Sunday, October 25, 2009

Underrated Performer of the Week: Edward Van Sloan

This Cafe specal was written by ShariLee.

Edward Van Sloan was a character actor best known for his roles in Universal Studios' horror films: Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula (1931); Dr. Waldman in Frankenstein (1931); and Dr. Muller in The Mummy (1932). His close-cropped gray hair, thick spectacles, and clipped, ominous tones would serve memorably as the nemesis and antagonist of evil-doers and monsters played by Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Erich von Stroheim. He had a style of playing horror roles that was unmistakably his, speaking his lines in a slow, exaggerated style of elocution.

Edward Van Sloan was born on November 1, 1882 in Minnesota. After a lengthy career as a commercial artist, he turned to the stage and movies after World War I. Van Sloan made his film debut in 1916, playing Joseph Tremaine in Slander. He did not appear in another movie until 1931.

From 1916 to 1927, Edward Van Sloan had a successful career on Broadway appearing in The Unknown Purple, Polly Preferred, Morals, Schweiger, Juarez and Maximilian, Remote Control, and Lost. In 1927, he was cast as Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in the Broadway production of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi in the title role.

His Broadway role would lead to his successful film career as a character actor. He recreated his role of Dr. Van Helsing in the 1931 film Dracula and again later in Dracula's Daughter (1936). Edward's third movie credit was playing Dr. Waldman in Frankenstein (1931) starring Boris Karloff. Right before the opening credits of Frankenstein, he stepped out in front of a curtain to warn the audience that they now had a chance to escape the theater if they were too squeamish.

Edward was also a successful character actor in mystery films of the era including The Death Kiss (1932), Trick or Treat (1933), Murder on Campus (1934), and Danger on the Air (1938). He also appeared in such classics as Baby Face (1933), Manhattan Melodrama (1934), The Woman in Red (1935), Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), and Love Crazy (1941).

In the late 1940s, Edward returned to the Broadway stage in The Vigil.

Edward Van Sloan retired from both the stage and movies in 1950 after a final performance in an uncredited movie role as a minister in The Underworld Story. He passed away on March 6, 1964 at the age of 81.


  1. A classic actor who played memorable roles and is most definitely underrated! We can see him this month on TCM during the Boris Karloff marathon (Friday, Oct. 30th), including BEHIND THE MASK (1932) and BEFORE I HANG (1940). Thank you so much, ShariLee, for providing an excellent write-up on a notable actor.

  2. Shari Lee , Thanks for this post. He is in my all time favorite Universal horror film The Mummy

  3. ShariLee, this was a great tribute--it reminded me how little I knew about Edward Van Sloan. My favorite of his movies that you mentioned is the underrated DRACULA'S DAUGHTER. Sark, I don't think I've seen BEHIND THE MASK, so thanks for the heads-up. What a nice choice for the Underrated Performer of the Week with Halloween coming up on Saturday!

  4. I loved Edward Van Sloan whenever he showed up in movies. His style of speaking was so distinct, as you said, and I thought he came across wonderfully in Dracula. Wonderful blog about a special character actor, ShariLee

  5. Glad everyone enjoyed the blog.

  6. I read an interview with him that he did towards the end of his life. He was greatly amused that people still pointed out his house as 'the place where the man who killed Dracula lives".

  7. Van Sloan is one of those actors who played key roles in an astonishing list of iconic films and he was a wonderful actor. One of the minor movies, in the public domain now, was one you mentioned called "The Death Kiss," a mystery headlined by David Manners with what seems like most of the cast of "Dracula," including the great Lugosi, and it's a real little curio. Van Sloan was always an actor you loved to see coming. Forrest Ackerman, in the heyday of "Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine," found himself wondering what had happened to Van Sloan, and looked him up in the telephone directory, where he found him listed and shortly thereafter interviewed him. Van Sloan told him that Karloff, watching the Frankenstein rushes for the first time, put his head in his hands and moaned, "I'm ruined, I'm ruined," whereupon Van Sloan confidently told him, "Not so, Boris, you're made!"

    Van Sloan appeared in one of my favorite films, the smash hit "Manhattan Melodrama" with Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy, which would be hailed today as one of the greatest of classics if it didn't have "Melodrama" in the title, considered a pejorative today. Had they been able to legally shorten it to simply "Manhattan," I think it would be as famous as any movie made in the '30s.