|The Men Who Played Count
By William Henry Pratt
He has been portrayed by more actors than any
other fictional character in the history of television or
film. He has been the star of his own titled movies or
guest starred on a weekly series or even a main cast member of an on-going series. He is as loved as he
is feared but each actor who has donned the cape all put their own signature upon the vampire Count.
Some have played him funny, others have made him sexy but all have played him frightening as he was
always intended by the man who created him. He is Count Dracula and no matter how he has been
played, he is always the stand out character whether he’s called Grandpa on The Munsters, doing battle
with Buffy or Blade or rounding up other monsters to take over the world as in The Monster Squad, he is
Dracula and he has been seen everywhere from horror to comedies.
With so, so many actors playing this central character, for this issue of BMR we would have loved to
talk about everyone who has put on the cape and fangs but we had narrow it down. So after some thought,
I decided to talk about the actors who played the Count straight from the Bram Stoker novel. Each one of
these actor put their own little spin on the vampire as each played the monster as he was written by Stoker.
Marked as the very first screen appearance ever of Dracula,
he was played by Erik Vanko in a 1921 Hungarian silent called
Dracula’s Death. However this first movie starring the world’s
most noted vampire was not based on the Stoker novel. That
distinct honor goes to silent star Max Schreck who played
Stoker’s vampire in the first adaptation of the novel. Because the
filmmakers were not given permission to use Stoker’s story,
character or likeness for the 1922 movie, the vampire’s name was
changed to Count Orlok as well as other key players and the
location of the movie was moved from taking place in London to
that of Germany.
Despite the small changes, it was still Stoker’s novel at its core and follows the novel to a tee in story
and tone. So much so that Stoker’s widow bitched about it and filed that all prints of the movie were
ordered to be destroyed. Luckily for horror fans and film historians, some film prints, like the vampire lived
on and is known as one of…..if not the best vampire movie ever made. The film’s star Max Schreck is the
main reason for this as he was maybe then and still is the most frightening Dracula even to be filmed.
With little true make-up, the shaved headed actor only wore two rat like fangs and pointed ears and
long sharp nails and that was it. Very little and yet Schreck’s vampires is the most scary of all Dracula’s
that came after him. Maybe his is due to the actor’s sharp facial features, his spooky movements or
maybe it’s that fact that his very name of Schreck means in German fear.
When Bela Lugosi took on the role of the Count, he became
the very image of the monster that we so think of with the character.
The dinner tux, the long black cape and the suave voice and man-
ners all started with Lugosi’s Dracula. Born in 1882, the Hungarian
actor first played the Count on stage in New York City where he
brought the house down with his polite yet chilling portray of the
monster we know.
Oddly enough when Universal was looking to buy the rights to
the Stoker novel and knowing the effects of how the author’s widow
reacted to the German production, they wanted to send an emissary
to talk her into letting them use her husband’s novel for their new
horror movie. That ambassador was none other than Bela Lugosi
but when the casting of the move was under way, Lugosi was not
their first choice to play the lead vampire. Although he played the
Count on the stage many nights, they were unsure of him to playing
the role on camera. Their first choice was the silent star that played
for them The Hunchback and The Phantom, Lon Chaney. However,
before they could start filming, Chaney died. After some thought, they came back to the man who already
knew the role best…..Bela Lugosi.
Although Bela was not the studio’s number one pick, he did however embrace the role more than any
other actor before or after and when anyone plays Dracula, they are all paying a homage to Lugosi who
truly made the vampire his. Oddly though, Lugosi only played the role two times, once in the 1931
Universal masterpiece and then again in 1948 where he would don the cape once more for Abbott &
Costello Meet Frankenstein. Lugosi however did play Dracula like characters as in the movie Return of
The Vampire but it not being a Universal production and for copyright laws, the vampire’s name was
change. Bela was so identified with the Count that when he died he was laid to rest in his Dracula cape.
When Universal wanted to use the Dracula character for
their movie House of Frankenstein, Bela was not available so
a new actor stepped into the cape and role. John Carradine
made the vampire his own. Although very unlike Bela’s
portrayal,Carradine, a very gifted actor gave the monster a
smart and debonair sophisticated vampire even more so
then Bela did. Although more dashing, his Dracula was less
scary as Bela looked so much like the vampire, you truly
believed he was evil.
John Carradine would go on to play the Count more times
and is only the second man to play him in more than in two
films. Carradine played the vampire again in House of Dracula and Billy The Kid vs Dracula. Like many
actors before and after him, John Carradine would become known as a horror actor among other roles the
actor would cover.
After Carradine there was just one man who played Dracula more times in film than anyone else.
Christopher Lee not only played Dracula more than anyone else in film, but was the only man to play the
vampire in two different productions of the Stoker novel. Lee is best known for playing the Count in the
Hammer films starting with the1958 movie that started their line of Dracula films with The Horror of
Dracula. Lee also played the Count again retelling the Stoker story.
After Lee did The Horror of Dracula a few years later and while playing
the vampire for more Hammer films, Lee played the monster in 1970 again
for a non-Hammer movie. Called simply Count Dracula, Lee played the
vampire for a Spanish/ German production that was the truest form of the
character from the Stoker novel. In this film, it starts with the vampire being
older and growing young as he feeds upon Miss Lucy and company. Also
while playing Dracula at Hammer, Lee also did a French horror/ comedy
called Dracula & Son. Lee played the Count in nine movies in all making
him the one man who wore the cape and fangs more than any other actor.
Lee’s Dracula was also one of if not among the very first Dracula films
shot in color. He was also the first to wear fangs aside from Nosferatu. As
scary as Bela’s vampire was, he and Carradine did not sport fangs in any
of the classic Universal films. Lee’s Dracula was tall, said little and was very
menacing. The fact that the blood now ran red in color also made his vampire frightening as the crimson
stained his pointy white fangs. Christopher Lee played many roles since the start of his long acting career
as in Sleepy Hollow, Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, The Man With The Golden Gun and so many more.
Still, upon his death, it was his take on Dracula that still sits within us horror fans minds….and rightly so.
In 1973, actor Jack Palance took a stab at the role in a
TV made movie of the week. Like Bela and Lee before him,
Palance played to part as a strong powerful vampire who
feared nothing and no one as he too followed in the same
vein as before with the fangs and flowing long black cape. As
so did Louis Jourdan in a 1977 BBC two part miniseries. His
Count too was scary and well played out as his production
was one of the most faith full to the author’s novel.
The year 1979 was a big year for Dracula when the
vampire appeared in a TV series, two remakes and a
comedy. The TV series Cliffhangers showcased three
very different storylines, one of them being Dracula. The
show had the Count played by Michael Nouri living in the
then modern world of the late 70’s. George Hamilton showed
the world a funny Dracula in Love at First Bite and starring in
the Universal remake of their 1931 classic was Frank
Langella. Like Bela fifty years before, Langella played the
vampire on the New York stage before taking the role to film.
Frank Langella’s Dracula took the character in a slightly new
direction by making him sexy, cool and attractive. His female
victims willingly gave themselves to him as he would seduce his
women with his hypnotic eyes and swooning voice. Still when it
was time to show his darker side, Langella’s vampire did not hold
back on just how forbidding he could still be. Giving Dracula this
added new dimension of sexy monster made the women of 1979
want to see the movie just as much as their male horror counter-
parts. He was now more than just a horror figure, but a character
who all to relate too.
Also in that same year was yet another Dracula remake, only
this time it was of the 1922 silent classic Nosferatu. This German
remake of their shaved head rat tooth vampire was played by
Klaus Kinski, who like Max Schreck played the vampire bald
with long unkempt finger nails. His vampire, although scary didn’t
have the demonic appearance that Schreck pulled off, although
still well done. Schreck like his name sake…..in German mean-
ing “fear” was maybe more suited to the roll. Without all the legal
reasons that Schreck’s vampire’s name was changed to Count Orlok, Kinski’s Nosferatu could use the
novel’s name of Dracula in their new production.
Dropping the black cape a new dressed look for Gary Oldman’s
Dracula was shown in the early 90’s with his Bram Stoker’s Dracula
not only redressing the Count but also for the very first time, the
authors name was intergrated into the movie’s title. Packed full of
crazy special effects combined with rock video style filming made
this Dracula a far departure from the caped vampire we knew so
well. Still the movie has good points and through all the magic tricks
Oldman’s take on Dracula did stand out as being a movie to
So these are the men who played Dracula straight from the Stoker
novel, but then again so many more dressed in the cape and fangs.
Leslie Nielsen in Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Gerard Butler in Dracula
2000, Duncan Regehr in The Monster Squad, Rudolf Martin in Buffy
The Vampire Slayer, Al Louis in The Munsters, Richard Roxburgh in
Van Helsing, Dominic Purcell in Blade: Trinity, Luke Evans in Dracula
Untold, Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Dracula, TV series, and Christian
Camargo in the series Penny Dreadful.
So many played this classic creature of the night and many more we didn’t talk about along with
anyone else who played the vampire on the Broadway stage, London stage, high school plays and so on
and on and on. He is not only the most played vampire but the most played villain in all of history. He is
Dracula and the men who played him all have brought to that part their own little take on the creature we
love so much. They played Dracula in the past and let’s see who will play the vampire in the years to come.
After 120 years, this many people took on the role in film, television and stage. How many actors will play
him after another 120 years?