Boris Karloff

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Boris Karloff
Boris Karloff.jpg
Karloff c. 1940s
William Henry Pratt

(1887-11-23)23 November 1887
Dulwich, Surrey, England
Died2 February 1969(1969-02-02) (aged 81)
Midhurst, Sussex, England
Resting placeGuildford Crematorium, Godalming, Surrey, England
Years active1909–1969
Grace Harding
(m. 1910; div. 1913)
Olive de Wilton
(m. 1916; div. 1919)
Montana Laurena Williams
(m. 1920; div. 1922)
Helene Vivian Soule
(m. 1924; div. 1928)
Dorothy Stine
(m. 1930; div. 1946)
Evelyn Hope Helmore
(m. 1946)

William Henry Pratt (23 November 1887 – 2 February 1969), better known by his stage name Boris Karloff (/ˈkɑːrlɒf/), was an English actor who starred as Frankenstein's monster in the horror film Frankenstein (1931), which established him as a horror icon. He reprised the role in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939). Karloff also appeared as Imhotep in The Mummy (1932), and voiced the Grinch, as well as narrating the animated television special of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), which won him a Grammy Award.

Aside from his numerous film roles, Karloff acted in many live stage plays and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs as well. For his contribution to film and television, Karloff was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 8 February 1960.[2]

Early life[edit]

English Heritage Blue plaque at 36 Forest Hill Road, London, marking Karloff's birthplace

Karloff was born William Henry Pratt on 23 November 1887,[3] at 36 Forest Hill Road, Dulwich, Surrey (now in London), England.[4] His parents were Edward John Pratt (1826/7–1897), of the Indian Civil Service, where he worked for the salt revenue service, and Eliza Sara (born 1848), née Millard. Both his parents died when Karloff was young, and he was primarily raised by a half-sister and his elder siblings.[5][6] His brother, Sir John Thomas Pratt, was a British diplomat.[7] Edward John Pratt was Anglo-Indian, with a British father and Indian mother,[8] while Karloff's mother also had some Indian ancestry, thus Karloff had a relatively dark complexion that differed from his peers at the time.[9] His mother's maternal aunt was Anna Leonowens, whose tales about life in the royal court of Siam (now Thailand) were the basis of the musical The King and I. Pratt was bow-legged, had a lisp, and stuttered as a young boy.[10] He learned how to manage his stutter, but not his lisp, which was noticeable throughout his career in the film industry.

Pratt spent his childhood years in Enfield, in the County of Middlesex. He was the youngest of nine children, and following his mother's death was brought up by his elder siblings. After first attending Enfield Grammar School, he received a private education at Uppingham School and Merchant Taylors' School. Following this he attended King's College London, where he took studies aimed at a career with the British Government's Consular Service. However, in 1909, he left university without graduating and drifted, departing England for Canada, where he worked as a farm labourer and did various odd itinerant jobs until happening upon acting.[11]


Canadian and U.S. stage work[edit]

Karloff in 1913

Pratt began appearing in theatrical performances in Canada in 1911 and during this period he chose Boris Karloff as his stage name.[12] It has been speculated by historians that he took the stage name from a mad scientist character named "Boris Karlov" in the novel The Drums of Jeopardy. However, the novel was not published until 1920, at least eight years after Karloff had been using the name on stage and in films. Warner Oland played "Boris Karlov" in a film version in 1931. Another possible influence was thought to be a character in the Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy novel H. R. H. The Rider which features a "Prince Boris of Karlova", but as the novel was not published until 1915, the influence may be backward, that Burroughs saw Karloff in a play and adapted the name for the character. Karloff always claimed he chose the first name "Boris" because it sounded foreign and exotic, and that "Karloff" was a family name (from Karlov—in Cyrillic, Карлов—a name found in several Slavic countries, including Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria[13]).

Karloff's daughter, Sara, publicly denied any knowledge of Slavic forebears, "Karloff" or otherwise. One reason for the name change was to prevent embarrassment to his family.[citation needed] Whether or not his brothers (all dignified members of the British Foreign Service) actually considered young William the "black sheep of the family" for having become an actor, Karloff apparently worried they felt that way. He did not reunite with his family until he returned to Britain to make The Ghoul (1933), extremely worried that his siblings would disapprove of his new, macabre claim to world fame. Instead, his brothers jostled for position around him and happily posed for publicity photographs. After the photo was taken, Karloff's brothers immediately started asking about getting a copy of their own. The story of the photo became one of Karloff's favorites.[14]

Karloff joined the Jeanne Russell Company in 1911 and performed in towns like Kamloops (British Columbia) and Prince Albert (Saskatchewan). After the devastating tornado in Regina on 30 June 1912, Karloff, who was in the midst of an engagement at the Regina Theatre, and other performers helped with clean-up efforts.[15][16] He later took a job as a railway baggage handler and joined the Harry St. Clair Company that performed in Minot, North Dakota, for a year in an opera house above a hardware store.

While he was trying to establish his acting career, Karloff had to perform years of manual labour in Canada and the U.S. in order to make ends meet. Among this work, he spent one year laying track, digging ditches, shoveling coal, clearing land, and working with surveying parties for the B.C. Electric Railway Company, at the rate of $2.50 per hour.[17] From this grueling work with the BCER and other employers, Karloff was left with back problems for the rest of his life. Because of his health, he did not enlist in World War I.

During this period, Karloff worked in various theatrical stock companies across the U.S. to hone his acting skills. Some acting companies mentioned were the Harry St. Clair Players and the Billie Bennett Touring Company. By early 1918 he was working with the Maud Amber Players in Vallejo, California, but because of the Spanish flu outbreak in the San Francisco area and the fear of infection, the troupe was disbanded. He was able to find work with the Haggerty Repertory for a while (according to the 1973 obituary of Joseph Paul Haggerty, he and Boris Karloff remained lifelong friends). According to Karloff, in his first film he appeared as an extra in a crowd scene for a Frank Borzage picture at Universal for which he received $5; the title of this film has never been traced.[18][19]

Early Hollywood career[edit]

Karloff as Fu Manchu in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932).
Colin Clive and Karloff in Frankenstein (1931)
Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Top photo: Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Center photo: Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester, Karloff and Ernest Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein
Bottom photo: Karloff, Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi in Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Once Karloff arrived in Hollywood, he appeared in dozens of silent films, but the work was sporadic, and he often had to take up manual labour such as digging ditches or delivering construction plaster to make ends meet.

His first on-screen role was in a film serial, The Lightning Raider (1919) with Pearl White. He was in another serial, The Masked Rider (1919), the earliest of his film appearances that survived.

Karloff could also be seen in His Majesty, the American (1919) with Douglas Fairbanks, The Prince and Betty (1919), The Deadlier Sex (1920) with Blanche Sweet, and The Courage of Marge O'Doone (1920). He played an Indian in The Last of the Mohicans (1920) with Wallace Beery and he would often be cast as an Arab or Indian in his early films.

Karloff's first major role came in a film serial, The Hope Diamond Mystery (1920). He was Indian in Without Benefit of Clergy (1921) and an Arab in Cheated Hearts (1921) and villainous in The Cave Girl (1921). He was a maharajah in The Man from Downing Street (1922), a Nabob in The Infidel (1922) and had roles in The Altar Stairs (1922), Omar the Tentmaker (1922) (as an Imam), The Woman Conquers (1922), The Gentleman from America (1923), The Prisoner (1923) and the serial Riders of the Plains (1923).

Karloff did a Western, The Hellion (1923), and a drama, Dynamite Dan (1924). He could be seen in Parisian Nights (1925), Forbidden Cargo (1925), The Prairie Wife (1925) and the serial Perils of the Wild (1925).

Karloff went back to bit part status in Never the Twain Shall Meet (1925), directed by Maurice Tourneur, but he had a good support part in Lady Robinhood (1925) starring Evelyn Brent in the titular role.

Karloff went on to be in The Greater Glory (1926), Her Honor, the Governor (1926), The Bells (1926) (as a mesmerist), The Nickel-Hopper (1926) with Mabel Normand, The Golden Web (1926), The Eagle of the Sea (1926), Flames (1926), Old Ironsides (1926) with Wallace Beery and Esther Ralston, Flaming Fury (1926), Valencia (1926), The Man in the Saddle (1926) with Hoot Gibson, Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927) (as an African), Let It Rain (1927), The Meddlin' Stranger (1927), The Princess from Hoboken (1927), The Phantom Buster (1927) with Buddy Roosevelt, and Soft Cushions (1927).

Karloff had roles in Two Arabian Knights (1927), The Love Mart (1927) with Noah Beery Sr., The Vanishing Rider (1928) (a serial), Burning the Wind (1928), Vultures of the Sea (1928), and The Little Wild Girl (1928).

He was in The Devil's Chaplain (1929), The Fatal Warning (1929) for Richard Thorpe, The Phantom of the North (1929), Two Sisters (1929), Anne Against the World (1929), Behind That Curtain (1929) with Warner Baxter, and The King of the Kongo (1929), a serial directed by Thorpe.

While one day sitting at the bus stop in the pouring rain, Lon Chaney Sr., 'The Man of a Thousand Faces', spotted Karloff and offered him a ride. Chaney told him "to find something different that will set you apart and is different from anything someone else has done or is willing to do and do it better".[citation needed]

Karloff had an uncredited bit part in The Unholy Night (1930) directed by Lionel Barrymore, and bigger parts in The Bad One (1930),The Sea Bat (1930) starring Charles Bickford and directed by Lionel Barrymore and Wesley Ruggles, and The Utah Kid (1930) directed by Thorpe.

A film which brought Karloff recognition was The Criminal Code (1931), a prison drama directed by Howard Hawks in which he reprised a dramatic part he had played on stage. In the same period, Karloff had a small role as a mob boss in Hawks' gangster film Scarface with Paul Muni and George Raft, but the film was not released until 1932 because of difficult censorship issues.

He did another serial for Thorpe, King of the Wild (1931), then had support parts in Cracked Nuts (1931) with Wheeler and Woolsey, Young Donovan's Kid (1931) with Jackie Cooper, Smart Money (1931) with Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney in their only film together, The Public Defender (1931) with Richard Dix, I Like Your Nerve (1931) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Loretta Young, and Graft (1931) with Regis Toomey and future agent Sue Carol.

Another significant role in the autumn of 1931 saw Karloff play a key supporting part as an unethical newspaper reporter in Five Star Final with Edward G. Robinson, a film about tabloid journalism which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

He could also be seen in The Yellow Ticket (1931) with Elissa Landi, Lionel Barrymore and Laurence Olivier during Olivier's memorable first round in Hollywood, The Mad Genius (1931) with John Barrymore, The Guilty Generation (1931) with Robert Young and Tonight or Never (1931) with Gloria Swanson.

Transition to stardom[edit]

Karloff acted in eighty movies before being found by James Whale and cast in Frankenstein (1931). Karloff's role as Frankenstein's monster was physically demanding – it necessitated a bulky costume with four-inch platform boots – but the costume and extensive makeup produced a lasting image. The costume was a job in itself for Karloff with the shoes weighing 11 pounds (5.0 kg) each.[20] Universal Studios quickly copyrighted the makeup design for the Frankenstein monster that Jack P. Pierce had created.

It took a while for Karloff's stardom to be established with the public – he had small roles in Behind the Mask (1932), Business and Pleasure (1932) and The Miracle Man (1932).

As receipts for Frankenstein and Scarface flooded in, Universal gave Karloff third billing in Night World (1932), with Lew Ayres, Mae Clarke and George Raft.

Gloria Stuart and Karloff in The Old Dark House (1932)
Elsa Lanchester and Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Karloff was reunited with Whale at Universal for The Old Dark House (1932), a horror movie based on the novel Benighted by J. B. Priestley, in which he finally enjoyed top billing above Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart; he was billed simply as "KARLOFF", a custom that Universal continued for several years. He was loaned to MGM to play the titular role in The Mask of Fu Manchu (also 1932), for which he had top billing.

Back at Universal, he was cast as Imhotep who is revived in The Mummy (1932), essentially a remake of Dracula set in Egypt. The Mummy was as successful at the box-office as his other two films and Karloff was now established as a star of horror films.

Karloff returned to England to star in The Ghoul (1933), then made a non-horror film for John Ford, The Lost Patrol (1934), where his performance was highly acclaimed.

Karloff was third billed in the Twentieth Century Pictures historical film The House of Rothschild (1934) with George Arliss, which was highly popular.[21]

Horror, however, had now become Karloff's primary genre, and he gave a string of lauded performances in Universal's horror films, including several with Bela Lugosi, his main rival as heir to Lon Chaney's status as the leading horror film star. While the long-standing, creative partnership between Karloff and Lugosi never led to a close friendship, it produced some of the actors' most revered and enduring productions, beginning with The Black Cat (1934) and continuing with Gift of Gab (1934), in which both had cameos. Karloff reprised the role of Frankenstein's monster in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) for James Whale. Then he and Lugosi were reunited for The Raven (1935). Billed only by his last name during this period, Karloff had top billing above Lugosi in all their films together despite Lugosi having the larger role in The Raven.

For Columbia, Karloff made The Black Room (1935) then he returned to Universal for The Invisible Ray (1936) with Lugosi, more a science fiction film. Karloff was then cast in a Warner Bros. horror film, The Walking Dead (1936).

Because the Motion Picture Production Code (known as the Hays Code) began to be seriously enforced in 1934, horror films declined in the second half of the 1930s. Karloff worked in other genres, making two films in Britain, Juggernaut (1936) and The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936) which was released in the U.S. as The Man Who Lived Again.

He returned to Hollywood to play a supporting role in Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936), then starred in a science fiction/ crime drama, Night Key (1937).

At Warners, he did two films with John Farrow, playing a Chinese warlord in West of Shanghai (1937) and a murder suspect in The Invisible Menace (1938).

Karloff went to Monogram to play the title role of a Chinese detective in Mr. Wong, Detective (1938), which led to a series. Karloff's portrayal of the character is an example of Hollywood's use of yellowface and its portrayal of East Asians in the earlier half of the 20th century. He had another heroic role in Devil's Island (1939).

Universal found reissuing Dracula and Frankenstein led to success at the box-office and began to produce horror films again starting with Son of Frankenstein (1939). Karloff reprised his role, with Lugosi also starring as Ygor and top-billed Basil Rathbone as Frankenstein. This was Karloff's first Universal film since the original Frankenstein in which Karloff was not top billed as "KARLOFF", a custom that the studio had used for eight films in a row while Karloff was at the height of his career. Basil Rathbone held top billing for Son of Frankenstein, and since Rathbone, Karloff and Lugosi were all billed above the title, billing Basil, Boris and Bela was hard to resist. Karloff was never billed by simply his last name again. Regarding Son of Frankenstein, the film's director Rowland V. Lee said his crew let Lugosi "work on the characterization; the interpretation he gave us was imaginative and totally unexpected ... when we finished shooting, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that he stole the show. Karloff's monster was weak by comparison."[22]

After The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939) and Mr. Wong in Chinatown (1939) he signed a three-picture deal with Columbia, starting with The Man They Could Not Hang (1939). Karloff returned to Universal to make Tower of London (1939) with Rathbone, playing the murderous henchman of King Richard III.

Karloff with Margaret Lindsay in British Intelligence (1940)

Karloff made a fourth Mr Wong film at Monogram The Fatal Hour (1940). At Warners he was in British Intelligence (1940), then he went to Universal to do Black Friday (1940) with Lugosi.

Karloff's second and third films for Columbia were The Man with Nine Lives (1940) and Before I Hang (1940). In between he did a fifth and final Mr Wong film, Doomed to Die (1940).

Karloff appeared at a celebrity baseball game as Frankenstein's monster in 1940, hitting a gag home run and making catcher Buster Keaton fall into an acrobatic dead faint as the monster stomped into home plate.

Karloff finished a six picture commitment with Monogram with The Ape (1940). He and Lugosi appeared in a comedy at RKO, You'll Find Out (1941), then he went to Columbia for The Devil Commands (1941) and The Boogie Man Will Get You (1941).

Professional expansion and further success[edit]

L–R: Marjorie Reynolds, Boris Karloff (seated), Raymond Hatton and Grant Withers in Doomed to Die (1940)

An enthusiastic performer, he returned to the Broadway stage in the original production of Arsenic and Old Lace in 1941, in which he played a homicidal gangster enraged to be frequently mistaken for Karloff. Frank Capra cast Raymond Massey in the 1944 film, which was shot in 1941, while Karloff was still appearing in the role on Broadway. The play's producers allowed the film to be made conditionally: it was not to be released until the production closed. (Karloff reprised his role on television in the anthology series The Best of Broadway (1955), and with Tony Randall and Tom Bosley in a 1962 production on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. He also starred in a radio adaptation produced by Screen Guild Theatre in 1946.)

In 1944, he underwent a spinal operation to relieve a chronic arthritic condition.[23]

Karloff returned to film roles in The Climax (1944), an unsuccessful attempt to repeat the success of Phantom of the Opera (1943). More liked was House of Frankenstein (1944), where Karloff played the villainous Dr. Niemann and the monster was played by Glenn Strange.

Karloff made three films for producer Val Lewton at RKO: The Body Snatcher (1945), his last teaming with Lugosi, Isle of the Dead (1945) and Bedlam (1946).

In a 1946 interview with Louis Berg of the Los Angeles Times, Karloff discussed his arrangement with RKO, working with Lewton and his reasons for leaving Universal. Karloff left Universal because he thought the Frankenstein franchise had run its course; the entries in the series after Son of Frankenstein were B-pictures. Berg wrote that the last installment in which Karloff appeared—House of Frankenstein—was what he called a " 'monster clambake,' with everything thrown in—Frankenstein, Dracula, a hunchback and a 'man-beast' that howled in the night. It was too much. Karloff thought it was ridiculous and said so." Berg explained that the actor had "great love and respect for" Lewton, who was "the man who rescued him from the living dead and restored, so to speak, his soul."[24]

Horror films experienced a decline in popularity after the war, and Karloff found himself working in other genres.

For the Danny Kaye comedy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), Karloff appeared in a brief but starring role as Dr. Hugo Hollingshead, a psychiatrist. Director Norman Z. McLeod shot a sequence with Karloff in the Frankenstein monster make-up, but it was deleted from the finished film.

Karloff appeared in a film noir, Lured (1947), and as an Indian in Unconquered (1947). He had support roles in Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947), Tap Roots (1948), and Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949).

Karloff had his own weekly children's radio show on WNEW, New York, in 1950. He played children's music and told stories and riddles. Although the programme was meant for children, Karloff attracted many adult listeners as well.

During this period, Karloff was a frequent guest on radio programmes, whether it was starring in Arch Oboler's Chicago-based Lights Out productions (including the episode "Cat Wife") or spoofing his horror image with Fred Allen or Jack Benny. In 1949, he was the host and star of Starring Boris Karloff, a radio and television anthology series for the ABC broadcasting network.

He appeared as the villainous Captain Hook in Peter Pan in a 1950 stage musical adaptation which also featured Jean Arthur.

Karloff returned to horror films with The Strange Door (1951) and The Black Castle (1952).

He was nominated for a Tony Award for his work opposite Julie Harris in The Lark, by the French playwright Jean Anouilh, about Joan of Arc, which he reprised years later on TV's Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Boris Karloff as Captain Hook in Peter Pan (1950)
Karloff played a foreign scientist who hoped to gain defence secrets from Cookie the Sailor (Skelton) on The Red Skelton Show in 1954.
Karloff played detective Colonel March on Colonel March of Scotland Yard in 1955.

During the 1950s, he appeared on British television in the series Colonel March of Scotland Yard, in which he portrayed John Dickson Carr's fictional detective Colonel March, who was known for solving apparently impossible crimes. Christopher Lee appeared alongside Karloff in the episode "At Night, All Cats are Grey" broadcast in 1955.[25] A little later, Karloff co-starred with Lee in the film Corridors of Blood (1958).

Karloff appeared in Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1952) and visited Italy for The Island Monster (1954) and India for Sabaka (1954).

Karloff, along with H. V. Kaltenborn, was a regular panelist on the NBC game show, Who Said That? which aired between 1948 and 1955. Later, as a guest on NBC's The Gisele MacKenzie Show, Karloff sang "Those Were the Good Old Days" from Damn Yankees while Gisele MacKenzie performed the solo, "Give Me the Simple Life". On The Red Skelton Show, Karloff guest starred along with actor Vincent Price in a parody of Frankenstein, with Red Skelton as "Klem Kadiddle Monster". He served as host and one of the stars of the anthology series The Veil (1958), a 12-episode Hal Roach TV series which was never broadcast at all due to financial problems at the producing studio; the complete series was later rediscovered in the 1990s and eventually released on DVD.

Karloff made some horror films in the late 1950s: Voodoo Island (1957), The Haunted Strangler (1958), Frankenstein 1970 (1958) (this time as the Baron), and Corridors of Blood (1958). Karloff donned the Frankenstein Monster make-up for the last time in 1962 for a Halloween episode of the TV series Route 66, which also featured Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr.[26]

During this period, he hosted and acted in a number of television series, including Thriller and Britain's Out of This World.

Final roles and work[edit]

Boris Karloff acting with a young Jack Nicholson in a scene from the 1963 film The Terror.

Karloff went to Italy to appear in Black Sabbath (1963) directed by Mario Bava. He made The Raven (1963) for Roger Corman and American International Pictures (AIP). A week later, Corman used Karloff in The Terror (1963) with Jack Nicholson in the leading role and Karloff playing a baron who murdered his wife. He made a cameo in AIP's Bikini Beach (1964) and had a bigger role in that studio's The Comedy of Terrors (1964), directed by Jacques Tourneur, and travelled to England to make Die, Monster, Die! (1965) co-starring Nick Adams. British actress Suzan Farmer, who played his daughter in the film, later recalled Karloff was aloof during production "and wasn't the charming personality people perceived him to be", probably because he was in such intense pain in the 1960s.[27]

In 1966, Karloff also appeared with Robert Vaughn and Stefanie Powers in the spy series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., in the episode "The Mother Muffin Affair", Karloff performing in drag as the titular character. That same year, he also played an Indian Maharajah on the installment of the adventure series The Wild Wild West titled "The Night of the Golden Cobra". Karloff's last film for AIP was The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966).

In 1967, he played an eccentric Spanish professor who believes himself to be Don Quixote in a whimsical episode of I Spy titled "Mainly on the Plains", which he filmed in Spain. Cauldron of Blood, shot in Spain around the same time, and co-starring Viveca Lindfors, was only released in 1970 after Karloff's death.

In the mid-1960s, he enjoyed a late-career surge in the United States when he narrated the made-for-television animated film of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and also provided the voice of the Grinch, although the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was sung by the American voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft. The film was first broadcast on CBS-TV in 1966. Karloff later received a Grammy Award for "Best Recording For Children" after the recording was commercially released.[28] Because Ravenscroft (who never met Karloff in the course of their work on the show)[29] was uncredited for his contribution to How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, his performance of the song was at times misattributed to Karloff.[30]

He appeared in Mad Monster Party? (1967) and went to England to star in the second feature film of the British director Michael Reeves, The Sorcerers (1967).

Karloff starred in Targets (1968), the first feature film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, featuring two separate plotlines that converge into one. In one, a disturbed young man kills his family, then embarks on a killing spree. In the other, a famous horror-film actor confirms his retirement, agreeing to one last appearance at a drive-in cinema. Karloff starred as the retired horror film actor, Byron Orlok, a thinly disguised version of himself; Orlok was facing an end of life crisis, which he resolves through a confrontation with the crazed gunman at the drive-in cinema.

Around the same time, he played the wheelchair-bound occult expert Professor Marsh in a British production titled The Crimson Cult (Curse of the Crimson Altar, also 1968), which was the last Karloff film to be released during his lifetime.

He ended his career by appearing in four low-budget Mexican horror films: Isle of the Snake People, The Incredible Invasion, Fear Chamber and House of Evil. This was a package deal with Mexican producer Luis Enrique Vergara. Karloff's scenes for all four films were directed by Jack Hill and shot back-to-back within one month in Los Angeles in the spring of 1968. The films were later completed in Mexico and theatrically released in the early 1970s. Karloff was originally slated to travel to Mexico to shoot the films, but he had emphysema and crippling arthritis. Only half of one lung was still functioning and he required oxygen between takes, so Hill arranged for Karloff to film his scenes in California.[31]

Due to the unexpected sudden death of the producer Vergara, all four Mexican films were embroiled for a while in legal actions and were only released posthumously in 1971, with the last, The Incredible Invasion, not released until 1972, more than two years after Karloff's death.

Spoken word recordings and horror anthologies[edit]

He recorded the title role of Shakespeare's Cymbeline for the Shakespeare Recording Society (Caedmon Audio 1962). He also recorded the narration for Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra under Mario Rossi.[citation needed]

Records he made for the children's market included Three Little Pigs and Other Fairy Stories, Tales of the Frightened (volume 1 and 2), Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories and, with Cyril Ritchard and Celeste Holm, Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes,[32] and Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark.[33]

Karloff was credited for editing several horror anthologies, commencing with Tales of Terror (Cleveland and NY: World Publishing Co, 1943) (compiled with the help of Edmond Speare).[34] This wartime-published anthology went through at least five printings to September 1945. It has been reprinted recently (Orange NJ: Idea Men, 2007). Karloff's name was also attached to And the Darkness Falls (Cleveland and NY: World Publishing Co, 1946); and The Boris Karloff Horror Anthology (London: Souvenir Press, 1965; simultaneous publication in Canada - Toronto: The Ryerson Press; US pbk reprint NY: Avon Books, 1965 retitled as Boris Karloff's Favourite Horror Stories; UK pbk reprints London: Corgi, 1969 and London: Everest, 1975, both under the original title), though it is less clear whether Karloff himself actually edited these.

Tales of the Frightened (Belmont Books, 1963), though based on the recordings by Karloff of the same title, and featuring his image on the book cover, contained stories written by Michael Avallone; the second volume, More Tales of the Frightened, contained stories authored by Robert Lory. Both Avallone and Lory worked closely with Canadian editor and book packager Lyle Kenyon Engel, who also ghost-edited a horror story anthology for horror film star Basil Rathbone.

Personal life[edit]

Beginning in 1940, Karloff dressed as Father Christmas every Christmas to hand out presents to physically disabled children in a Baltimore hospital.[35]

He never legally changed his name to "Boris Karloff." He signed official documents "William H. Pratt, a.k.a. Boris Karloff."[36]

He was a charter member of the Screen Actors Guild, and he was especially outspoken due to the long hours he spent in makeup while playing Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy. [37] He was an early member of the Hollywood Cricket Club.

He married six times and had one child, daughter Sara Karloff, by fifth wife Dorothy Stine.[38] At the time of his daughter's birth, he was filming Son of Frankenstein and reportedly rushed from the film set to the hospital while still in full makeup.[39] His sixth and final marriage, to Evelyn Hope Helmore, was in 1946 right after his fifth divorce. They were still married 23 years later at the time of his death.[40][41]


Upon returning to England to live in 1959, his address was 43 Cadogan Square, London. In 1966, he bought 25 Campden House (in 29 Sheffield Terrace), Kensington W8, and Roundabout Cottage in the Hampshire village of Bramshott. A longtime heavy smoker, he had emphysema which left him with only half of one lung still functioning.[42] He contracted bronchitis in 1968 and was hospitalised at University College Hospital.[43][44] He died of pneumonia at the King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, in Sussex, on 2 February 1969, at the age of 81.[45][3]

His body was cremated following a requested modest service at Guildford Crematorium, Godalming, Surrey, where he is commemorated by a plaque in the Garden of Remembrance. A memorial service was held at St Paul's, Covent Garden (the Actors' Church), London, where there is also a plaque.

During the run of Thriller, Karloff lent his name and likeness to a comic book for Gold Key Comics based upon the series. After Thriller was cancelled, the comic was retitled Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery. An illustrated likeness of Karloff continued to introduce each issue of this publication for more than a decade after his death (he wasn't involved however in writing or drawing the stories); the comic lasted until the early 1980s (a Gold Key series based upon The Twilight Zone that ran concurrently with Karloff's did the same thing with host Rod Serling's likeness after his death). In 2009, Dark Horse Comics began publishing reprints of Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery in a hard-bound edition.


For his contribution to film and television, Boris Karloff was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1737 Vine Street for motion pictures, and 6664 Hollywood Boulevard for television.[46] Karloff was featured by the U.S. Postal Service as Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy in its series "Classic Monster Movie Stamps" issued in September 1997.[47] In 1998, an English Heritage blue plaque was unveiled in his hometown in London. The British film magazine Empire in 2016 ranked Karloff's portrayal as Frankenstein's monster the sixth-greatest horror movie character of all time.[48]

Filmography and works[edit]

Acting roles[edit]

Radio appearances[edit]

Program Episode Date Notes
Hollywood on Parade (Hollywood on the Air) Karloff appeared with Victor McLaglen Oct. 7, 1933 [49]
The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour (with Rudy Vallee) "Death Takes a Holiday" Oct. 11, 1934 [49]
Shell Chateau (hosted by Al Jolson) "The Green Goddess"; with George Jessel Aug. 31, 1935 [49]
The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour (with Rudy Vallee) Karloff did a scene from "The Bells" Feb. 6, 1936 [49]
Camel Caravan "Death Takes a Holiday"; with Benny Goodman Dec. 8, 1936 [49]
The Royal Gelatin Hour Karloff reads "Resurrection"; with Tom Mix Nov. 11, 1937 [49]
The Chase and Sanborn Hour (aka The Charlie McCarthy Show) "The Evil Eye" ("The Tell-Tale Heart") January 30, 1938 [49]
The Baker's Broadcast Karloff and Lugosi sang a duet on this show Mar. 13, 1938 [49]
Lights Out Episode: "The Dream" 23 March 1938 [50]
Lights Out Episode: "Valse Triste" 30 March 1938 [51]
Lights Out "Cat Wife" by Arch Oboler 6 April 1938 [52]
Lights Out Episode: "Three Matches" 13 April 1938 [53]
Lights Out Episode: "Night on the Mountain" 20 April 1938 [54]
The Royal Gelatin Hour "Danse Macabre" skit May 5, 1938 [49]
The Eddie Cantor Show Variety show Jan. 16, 1939 [49]
The Royal Gelatin Hour (with Rudy Vallee) "Resurrection" skit April 6, 1939 [49]
The Ozzie and Harriet Show co-starred with Bela Lugosi Late 1930s [55]
Kay Kayser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge appeared with Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre promoting their film You'll Find Out Sept. 25, 1940 [55]
Everyman's Theater "Cat Wife" by Arch Oboler Oct. 18, 1940 [49]
Stars on Parade "The Big Man" (drama) 1941 [49]
Information Please Radio Quiz show Jan. 24, 1941 [49]
Best Plays "Arsenic and Old Lace" 1941 [56]
Hollywood News Girl Karloff interviewed Mar. 22, 1941 [49]
Inner Sanctum Mysteries Karloff acted in 21 episodes of this radio show Mar. 16, 1941 – July 13, 1952 [49] (See subsection on Karloff's "Inner Sanctum" radio appearances below.)
The Voice of Broadway Karloff interviewed Apr. 19, 1941 [49]
The Theatre Guild on the Air "Arsenic and Old Lace" 1943 [56]
Creeps By Night 30-minute suspense anthology Spring 1944 [57]
Hildegarde's Radio Room guest appearance Oct. 23, 1945 [58]
The Fred Allen Show guest appearance Nov. 18, 1945 [49]
Screen Guild Players "Arsenic and Old Lace" 25 November 1946 [59]
The Jack Benny Show guest appearance Jan. 19, 1947 [58]
Lights Out "Death Robbery" 16 July 1947 [60]
Lights Out "The Ring" 30 July 1947 [61]
Philco Radio Time hosted by Bing Crosby Oct. 29, 1947 [58]
The Jimmy Durante Show guest appearance Dec. 10, 1947 [58]
The Kraft Music Hall hosted by Al Jolson Christmas Day, 1947 [49]
Truth or Consequences Oct. 30, 1948 [49]
The Lady Esther Screen Guild Playhouse "Arsenic and Old Lace" Late 1940s [56]
Starring Boris Karloff 13-episode weekly anthology show hosted by Karloff Sept. 21 – Dec. 14, 1949 [56] (See subsection on Karloff's "Starring Boris Karloff" radio episodes below.)
NBC University Theater H. G. Wells' "The History of Mr. Polly" 1950 [57]
Boris Karloff's Treasure Chest hosted a weekly children's radio program Oct 1, 1950 – Dec. 24, 1950 [58]
Philip Morris Playhouse "Journey to Nowhere" 10 February 1952 [62]
Theatre Guild on the Air (The U.S. Steel Hour) "The Sea Wolf" 27 April 1952 [63]
Musical Comedy Theater "Yolanda and the Thief" 26 November 1952 [64]
The Play of His Choice (British) "The Hanging Judge" Dec., 1953 [65]

Appearances on Inner Sanctum[edit]

Karloff acted in 21 episodes of the Inner Sanctum ABC anthology radio series from 1941 to 1952:

  • "The Man of Steel" (Mar. 16, 1941)
  • "The Man Who Hated Death" (Mar. 23, 1941)
  • "Death in the Zoo" (Apr. 6, 1941)
  • "Fog" (Apr. 20, 1941)
  • "Imperfect Crime" (May 11, 1941)
  • "Fall of the House of Usher" (June 1, 1941)
  • "Green-Eyed Bat" (June 22, 1941)
  • "The Man who Painted Death" (June 29, 1941)
  • "Death is a Murderer" (July 13, 1941)
  • "The Tell-Tale Heart" (Aug. 3, 1941)
  • "Terror on Bailey street" (Oct. 26, 1941)
  • "Fall of the House of Usher" (Apr. 5, 1942) may be a rerun
  • "Blackstone" (Apr. 19, 1942)
  • "Study for Murder" (May 3, 1942)
  • "The Cone" (May 24, 1942)
  • "Death Wears my Face" (May 31, 1942)
  • "Strange Bequest" (Apr. 7, 1942)
  • "The Grey Wolf" (Apr. 21, 1942)
  • "Corridor of Doom" (Oct. 23, 1945)
  • "The Wailing Wall" (Nov. 6, 1945)
  • "Birdsong for a Murderer" (Valentine's Day, 1949)
  • "Birdsong for a Murderer" (June 22, 1952) may be a rerun
  • "Death for sale" (July 13, 1952)

Appearances on Starring Boris Karloff[edit]

Karloff acted in 13 episodes of the "Starring Boris Karloff" anthology radio series in 1949:[66]

  • "Five Golden Guineas" (Sept. 21, 1949)
  • "The Mask" (Sept. 28, 1949)
  • "Mungahara" (Oct. 5, 1949)
  • "Mad Illusion" (Oct. 12, 1949)
  • "Perchance To Dream" (Oct. 19, 1949)
  • "The Devil Takes a Bride" (Oct. 26, 1949)
  • "The Moving Finger" (Nov. 2, 1949)
  • "The Twisted Path" (Nov. 9, 1949)
  • "False Face" (Nov. 16, 1949)
  • "Cranky Bill" (Nov. 23, 1949)
  • "Three O'Clock" (Nov. 30, 1949)
  • "The Shop at Sly Corner" (Dec. 7, 1949)
  • "The Night Reveals" (Dec. 14, 1949)[66]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nollen, Scott Allen. Boris Karloff: A Gentleman's Life. Midnight Marquee & BearManor Media.
  2. ^ "Boris Karloff". 25 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b Biography Archived 1 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
  4. ^ A commemorative plaque can be seen today on the property marking it as the place of his birth
  5. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (2004). "Karloff, Boris [real name William Henry Pratt] (1887–1969), actor". In Reynolds, K. D (ed.). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/34251. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of his Screen, Stage, Radio, Television, and Recording Work, Scott Allen Nollen, McFarland & Co., Inc., 1991, p. 7
  7. ^ Jacobs, Stephen (Spring 2007). "Karloff in Saskatchewan". Saskatchewan History. 59 (1). ISSN 0036-4908. OCLC 2443952.
  8. ^ Nollen, Scott Allen (2018) [1999]. Boris Karloff: A Gentleman's Life. Midnight Marquee & BearManor Media. p. 19.
  9. ^ Nollen, Scott Allen (1991). Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radio, Television, and Recording Work. McFarland & Company. p. 24. ISBN 9780899505800.
  10. ^ Nollen, Scott A.; Karloff, Sara Jane (1999). Boris Karloff: A Gentleman's Life. Baltimore, MD: Midnight Marquee Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-887664-23-3.
  11. ^ "Boris Karloff". This Is Your Life. Season 6. 20 November 1957. NBC. Retrieved 9 February 2010.
  12. ^ "The Half-Breed: Mr. Boris Karloff Makes a Decided Hit as Ross Kennion [via]". Regina Leader. Regina, Saskatchewan. 9 April 1912.
  13. ^ "Karlov Surname Distribution". Retrieved 14 February 2015
  14. ^ Mank, Gregory William (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff : the expanded story of a haunting collaboration, with a complete filmography of their films together. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers. p. 140. ISBN 978-0786434800.
  15. ^ Waiser, William A. (2005). Saskatchewan: A New History. Calgary: Fifth House. ISBN 978-1-894856-43-0.
  16. ^ Karloff discussed this experience during an appearance on the CBC panel series Front Page Challenge in the 1960s.
  17. ^ Conn, Heather; Ewert, Henry (2003). Vancouver's Glory Years: Public Transit 1890-1915. Vancouver: Whitecap Books. p. 98. ISBN 1552855171.
  18. ^ Beverley Bare Buehrer. 'Boris Karloff: A Bio-bibliography'. Greenwood Press: Westport, Connecticut (1993), pages 5–6.
  19. ^ Scott Allen Nollen, "Boris Karloff: A Gentleman's Life". 2018. BearManor Media. Pages 20-23.
  20. ^ Buehrer, Beverley B. (1993). Boris Karloff: A bio-bibliography. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. p. 88. ISBN 031327715X
  21. ^ Douglas W. Churchill, 'The Year in Hollywood: 1984 May Be Remembered as the Beginning of the Sweetness-and-Light Era', The New York Times, 30 December 1934: X5
  22. ^ Edwards, Phil (January 1997). "Son of Frankenstein". Starburst. Vol. 3, no. 10. Marvel UK. ISBN 0786402571.
  23. ^ "Karloff Undergoes Operation". The New York Times. 25 July 1944.
  24. ^ Louis Berg (12 May 1946). "Farewell to Monsters" (PDF). The Los Angeles Times. p. F12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 September 2009. Retrieved 7 November 2009.
  25. ^ Johnson, Tom (2009). The Christopher Lee Filmography: All Theatrical Releases, 1948–2003. p. 79. McFarland.
  26. ^ Buehrer, Beverley Bare (1993). Boris Karloff: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 137. ISBN 978-0313277153.
  27. ^ "Suzan Farmer, stalwart of Hammer films – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 4 October 2017. Archived from the original on 11 January 2022. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  28. ^ "Past Winners Search for "grinch"". Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  29. ^ ""He's Grrrrreat! The Thurl Ravenscroft Interview," Hogan's Alley No. 14, 1998". Archived from the original on 22 March 2016. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
  30. ^ Brundage, David (24 December 2016). "Tony the Tiger, not Frankenstein, sang 'You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch'". The Washington Post. ProQuest 1851977422. Retrieved 20 December 2021.
  31. ^ Jacobs, Stephen (2011). Boris Karloff: More Than A Monster. Tomahawk Press. p. 504. ISBN 978-0-9557670-4-3.
  32. ^ Deborah Stead (11 June 1989). "Children's Books; Play me a Story: it's tape time". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 November 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2009.
  33. ^ The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll, read by Boris Karloff, Saland Publishing / IODA, 2008
  34. ^ Mike Ashley and William G. Contento (eds) The Supernatural Index: A Listing of Fantasy, Supernatural, Occult, Weird and Horror Anthologies. Westport CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1995, p. 26.
  35. ^ "Boris Karloff". Current Biography: 454–56. 1941. ISSN 0011-3344.
  36. ^ "Matinee Classics - Boris Karloff Biography & Filmography". Archived from the original on 19 July 2014.
  37. ^ "Five Things You Might Not Have Known About Boris Karloff". BBC America. Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  38. ^ "The Monster's Daughter". SFGate. 28 May 2006. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  39. ^ "Split Screen: The men behind the masks". Yahoo! Movies. 26 October 2012. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
  40. ^ "Boris Karloff Gets a Divorce". The New York Times. 10 April 1946.
  41. ^ "Boris Karloff Marries". The New York Times. 12 April 1946.
  42. ^ Buehrer, Beverley Bare Boris Karloff: A Bio-Bibliography (1993) p. 18
  43. ^ "Boris Karloff in Hospital". The New York Times. 20 February 1968.
  44. ^ "Karloff Out of Hospital". The New York Times. United Press International. 25 February 1968.
  45. ^ "Role Changed His Life. Boris Karloff, Master Horror-Film Actor, Dies". The New York Times. 4 February 1969.
  46. ^ Lindsay, Cynthia (1995). Dear Boris. New York: Proscenium Publishers. ISBN 978-0-87910-076-6.
  47. ^ "Classic Monster Movie Stamps". United States Postal Service. 12 January 2008. Archived from the original on 20 September 2010. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
  48. ^ "The 100 best horror movie characters". Empire. 18 October 2016. Archived from the original on 3 December 2017. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  49. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Nollen, Scott Allen (1991). Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radio, Television, and Recording Work. McFarland & Company. p. 415. ISBN 978-0-89950-580-0.
  50. ^ Boris Karloff, Best of the Bogeymen, To Appear on 'Lights Out' Show – Let's all sit down and have a good scare., North Towanda News, 23 March 1938, archived from the original on 4 March 2016, retrieved 22 July 2016 – via Digital Deli Too] open access
  51. ^ "11:30 p.m.--Lights Out (WIBA, WMAQ): "Valse Triste," with Boris Karloff.", Wisconsin State Journal, 30 March 1938, archived from the original on 4 March 2016, retrieved 22 July 2016 – via Digital Deli Too] open access
  52. ^ "11:30 p.m.--Lights Out (WIBA, WMAQ): Episode: "Cat Wife."", Wisconsin State Journal, 6 April 1938, archived from the original on 4 March 2016, retrieved 22 July 2016 – via Digital Deli Too] open access
  53. ^ "11:30 p.m.--Lights Out (WIBA, WMAQ): "Three Matches" with Boris Karloff", Wisconsin State Journal, 13 April 1938, archived from the original on 4 March 2016, retrieved 22 July 2016 – via Digital Deli Too] open access
  54. ^ "11:30 p.m.--Lights Out (WIBA, WMAQ): Boris Karloff in "Night on the Mountain."", Wisconsin State Journal, 20 April 1938, archived from the original on 4 March 2016, retrieved 22 July 2016 – via Digital Deli Too] open access
  55. ^ a b Nollen, Scott Allen (1991). Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radio, Television, and Recording Work. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-89950-580-0.
  56. ^ a b c d Nollen, Scott Allen (1991). Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radio, Television, and Recording Work. McFarland & Company. p. 416. ISBN 978-0-89950-580-0.
  57. ^ a b Nollen, Scott Allen (1991). Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radio, Television, and Recording Work. McFarland & Company. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-89950-580-0.
  58. ^ a b c d e Nollen, Scott Allen (1991). Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radio, Television, and Recording Work. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-89950-580-0.
  59. ^ "Boris Karloff to Repeat 'Arsenic' Role Monday, WHP". Harrisburg Telegraph. 23 November 1946. p. 19. Retrieved 13 September 2015 – via open access
  60. ^ "8:30 p.m.--Lights Out (WENR): returns to the air with Boris Karloff.", Wisconsin State Journal, 16 July 1947, archived from the original on 4 March 2016, retrieved 22 July 2016 – via Digital Deli Too] open access
  61. ^ "8:30 p.m.--Lights Out (WENR): Boris Karloff and a disappearing hand.", Wisconsin State Journal, 30 July 1947, archived from the original on 4 March 2016, retrieved 22 July 2016 – via Digital Deli Too] open access
  62. ^ Kirby, Walter (10 February 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 38. Archived from the original on 13 April 2019. Retrieved 2 June 2015 – via open access
  63. ^ Kirby, Walter (27 April 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 48. Archived from the original on 15 July 2018. Retrieved 8 May 2015 – via open access
  64. ^ Kirby, Walter (23 November 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 48. Retrieved 16 June 2015 – via open access
  65. ^ Nollen, Scott Allen (1991). Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radio, Television, and Recording Work. McFarland & Company. p. 417. ISBN 978-0-89950-580-0.
  66. ^ a b Jacobs, Stephen (2011). Boris Karloff: More Than A Monster. Tomahawk Press. p. 551. ISBN 978-0-9557670-4-3.
  67. ^ Wright, Carlee (11 November 2014). "One-man play tells of man behind Frankenstein's monster". Statesman Journal. Retrieved 26 October 2017.

External links[edit]