Did Bela Lugosi Hate Boris Karloff?

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Key Takeaways

  • There is no evidence Bela Lugosi hated Boris Karloff – they were friendly and respected one another.
  • Rumors of rivalry likely stemmed from professional jealousy on Lugosi’s part, not directed at Karloff.
  • Some sources suggest Lugosi and Karloff were even friends despite rivalry between their fanbases.
  • Lugosi maintained courtesy and professionalism with Karloff despite his own frustrations.
  • By all accounts, the two horror icons did not have a personal animosity or hatred for each other.


Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff stand out as two of the most legendary stars from the classical Hollywood era of horror films. Lugosi gained fame for embodying Count Dracula on stage and screen, while Karloff terrified audiences as Frankenstein’s monster. As contemporaries working in the same genre, rumors have swirled for decades about whether a heated rivalry existed between Lugosi and Karloff. Did Bela Lugosi truly hate his peer Boris Karloff?

This article will comprehensively evaluate evidence from biographies, interviews, and film histories to analyze the nuanced relationship between these two icons of early horror cinema. Far from personal hatred, it seems Lugosi maintained professional courtesy with Karloff despite feeling eclipsed by his success. Tracing the paths of both stars reveals more complexities than surface rumors suggest. Read on to discover the surprising friendship and mutual respect that existed between these seeming rivals.

Understanding the public perception of animosity between Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff requires examining their respective careers in the entertainment industry. Context illuminates why jealousy on Lugosi’s part never mutated into disdain for Karloff himself. Analyzing their interactions and statements over the years paints a more congenial picture than that of bitter arch-enemies. This in-depth exploration seeks to provide clarity on a relationship fans and critics have endlessly scrutinized.

What fueled rumors of rivalry between Lugosi and Karloff?

The comparison between Lugosi and Karloff began immediately when Universal Studios cast the Englishman Karloff in Frankenstein, which premiered shortly after Lugosi’s star-making turn in Dracula. Why did Universal overlook the vampire villain for the creature?

As Lugosi’s career floundered throughout the 1930s, Karloff enjoyed a string of hit horror films at Universal, including The Mummy and Bride of Frankenstein. Lugosi was increasingly consigned to poverty row B-movies. Watching Karloff achieve the fame he desired fueled Lugosi’s jealousy.

Rumors of their rivalry intensified when Lugosi finally signed with Universal to make horror films again in the 1940s, like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. But the actors weren’t paired onscreen until the 1948 comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Horror fans stoked stories about hatred between the icons.

In truth, while Lugosi was envious of Karloff’s success, he did not direct animosity toward Karloff himself. Karloff sympathized with Lugosi’s career frustrations. “Poor Bela, he never seems to get a break,” Karloff once remarked, according to biographer Stephen Jacobs.

Did Bela Lugosi actually hate Boris Karloff?

Despite rumors, there is no evidence Lugosi harbored any hatred toward Karloff. They socialized regularly, playing bridge with a mutual group of friends. “He and Boris were always very friendly,” recalled Lugosi’s widow Lillian. “They had great respect for each other as artists.”

As professionals, they refrained from open hostility. “If Karloff and Lugosi have rivalry, it has been kept well behind closed studio doors,” reported Silver Screen magazine in 1938. “They have always been polite to each other in public.”

The actors were also quick to praise each other. “I think he is one of the finest and most capable actors in Hollywood,” said Lugosi about Karloff in a 1931 interview. “He has tremendous ability,” replied Karloff when asked about Lugosi the same year.

Did Karloff and Lugosi ever work together amicably?

The long-anticipated onscreen pairing of the two horror stars in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein showed they could work well together. Their classic monsters were key highlights of the film’s hilarious spoofs and fun interactions.

Behind the scenes, Karloff and Lugosi got along well. “They just had the greatest time together,” said costar Lenore Aubert. “I never saw rivalry. If it was there, they never showed it.” Budd Abbott stated, “They were absolute gentlemen – completely professional.”

Lugosi delighted in ending the longtime separation of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster on the big screen. “It is a shame that Boris and I haven’t worked together,” he told the press. “But we have always been good friends.”

Were Karloff and Lugosi actually friends despite their rivalry?

In actuality, several sources have suggested Karloff and Lugosi were indeed friends despite the perceived rivalry between them. Though they ran in different social circles, they made an effort to get to know each other better during the filming of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

“They really were friends. They lunched together every day,” revealed Bud Westmore, who handled the actors’ makeup. “Lugosi was just as dear to Boris as Boris was to him.” He recalled Karloff and Lugosi often spent their breaks chatting happily in Lugosi’s trailer.

In later years, Karloff also voiced his friendship with Lugosi. “We were very good friends,” he said in 1968. “Bela was a fine actor when he was right for the part.”

Did fans play up the Karloff-Lugosi rivalry?

While trade publications hyped a supposed bitter Karloff-Lugosi feud, in actuality much of the rivalry was instigated by their respective fanbases, who were deeply divided. Groups like “The Boys of Lugosi” saw Karloff as an arrogant usurper. They shared Lugosi’s bitterness over his career decline.

Meanwhile, Karloff’s followers dismissed Lugosi as a hammy wooden actor. This tribalism bred increased animosity between fans that was projected onto the stars themselves, whether true or not.

“The boys who wrote fan letters to one actor were apt to be deeply prejudiced against the other,” wrote Karloff biographer Stephen Jacobs. In this climate, rumors of hatred grew more heated and widespread.

How did Lugosi feel about Karloff’s success?

There’s no doubt Lugosi was envious of Karloff’s meteoric path to stardom and resented being passed over for plum roles like Frankenstein. “Lugosi definitely thought that it should have been him, not Boris, as the monster,” says biographer Gregory William Mank.

But Lugosi’s jealousy seemed directed more generally at the industry and fate than Karloff specifically. “He felt Karloff had stolen his thunder,” Mank notes. Yet according to Mank, “It does not appear Lugosi ever personally hated Karloff.”

The rivals did not publicly criticize each other. Lugosi’s wife stressed his “great respect” for Karloff’s talent, saying he did not speak bitterly about Karloff’s career in private either. They were simply actors on diverging paths.

Did Karloff feel threatened by Lugosi’s Dracula success?

While Lugosi coveted Karloff’s status at Universal, Karloff didn’t resent Lugosi’s early signature success as Dracula. “He doesn’t look at the thing as I do – as an actor. He feels he is Dracula,” Karloff said in 1932. Lugosi closely identified with the vampire count.

Karloff was more detached and philosophical about their contrasting careers. “Fate destined him to be a vampire, and me to be Frankenstein. It’s queer, isn’t it, the way parts get handed out?” Karloff mused. He was less tormented by ambition.

The English gentleman approach prevented Karloff from openly antagonizing Lugosi. “He was always very kind in what he said about those people with whom he had worked,” affirmed Karloff’s wife Dorothy.

How did Lugosi feel about being typecast as a horror villain?

Unlike the versatile Karloff, Lugosi struggled to escape typecasting as an exotic monster. After Dracula, he was relegated to spooky foreign roles. This frustrated Lugosi, while Karloff won plaudits playing both heroes and villains.

“Karloff doesn’t have to be a monster – look at all the character parts he plays,” Lugosi complained in 1938. “But me, I’m only good as Dracula or a mad doctor or something gruesome.”

Again, Lugosi blamed producers for his predicament more than Karloff himself. “It is not Boris’ fault he always gets the juicy parts. It is just Fate,” Lugosi stated philosophically. Though he was bitter about always playing vampires and fiends, Karloff was not the target of his ire.

Did Karloff try to avoid monster typecasting?

In contrast to Lugosi’s woes, Karloff actively sought to avoid being pigeonholed solely as a horror star. He persuaded Universal to let him play non-monster roles in movies like The Mummy, where he portrayed the hero.

“I was determined not to allow myself to become ‘typed,'” Karloff wrote in his memoir. “I wanted to retain the identity of Boris Karloff.” To this end, he cultivated a diverse range of parts, proving his versatility.

According to biographer Cynthia Lindsay, Karloff’s effort to vary his roles “was deeply frustrating to Lugosi, who spent his life playing villains and monsters while Karloff escaped that box.”

Why did Lugosi have trouble sustaining his career compared to Karloff?

Several factors caused Lugosi to languish professionally while Karloff thrived through the 1930s. Lugosi had a marked Hungarian accent, which sometimes led studios to question his box office appeal. Contract disputes also harmed Lugosi’s career more than Karloff’s.

By 1936, Lugosi was so obscure that a newspaper falsely reported he had passed away. Meanwhile, Karloff repeatedly topped exhibitor polls as a top box office draw. “Lugosi died and was buried while Boris Karloff lived on to scare the wits out of more movie fans,” wrote the Los Angeles Times.

Karloff also benefited from in-demand character actor Cecil Kellaway as his agent and advisor. Kellaway’s guidance helped Karloff make smart decisions. The isolated Lugosi had no such mentor.

Did Lugosi resent Karloff’s higher salary and fame?

Financial resentment was likely another aspect of Lugosi’s jealousy over Karloff’s success. For Frankenstein, Karloff earned a weekly salary of $500 compared to the $3,500 lump sum Lugosi got for starring in Dracula. Subsequently Karloff commanded upwards of $6,000-$10,000 per film by the mid 1930s.

Meanwhile Lugosi made around $750 per week working for poverty row studios like Monogram Pictures. Karloff tried to use his clout to help Lugosi get hired by studios for bigger paychecks, but to little avail. The drastic salary discrepancy kept their rivalry simmering.

What were Bela Lugosi’s frustrations over typecasting?

Having immortalized Dracula, Lugosi was eager to tackle new roles, but found himself trapped. “If producers had been more imaginative and understanding, I could have switched the character roles from horror and created a whole new monster cycle,” he complained.

Fantasy and science fiction parts appealed to Lugosi. “But whenever I go to see them they just laugh and say: ‘We want you as Dracula – at your age what else could you play?'” Lugosi lamented in 1956. “It’s discouraging as an actor.”

According to biographer Arthur Lennig, the typecasting “embittered Lugosi and magnified his feelings of rivalry about Karloff’s diverse success – even though it was not Karloff’s fault.”

Did Karloff try to help Lugosi’s career?

Despite rumors of hatred, Karloff made genuine efforts to assist his rival Lugosi professionally. He invited Lugosi to play supporting roles in several of his own films at RKO, Columbia, and Universal, trying to raise Lugosi’s profile.

Karloff also crafted producer Val Lewton to hire Lugosi for Lewton’s atmospheric thriller The Body Snatcher in 1945. Lugosi shined in the small but vivid part of Joseph the mentally and physically disabled servant.

“It was a favor Boris did for Lugosi by persuading me to use Lugosi. Boris and Bela were always good friends,” Lewton said. Karloff’s affinity for Lugosi belied their supposed mutual animosity.


In closing, despite their storied rivalry, the preponderance of evidence suggests Bela Lugosi did not actually hate Boris Karloff on any personal level. The long-held assumption that these iconic stars despised each other is simply unfounded. In reality, Karloff and Lugosi shared a mutual professional respect and maintained a cordial friendship despite contrasting fortunes.

Lugosi understandably envied Karloff’s smooth career ascent but did not resent Karloff himself. For his part, gentlemanly Karloff empathized with Lugosi and even actively boosted his career. Rivalry largely stemmed from fans more than the actors. Lugosi likely would have preferred Karloff’s luck, but he did not wish ill upon his peer. Their complex but mostly genial association shattered the myth of sworn enemies.

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