Blog: The Writers of Life After Death

Blog by Josh Portera
Photo by Ashley Labonde

Hamilton Deane was born in Ireland and lived nearby to Bram Stoker, his mother having been acquainted with Dracula’s author in their youth.  Deane entered into the world of theatre in his late teens, working for the Henry Irving Company, which incidentally Stoker had also worked for as stage manager for many years.  While Stoker himself attempted to edit his novel into a play in 1897, it was scrapped by the Irving Company before its completion.  In the early 1920’s, Deane adapted the piece on his own over a period of only a few weeks while suffering with a cold.  The work done, he negotiated for the dramatic rights with Stoker’s widow, Florence.  Deane’s work reimagined Dracula as a modern creature who could blend in with London society – it was Deane who can be credited for the appearance of Dracula as we know him today; a well dressed, tuxedo wearing gentleman with a high collar and long black cape.  The play opened in England in 1924 with Deane taking on the role of Dr. Van Helsing.  When the play was brought to the US in 1927, John L. Balderston was hired to rewrite the piece for an American audience.

Balderston’s career began in journalism, working for the Philadelphia Record while studying at Columbia University.  He later worked as a WWI Correspondent for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate as well as editor for Outlook magazine.  In 1926 he began to gain acclaim as a playwright for Berkeley Square, co-written with Jack Squire.  This lead to him being chosen to adapt Deane’s Dracula script for its American run, which starred Bela Lugosi as the title character, and which ended up being used as the basis for the 1931 film version, also starring Lugosi.  Balderston’s career then turned towards screenwriting, leading to his contribution in films like Frankenstein and Gone with the Wind, as well as further novel adaptations for the screen, such as Prisoner of Zenda, and Gaslight, which earned him an Academy Award nomination.