Great Fun Foto today—and you can sure tell the subjects in the photo are having fun! Of special interest is the fellow with Mickey Mouse. You may have heard of him, his name is Bela Lugosi, and is best known for his numerous portrayals of Count Dracula on stage and screen. Lugosi’s appearance in the Universal Pictures film Dracula (1931) stunned audiences of the day. Newspaper reports write of members of the audience passing out due to the unspeakable horror. Lugosi’s performance is considered one of the greatest of the monster film genre, and the film propelled him to instant fame.

The photo was taken at an unknown Hollywood restaurant in 1933. Another notable in the photograph is Joe Penner, who is seated at the far left, complete with cigar. Penner was quite famous as well, but his stardom came via the radio. Just one year after this picture was taken Penner was voted radio’s top comedian. His catchphrase, “Wanna Buy A Duck?” brought radio audiences to an instant uproar, including many at the Disney Studios. So with phrase in hand, Penner made a cameo appearance in the 1938 Disney short cartoon “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood” in which he offers up Donald Duck on a platter and exclaims his famous statement.

Finally, probably the most famouse [pun intended] of the bunch is the little fellow in the middle, Mickey Mouse. No one is quite sure why Mickey is making an appearance here, as he was not known as a Hollywood Party animal. It has been suggested that Lugosi was honoring Mickey Mouse for his fifth birthday. It is known that Lugosi was a big fan of the cartoon character. In fact, in the mid-1930s Lugosi was filling out a press biography for Cameo Pictures studio and the question, “Who is your favorite film star?” was asked. The Count originally wrote “none,” but then changed his mind and crossed out the word and wrote in “Mickey Mouse.”

Lugosi bounced from studio to studio in the 1930s, and eventually did a bit of work at the Disney Studios, when on November 12, 1939 he materialized for a live-action filming session. Bela was paid $150 and spent the entire day posing and modeling for the animators. As one of the premier villains of the day, Walt had hoped that his evil, hulking, and nocturnal portrayal would provide inspiration for Fantasia’s Chernabog. Wilfred “Jaxon” Jackson, director on “The Night on Bald Mountain” sequence, told Lugosi what to do, to which the Count responded in his thick Hungarian voice, “I feel the character. You tell me what things he does.” Jackson did: “I told him what things he did and what the music does. He started showing how he would unwrap his wings and things like that and we were getting along great, but Bill Tytla [A] was having an awful time… He was telling Lugosi how he should do it. Finally Bill gave up and went over in the corner and sulked. So I got the best stuff I could out of it and after it was over Bill said, ‘Jack, I don’t like what he’s done. I like the way you do it. Won’t you take your shirt off and get in front of the camera?’ So I took my shirt off and he ran the music and we used that stuff. We never told Walt.”

Endnotes and Citations can be seen at: endnotes.

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