40 Surprising Facts About Your Favorite Romantic Comedies

20th Century Fox Home Video
20th Century Fox Home Video

Once again, Valentine’s Day is upon us—a day when the phone lines at any restaurant worth its weight in conversation hearts are as jammed up as the Hallmark aisle at your local grocery store. Who needs that hassle? Why not spend the night in, binge-watching some of your favorite romantic comedies instead? Here are 40 fun facts to get you started.

1. Pretty Woman was originally much darker.

Buena Vista Pictures

Screenwriter J.F. Lawton’s original script, which was titled 3000, wasn’t a love story—and it didn’t have a happy ending. Instead of a rom-com about two very different people finding love, it was a grittier tale about two damaged individuals who spent a week together that ends in tears and zero hope for a balcony-set reunion scene.

2. When Harry Met Sally...'s Harry and Sally were modeled after Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron—except for the falling in love part.

Rob Reiner divorced fellow director Penny Marshall in 1981 after 10 years of marriage. When he met with Nora Ephron in the mid-'80s, he pitched a number of ideas for movies, including a comedy based on his dating experiences. Ephron agreed to write it after extensively interviewing Reiner. The two had many discussions about how men and women view sex, love, and relationships differently.

3. Titanic's most iconic line was improvised.

Paramount Pictures

When Leonardo DiCaprio first got up on the end of the ship in Titanic, he improvised the line, “I'm the king of the world!” Cameron liked the line so much that he kept it in the movie. Though the line would go on to be parodied countless times—including at the Oscars—it landed at #100 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest movie quotes.

4. William Goldman wrote The Princess Bride for his daughters.

William Goldman, who wrote the novel The Princess Bride in 1973 and penned the screenplay, told Entertainment Weekly in an oral history of the movie, "I had two little daughters, I think they were seven and four at the time, and I said, 'I’ll write you a story. What do you want it to be about?' One of them said 'a princess' and the other one said 'a bride.' I said, 'That’ll be the title.'"

5. Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to star in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Marilyn Monroe’s advisor and acting coach, Paula Strasberg, said she shouldn’t play a “lady of the evening,” and Monroe took her advice. Capote said Paramount Pictures “double-crossed me in every way” when they cast Audrey Hepburn instead. The outspoken author also proclaimed the movie to be the “most miscast film I've ever seen.” Over time, Capote would go on to say that Tuesday Weld or Jodie Foster would be good choices to play Holly Golightly in a remake.

6. Andie and Duckie were supposed to get together at the end of Pretty in Pink.

Paramount Home Entertainment

Originally, Pretty In Pink ended with Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Duckie (Jon Cryer) ending up together. But that changed when Cryer was cast. “Molly dropped the bomb that she would’ve been fine with the original ending if Robert Downey Jr. had played Duckie, but since it was me, she just couldn’t see it,” Cryer said on the film’s 2006 Everything’s Duckie DVD edition. “It was like, ‘Wow, so I’m that unattractive?’ Thanks, Mol!”

Though director Howard Deutch wanted Cryer to play Duckie, he seemed to later regret it. “What I learned was that there are no rules, in the sense that life isn’t fair,” Deutch said in You Couldn’t Ignore Me. “Duckie should have the girl and it was all built for that and it was designed for that. And I could have ended that way, had I not f*cked with one thing: I cast Jon Cryer.”

7. Ghost turned Demi Moore into the highest-paid actress at the time.

By the time Ghost was released, Moore was already famous for her roles in St. Elmo’s Fire and About Last Night..., but she wasn’t considered a bankable star. After the unexpected $200 million domestic gross of Ghost, she hit box office gold with a trifecta of other huge hits: 1992’s A Few Good Men ($141,340,178), 1993’s Indecent Proposal ($106,614,059), and 1994’s Disclosure ($83,015,089). If you add up all of Demi’s film grosses, it comes out to more than $1 billion. In 1995, she was paid an unprecedented $12.5 million to take her clothes off in Striptease. The film wasn’t a huge hit, and a few years later she traded Hollywood for Idaho.

8. Before The Philadelphia Story, Katharine Hepburn spent a few years as "box office poison."

It's hard to believe given her legendary status today, but after a string of flops in the 1930s, Hepburn was considered "box office poison." That was an official designation, by the way; a 1938 survey of theater owners labeled her as such, along with such luminaries as Fred Astaire, Greta Garbo, Mae West, Joan Crawford, and Marlene Dietrich. (The theater owners weren't wrong about those stars' movies not being big sellers, though perhaps it wasn't very nice of them to publish a list like that.)

9. Some people walked out of the first American screening of Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

It was in Salt Lake City, Utah. The 30-person, Mormon-filled town council left the theater after witnessing the version of the opening scene with Charles saying "f**k." It was Hugh Grant’s first time seeing the entire film and he thought the walk-outs were a bad sign.

10. Say Anything's Lloyd Dobler was based on Cameron Crowe's neighbor.

The writer-director was having issues writing the leading man, but became inspired when he met his Alabama neighbor, Lowell Marchant. “He was this friendly guy with a crew cut who just wanted to meet everybody he could,” Crowe told Entertainment Weekly. “He knocked on the door and said, ‘Hello, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Lowell Marchant. I am a kickboxer, and I’ll be living here for a little bit. Are you aware of the sport kickboxing? It is now a major sport covered by ESPN.’ I’d tell [executive producer James L. Brooks], ‘The character’s not coming, and there’s this f***ing guy down the way who keeps knocking on the door and he’s a kickboxer.’ And Jim’s looking at me like, ‘And you’re wondering what to write?’”

11. Andie MacDowell's drink of choice in Groundhog Day was familiar to writer/director Harold Ramis.

Rita drank sweet vermouth because it was Ramis’s wife’s favorite.

12. Hugh Grant's blue door in Notting Hill was writer Richard Curtis's blue door.

Universal Pictures

The exterior of Will Thacker's (Hugh Grant) home in Notting Hillincluding the blue door—was once owned by screenwriter Richard Curtis. After the movie came out, the home's new owners—annoyed by all of the fans who came to visit the location—painted the door black. After it was sold again, the door was painted back to blue.

13. Viggo Mortensen almost played Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles.

Viggo Mortensen and Molly Ringwald kissed during the audition, which made the future The Lord of the Rings star Ringwald's pick to play her love interest. “He made me weak in the knees," she told Access Hollywood. "He really did.” When the two co-starred in the movie Fresh Horses, Mortensen told Ringwald that he always thought he didn’t get the job because of his kissing.

14. Woody Allen's original idea for Annie Hall was completely different.

Although Annie Hall is now heralded as one of the most influential and inventive romantic comedies of all time, director and co-writer Woody Allen’s original mission was not to make a relationship picture. Allen and his writing partner, Marshall Brickman, instead conceived of the story as a general exploration of the main character’s life and psyche, which was to to be filled with romantic, mysterious, and fantastical subplots in equal parts.

The project, reflecting protagonist Alvy Singer’s persistent malaise, was first titled Anhedonia, a somewhat archaic psychiatric term referring to the inability to feel joy. The first cut of the movie ran about 140 minutes—almost 50 minutes longer than the final version.

15. Sleepless in Seattle referenced "The Soup Nazi" two years before Seinfeld did.

TriStar Pictures, Inc.

When a writer in Meg Ryan's office was pitching a story and talked of a man that “sells the greatest soup you have ever eaten” while simultaneously doubling as “the meanest man in America,” he was talking about Ali “Al” Yeganeh, the proprietor of Soup Kitchen International. For what it’s worth, Yeganeh is from Iran, not Germany.

16. Steve Carell lost 30 pounds for The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Though Judd Apatow was originally "nervous about it, because I don't think comedians wanting to look good is ever good for the comedy," he gradually realized that Steve Carell being "ripped" was a good idea. Because it helped establish that Carell's character, Andy, was only a virgin because he’s shy and nervous, not because of his looks.

17. A whole bunch of teens are name "Amélie" because of the movie.

Assuming, in this case, that correlation equals causation. In 2000, the year before the movie came out, there were 12 babies in England and Wales given the name Amélie. The number shot up to 250 in 2002, and by 2007, there were around 1100 new Amélies per year. The number has held steady ever since. The trend was similar in the U.S., with Amélie not among the 1000 most popular names until 2003, when it suddenly leapt to 839th place and rose from there.

18. The title of 10 Things I Hate About You was inspired by the co-writer's high school boyfriend.

Touchstone Pictures

During a Q&A with 10 Things I Hate About You screenwriters Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith, McCullah revealed that, “The title is based on a diary entry I made in high school,” she explained. “I had a boyfriend named Anthony that I was frequently unhappy with. I made a list called 'Things I Hate About Anthony.' When Kirsten [Smith] and I decided to write this, I went through all of my high school diaries to bone up on the angsty memories, and when I told her about that list, she was like, ‘That’s our title.’”

It turns out her ex-boyfriend likes the movie. “Anthony is very proud of that fact,” McCullah said. “We’re still friends today. And every now and then I’ll get a random phone call in the middle of night: ‘My nephew doesn’t believe that this title is about me. Tell him.’ On the phone, I’m like, ‘Yes, I hated Anthony in high school.’”

19. Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy knew Celine and Jesse would see each other again while filming Before Sunrise.

“I always said that the movie was a litmus test for how you view romance,” Richard Linklater told The New York Times in 2004. “Some people would go: ‘It’s so clear. They will never get back together.’ People were so sure.” He said the viewer’s interpretation depends on their romantic history. Apparently Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke are romantics—they knew Celine and Jesse would come back together.

20. Cameron Crowe believed Friends was a rip-off of Singles.

Cameron Crowe was asked by Warner Bros. Television to turn Singles into a TV series about “a group of six 20-something roommates searching for love.” Crowe decided not to do that. When Friends, a Warner Bros. show, debuted in 1994, the show was so familiar looking to Crowe that he had his lawyer look into it. Apparently, just enough of the details were changed that it wouldn’t be an easy lawsuit.

21. Cher used Sonny Bono's family as a reference for Moonstruck.


Cher, who is part Armenian and part Cherokee, didn’t know how Italian families worked. “I didn’t come from that kind of family. I really didn’t relate exactly to it, but I had a sense of it, like a distant sense of it,” she told Good Morning America. “Not like something that you can relate to first hand. I’ve known some families like that and I got feelings of it. After a while I thought I might be able to do this.”

But her Moonstruck family reminded her of her ex-husband’s family. “It kind of reminded me of Sonny’s family,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “Everybody eating and talking and shouting—but you have such good times.”

22. One of the biggest stars in the world shared billing with an unknown actress in Roman Holiday.

Gregory Peck already had 18 films and four Oscar nominations under his belt when he was paired with Audrey Hepburn, a newcomer who’d had small roles in a handful of movies but nothing substantial. Given his status, it’s no surprise Peck’s contract called for solo top billing in the credits. But shortly after shooting began, Peck called his agent and said Hepburn’s name should appear with his above the title. The agent: “You can’t do that.” Peck: “Oh, yes I can. And if I don’t, I’m going to make a fool out of myself, because this girl is going to win the Oscar in her very first performance.” So maybe he was being pragmatic more than generous, but still. Stand-up guy, that Peck (and a bit of a prophet, too).

23. Meg Ryan didn't have a computer before making You've Got Mail.

"I got my first computer when I did that movie," Meg Ryan told Vanity Fair. "I think that the company gave us a computer."

24. Clueless is part of an unofficial trilogy.

Paramount Home Entertainment

Amy Heckerling is well known for her forays into coming-of-age stories; the first was her directorial debut, the beloved 1982 comedy Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Clueless came in 1995 was followed up with the Jason Biggs-fronted Loser in 2000, Each comedy not only centered on teens, but also aimed to capture the adolescent zeitgeist of its era in a way that made them accessible and cool to all ages. Obviously, some worked better than others.

25. Actress Ali MacGraw pushed producer Robert Evans to cut Harold and Maude's love scene.

Of course, her Paramount boss husband tried to oblige. Director Hal Ashby furiously objected, saying, “That’s sort of what the whole movie is about, a boy falling in love with an old woman; the sexual aspect doesn’t have to be distasteful.” About the less-than-explicit scene, Being Hal Ashby author Nick Dawson wrote, “Ashby wanted to show the beauty of young and old flesh together, something that he knew the younger generation, the hippies, the heads, the open-minded masses would dig, but Evans said it would repulse most audiences, so it had to go.” In the end, Ashby won by sneaking the footage into the film’s trailer.

26. Love Actually's airport opening and closing was shot with hidden cameras.

The footage of passengers being welcomed and embraced by loved ones at Heathrow Airport that bookends Love Actually was shot on location with hidden cameras for a week. In the film's DVD commentary, writer-director Richard Curtis explains that when something special was caught on camera, a crewmember would race out to have its subjects sign a waiver so the moment might be included in the film. This was a fitting production device, as Curtis claims that watching the love expressed at the arrival gate of LAX is what inspired him to write the ensemble romance in the first place.

27. Jack Black didn’t want to be in High Fidelity.

Jack Black nailed his role as High Fidelity's hyperactive and pathologically insensitive record store employee Barry—which, in fact, John Cusack and company wrote with him in mind—but the actor initially had no interest in playing the part. It was director Stephen Frears who managed to save the day, pursuing Black until he eventually agreed to join the cast.

28. Meet The Parents inspired a cat toilet-training product.

Universal Studios

Jo Lapidge and her husband, Terry, came up with the idea for Litter Kwitter—a toilet-training tool for cats—after seeing Meet the Parents. (Litter Kwitters come with plastic rings you put over the toilet seat. Gradually the hole in the rings gets bigger until the rings aren’t needed at all.) On set, though, the cats weren’t actually trained to use the toilet.

29. Julia Roberts turned down the lead in While You Were Sleeping.

Roberts was already flying high from the major success of Pretty Woman five years earlier, so the actress seemed like a solid pick for another charming romantic comedy about two very different people brought together by unexpected circumstances. Fortunately for Sandra Bullock, she turned down the role.

30. Julia Roberts also turned down the lead in Sleepless In Seattle.

In a 2014 interview with InStyle, the Oscar-winning actress shared that she had been "offered Sleepless in Seattle but couldn't do it," adding that, "[Meg Ryan] and Tom Hanks are just such a jewel of a fit in that. I guess what they did for that moment in time is sort of what Richard [Gere] and I were doing across town (in the 1990 film Pretty Woman), you know?"

31. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind might not be fiction much longer.

Focus Features

In 2014, scientists reported that they’d successfully manipulated mice’s memories, or at least the emotions associated with those memories. See, we form the informational part of our memories—the facts and events—in the hippocampus neighborhood of the brain. The emotions connected to them—how we feel about those facts and events—are stored down the road in the amygdala. Scientists messed with some mice’s amygdalae and basically reversed how they “felt” about prior lab experiences, changing an unpleasant association into a pleasant one, and vice versa.

The scientists were quick to point out that while this could be useful in erasing a person’s negative emotions about something in their past (for PTSD sufferers, for example), it would be a bad idea to actually make them forget that these events had happened. Which means they must have gotten the message of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

32. Cameron Diaz had concerns over the "hair gel scene" in There’s Something About Mary.

Cameron Diaz was concerned that the audience would be too disgusted over the physical gag to laugh, which could possibly ruin her acting career. With those concerns in mind, another version of the date scenes was shot without anything in her hair. Once the viewers at a test screening heartily laughed at the scene with Ted’s product in Mary’s hair, Diaz was okay with it.

33. Ben Stiller also had problems with the hair gel scene.

Ben Stiller couldn’t figure out how his character wouldn’t feel what was hanging on his ear, and even went so far as to suggest that it be written somewhere that Ted had somehow lost sensitivity in his ear. He was told to stop thinking about it.

34. The epic fight scene between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’s Diary wasn’t choreographed.

You can thank the two actors for the hilarity of the iconic scene. In a Vulture article about the greatest fight scenes in movie history, writer Denise Martin recalled the improvised spar, writing, “No stunt coordinators. No elaborate choreography. Just a perfectly realized wimp brawl between two upper-middle-class Englishmen coming to awkward fisticuffs in front of a Greek restaurant.”

35. Ghost’s success made romantic films more viable.

Summer tentpoles Die Hard 2 (starring Demi Moore’s then-hubby Bruce Willis), Total Recall, and Dick Tracy failed to claim a slot in the top five year-end box office, but romantic comedy Pretty Woman did. Like Ghost, Pretty Woman was yet another female-loved film that made a lot of money ($178 million domestic). “The success of Ghost and Pretty Woman has revitalized the romantic comedy, a genre that in recent years had become less appealing to Hollywood studios intent on making blockbuster action-adventure films,” read a 1990 article in The New York Times. In Ghost’s wake, The Bodyguard, Jerry Maguire, and Titanic all became huge hits for the romantic drama genre.

36. My Big Fat Greek Wedding broke a lot of records.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding made $241,438,208 in U.S. theaters, making it the highest-grossing romantic comedy in history, over $58 million ahead of What Women Want (2000). It's also the highest-grossing movie since at least 1982 to never be number one during any box office weekend. With a gross revenue (theater and home video sales) of approximately $369 million off of a $5 million production budget, it's also one of the most profitable movies ever made.

37. The script for Juno was "deeply personal" for Diablo Cody.

Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Oscar-winning screenwriter based the story for Juno on her own life and wanted to tell a story that was “different” from the rest of Hollywood movies. “Juno is like a personal, emotional scavenger hunt for me," Cody told The Telegraph. "I dragged so many of my own experiences into it that I'm shocked the movie is so coherent. I managed to get every person, quirk, and object that has meaning in my life into the script. I wanted to make it deeply personal. I didn't want it to be generic."

38. The ending of Legally Blonde was changed because of test audiences.

Initially, Legally Blonde ended with Reese Witherspoon and Luke Wilson kissing on the courthouse steps, then cutting to Elle Woods and Vivian forming a “Blonde Legal Defense Club.” Test audiences were too invested in what happened to Elle’s life to like that conclusion.

39. Chasing Amy was originally going to be a PG-13 movie set in high school.

The studio initially suggested to Kevin Smith that he make Chasing Amy as a PG-13 high school movie. Smith thought about it for a time and wrote some scenes. Ethan Suplee was going to play one of the main characters, but then Smith changed his mind. "A week later, I was like, 'No,'" Smith told The A.V. Club. "Then the movie [Mallrats] tanked, and that sealed the deal. It was just like, that's the last movie I make that doesn't have anything on its mind."

40. Brian Grazer came up with the idea for Splash while driving down the Pacific Coast Highway.

One night, while driving down the Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu in 1977, Brian Grazer—then 25 years old—thought about what it would be like to meet a mermaid and fall in love. For seven years, he was turned down by most Hollywood studios until he revised his pitch for Splash to be more of a love story between a man and a mermaid. Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who penned Ron Howard’s Night Shift (1982), and Bruce Jay Friedman (Stir Crazy) were the credited screenwriters for Splash. The script was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14


Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140


Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48


Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30


The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19


Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25


This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70


Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120


What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24


Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14


Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi

Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 20, 1882, one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Today, more than 85 years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. Bela Lugosi worked with the National Theater of Hungary.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. Bela Lugosi fought in World War I.

SALY NOÉMI, Fortepan // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. When Bela Lugosi made his Broadway debut in 1922, he barely knew any English.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. Universal didn't want to cast Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. Most of Bela Lugosi's Dracula-related fan mail came from women.

Universal Pictures via Heritage Auctions, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.

6. Bela Lugosi turned down the role of Frankenstein's monster.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. Bela Lugosi's relationship with Boris Karloff was much more cordial than it's usually made out to be.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. Bela Lugosi was a major soccer fan.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. Bela Lugosi was a hardcore stamp collector.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. Bela Lugosi almost didn't appear in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein ... because the studio thought he was dead!

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A chiropractor filled in for Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956; he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. Bela Lugosi was buried in his Dracula cape.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

This story has been updated for 2020.