February 12, 1944
Famed actor Bela Lugosi was perhaps best known for playing a vampire but, for several years, he enjoyed a good run in the stage play “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Originally called “Bodies in Our Cellar,” the play was well-known for its jokes. Billed as a “mad, funny hit,” the dark comedy centered around the Brewster family, whose two sisters lived a life of murder and mayhem. The sisters used a gruesome concoction of elderberry wine, arsenic and strychnine to poison elderly men. While Lugosi was the star player that lured Birmingham theater-goers, Cary Grant was the draw on the big-screen version. On Feb. 12, 1944, Lugosi was in the Magic City for a performance at the Temple Theatre, a 3,100-seat vaudeville and motion picture theater. Lugosi brought two performances, a 2:30 p.m. matinee and an 8:30 p.m. evening show. The Temple Theatre opened to great acclaim in 1921. Besides Lugosi, acting greats Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Hayes and John Barrymore performed there. For about 50 years, the building was used more for live theater than for showing movies. The building was demolished in March 1970, but not before Samford University bought the 2,400-pound chandelier that had hung over the audience in the main auditorium. The fixture was added to Samford’s Leslie S. Wright Fine Arts Center in 1976.
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