Camp David


By • Feb 26th, 2010 •

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I am 11 years old and it is late in the evening on a Saturday night. I sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the television set with rabbit ears watching the Shock Theater premiere of DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. The scene unfolding in front of me takes place in a forest shrouded in darkness, the ground swirling in mist, the trees filled with fog. In the distance a wolf howls at the moon. In the foreground is a tall, aristocratic woman clothed in the blackest of velvet. A hood covering her head, she stands in front of a huge funeral bier blazing with fire. She lets the hood fall from her face revealing a chalk white beauty, then turns to her left and lowers her hand to the ground, seizing a large make-shift cross fashioned from two pieces of oak. As she raises the cross skyward she turns her head away in fear, speaking these words as the flames consume the mortal remains of her father, Count Dracula.

” Unto Adoni and Aseroth, into the keeping of the lords of the flame and the lower pits, I consign this body, to be evermore consumed in this purging fire. Let all baleful spirits that threaten the souls of man be banished by the spilling of this salt. Be thou exorcised O Dracula and thy body, long undead, find destruction throughout eternity in the name of thy dark unholy master. In the name of the all holiest, and through this cross, be this evil spirit cast out until the end of time.”

I have seen this film countless times since but the power of that moment has never diminished in its ability to bring an audience into a spider-webbed world of fantasy that was Universal pictures from 1925 until this film was wrapped in March of 1936, effectively ending the first golden age of Horror in American cinema. The film itself was always a curiosity in the genre, mainly because it lacked the star power of a Karloff or Lugosi to keep the flames of cult worship alive in the thousands of baby boomers that were being exposed for the first time to the first cycle of horrors flooding our TV screens in the late fifties where most of would see films like DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN along with THE MUMMY and THE WOLF MAN.

Since the legendary star of DRACULA, Bela Lugosi, was nowhere to be found in this sequel, the film has taken decades to find its audience. The actress who was given the role of a lifetime, Gloria Holden, was unknown at the time (1936) having worked on Broadway and then radio, doing several weeks on the popular Eddie Cantor program. Once you finally get over the loss of the Vampire King, whose presence is seen ever so fleetingly in a coffin, fully staked by Von Helsing (still played by the stalwart Edward Van Sloan) in the lower regions of Carfax Abby, the film takes up exactly where DRACULA left off – with the romantic team of David Manners and Helen Chandler walking up the staircase into light, and well out of camera range, dissolving into the end credit roll.

I am writing this during the very month the film wrapped 74 years ago, and since that time the entire cast and crew have gone on to their respective rewards. What makes this so relevant for me is that I received in the mail a soft bound book from a colleague of mine (who has been in and out of my life for the last 35 years) named Phil Riley. He has edited together an early draft treatment of DRACULA’S DAUGHTER by John L.Balderston, and then the real find is a draft by R. C Sheriff that was submitted to the Breen office by James Whale when it seemed like the director of FRANENSTEIN was going to helm it with an all star cast and a lavish budget. The cover has a faux poster of the film had Whale directed it, boasting Jane Wyatt as the Countess and Lugosi, of course, as the Count. Phil has done the genre a favor in bringing to light this particular bit of history that almost fell into the cracks of time and space. Now we can read for ourselves what might have been if James Whale had been given carte blanche while the production code looked the other way.

Gloria Holden with Dracula star Bela Lugosi, and producer David Diamond. Feb 24th 1936.

Gloria Holden with Dracula star Bela Lugosi, Gloria Stuart and producer David Diamond. Feb 24th 1936.

In 1981 I was working as a researcher for a number of writers including John Kobal, Kenneth Anger and especially Richard Lamparski who was still writing his very successful series of “Whatever Became Of?” books, I owe a huge debt to Richard for putting me in touch with the tragic “little Maria” whom Karloff tossed into the lake to drown in FRANKENSTEIN, and he would also connect me with the fabulous Countess Marya Zaleska, or at least the actress that made such a lasting impression – Gloria Holden, then Mrs. William H Hoyt of Redlands, California.

I went the way of a mailgram to her home in the desert community where she had been living all these years, introducing myself and hoping she would not feel intruded upon and perhaps grant an interview since nobody had gotten around to asking about her career, at least in print. Gloria Holden ended her Hollywood career after filming THIS HAPPY FEELING for director Blake Edwards in 1958. I received a typed response in which she acknowledged that she was indeed the Gloria Holden, but wanted to know just what I had in mind, and especially how I discovered her address and married name. This was more than fair considering I was invading her privacy.

Gloria Holden with Dracula star Bela Lugosi. Feb 24th 1936.

I sent her some copies of my work as well as a letter from Richard giving me a clean bill of health and assuring her I was not some crazed stalker bent on terrorizing her. Gloria responded with great charm and candor after that. She explained that her life in Redlands was a quite one with a close circle of friends cultivated by her husband from his days of teaching at the local college. After the first letter came another, which explained her current state of mind, as well as why she had been reclusive for the last ten years. In 1970, her only son, Chris, had just graduated from Redlands university and, as a reward for such hard work, his parents gifted him a red sports car to begin his new life. On the way back from a post grad party at the college he drove by a hillside that dislodged a 60 pound rock on top of his car, crushing Chris Hoyt to death. Gloria was inconsolable, went into mourning, and never really came out of it. By the time I reached her she was a fragile woman with a heart condition that made visits impossible, but she agreed to talk to me on the phone.

The first response from Gloria Holden was one of reluctance to break her silence, partly out of grief, but also, after so many years, who could possibly care about “some horrid old film best left forgotten?” It took all my powers of persuasion to make her think otherwise. I began to ask her about some of her other films like THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA and STRANGE HOLIDAY. She warmed to recollections of Paul Muni. “Muni was a beautiful man, a real artist, it was my pleasure to be in his company and I feel we did good work, I thought ZOLA was a wonderful film. I played Madame Zola once again on radio after we did our film.”

On the subject of Claude Rains and the film STRANGE HOLIDAY, “Claude Rains was next to Muni my favorite actor to play opposite, a total professional blessed with a magnificent voice. I wish our film together had been a better one as so few people actually went to see it”

Gloria Holden in Strange Holiday with Claude Rains.

When I finally brought up the Dracula film she kept her comments frustratingly brief “My one starring role in Hollywood came at a price and I was never allowed another opportunity to carry a film after that. My memories are rather vague now as I think back. It was a two month insanity to film because the Laemmles were about to lose the studio. We changed directors the script was never clear due to constant rewrites, our final director, Mr. Hillier, was nearly killed on the set when a light fell on him, putting him in hospital. Mr Lugosi was to play Dracula yet he never did. We met on set for publicity photos and a beautiful lunch at the commissary with all the current Universal players in attendance. Lugosi was very shy, like me, and we connected on a strange spiritual level. He was very protective of me as if I really was his daughter. I shall never forget his advice to me: “This part will never end if you are not careful. It carries great power. Be careful what you play next; a part like Dracula can be a blessing or a curse. For me it has been a little of both.” He seemed to me at the time to be so much a larger than life personality. He really owned the role and he knew it, and perhaps as his life turned out it was a curse after all. But not for me. I left it behind me once it was finished and through the grace of God I was not typecast. I did play her one more time in a sense for Tod Browning, who had done DRACULA in the first place. He asked for me personally to play this strange woman, a medium, Madame Rapport. His only direction to me was “to play it like Dracula’s Daughter. Mr Browning admired my performance a great deal, which I took as high praise considering the source. It was his final film as a director. I was blessed to have had a moment with him.”

Gloria sent me a letter after our phone call and had this to say: “I have worked with so many of the film greats, and that experience was a valuable part of my life. Yet it seems, looking back, too small a contribution to say it was a life’s work. I can at this time (1981) do no more than try to overcome a serious heart condition, and keep the home fires pleasant and bright. I cook–I write–I watch KCET 28/TV and read. Your attention to me and my work has me amazed that things I did thirty years ago really matter anymore… I am living in the world today. I mean if I write a fine poem today, make someone happy today, help someone today, and of course I pray for those whom it is my duty and privilege to keep in mind and heart. When I get well and stronger I will likely be more responsive to the outside world, mostly I want to work, complete so many unfinished projects. I am fortunate to have a good strong husband who is a professor at a college, he is active and athletic. We have good friends in his profession. I was always so incredibly shy and afraid of people in my own profession. It is also strange and wonderful how Mr. Lugosi is still bringing people into my life with his curse of the Draculas. In this case may I say it was a blessing and not, thank God, a curse. Love Gloria Holden Hoyt…

During the time I was in touch with Gloria it became known that she had resurfaced, not through me but from a married couple who were autograph hounds known for acquiring arcane signatures of the most oddball kind. They have become infamous in fan circles for not taking ‘no’ for an answer, which of course is not a good thing. They made a pilgrimage to Redlands, staying nearby and telephoning until Gloria finally gave them what they wanted just to get them off the porch. A month or so after Gloria passed away they began selling her signature for $150. This is a primary example of the “fandom” William Shatner was lampooning on Saturday Night Live, only it is not so amusing in real life.

The result of this situation for me was receiving a telephone call one evening from the most eccentric of the “undead cult” that surrounds the myth of Count Dracula – the President of the “Count Dracula Society” Dr Donald A Reed. If you wish to learn more of this weird little man with the high-pitched voice, I highly recommend “My life with Count Dracula” written and produced by the Oscar winning writer of MILK, Dustin Lance Black. This must have been one of his first projects, and to his credit he stayed with it to the bitter end where we as an audience follow this deluded passionately devoted fan to his grave. Now Donald could be charming in a morbid kind of way if he was in a social situation like an awards ceremony, however I saw both sides now as Join Mitchell would have put it, and it wasn’t pretty.

French 2-sheet for the film

Dr Reed was determined that I give him the contact information on Gloria Holden since the autograph couple were not known to him directly and he depended on me, being a former member of the Society, to give it up since after all he was the President etc. Well I stood my ground and he finally hung up after threatening me with excommunication from all things Dracula, which was just fine with me. A few weeks later he sent a notice in the form of a bulletin that Gloria Holden was to be the recipient of a life time achievement award from the “Academy of Science fiction and Horror” and once more demanding I give up her phone number and/or address. I finally got in touch with her even though I knew her response before I ever asked. She pretended to be flattered but simply could not wrap her mind around the concept of intelligent adults gathering in a group to honor a half century old film about vampires. She asked me to collect the prize and forward it on to Redlands and to be sure and thank all those involved in its selection.

I remember this as if it were yesterday. I dressed in my best black suit and drove down to the location Dr Reed sent me to hopefully mount the stage and explain just how fragile Gloria Holden was at this time, and how grateful she was to be so honored. I also had a short thank you speech signed by her to give to Dr Don as a sort of memento even though he had been such a moron about the entire situation.

I parked my car and noticed there was no shortage of spaces. Then the ‘coup de grace’: the location was correct but it had been held the night before, not only that but I was later told by an Academy member who was there that night: “Dr Reed used the event to announce in a ballroom filled with industry notables as well as fanboys and such that Gloria Holden would have been here personally to collect her award, however a certain villain named David Del Valle was simply too selfish to share her with the fans that waited all these years to pay their respects. Well I was pissed to say the least, and time does heal all wounds as they say. To this day I cannot muster even a tear for the loss of such a pathetic yet fascinating creature of the night.

Gloria Holden performing a vampires last rites including the Holy Cross for which she may not gaze upon

As I said before in this column I owe a debt to Phil Riley for making the R.C. Sheriff script available for me to study. There is nothing in Sheriff’s version that remains in the film as we have all come to know it. Having said that, I discovered a screen grab online last year that shows a tapestry that is on screen for less than a second but, upon closer examination, you can plainly see that this was created exclusively for the film when they thought Lugosi was still in the cast. It shows the Vampire King center stage at his banquet prior to the wizard’s arrival, and the curse that makes him a vampire, at least in Sheriff’s version of the prologue, that sets the stage for the original film where Dracula summons Harker to his castle to buy real estate in England. The tapestry was a mystery until I read this treatment. If only James Whale had been able to direct this with the kind of budget he enjoyed on BRIDE.

At least we have this document to give a taste of the forbidden.

Those of us that admire DRACULA’S DAUGHTER have little reason to sing to the choir, however if you have not had the pleasure let me enlighten you on a few things regarding the movie itself. Like all films of this period they are not without their faults. This film suffers from what Gloria described as a film made during the collapse of a regime. It is ironic that DRACULA’S DAUGHTER would be one of the most expensive of the lot and yet it looks like a programmer compared to say the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The budget for DD was taken up in writers fees paying Bela Lugosi $4000 to stand about for photo ops, and at one point he had to sign a contract permitting the making of a dummy to be placed in the coffin at the beginning of the film even though it looked nothing much like him. This would later help the Lugosi family in settling a longtime lawsuit with Universal over the rights of actors who create characters so vivid that the movie- going public can think of no one else in the role.

Unaurthorized model kit done in the late 90's fully painted of Gloria Holden.

The set pieces for both DRACULA and DRACULA’S DAUGHTER are what one remembers for a lifetime….the staircase in DRACULA with the huge cobweb Lugosi magically walks through, yet the web remains unbroken…the coach ride to Borgo Pass…the matte paintings of Castle Dracula… In other words the first reel. In the second film the forest scene I describe at the beginning of this piece… the stalking of her first male victim in the streets of Chelsea (really a redressed Universal village)…the revisiting of Castle Dracula at the conclusion of the film. What ultimately holds both these films together in spite of lacklaster scripts and anemic co-stars is the leads. Bela Lugosi commands the screen when he is on it, and the same is true of Gloria Holden. Her dignity and bearing, matched by her line readings, invested with sadness and tragedy of a life held in darkness, is movie acting at its finest.

Nan Gray as Lili about to undress to pose for a sculpture..regarded as a Lesbian proposition that escaped the censor's of 1936.

The rarest moment in Dracula's Daughter as it is seen today and perhaps the rarest artifact in the golden age of Horror from Universal, a tapestry is glimpsed for a second on camera of Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula imperally standing at the center of his court before the wizard transforms his court into swine and the Count into a vampire from the R.C Sheriff script.

A cult has developed around the infamous sequence in which the Countess’s servant Sandor snatches a poor waif named Lili (Nan Gray – later to become Mrs. Frankie Lane) from throwing herself into the Thames, only to lead her to the Countess’s Chelsea studio to pose. The entire seduction by the Countess of Lili is now legendary as the premier introduction in the sound era of Lesbian seduction. The scene was cut from the original so you never see the Countess actually touch her victim; there is a clever jump to a devil’s mask above the fireplace so that the next thing you see is Lili in hospital being treated by Dr Garth (Otto Kruger). The Countess, like the Doctor, is a master of mesmerism, using the power of an occult ring, a device used much later in BLOOD FOR DRACULA which also has a subtext of lebianism in its plot, only this time it is a mad female doctor who has obtained an amulet from Castle Dracula, perhaps another of the Countess’s jewels left lying about for the unlikely traveler.

I must thank once again my college Phil Riley for providing me with a copy of DRACULA’S DAUGHTER–from Bear Manor Media press [the forgotten version by RC Sherriff] which upon reading instantly rekindled the fire allowing me to write this long overdue tribute to a great actress, a loyal friend whose kind heart and generous nature touched me in ways I am still discovering

…after all “There are far more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your…psychiatry.

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9 Responses »

  1. Thanks for another pithy and insightful piece, David. It’s very unfortunate that the Holden’s last years were as morose as they were, and that she was pestered by psychotic and unthinking fans.

  2. What a fantastic article and very insightful! I hope this gets published one day soon in print- it certainly deserves it. I’ve never seen a first person interview with Holden let alone one about DD.

    Great job

  3. I love that she lived in Redlands.

  4. Ah, I was waiting for this article by you. DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, in it’s present form is a fascinating piece of horror fluff. I love how hero Otto Kruger is so mean to his Girlfreind (Not that’s it’s proper to be mean to your GF, it just made him more real.) One could ONLY imagine the wildness this film would have been under the gaze of Mr. Whale! The photos are great.

  5. David, This was a great piece. I always wondered what had happened to her. It’s nice to know that through you, she was able to look back on her films with a positive feeling. It’s also great that you solved the mystery of the tapestry seen in Castle Dracula at the end. I thought the figure looked like you-know-who. Do you know anything about the early John Balderston draft? David Skal refers to it in his THE MONSTER SHOW. I’ve enjoyed all your pieces and look forward to seeing more of them. Wonderful photos, too!

  6. Nice to learn I am not the only one in the Countess’ thrall. Marya!
    A few issues:
    Ms. Holden’s nose always looks different (blunter) in other movies, is it possible they gave her more prominent nose w/makeup to look more like Bela?
    I thought the Sheriff script was dull compared to the actual film. Zaleska has much more character and her interactions w/Sandor are classic. Sheriff has none of that conflict.
    If Zaleska’s feeding on Lili is gay, then isn’t Dracula’s attack on Renfield also gay? Her desire for Lili is hunger for blood not sex. Same for Drac when bending over Renfield. She personally seduces the man in the alley, while Sandor recruits the girl, and Zaleska wants Garth to be her mate. I’ve never understood why the character of Zaleska is always considered a lesbian – bi-sexual, perhaps.
    I love the shock cut to that mask when Zaleska goes to bite Lili. It is much more effective than today’s techno-gore!

  7. Question: Are you aware of the truncated party scene in “Dracula’s Daughter”? My brother and I remembered that Dr. Garth actually commented on screen about the sanity of the artist who painted the faceless woman who appears to float in a fog being displayed by Lady Esme (Hedda Hopper). On the DVD & VHS copies of the film his parlor room psychoanalysis of the painting is not shown, so when he sheepishly prevents Janet from revealing it to the Countess the unwary viewer, who saw Garth enter only moments before her entrance, must assume that he is preventing Janet from lying. We had our memories of this extended scene corroborated by the 1977 Carl Dreadstone novelization of the film, that my brother acquired after our mutual reminiscence, in which Garth’s comments are retained.
    The VHS copy of “The Mummy’s Tomb” had been missing a scene, but, fortunately, it was restored on the DVD release. We had hoped the same would occur for the DVD of “DD”, but sadly it was not restored.
    Also, are you aware of the real artist(s) who made the paintings for the film? The eerie images for the title sequence appear as though they might have been done by the same hand.

  8. Thank you so much for bringing up the macabre art work that we see in the credits which remains a mystery until someone can get into Universal’s archives to see who painted them? Regarding the aformentioned party scene… I believe you are spot on that sequence was longer. I have stills of the partygoer that quips about vampires being observed by the countessthrough a window before she enters the party as well as Dr Garth pointing to the painting with the countess looking on…..perhaps if and when Universal decides to upgrade their Horror catalogue to blu ray all will be restored….maybe by then the powers that be will allow me to do the audio commentary….so far with Universal I am only on the DVD supplemental “Mummy Dearest” and yes all of the art in the film must be by the same artist…

  9. Were you aware that the painting in the Countess’ London flat was used in the 1st pilot for The Munsters TV show? The pilot was shot in color, so you can see the painting better than in DD. In that pilot Herman’s wife is named Phoebe and she looks more like Morticia than Lily. However, being Grandpa’s daughter, she is still supposed to be, by any other name, Dracula’s daughter. Having one of Zaleska’s paintings hanging in their house really connects the 2 characters. I’d love to know where all of those paintings are now!
    I hope you get the chance to do commentary on a future release. DD deserves the full DVD with specials packaging that the other horror classics received, rather than being part of the no frills double feature it was given!

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