While Bela Lugosi’s performance as Dracula in the 1931 Universal classic may have gone down in history as one of the definitive interpretations of the character, a lesser-known Spanish adaptation of the Bram Stoker story was shot simultaneously utilising the same script and sets. With American director Tod Browning overseeing the elaborate production that would see Lugosi reprise his role following an acclaimed stage run in the 1920s, once the cameras had stopped rolling a Spanish cast and crew descend upon the set and would shoot their picture throughout the night under the watchful eye of George Melford. In the role of the bloodsucker in the alternative version was Carlos Villarías who would often attempt to mimic Lugosi’s gestures but instead almost pushed his performance towards parody, yet where the movie did succeed was in the casting of his obsession, Eva Seward. In the role occupied in the American counterpart by Helen Chandler was twenty-year-old Lupita Tovar.
Born Guadalupe Natalia Tovar on 27 July 1910, Lupita was discovered in school by filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty who first brought the young girl to the attention of Fox. During the late 1920s she was cast in minor roles in a succession of silent pictures before landing the lead role in Mexico’s first ever sound picture Santa, but it would be through her work dubbing American pictures into her native language that she first made the acquaintance of Universal producer Paul Kohner, who had begun to specialise in foreign language versions of American productions that he could sell to the Spanish market. Following her involvement with Dracula, Tovar and Kohner wed in 1932 and Tovar continued to appear in Mexican pictures over the next twenty years, while Kohner worked as a Hollywood agent representing such talent as Ingmar Bergman, Greta Garbo and filmmaker Billy Wilder.
In 1936 they purchased a home in Bel Air and the same year their daughter was born. Susan Kohner would follow her mother into acting, eventually gaining an Academy Award nomination for the 1959 drama Imitation of Life. The artistic flair continued through the generations when Susan’s two sons Paul and Chris Weitz received a screenwriter nomination for the 2003 comedy About a Boy. Even long after her retirement and the death of her husband Tovar kept a close relationship with Hollywood. According to the foreword in her son Pancho’s biography when Tovar turned ninety-nine a party was held at her home that saw the children of legendary producer David O. Selznick and Ben-Hur director William Wyler in attendance.
On Saturday 12 November Tovar passed away at her house in Hollywood, the same one in which she had resided for eighty years. The news was first revealed by niece Lucy Tovar via Facebook, in which she announced, ‘Today has been a very sad day for me. My auntie Lupita passed away. I loved her very much. Rest in peace.’ In the memoir The Sweetheart of Mexico Pancho Kohler said of his mother, ‘Lupita believes in living life to the fullest and her life has been rich in adventure, glamour, accomplishment and, at times, danger. She was born at the dawn of the Mexican Revolution, surviving a shooting attack on a train in her youth. Looking back, she realises that. having spent her earliest years in a country torn by bloodshed, she acquired a fearlessness that bordered on naïveté when Hitler came to power while she and Paul were living in Berlin. For years she was pursued, all the way to Italy and Hollywood as well as Mexico. by the fearsome General Saturnino Cedilla, a politico with a private army of ten thousand men. Lupina had been adored by the elusive B. Traven, author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Ingmar Bergman, among countless others.’