The cape Bela Lugosi wore as Count Dracula in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and a 24-sheet poster for the film failed to meet their reserve prices at the Bonhams and TCM “Dark Side of Hollywood” auction in New York on November 20. Bidding for the cape, initially expected to hit the high six figures, topped out at $280,000. The poster, estimated to bring $75,000 to $100,000, reached $50,000.
Both pieces are from the collection of Todd Feiertag, whose original 1932 Mummy poster sold for a record $435,500 in 1997. Feiertag previously attempted to sell the cape on eBay in 2005; the high bid came close to $90,000 but fell far short of his minimum.
The black satin cape has a rose gold satin lining. It has a 28-foot circumference and a “wet” sheen that helped it blend with Walter Lantz’ animation for the transformation sequences.
After it was somehow “liberated” from Universal Studios, the cape was worn by the actor and psychic Criswell in the Ed Wood-scripted film Orgy of the Dead (1965). One of the film’s actors, John Andrews, had the cape and was willing to trade it to famed movie collector Clark Wilkinson for other Lugosi memorabilia in 1966. Wilkinson (1906-1996) had opened the Clark Wilkinson Movie Museum in the basement of his home in Baraboo, WI, a few years earlier.
In the 1980s Wilkinson began liquidating his eclectic collection and put an ad for the cape in Classic Images, a vintage films publication. Feiertag answered the ad, and eventually acquired the cape in 1986.
This is not the first Dracula cape to come up for sale. Forrest J. Ackerman, publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and avid collector of science fiction, fantasy, and horror memorabilia, had a Lugosi stage cape as well as his D-monogrammed ring from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. After Ackerman’s death, the two pieces sold for close to $90,000 in 2009.
In 2011 Bela Lugosi Jr. stunned many collectors and fans when he consigned his father’s original cape from the 1931 Dracula in the first Icons of Hollywood auction at Profiles in History. The steep starting price of $1.2 million apparently scared off potential buyers, however, and it did not sell. (Contrary to legend, although Lugosi Sr. was buried in his Dracula costume, he reportedly was buried in a different cape, or a copy.)
As for the Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 24-sheet poster, which measures 9 x 20 feet, it is apparently the only one known to exist. But Universal was displeased with the finished product in 1948 because it appeared so dark and muddy.