Perhaps the most famous historical figure in what is now Romania was Vlad (1431?–76), a prince of Walachia who resisted the Turkish invasion and was called Tepes ("the impaler") and Dracula ("son of the devil") because of his practice of impaling his enemies on stakes; he was made into a vampire by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula. The first leader of Communist Romania was Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (1901–65), who held the office of premier from 1952 to 1955 and of president of the State Council from 1961 until his death. Nicolae Ceausescu (1918–89) was general secretary of the Communist Party between 1965 and 1989 and head of state from 1967 to 1989; his wife, Elena (1919–89), was a member of the Permanent Bureau of the Executive Committee of the Communist Party.
Ion Heliade-Radulescu (1802–72) founded the Bucharest Conservatory and the National Theater and became first president of the Romanian Academy. Mihail Kogalniceanu (1817–91), a leading statesman in the early Romanian monarchy, inaugurated modern Romanian historiography. Vasile Alecsandri (1821–90) was a leader of the traditionalist school of writers, which sought its inspiration in the Romanian past rather than in imitations of foreign writers. Mihail Eminescu (1850–89) is regarded as an outstanding poet, famous for romantic lyricism. His friend Ion Creanga (1837–87) drew from folklore and wrote with a gaiety and gusto recalling Rabelais. The nation's greatest playwright was Ion Luca Caragiale (1852–1912), who excelled in social comedy; an internationally famous Romanian-born playwright, Eugène Ionesco (1912–94), settled in Paris in 1938. Mihail Sadoveanu (1880–1961) was an important novelist in the period between the two world wars. Romanian-born Elie Wiesel (b.1928), in the United States from 1956, is a writer on Jewish subjects, especially the Holocaust, and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Romanian-born Mircea Eliade (1907–86) was a scholar in comparative religion and comparative mythology, in the United States from 1948. Romanian-born Tristan Tzara (1896–1963), a literary and artistic critic who settled in Paris, was one of the founders of Dadaism. Nicolae Grigorescu (1838–1907) and Ion Andreescu (1850–82) were leading painters, as was Theodor Aman (1831–91), a modern artist and founder of the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest. Sculpture was greatly advanced by Constantin Brâncusi (1876–1957). Perhaps the greatest names Romania has given to the musical world are those of the violinist and composer Georges Enescu (1881–1955), known for his Romanian Rhapsodies, and the pianist Dinu Lipatti (1917–50). A prominent tennis player is Ilie Nastase (1946–94); gymnast Nadia Comaneci (b.1961) won three gold medals at the 1976 Olympics.