Bela Lugosi may have started as a classical actor in Hungary, but it didn't take long for him to turn into a monster after his Hollywood arrival in the early 1930s.
As just about everybody knows, Lugosi became the Count in the 1931 version of "Dracula," which has gone down as the quintessential vampire movie. There have been numerous Dracula incarnations since, but Lugosi's is the one most people remember.
Shortly after Lugosi's success in "Dracula," he was offered the monster role in "Frankenstein." But Lugosi refused, thinking the character was beneath him. Instead, he took a role in "Murders in the Rue Morgue," which came out in 1932 but was not a great commercial success.
Lugosi rebounded with "White Zombie" later in 1932. The story—about a Haitian sugar mill owner, Murder Legendre (Lugosi), who reduces labor costs by employing a zombie work force—was weird enough to satisfy Lugosi's Gothic instincts. Realizing he needed to recover from "Murders in the Rue Morgue," Lugosi took the reins from director Victor Halperin early in the shoot and made one of his better films.
Although he appeared in minor roles in a few good movies ("Ninotchka" with Greta Garbo in 1939 stands out), the string of mediocre to bad budget vehicles that came later were numerous, as Lugosi slowly slipped from the big-time. He eventually went on to revive "Dracula" on stage in cities across the country.
"Plan 9 From Outer Space," a sci-fi disaster widely considered the worst movie ever made, was his last film. Lugosi, a drug addict, died two days into the shooting, and the director had to replace him with a younger (and much taller) actor.