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Son of Dracula

Bela Lugosi Jr wants to place a curse on Tim Burton for misrepresenting his father in Ed Wood. Paul Duane reports
"Last name Lugosi, first name - Bela." The operator sounded sceptical. "You're putting me on, right?"

"Nope," I said. Sure enough, she found the number for me. There aren't many Ma Bell subscribers by that name. In fact, since it's a pseudonym, adopted by a young Hungarian actor, Bela Blasko, on his arrival in America in the Twenties, there's only one: the son and heir of the man who will for ever be associated with the name Dracula. So how does it feel to be a lawyer named Bela Lugosi Jr?

Having just won a major case on the day we spoke, Bela Jr felt pretty good. An entertainment lawyer specialising in litigation, he'd been representing the heirs of two of the Three Stooges against the heirs of the third in a complex action relating to 3-D movie patents. Lugosi, Larry, Moe and Curly Joe - rarely can a courtroom have held such a surreal gathering of names.

That, however, is not what I'm calling Bela Jr about. I'm interested in reports that he is less than happy with the portrayal of his famous father in Tim Burton's new film Ed Wood. It purports to tell the story of Lugosi's final years, and his relationship with the charismatic, energetic and spectacularly untalented horror-movie auteur, Edward D Wood. While pre-release hype centred on the casting of Johnny Depp as the transvestite ex-marine turned director, the film's undoubted highlight is Martin Landau's larger than life portrayal of Lugosi, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. So why is Bela Jr so perturbed?

"I haven't seen Ed Wood," he points out. "However, many of my friends report that it's a complete distortion of my dad's life. For instance, they portray him with little dogs around him. Now, he never had little dogs. He had Dobermans, German shepherds, that kind of thing.

"There are more serious matters. They show him as a lonely man, forgotten by the world. In fact, he'd just remarried during that time and was far from lonely. They distort the nature of his medical addiction to morphine. He went into hospital, alone, and kicked this addiction entirely by himself. For the rest of his life he remained cured.

"There's also the matter of the language he uses in the film. [Landau's Lugosi is reduced to foul-mouthed rage at the mention of Boris Karloff]. My father was not a man for swearing. And they show him wearing his cape all the time, trying out coffins - things that just never happened."

It's hardly surprising to hear that a Hollywood movie is guilty of distorting the truth, particularly since Burton's previous work is hardly renowned for gritty psychological realism. However, Bela Jr contends that the film- makers had a responsibility at least to speak to those who knew Wood and Lugosi.

"What really bothers me is that I have four hours of tape- recorded interview with Ed Wood [who died in 1978], which I paid him to do. He talks about those times in great detail. Nobody from Ed Wood asked to hear those tapes or even to talk to me. It's something they should have done, not only out of regard for the truth, but out of courtesy."

Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space contains the last footage of Bela Sr. He looks like a dying man. It must be a strange experience to see your father tottering around, visibly unwell, in a film that's since become a "camp cult classic", a midnight-movie laugh riot.

"Ed Wood made some of the worst movies of all time, and to do this he exploited everybody around him. He was a user. But he gave my father work at a time when nobody else would. You have to give him that."

n 'Ed Wood' goes on general release on 26 May