasant news to report and was not looking forward to facing the shining smiling face that always greeted him, gave his final diagnosis. Bottom line, Miss Kappelhof would not be a dancer. The injuries were permanent. At that regretful moment, a different fate was caste for this young girl that would change her life and her future completely.

So after weeks of soul searching, a young Doris changed her dream and began taking singing lessons. Her tutor, so impressed with her progress, managed to get her some airtime on a local station. From this, a regional favorite, bandleader Barney Rapp, signed her up to perform with his band. He was so taken by her personality; he made the suggestion that she change her name to something bright and easy to remember. After some thought, Miss Kappelhof remembered a favorite tune of hers simply entitled “Day After Day” and decided that “Day” felt good and sounded right to her. So at the next performance, Leader Rapp introduced his wonderful singer by her new name, the name that all generations have come to know and love, Doris Day!

Almost like a fairy tale, Miss Day’s professional career skyrocketed. From Barney Rapp, she moved to the Bob Crosby Band (Bing’s brother). And then on to Les Brown and his Band of Renown were she recorded her first worldwide hit, “Sentimental Journey”. At that time, she also appeared with Frank Sinatra on the Saturday Night

Hit Parade as well as made her first very successful movie debut as an actress and vocalist in “Romance On The High Sea”. The Oscar nominated song from the film “It’s Magic”, was her first solo hit, which set the way for screen stardom.

The 1950’s and 60’s brought a plethora of hit songs including “Que Sera Sera” and “Secret Love” as well as numerous well loved film comedies, musicals and serious dramas. She played opposite such leading men as James Cagney, Rock Hudson, Jimmy Steward and Rex Harrison.

From 1968 to 1973, television brought Doris into our homes each week via the very successful “Doris Day Show” on CBS.

We sometimes say that fate is pre-determined. We often admire how spirit and will can move mountains no matter how high or how wide. But it is glorious when a person sees a door close before them and simply turns to another, opens it and walks through.

Doris Day, never the dancer, but forever the star.

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Ernest Borgnine – Forever Smiling and Loving People

George Khoury

He was the insecure middle aged man in “Marty” and earned an academy award. He terrorized Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift in “From Here to Eternity” as the sado-masochistic Fatso. He brought smiles to television viewers as a seafaring and conniving Sgt. Bilko-type- Quintin McHale in McHale’s Navy. He starred in films
and television and was perceived by all as a quality actor who seemed to avoid the scandals of Hollywood and still maintain a joy of living. There was a quality to Borgnine that made you wish he was your neighbor because his honesty and dignity shined through in every role he took.

“I’d like people to know I’m a good guy, not the kind of person depicted on some of the shows I’ve done.”

Born to Italian immigrents, the family name was changed from Borgnino to Borgnine. The family settled in New Haven, Connecticut. His high school years were normal and uneventlful. There was an interest in boxing but nothing deeper than a passing curiosity. After high school, Ernie, at 18 years old, joined the Navy. It was his life
for ten years and he developed a strong passion for the armed forces. In 1945, he left the Navy and as a challenge from his mother, who claimed he was an entertaining fellow, got into show business. He spent four years in dramatics school while supporting himself doing odd jobs.

In the late 1940s he began to get stage roles. He debuted as a male nurse in a production of “Harvey.” After a few local shows, Ernie took his Mother’s suggestion further by moving to Hollywood. By 1951 he had small role in “The Whistler at Eaton Falls.” Though a small contribution on screen, he was noticed. His breakout role was
as the evil Sgt. “Fatso” Judson in “From Here to Eternity.” He was not the only rookie in the film business. Not only did he play with major stars like Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift but with the most popular singer in the country-Frank Sinatra. As you might know if you saw the film, Ernie made you easily hate him-he killed
Sinatra. The critics all singled him out for praise.

He waited patiently for the next meaningful role….and it came in a well written story. Ernie became Marty Piletti. The film was simply called “Marty.” Made in 1955 for a budget of $300,000, the simple but poignant film earned Borgnine a Best Actor Academy Award. The director, Delbert Mann won Best Director, the writer; Paddy Chayefsky won Best Writing and behold this gem won Best Motion Picture. It was nominated for four additional awards.

Borgnine distinguished himself that year against such competition as Frank Sinatra, Spencer Tracy, James Dean and James Cagney. During the next thirty years Borgnine constantly worked regularly in films and television.

We saw in “Ice Station Zebra” playing a Russian spy. He appeared in “Johnny Guiter”, “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Escape from New York,” “The Wild Bunch,” “The Flight of the Phoenix” and the “Dirty Dozen”.

From 1962 until 1966 he was Lt.Commander Quinton McHale in the television show McHale’s Navy. He has co-starred or guested on many television shows from Airwolf to ER. Where ever he was, working or vacationing, he made visits with veterans. In 1996, he bought a bus and toured the country to meet his fans.

He played in over 100 films and in a career that spanned 61 years, he even expanded into doing voice overs. He received the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achiement award as well as honorary doctorates and accolades from veteran groups.

Ernest Borgnine died July 8, 2012 at age 95 of renal failure. His pallbearers included Tim Conway, Leonard Nimoy, Gary Sinise and Joan Rivers.

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Andy Griffith – A Man True to His Roots

By George Khoury

He patrolled the mean and ugly streets of his city as a peace officer without a gun. He relied on his wit, charm and home spun good nature and common sense. Andy Griffith left his legacy in so many ways.

Born June 1, 1926 in Mt.Airy, North Carolina, the model for Mayberry. Young Andy always had music in his heart. While growing up he had visions of becoming an opera singer or preacher. He pursued music at the University of North Carolina and in 1949 graduated with a degree in music. It was while he was at UNC that he met his future wife, Barbara Edwards.

While teaching music in a high school for three years, he and Barbara developed a stage act that was to help develop Andy Griffith into the beloved Andy Taylor. The act involved singing and dancing and Andy doing down home monologs. He became known for his story telling with Southern charm and flavor. His popularity grew to the point that in 1953 he released a record album of his monologs.

With the success of the album Barbara and Andy moved to New York and in a year made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan. Sullivan and audiences loved them.
His career was rocketing. After the Sullivan show, he was on Broadway in “No Time For Sergeants.”

Broadway loved him and he was nominated for a Tony. When the film for “No Time For Sergeants” was to be produced Andy was a natural to reprise his role.
Hollywood agreed with Andy because in 1957 his breakout role came in a film called, “A Face in the Crowd.” This was a great departure from the loveable country roles he was used to playing. The film paid off for him in other ways besides establishing him as credible actor-he met Don Knotts. The creative union was to last until Knotts left the Andy Griffith Show many years later.

1960 found him again on Broadway in “Destry Rides Again.” Andy dazzled the critics and was a Tony nominee for Best Actor in a Musical. Another great break came when he guested on Danny Thomas’s “Make Room For Daddy.”

Andy, a small town judge and officer who pulled over a speeding, big-city Danny was allowed to develop the Andy Taylor persona on the show. You easily see how comfortable Andy is in the role. He was made for it. Andy Taylor is Andy Griffith!

Because Danny Thomas and his producer Sheldon Leonard recognized the potential in the Taylor character, so they pushed CBS into developing a sitcom for Andy as a sheriff of a small Southern town. Who better to flesh out life in such a place than Andy? He used Mt.Airy as the model for Mayberry and characters from his past to populate Mayberry. Andy never forgot Don Knotts. Knotts was brought as the nervous, by the book deputy Barney Fife.

Tragedy struck Andy in 1983 when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre, a muscular disease. For three months he was paralyzed and then he battled back with six months of therapy. Not to sit idle, he morphed into “Matlock” the small town lawyer show that ran from 1986-1992 on NBC.

Mt.Airy celebrates Mayberry Days. There is an Andy Griffith Playhouse. The town even has a statue of Andy and young Opie together. The Martin guitar company has a special Andy Griffith model. He is the Country and the Gospel Hall of Fame. An eleven mile stretch into Mt. Airy is known as the Andy Griffith highway. Andy received the President’s Medal of Freedom in 2005.

You can view the Andy Griffith Show as a morality play with Andy teaching Opie about life in a soft and gentle manner. We knew that Gomer, Floyd, Howard, Goober Helen and even Otis always knew the right things to do. They became the neighbors you wish you had in the town you wanted to grow up in.

”I was proud of it then and I am still proud of it today. Mayberry is a place people would want to call home with the warmest of friends.”

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