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Franz Josef Dies

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 258th installment in the series.

November 21, 1916: Franz Josef Dies 

Already 84 years old when he made the critical decision that ignited the First World War, Austria-Hungary’s iconic dynast Franz Josef lived long enough to witness the nightmare unleashed by his desperate gamble – but not the final collapse of his empire, nor the strange new world that arose from the ashes. 

On November 21, 1916, several days after contracting pneumonia on a walk around the palace grounds, the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary died at the age of 86, having ruled his subjects for a remarkable 68 years, making him one of the longest reigning monarchs in history. His successor, his young, liberal-leaning nephew Karl, until recently the commander of an army on the Eastern Front, inherited a system in collapse (below, the royal family at Franz Josef's funeral on November 30, 1916):

Indeed, Franz Josef’s entire life could be viewed as a chronicle of the long, gradual decay of Europe’s old aristocratic order, punctuated by disasters and sudden bursts of frenetic activity – brief and only partially successful attempts at reform. 

Franz Josef ascended to the throne unexpectedly as liberal revolutions swept Europe in 1848, threatening the very existence of the monarchy and its multiethnic dynastic holdings. After his uncle and predecessor Ferdinand I abdicated to appease the revolutionaries, Franz Josef’s father Franz Karl also renounced the throne, leaving the task of reuniting the divided and rebellious empire to his 18-year-old son. 

This the new emperor did with typical caution, reflecting both his youth and generally moderate character – but as a profoundly conservative aristocrat he also showed a steely determination to uphold the old feudal order, as well as a willingness to use force if he judged it necessary. 

After agreeing to the constitution demanded by liberal revolutionaries in 1849, restoring his power base in Austria, Franz Josef crushed a nationalist rising in Hungary by inviting Tsar Nicholas I to send 200,000 Russian troops into the rebellious kingdom – one of the high watermarks of the Concert of Europe, the reactionary diplomatic system created by Metternich to prop up the continent’s old dynasties following the upheavals of the French Revolution and Napoleon. 

Following the defeat of the Hungarian revolution, however, Franz Josef was willing (as he would show himself many times in the decades to come) to compromise in order to preserve the core institution of the monarchy amid the earth-shaking developments resulting from the spread of nationalism across Europe. 

In 1859 Austria lost the kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia to the new-forming nation of Italy, causing a long-standing grudge, which their membership in the Triple Alliance did nothing to allay (ironically Franz Josef’s ill-fated heir, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, though the empire would go to war with Italy before Serbia). 

But no event was more fateful for Austria-Hungary, or Europe, than the creation of a new German state by Prussia led by chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who united the independent German kingdoms by force under Prussian rule with a series of short wars, successfully overcoming opposition by Austria and the German Confederation in 1866, and France in 1870-1. Austria’s stinging defeat damaged Vienna’s prestige and stirred up a new Hungarian national movement by the aristocratic Magyars; with the compromise of 1867, Franz Josef conceded the Hungarians their own constitution, giving rise to the unusual Dual Monarchy that would unite the “kaiserlich und königlich” (Imperial and royal) realms of Austria-Hungary somewhat awkwardly for the rest of its existence.

With the rise of Germany as a leading industrial power in the remaining years of the century, Austria transitioned from defeated foe to junior partner in central Europe – a diplomatic demotion which Franz Josef accepted graciously enough, although he found Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II rude and overbearing. Personal tragedy struck in 1889 with the suicide of Franz Josef’s son and heir Rudolf, who killed himself in a suicide pact with his mistress Mary Vetsera, leaving the crown (unexpectedly, again) to the emperor’s nephew Franz Ferdinand. 

But the emperor never deviated from the basic, aristocratic views that he inherited along with his feudal realm – among them the principle of “hausmacht,” or the power of the noble house. This expressed itself in opportunistic attempts to aggrandize the power of the Habsburgs by acquiring new territorial holdings, just as an ambitious medieval monarch might in the days of the Holy Roman Empire. 

This ancient impulse was ill suited to the modern era, and became dangerous with the surging power of national ideologies requiring resistance to “foreign” rule, even by a well-intended dynasty. This was the bitter fruit of Franz Josef’s ill-advised decision to formally annex Bosnia-Herzegovina, formerly a province of the declining Ottoman Empire, in 1908.

In addition to sparking a general diplomatic crisis, the annexation of Bosnia embroiled Austria-Hungary in a messy, unwanted confrontation with the neighboring small Slavic kingdom of Serbia, and with it its great Slavic patron, Russia. The confrontation between the Dual Monarchy and Serbia escalated with Serbia’s success in the First and Second Balkan Wars, threatening to cause a general European war. The situation was temporarily defused by the Conference of London, which agreed on the creation of a new nation, Albania, to prevent further Serbian expansion in 1912.   

However Franz Josef’s advisors, including chief of the general staff Conrad von Hotzendorf and foreign minister Count Berchtold, were convinced that Serbia remained committed to undermining the empire in its nationalist quest to free the Serbs of Bosnia (some Serbs, led by the intelligence officer Apis, certainly were). The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand provided a convenient excuse to finally crush Serbia and dispense with the threat of Slavic nationalism once and for all – but they were unable to avoid war with Russia, resulting in disaster

In the two years following the outbreak of war, Franz Josef found himself largely an onlooker to the empire’s repeated military defeats (and later successes under German control). His refusal to give up traditional Habsburg territories in the Trentino and Trieste provoked Italy to join the war against the empire in 1915. By the same token, there was little he could do to stave off German moves to dominate Eastern Europe economically and diplomatically, giving Austria-Hungary’s inferior position. Chaos was also clearly beginning to rend the old society: on October 21, 1916 the Austrian premier Karl von Stürgkh was assassinated by the socialist revolutionary Friedrich Adler. But at least he lived to see Romania, another erstwhile ally, brought to book.

German victories were hardly much consolation for the people of the fragmenting empire he left behind. On one hand there was still the popular image of a familiar, avuncular figure, who had endured the heartbreaking loss of his child, and could until recently still be seen taking stately walks with his companion Katharina Schratt. On the other was the knowledge that this elderly man had set in motion events that caused the conflagration consuming Europe – and then stood back, a passive bystander to what followed. 

In Karl Kraus’ satirical play “The Last Days of Mankind”, when told that the emperor has died, the character “the Grumbler” responds: “How do you know?” Later the same character opines: “Just for reasons of prestige, this monarchy should have committed suicide long ago.” Asked to evaluate the emperor’s 70-year-reign, he unleashes a tirade against the years in question: 

They are a nightmare of an evil spirit which, in return for extracting all our life juices, and then our life and property also, let us have as a happy gift the opportunity to become completely idiotic by worshiping an emperor’s beard as an idol. Never before in world history has a stronger non-personality impressed his stamp on all things and forms. A demon of mediocrity has determined our fate. Only he insisted on Austria’s right to trouble the world with our murderous nationality brawls, a right grounded in the God-ordained bureaucratic muddle under the Hapsburg scepter, the mission of which, it appears, has been to hover above world peace like Damocles’ sword. 

Later the Grumbler adds: 

I would also like to believe that it is more pleasing to God to show veneration for the majesty of death at the graves of ten millions youths and men, and hundreds of thousands of women and infants who had to die of hunger, than to bow down before that one casket in the Capuchins’ Crypt, that very casket that entombs the old man who considered everything carefully and, with a single scratch of the pen, brought it all about. 

Unsurprisingly, news of Franz Josef’s death didn’t elicit a great outpouring of sympathy from Austria-Hungary’s enemies in the great struggle now unfolding. Mildred Aldrich, an American woman living in the countryside near Paris, wrote in a letter home on November 25, 1916, touching on Franz Josef’s death briefly: 

In the meantime I am sorry that Franz Josef did not live to see this war of his out and take his punishment. I used to be so sorry for him in the old days, when it seemed as if Fate showered disasters on the heads of the Hapsburgs. I wasted my pity. The blows killed everyone in the family but father. The way he stood it and never learned to be kind or wise proved how little he needed pity. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

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30 Memorable Quotes from Carrie Fisher
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Just days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight en route to Los Angeles, beloved actress, author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016. Though she’ll always be most closely associated with her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Fisher’s life was like something out of its own Hollywood movie. Born in Beverly Hills on this day in 1956, Fisher was born into show business royalty as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.

In addition to her work in front of the camera, Fisher built up an impressive resume behind the scenes, too, most notably as a writer; in addition to several memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, including Wishful Drinking, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful, Postcards from the Edge, and The Princess Diarist (which was released last month), she was also an in-demand script doctor who counted Sister Act, Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer among her credits.

Though she struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness, Fisher always maintained a sense of humor—as evidenced by the 30 memorable quotes below.

ON GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD

“I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”

“I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”

“At a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.”

ON AGING

“As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don't.”

ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

ON THE LEGACY OF STAR WARS

“People are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big of a hit. Yes, we all knew. The only one who didn't know was George.”

“Leia follows me like a vague smell.”

“I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.”

“People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.”

“You're not really famous until you’re a Pez dispenser.”

ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF SUCCESS

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”

ON DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“I'm very sane about how crazy I am.”

ON RESENTMENT

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

ON LOVE

“Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

“I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience, and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

ON EMOTIONS

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”

ON RELATIONSHIPS

“I envy people who have the capacity to sit with another human being and find them endlessly interesting, I would rather watch TV. Of course this becomes eventually known to the other person.”

ON HOLLYWOOD

“Acting engenders and harbors qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence.”

“You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well.”

“It's a man's world and show business is a man's meal, with women generously sprinkled through it like overqualified spice.”

ON FEAR

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

ON LIFE

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”

“No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”

“If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”

“My life is like a lone, forgotten Q-Tip in the second-to-last drawer.”

ON DEATH

“You know what's funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You'd think we could remember finding out we weren't immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, 'Aww. They've just been told.'”

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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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