Balderston, John L

Balderston, John L(loyd) (1889–1954)

(pop culture)

John L. Balderston was the playwright of the American version of Dracula: The Vampire Play in Three Acts. He was born on October 22, 1889, in Philadelphia, the son of Mary Alsop and Lloyd Balderston. He attended Columbia University and began a career in journalism in 1911 as the New York correspondent of the Philadelphia Record. In 1915, he moved to England and worked as editor for The Outlook; from 1923 to 1931 he was the chief London correspondent of the New York World.

Balderston authored his first play, The Genius of the Marne, in 1919. He followed with Morality Play for the Leisured Class (1920), Tongo (1924), and Berkeley Square (1926). Balderston was still in England in 1927 when producer Horace Liveright attempted to purchase the American dramatic rights to Dracula from Bram Stoker’s widow. Florence Stoker did not like Liveright, who turned to Balderston to assist him in the negotiations. Balderston had become known to Liveright after his play, Berkeley Square, a ghost story, became a hit both in London and New York. Balderston secured the rights from Mrs. Stoker, and Liveright then hired him to modernize the stage version of Dracula by Hamilton Deane that had been playing in England.

Balderston’s version of the play was very different from earlier ones. His major changes included combining the characters of Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray into a single character, Lucy Seward, who became the daughter of the now mature John Seward. Originally Seward had been Lucy’s young suitor. Lucy’s other suitors, Quincey P. Morris and Arthur Holmwood, completely disappeared from the play.

Published by Samuel French, Balderston’s version has become the most influential of the several dramatic versions of the novel. It opened on Broadway on October 5, 1927 and, after 241 performances, went on the road to Los Angeles and San Francisco. It spawned both a midwestern and East Coast touring company. It has subsequently been the version most frequently used when the play has been revived through the years. Its most important revival began in 1977 when it opened for a new run on Broadway. Balderston’s version also became the basis of two film versions of Dracula—the 1931 version with Bela Lugosi and the 1979 version with Frank Langella. Langella, it should be noted, starred in the 1977 stage revival.

Balderston went on to work on two more plays: Red Planet (1932, with J. E. Hoare), and Frankenstein (1932, with Peggy Webling). He also translated the Hungarian play Farewell Performance (1935) into English. He retired to Beverly Hills, California, where he died on March 8, 1954.

Balderston’s papers are on deposit at the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Sources:

Glut, Donald F. The Dracula Book. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1975. 388 pp.
Skal, David J., ed. Dracula: The Ultimate, Illustrated Edition of the World-Famous Vampire Play. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. 153 pp.
———. Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990. 242 pp.
Who Was Who in the Theatre: 1912–1976. London: Pitman, 1972. Rept. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1972.