Saturday, October 24, 2009

Boris Karloff: Did You Know?

His Frankenstein's Monster character is arguably the most recognizable horror icon in movie history. He appeared in well over 100 films and was a household name. Boris Karloff was born William Henry Pratt in London in 1887. He made his way to America by way of Canada and was cast in dozens of films (mostly silent) before becoming infamous as The Monster in James Whale's 1931 classic Frankenstein. He and the movie were a smash hit and Karloff (as he was simply billed at times) was a star in the horror genre of film. He reprised his role twice in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939) which co-starred Basil Rathbone.

Although his lengthy career included so much more both inside and outside the horror realm, even those roles are overshadowed by his signature character. The evil Oriental in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). An executed man back from the grave in The Walking Dead (1936; an excellent underrated thriller). Mord the Executioner in Tower of London (1939). James Lee Wong in the Mr. Wong mystery series. So many wonderful performances by a commanding and versatile actor.

To commemorate the life and career of this talented thespian, I wanted to point out a few interesting tidbits about Karloff that you may or may not know. What better time to honor the work of the original Monster than late October.
  • Karloff was married six times (talk about the Bride of Frankenstein!)

  • He is a great nephew of Anna Leonowens, whose life inspired the drama Anna and the King of Siam (1946) and the musical The King and I (1956)

  • He was an inspiration for the original illustrations of the Incredible Hulk

  • While filming Son of Frankenstein, the actor's daughter, Sara Karloff, was born on his 51st birthday

  • Despite his menacing screen persona, Karloff, a relatively mild mannered man, would often dress as Santa Claus for children's hospitals and parties for disabled tykes

  • He was a charter member of the Screen Actor's Guild

  • Due to his appearance in the stage version of Arsenic and Old Lace, he was unable to appear in the 1944 film version with Cary Grant and the part of Jonathon Brewster went to Raymond Massey

  • He was the narrator for the animated Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). When the tale was put to vinyl, Karloff won a Grammy in the Spoken Word category

Boris Karloff died in 1969 at the age of 81. His popularity with movie goers has only increased with passing time. His rich life and career centered around the ghouls that he created on film and that legacy continues as we enjoy his large body of work, both at this festive time as well as all year long.


  1. I have always loved Boris Karloff. He has always been one of my favourite actors (I even wrote a lengthy post on him in my blog to commemorate his 120th birthday). I remember him well as the host of the TV show Thriller. I think I actually liked him better than even Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock!

  2. Boris is one of my faves Rupert. Fantastic review. Told me somethings I didn't know about him. I actually have a pretty good collection of his movies. Thank you for writing a review on this terrific actor.

  3. Boris Karloff is so cool!

    And, I just love him in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, pretty much spoofing his own persona!

    Great post!

  4. Sad to say. I think the over all impression is that Boris Karloff made his career out of playing the monster. Folks who buy into that are short-changing themselves. He truly was an under-rated and under-used actor who was much more talented than the public gave him credit for.

  5. Rupert, some fascinating tidbits about Karloff here. Have you seen the segment his daughter did about him for TCM? I particularly like him in two roles where he plays all-too-human monsters: in Edgar G. Ulmer's expressionist extravaganza "The Black Cat" with Lugosi and especially as the grave-robber in Robert Wise's "The Body Snatcher" (with Henry Daniell for once playing the victim), probably the best performance of his I've seen.

  6. Nice Read,Rupert! Karloff truly was underated.he brought a persona to the monster that no one has ever been able to capture,and with little or no definelty relate to the message & symbolism of hatred,and indifference ruled by fear &ignorance.. something universal we all can understand. your heart truly breaks for him.

  7. Hi Rupert,
    I really enjoy your Classic Movie Digest and had no idea about the depth of information regarding Boris Karloff, thanks for sharing! I simply looked upon him as a wonderful actor in those chiller films of the 20's and 30's but as you mentioned there is soo much more! I will have to take notice and check out more of his films. Keep up the GREAT WORK BUD!

  8. Boris Karloff is one of my favorite actors and as some have commented an underappreciated actor. Most people are aware of his horror roles but how many have seen his portrayal of a religious fanatic in John Ford's "The Lost Patrol"?

  9. Hi rupert.....thanks for the informative post.....I love karloff....he definitly paid his dues as they say.......was not an overnight success as some may think....I believe he was 44 when he made Frankenstein



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