Bela Lugosi Vamping It Up.
YOU ASKED FOR IT was an odd spin on the variety show format that originally aired on the defunct DuMont Network beginning in 1950. Viewers would write in to the show and request segments covering subjects that they were interested in, and host Art Baker would read their letters and postcards, and introduce the segments.
In this episode from 1953, Mrs. Harriet Frasier from Springfield, Massachusetts writes: “Ever since seeing DRACULA, I have been an ardent admirer of that fine character actor Bela Lugosi. I have missed his unusual roles on the screen recently. Could you arrange for me to see him on your show?”
Art Baker declares that Bela Lugosi shall be premiering a new role on the program tonight, that of a “master illusionist” who will perform the “weird vampire bat illusion”.
It doesn’t seem like a new role, though. It just seems as if Dracula has taken up the hobby of cheap parlor tricks as Bela, aided by his hunchbacked assistant, emerges from a coffin in his typical vampire garb. A beautiful blonde girl (Shirley Patterson) is fetched for Bela…but not to be feasted on. Instead, the girl (wearing a subtle inverted cross on her dress) is hypnotized and placed into a magician’s cabinet. After a bit of silly showmanship, she is transformed into a bat. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Weird Vampire Bat Illusion.
Following the segment, both Bela Lugosi and Shirley Patterson join Art Baker on stage to discuss their current and upcoming projects. Shirley promotes the film SECOND CHANCE, the first 3D movie to feature “Important Stars” (which I’m sure was a blow to a lot of actors who had appeared in 3D films previously). It does seem rather unusual that Shirley would be used to promote the film, though, since her role, whatever it was, was so minor that it went uncredited.
Bela then went on to plug his upcoming projects, the 3D feature film THE PHANTOM GHOUL, and a television series entitled DR. ACULA—not DRACULA, as he is quick to point out. Unfortunately, neither of these projects ever came to fruition. Both were to be Ed Wood productions (an Ed Wood television show!?) and Forrest Ackerman told Salon that the title for the latter was his idea (Dr. Acula was a pseudonym of Ackerman’s under which he sometimes wrote).
It does appear as if THE PHANTOM GHOUL was in motion by 1955, as Lugosi could be seen clutching the script in photographs during his voluntary stay at the Metropolitan Hospital for morphine addiction—though by then it had been retitled THE GHOUL GOES WEST. It was intended to be a horror-western hybrid, and as unlikely as it sounds, Gene Autrey was to be the heroic foil to Lugosi’s evil scientist. Lon Chaney, Jr. was also slated to co-star, but when Autrey pulled out, the entire project fell apart.
Although neither THE PHANTOM GHOUL or DR. ACULA ever saw the light of day, Wood did release NIGHT OF THE GHOULS in 1959, and it featured a character named Dr. Karl Acula, played by Kenne Duncan. Lugosi had died in 1956, so it’s feasible that Duncan’s role was one initially intended for Lugosi, and that aspects of both projects Lugosi mentioned here were melded together for the 1959 film.
Bela Lugosi’s appearance on YOU ASKED FOR IT is not a terribly fascinating bit of television, but it is a lot of fun to see him hamming it up for the camera in a more obscure setting. Vamp fans should definitely take a look. The 10-minute Lugosi segment is available to view for free at the Internet Archive.