In a 1963 television interview ( on You Tube), Boris Karloff (1887-1969) was clear on what he thought about his famous monster incarnation:
“The monster turned out to be the best friend I ever had – he changed the whole course of my life. I was an obscure and struggling unknown actor, then all of a sudden I get this marvellous opportunity handed to me, with all the help and assistance I could ask for – my career, my work hasn’t stopped since.”
- The amazing makeup for the monster was created by Jack Pierce (whom Boris described as the best makeup man in the world.). Pierce deadened Karloff’s eyes by putting wax on his eyelids; he gave him black fingernails; there was a metal stud on each side of his neck – the inlets for the electricity which would bring the monster to life: the arms were made longer by simply shortening the sleeves of his coat.
- The boots Karloff wore weighed 13 pounds and added a foot to his height.
Boris made three Frankenstein films, the last being SON OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1939. After the success of the first one, he was listed simply as ‘Karloff’ in the early 30s.
Despite the many years in Hollywood, Boris retained that wonderful,cut-glass English accent which was perfect for radio. He may have left England in 1909 ( going to Canada), but his English accent never left him.
Boris was a member of the Hollywood cricket team which was captained by C.Aubrey Smith.
Boris and Bela made eight films together.
Boris worked for Monogram in four films between 1938 and 1940, playing a Chinese- American detective called ‘Mr. Wong ‘. I’ve watched one of them, “The Mystery of Mr. Wong” which I thought was a waste of the Karloff talent. As for the Chinese makeup – of its time I guess, but gruesome.
Boris played ‘Jonathan Brewster’ in Arsenic and Old Lace” on Broadway for four years. When approached to play the role he said, “My first play in New York and I was terrified.”
Such a pity he wasn’t able to preserve his performance on screen – his role was taken by Raymond Massey (as the play’s producers wouldn’t release him from his contract.)
Boris reprised his role in “Arsenic and Old Lace ” for television in 1955 for the CBS anthology series, “The Best Of Broadway .”
In the photo above, Peter Lorre, John Alexander , Helen Hayes, Orson Bean(?) and Billie Burke.
And in 1962, Boris returned to the role of the black sheep of the Brewster family, with Tony Randall in the Cary Grant role. Boris at last got to say the line of dialogue written especially for him: ”He said I looked like Boris Karloff.” ( after plastic surgery). Not exactly an in-joke but Broadway audiences in the 1940s must have loved it.
Boris as “Captain Hook” and Mr. Darling in the 1950 Broadway production of PETER PAN, with Jean Arthur in the lead. Although the show ( which ran for nearly a year) had music by LEONARD BERNSTEIN, there were only five songs and Jean Arthur did not sing at all.
Four years later a full scale musical of “Peter Pan” starred Mary Martin.
Boris was the subject of “This Is your Life” ( available on You Tube). The question of how he adopted the name of Boris Karloff (his real name was William Henry Pratt) was glossed over – “it was a family name on my mother’s side.”
Boris also said he chose the Christian name because it sounded foreign and exotic, and that Karloff was a family name.
It’s also been written that a possible influence on the Karloff name was a character in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Rider” which featured ‘Prince Boris of Karlova’.
Certainly William Pratt wouldn’t have been as impressive in the horror films . He became Boris Karloff from the early part of the 20th century although he never officially changed his name.
In 1991, Mackenzie Rough intended to make a ten part television documentary on Boris to be called THE GENTLE GIANT.
The documentary was never completed but interviews (available on You Tube) include an excellent one from Christopher Lee who made clear his admiration for Boris .
Christopher called him “a gentle and warm hearted man” and that his name would never die.
He also said that Boris intensely disliked the word ‘HORROR’ and preferred ‘FANTASY ‘ or ‘MACABRE.’
There is also a very good interview with Boris’s wife, Evie .
His daughter Sara showed some rare colour footage on the set of “Frankenstein”.
The authorised Karloff biography by Scott Allen Nolan.
It’s amazing to think that Boris Karloff had made over 50 silent films ( according to IMDB) before finding fame as the Monster.
I am not a horror fan but I admire Boris Karloff , an excellent actor in all the mediums he was active in.
The official Boris Karloff website is KARLOFF.COM
Boris referred to the Monster as “the poor old thing.”