It’s only a movie: That’s what you kept trying to remind yourself the first time you saw a classic vampire flick. Vampires aren’t real, you told yourself. Transylvania is miles away. All this self-talk reduced the creepiness factor, but you still kept your turtleneck sweater handy, fang you very much.
Surely, it took a lot of imagination to invent a blood-chilling character that sleeps in a coffin and bites necks, right? Well, in the new book, “Who Was Dracula?” by Jim Steinmeyer, you’ll see that imagination only half-Counts.
It would be easy to think that actor Henry Irving was somewhat of a Victorian diva. From start to finish, Irving created lavishly dramatic spectacles to delight London theatregoers, paying strict attention to detail both on-stage and off. Cast and crew called him “The Governor,” and nobody contradicted him – except Bram Stoker.
As Irving’s “acting manager,” Stoker kept tight budgets for all presentations and made happen that which Irving dreamed. Though Irving was technically Stoker’s boss, Stoker was Irving’s equal in attention to detail and the two became close friends.
It was a shocking surprise to Stoker, then, when literary sycophants gained cheeky access to Irving’s inner circle. Stoker grew angry: He’d had an idea for a novel and Irving’s new friends were less-than-complimentary. It gnawed at him, too, that Oscar Wilde, the son of personal pals, had enjoyed writing success.
Still resolute, Stoker collected information and made notes, tweaking and creating his masterpiece. Vampire lore had been around for centuries by then, and he was careful to craft details for bits of mythology. Dracula was a well-rounded, thrilling monster. So on whom did Stoker base his vampire?
Steinmeyer says that the answer is complicated. Surely, there’s a bit of Irving in the Count. Stoker may have personally known an infamous murderer, and his research gave the vampire a name and loose historical basis. Add a bit of autobiography, influence from a randy American poet, and a scandalous playwright, and Stoker had a hit.