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Edward Van Sloan

Edward Van Sloan Edward Van Sloan worked in stock companies, on Broadway and in scores of motion pictures, but his claim to fame is a trio of pioneering horror films (Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy) that he made within the space of two years at Universal. Van Sloan (real name: Edward Paul Van Sloun) was born November 1, 1882, in Minnesota, and originally intended to follow his father into the field of architecture after he had moved the family to San Francisco. While working with scenic design and stage lighting in a school production of The Merchant of Venice, he was encouraged to also play a part in the show.

He came East in 1908, made his professional acting debut and began working with stock companies in the U.S. and Canada. Ironically, Van Sloan started out in light comedy rather than the dramas that eventually gained him fame, initially specializing in playing addle-witted Englishmen. When he reached Broadway, however, his career would take a turn in a different direction. But before this happened, Van Sloan managed to land a part in what appears to be his single silent appearance, Slander (1916), a six-reeler directed by Will S. Davis.

Nothing much came of this appearance, and Van Sloan resumed his theatrical work, reaching New York in 1922 in Roland West's The Unknown Purple. Other parts soon followed but Van Sloan's career reached a turning point when he played a doctor in Schweiger (1926). The impact was so strong that, two plays later, theatrical producer Horace Liveright cast him as the Dutch scientist Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in his Broadway production of Dracula (1927). Some considered it to be Van Sloan's greatest role.

with Lugosi in Dracula Dracula opened at the Fulton Theater in New York City on the night of October 5, 1927. The play, which starred Bela Lugosi in the title role, was an immediate and resounding success. Within six months, Universal Pictures began talking about making a film version of the play. And, although Van Sloan was immediately chosen to reprise his role for the motion picture cameras, the studio went through lengthy machinations, before finally doing the obvious and casting Lugosi in his stage part. Dracula (1931) would be the beginning of a long series of doctor roles for Edward Van Sloan.

An immediate sensation, Dracula was a breakthrough for Van Sloan, who went on to appear in a series of all-time classic thrillers for Universal, as well as many other films for smaller studios. In Frankenstein (1931), Universal's archetypal monster movie, Van Sloan played Dr. Waldman, mentor of Dr. Henry Frankenstein, who attempts to advise and guide his young protoge in his strange and dangerous experiments. Van Sloan seems to have become the house physician of horror.

In The Mummy (1932), Van Sloan is Professor Muller, a seasoned Egyptologist who is attempting to help protecta friend's daughter from the psychic onslaught of a 3700 year old mummy. Professor Muller dared better in this life-and-death outing than did Frankenstein's Dr. Waldman, and survived to the end of the last reel. After The Mummy, Van Sloan appeared in The Death Kiss (1933), which reunited him with Dracula stars David Manners and Bela Lugosi.

with Zita Johann in The Mummy Following Death Kiss, Van Sloan was in a whole slew of films, most of them romances and dramas, and would appear in over 40 by the end of the decade. Probably the most notable film he did during this period was Death Takes a Holiday (1934), a memorable classic in which death, personified by Fredric March, takes human form and comes to earth to find out just why people fear him so much. Van Sloan then joined Frankenstein alumnus, Boris Karloff in The Black Room in 1935, and returned the following year with Dracula's Daughter (1936).

After Dracula's Daughter, Edward Van Sloan continued to work steadily, occasionally returning to the stage. But due to the end of the first horror cycle in 1936, brought about by an increase in censorship and a fall-off in audience interest, no further parts in really "heavy duty" horror films came his way. Even after the resurgence of the genre two years later, Universal seemed to have lost interest in the good Herr Doktor.

The last feature of note he appeared in was Mask of Dijon (1946), an intriguing Erich Von Stroheim vehicle. After a final appearance, in Sealed Verdict (1948), Van Sloan retired completely from the screen to live the rest of his days in his adopted home town of San Francisco. But before he passed away on March 8, 1964, he was fortunate enough to see his work in classic horror films revered by a new generation of fans thorugh the fledgling medium of television. Audiences had always been assured that when Van Sloan appeared froningly in a film, with his trademark spectacles, distinctive voice, and an aura of arcane knowledge, it was a sure bet that Lugosi or Karloff weren't far away.

--DAVID BOWMAN, from Filmfax, Edward Van Sloan:
Universal's House Physician of Horror

A selection of Edward Van Sloan films.

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A selection of Edward Van Sloan in books.

A History of Horror

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