Movie Article

Monster Mesh

Dracula and Frankenstein want a stamp -- Descendants of scary stars Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney Jr. fight to get the classic villains on postage

Just beyond Hollywood's bright lights, under a full sun, live the Son of Dracula, the Daughter of Frankenstein, and the Grandson of Wolf Man.

This is not a movie sequel. This is a true story starring Bela Lugosi Jr., Sara Karloff, and Ron Chaney — the progeny of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney Jr. — who, in broad daylight, are attempting to lift their forebears out of the murky past and onto first-class stamps.

The monster-actor offspring have asked the U.S. Postal Service to issue a commemorative ''classic monster stamp set.'' Though they all live in Southern California, they met last year for the first time at a convention for horror and monster fans in Arlington, Va., and became friends united in a quest.

''We've never dressed up (as the monsters), but maybe we should,'' Chaney, 38, a Palm Springs, Calif., contractor, says with a laugh.

''We hit it off as people, not as offspring,'' says Karloff, 55, a Rancho Mirage, Calif., real estate broker. ''We get along very nicely. The monster thing isn't something that comes up.''

Yet these horror families are forever intertwined. When Lon Chaney Sr., slated to play the lead of Dracula, died of throat cancer, Lugosi got the role. Then Lugosi turned down the lead in Frankenstein (1931), giving Karloff his big break. Lugosi and Karloff — blood rivals of sorts — appeared together in a half-dozen horror films starting with The Black Cat (1934), in which Lugosi skins Karloff alive. When Chaney Jr. found fame in the title role of The Wolf Man (1941), Lugosi was in the cast as Bela, the fortune teller; later, Lugosi (taking a turn as Frankenstein) met Chaney Jr.'s Wolf Man in, well, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).

Monster-movie mania died out in the '40s. But Lugosi, 56, an L.A. lawyer, believes ''there's a resurgence of the horror genre. With creative marketing, these actors could be as popular as the Flintstones.''

Inspired by this year's commemorative stamps honoring silent-film stars — including Chaney Sr. — the group decided in January to petition the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee of the Postal Service for a monster series. Sara Karloff has collected 3,000 signatures, even though monster mania has always baffled her: ''I don't like scary movies. I saw Frankenstein just once on television in 1958, and I've never seen Dracula or Wolf Man.''

The advisory committee, a 15-member group that includes actor Karl Malden, may consider the proposal this year. The Postal Service gets 30,000 suggestions annually for commemorative stamps and picks about 30 to issue. To be honored, a person has to be a figure of cultural or historical significance — and must have been dead for 10 years (one year for U.S. Presidents). Most of all, it helps if the committee thinks the stamp will sell well. (Collectors spent $32 million on the two Elvis Presley stamps during 1993 alone.) Sara Karloff would prefer to see the actors pictured as themselves, but admits ''there's probably a bigger commercial value in their characters.''

Will the monster stamps see the light of day? Perhaps — but maybe for overnight mail only.

Originally posted Aug 19, 1994 Published in issue #236 Aug 19, 1994 Order article reprints