Edward Van Sloan: The Original Van Helsing

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Today is the birthday of useful character actor Edward Van Sloan (1882-1964).

If only he’d been born a few hours earlier! He’d fit so neatly into all our October Halloween-Month horror movie blogging. And yet…Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve…and today All Hallows Day...and so we make room for one more spirit.

Van Sloan was of Dutch American stock and came from Minnesota. He trouped in the theatre for years before landing the part that would seal his fate and make him forever associated with the Universal stock company: he was cast as vampire hunter Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in the 1927 Broadway production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Van Sloan and Bela Lugosi were the only members of the stage production to be cast in the 1931 film version. In the early days, it was almost as if Universal didn’t dare make a horror movie without Van Sloan or a Van Sloan-esque character. In Frankenstein (1931) he played Victor Frankenstein’s mentor Dr. Waldman. In The Mummy (1932) he is Dr. Muller. He returns as Van Helsing in Dracula’s Daughter (1936). And he plays the Spy Chief in the Bela Lugosi serial The Phantom Creeps (1939). Other relevant films included Murder on the Campus (1933), The Infernal Machine (1933), The Black Room (1935), A Shot in the Dark (1935), and The Last Days of Pompeii (1935).

Van Sloan has credits through 1950, although in later years he is playing mostly bit parts, mostly uncredited. This is interesting to me, for Universal’s horror division got a new shot in the arm with 1941’s The Wolf Man , giving older franchises like The Mummy new life. But Van Sloan was not part of this resurgence. Perhaps his very old school staginess was considered too artificial for these later movies. But nowadays that is just what we love about his performances!

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