William Henry Pratt (23 November 1887 – 2 February 1969), better known by his stage name Boris Karloff, was an English actor.
Karloff is best remembered for his roles in horror films and his portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster in Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939). His popularity following Frankenstein was such that for a brief time he was billed simply as “Karloff” or “Karloff the Uncanny.” His best-known non-horror role is as the Grinch, as well as the narrator, in the animated television special of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966).
His heavy eyebrows
Often played imposing sinister characters
Deep smooth voice
He was the original inspiration for the first illustrations of the Incredible Hulk.
Great-nephew of Anna Leonowens.
Received a Tony nomination in 1956 for his dramatic role in ‘The Lark.’
Shares a birthday with his daughter Sara Karloff.
Considered a late bloomer in Hollywood. Frankenstein (1931) premiered when he was 44 years old.
Pictured on two of a set of five 32¢ US commemorative postage stamps, issued 30 September 1997, celebrating “Famous Movie Monsters”. He is shown on one stamp as the title character in The Mummy (1932) and on the other as the monster in Frankenstein (1931). Other actors honored in this set of stamps, and the classic monsters they portray, are Lon Chaney as The Phantom of the Opera (1925); Bela Lugosi as Dracula (1931); and Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolf Man (1941).
A photograph of Karloff in his Frankenstein (1931) monster makeup appears on one stamp of a sheet of 10 USA 37¢ commemorative postage stamps, issued 25 February 2003, celebrating American Filmmaking: Behind the Scenes. The stamp, which honors makeup artists, shows Jack P. Pierce and an unidentified assistant applying the monster makeup.
In contrast to the image he presented in most of his films, the private Karloff was, by every account, a quiet, bookish man off- screen. A true gentleman, he had many friends, both in and out of show business, and he was particularly fond of children. For the latter, among other things, he recorded many successful albums of children’s stories.
When told by a mutual friend that Bobby Pickett, who recorded the hit song “Monster Mash”, was a big fan of his, Karloff replied, “Tell him I enjoy his record very much.” Pickett still considers that the greatest compliment he’s ever gotten, and Karloff eventually sang the song himself on a television special.
Suffered from chronic back trouble for most of his adult life, the result of the heavy brace he had to wear as part of his Frankenstein costume. He never let it slow him up, though, and kept active to the end of his life.
He had East Indian heritage on this father’s side. This gave Karloff a dark skin tone. In several films he was cast in roles such as Arabs and American Indians.
His favorite author was Joseph Conrad. In the 1950s he was cast as Kurtz in a production of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” on “Playhouse 90″ (1956).
His first Broadway play was “Arsenic and Old Lace” in a role that was written for him. He played Jonathan Brewster, whose face has been changed by a disreputable plastic surgeon named Dr. Einstein so that he now looks like Boris Karloff. He also performed the role in the road company of this production.
When he traveled to England to shoot The Ghoul (1933), it was the first time in nearly 25 years that he returned to his home country and reunited with the surviving members of his family,
In the final years of his life, walking, and even just standing, became a painful ordeal. Some directors would change the script to place Karloff’s character in a wheelchair, so that he would be more comfortable.
He would mark his lines in the script. Jack Nicholson saw this and adopted the procedure himself.
1956: He was a celebrity contestant on “The $64,000 Question” (1955). The category he chose was children’s fairy tales. He won the $32,000 level and quit due to tax considerations.
Often thought of as a very large man, he was in reality a slim man of medium height. He wore huge lifts and much padding to give him the massive look as Frankenstein’s monster.
On June 30, 1912, a then-unknown Karloff had taken some time off to canoe while touring around the city of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. When he came back to the city, he returned to find his accommodation had been destroyed by a tornado that killed 28. He organized a concert that raised some much needed funds for the city.
According to daughter Sara Karloff, he had to have three major back surgeries in his lifetime.
Refused to reprise his role as the Frankenstein Monster in Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), because he felt spoofs wouldn’t sell to the audience. He did agree to do publicity for the film and posed for pictures of himself going to see the film.
Appeared in 80 films before his breakthrough role in Frankenstein (1931).
Played cricket for Enfield Cricket Club (just north of London, England) before emigrating, and the club has his picture hanging in the pavilion.
A photo of him keeping wicket while C. Aubrey Smith was batting was included in a display in the Long Room at Lord’s cricket ground in 2004. The display was to celebrate Sussex (the oldest county side) winning the County Championship for the first time and the photo was included because Smith had been a captain of Sussex CCC.
When he died, the New York Times obituary featured a picture of Frankenstein’s monster. Unfortunately, the image was actually Glenn Strange in full makeup, not Karloff.
During the production of Frankenstein (1931) there was some concern that seven-year-old Marilyn Harris, who played Maria, the little girl thrown into the lake by the creature, would be overly frightened by the sight of Karloff in costume and make-up when it came time to shoot the scene. When the cast was assembled to travel to the location, Marilyn ran from her car directly up to Karloff, who was in full make-up and costume, took his hand and asked “May I drive with you?” Delighted, and in typical Karloff fashion, he responded, “Would you, darling?” She then rode to the location with “The Monster.”.
He celebrated his 51st birthday during the production of Son of Frankenstein (1939) and remarked that he received the best birthday present ever: the birth of his daughter Sara Karloff. He reportedly rushed from the set to the hospital in full makeup and costume.
Was one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild. His daughter recounts that, due to the Hollywood studio chiefs’ distrust of unions and their attempts to keep them from forming, he always carried a roll of dimes in his pocket. This was because he had to use pay phones when conducting union business, since he knew his home phone had been tapped.
Is portrayed by Jack Betts in Gods and Monsters (1998)
He is commemorated by a plaque inside St.Paul’s Church (The Actors’ Church), Covent Garden, London.
He was the biggest star to lend his voice to a sound effect. Universal added his anguished scream over the dead Ygor from Son of Frankenstein (1939) to its stock sound effects library and used it for subsequent films, including House of Frankenstein (1944) (the cry when Daniel the hunchback falls from the roof).
Raised rare Bedlington Terriers while he lived in Brentwood, CA. One day he was walking them with his four-year old daughter Sara Karloff when they broke free and they ran up to an inebriated man stumbling down the street. The drunk begged Karloff for a ride to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, claiming he “just saw three sheep bark!” Karloff obliged.
Although he will forever be linked to Frankenstein’s Monster, Karloff actually played Frankenstein’s creation only three times–once in the original Frankenstein (1931), again in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and finally in Son of Frankenstein (1939). He played Dr. Frankenstein only once, in Frankenstein – 1970 (1958).
His voice was the basis for future Tony the Tiger commercials by Kellogg’s.
He was Christopher Lee’s neighbor for many years.
Once did a television commercial for A-1 Steak Sauce.
Rejected by the British Army in World War 1, because of a heart murmur.
Took out his false teeth to achieve the metamorphosis in “Grip of the Strangler.”.
Maintained an apartment in New York’s The Dakota apartment house.
Never legally changed his name to Boris Karloff. He always signed contracts and documents as “William Henry Pratt AKA Boris Karloff”.
The mad scientist character in the Bugs Bunny short Water, Water Every Hare (1952) is patterned after Boris right down to his slight lisp and heavy eyebrows.
Both of Karloff’s parents died when he was still a child.
He was the youngest of eight sons.
He was raised by his older brothers and a stepsister.
His siblings pushed him toward a career in government service, but he turned to acting instead.
In his book, Mark of the Werewolf, novelist Jeffrey Sackett has a character named William Henry Pratt. The character’s description fits Karloff perfectly.
Karlff was one of the twelve original founders of the Screen Actor’s Guild and held SAG #9.
Karloff got the role in “The Criminal Code,” a breakthrough role for him because he was broke. He couldn’t go to the Masquers because he couldn’t pay his dues and couldn’t afford his second choice, a cup of coffee, so he went to Actors’ Equity, where he learned that there was casting for the part.
Almost 25 years after his death, he appeared in archive footage taken from Bride of Frankenstein (1935) in the opening credits of “Weird Science” (1994). The same is true of Ernest Thesiger.