Bela Lugosi was the first to draw blood, achieving monster fame as the liege lord of Transylvanian nightlife when Dracula opened in February 1931. But 10 months later, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein became king of the monster mash. From then on, Bela’s career mostly just sucked.
Universal actually wanted Lugosi to play the monster in its adaptation of Frankenstein. But noooo, the Hungarian hambone didn’t want to spoil the sexy, matinee-idol image he’d cultivated for Count Dracula. So, Bela told the studio to stick a bolt in somebody else’s neck, and director James Whale let the lightning strike Karloff, an unprepossessing Englishman with a lisp.
Karloff played the big lug for all he was worth and turned the character into a franchise. Universal forced a bitterly resentful Lugosi to play Ygor in Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein (in all, these rivals made nearly a dozen films together). Eventually, Lugosi descended into drug addiction and a fate worse than death–Ed Wood movies. The easygoing Karloff, meanwhile, became a gentleman gardener at his Hollywood Hills estate.