Now I know that most of you have had your fill of Dracula. That tall, handsome pale fellow, with sharp fangs, bats in his eyes and that stunning long black cape. Many centuries old he has the experience of having lived through all of the centuries and has met more people than we ever will. Once Hollywood got a hold of him the theaters were filled with hundreds of different Dracula movie versions. My two very favorites are the original Dracula with Bela Lugosi and a more romantic version with Frank Langella.
Irish Author Bram Stoker
We would have not had the pleasure and would have missed meeting this fellow entirely if Irish writer Bram Stoker had not written his classic vampire novel “Dracula”. The first copies of his famous book showed up in London, England bookshops on May 26, 1897. Once Stoker graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland he worked in civil service at Dublin Castle while at the same time writing drama reviews for the “Dublin Mail”. During this time he met a well-respected actor Sir Henry Irving and became his manager. Stoker took care of the actor’s correspondence and went on tour with him to the U.S. As time went on he began writing horror stories and had his first novel published in 1890 “The Snake’s Pass”.
Altogether Stoker published 17 novels but his claim to fame was “Dracula” in 1897. This earned him literary fame and the novel became known as a masterpiece of Victorian-era Gothic literature. I have read this novel both in English and Latvian and I really liked the style it was written in. As if the main characters were keeping diaries and journals of all that went on. I have often wondered where he got the idea about writing about vampires but then I discovered that there were stories lurking around about vampires long before Stoker came along. His vampire or rather let’s say Count Dracula lived in a large castle in Eastern Europe in Romania. A place called Transylvania in the Carpathian Mountains. Once the story got around Transylvania became quite a popular place. In the novel, the Count purchases property in Yorkshire, England and takes an ocean voyage to look for more victims so he could have fresh blood and could go on living.
Deciding on the Name Dracula
A most frightening thought of someone biting the necks of others and sucking the blood out of them. Of course, if he bit them at least three times the victims became vampires as well. Originally Stoker was going to name this vampire “Count Wampyr”. Then he discovered the name Dracula in a book that he borrowed from a Yorkshire library. It was written by a retired diplomat William Wilkinson and was about Wallachia and Moldavia. I for one am glad that the name was changed. In ancient times vampires were popular figures in folk tales. They slept the sleep of the undead during the day and left their crypts at night to roam about and drink the blood of humans. I like the way that Hollywood portrayed them able to dress fashionably and even be able to socialize. I suppose they had the wisdom of the ages.
After the Death of Stoker
Surprisingly when Stoker died in 1912 his most famous novel “Dracula” wasn’t even mentioned in any of his obituaries. Then the sales of the novel started to grow when it was adapted for Broadway in New York City in the 1920s. Then along came Hollywood and Universal Studios created the blockbuster movie classic starring Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi as Dracula in 1931. This classic can still be viewed today and since then dozens of vampire movies, TV shows, and literature have followed the steps of Count Dracula. I’m sure a lot of you remember the cult hit TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the bestselling novels of American writer Anne Rice. No one will ever say, “Dracula who?”
Mother Meets the Count
My mom and dad were immigrants from Europe and arrived in New York Harbor in 1951. They settled down in Brooklyn, in the neighborhood called Bensonhurst. During this time the original Bela Lugosi movie was getting revamped and placed back on the big screens. Well, mom just had to find out what all the hype about Dracula was. She was bound and determined at least to meet the toothy fellow onscreen. My dad thought it was all stuff and nonsense. He was a newspaper editor and he just did not believe in flying bats and blood-sucking gentlemen and howling wolves. He did love his wife so to the movies they went. It was something mom regretted because once the movie was over they had to walk home. She clung to dad for her dear life and with heart pounding as the dark of the city night lurked around the edges she jumped at every sound.
Meeting Dracula on Broadway
In 1977 while at university, my English professor asked us to write a review of a play. Any play at all. It had to be current and it had to be on Broadway. Well during that time one of my favorite actors was darkly handsome Frank Langella. Say no more I knew he was on Broadway and I was delighted. The play was “Dracula”. So I told my professor that it would be the play I would review.
Now if you are going to review a play you certainly want to see everything and hear every word. So I got my ticket right up front and center. I decided to go alone because I had to concentrate on my review notes and of course gaze at Langella. I bravely entered the Martin Beck Theater and took my seat. Then the nightmare began. Right past where I was sitting rats and mice ran since they lived in Castle Dracula. I felt every sweep of wind when Dracula swept about in his cape.
The howls of the creatures of the night were very realistic and the theater was hushed and very dark. Suddenly I wished I’d chosen a lively musical. Then it happened. Langella made a sweeping gesture with his hand and spun about. He came directly face to face with me and suddenly it felt like I was really looking into the eyes of Dracula. Actors are known to make every moment their own and he bowed and gave me a smile, fangs and all. I had met the Count himself and that was enough for me. However, my review was a sensation.