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Boris Karloff Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (6) | Trade Mark (9) | Trivia (94) | Personal Quotes (26) | Salary (12)

Overview (5)

Born in Camberwell, London, England, UK
Died in Midhurst, Sussex, England, UK  (emphysema)
Birth NameWilliam Henry Pratt
Nicknames Billy
The Uncanny
Height 5' 11" (1.81 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Along with fellow actors Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price, Boris Karloff is recognized as one of the true icons of horror cinema, and the actor most closely identified with the general public's perception of the "monster" from the classic Mary Shelley book, "Frankenstein". William Henry Pratt was born on November 23, 1887, in Camberwell, London, England, the son of Edward John Pratt Jr., the Deputy Commissioner of Customs Salt and Opium, Northern Division, Indian Salt Revenue Service, and his third wife, Eliza Sarah Millard.

He was educated at London University in anticipation that he would pursue a diplomatic career; however, he emigrated to Canada in 1909 and joined a touring company based out of Ontario and adopted the stage name of "Boris Karloff." He toured back and forth across the USA for over ten years in a variety of low-budget theater shows and eventually ended up in Hollywood, reportedly with very little money to his name. Needing cash to support himself, Karloff secured occasional acting work in the fledgling silent film industry in such pictures as The Deadlier Sex (1920), Omar the Tentmaker (1922), Dynamite Dan (1924) and Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927), in addition to a handful of serials (the majority of which sadly haven't survived). Karloff supplemented his meager film income by working as a truck driver in Los Angeles, which allowed him enough time off to continue to pursue acting roles.

His big break came in 1931 when he was cast as "the monster" in the Universal production of Frankenstein (1931), directed by James Whale, one of the studio's few remaining auteur directors. The aura of mystery surrounding Karloff was highlighted in the opening credits, as he was listed as simply "?". The film was a commercial and critical success for Universal, and Karloff was instantly established as a hot property in Hollywood. He quickly appeared in several other sinister roles, including Scarface (1932) (filmed before Frankenstein (1931)), the black-humored The Old Dark House (1932), as the namesake Oriental villain of the Sax Rohmer novels in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), as undead Im-Ho-Tep in The Mummy (1932) and the misguided Prof. Morlant in The Ghoul (1933). He thoroughly enjoyed his role as a religious fanatic in John Ford's The Lost Patrol (1934), although contemporary critics described it as a textbook example of overacting.

He donned the signature make-up, neck bolts and asphalt spreader's boots again to play Frankenstein's monster in the sensational Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the less thrilling Son of Frankenstein (1939). Karloff, on loan to Fox, appeared in one of the best of the Warner Oland Chan entries, Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936), before beginning his own short-lived Mr. Wong detective series. He was a wrongly condemned doctor in Devil's Island (1939), shaven-headed executioner "Mord the Merciless" in Tower of London (1939), another misguided scientist in The Ape (1940), a crazed scientist surrounded by monsters, vampires and werewolves in House of Frankenstein (1944), a murderous cabman in The Body Snatcher (1945) and a Greek general fighting vampirism in the Val Lewton thriller Isle of the Dead (1945).

While Karloff continued appearing in a plethora of films, many of them were not up to the standards of his previous efforts, including appearances in two of the hokey Bud Abbott and Lou Costello monster movies (he had appeared with them in an earlier superior effort, Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949), which theater owners often added his name to the marquee), the low point of the Universal-International horror movie cycle. During the 1950s he was a regular guest on many high-profile TV shows including Texaco Star Theatre (1948), Tales of Tomorrow (1951), The Veil (1958), The Donald O'Connor Show (1954), The Red Skelton Hour (1951) and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show (1956), to name but a few, and he appeared in a mixed bag of films including Sabaka (1954) and Voodoo Island (1957). On Broadway he appeared as the murderous Brewster brother in the hit, "Arsenic and Old Lace" (his role, or the absence of him in it, was amusingly parodied in the film version) and a decade later he enjoyed a long run in "Peter Pan," perfectly cast as "Captain Hook."

His career experienced something of a revival in the 1960s thanks to hosting the TV anthology series Thriller (1960) and indie director Roger Corman, with Karloff contributing wonderful performances in The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), the ultra-eerie Black Sabbath (1963) and the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Die, Monster, Die! (1965). Karloff's last great role was as an aging horror movie star confronting a modern-day sniper in the Peter Bogdanovich film Targets (1968). His TV career was capped off by achieving Christmas immortality as the narrator of Chuck Jones's perennial animated favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966). Three low-budget Mexican-produced horror films starring an ailing Karloff were released in the two years after his death; however, they do no justice to this actor. In retrospect, he never took himself too seriously as an actor and had a tendency to downplay his acting accomplishments. Renowned as a refined, kind and warm-hearted gentleman, with a sincere affection for children and their welfare, Karloff passed away on February 2, 1969 from emphysema. Respectful of his Indian roots and in true Hindu fashion, he was cremated at Guildford Crematorium, Godalming, Surrey, England, where he is commemorated by a plaque in Plot 2 of the Garden of Remembrance.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: firehouse44@hotmail.com

Spouse (6)

Evelyn Hope (11 April 1946 - 2 February 1969) (his death)
Dorothy Stine (12 April 1930 - 10 April 1946) (divorced) (1 child)
Helene Vivian Soule (3 February 1924 - 6 June 1928) (divorced)
Montana Laurena Williams (1 July 1920 - 1922) (divorced)
Olive de Wilton (1915 - 1919) (divorced)
Grace Harding (23 February 1910 - 8 January 1913) (divorced)

Trade Mark (9)

Heavy eyebrows
Slight British accent with a marked lisp
Deep smooth voice
Gaunt bony features
Frequently cast by James Whale
Often plays imposing, sinister villains
Changing faces a la Lon Chaney via heavy makeup by Jack Pierce
Making audiences feel sorry for his evil characters by displaying extreme frailty and vulnerability, even when the material didn't call for it
Pronounced widow's peak

Trivia (94)

Great-nephew of Anna Leonowens.
Received a Tony Award nomination in 1956 for his dramatic role in "The Lark".
Shares a birthday with his daughter Sara Karloff.
He was 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 huge fan of his, Karloff replied, "Tell him I enjoy his record very much." Pickett still considers that the greatest compliment he has 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 his father's side, which 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.
It has long been rumored that 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 a tornado had hit, and that he had further organized a concert to raised money for the victims. However, this myth is simply not true, as uncovered by noted Canadian historian, Greg Nesteroff after doing extensive research on Boris Karloff's life in Canada. Karloff was never part of the concert or benefit's organizing.
According to daughter Sara Karloff, he had to have three major back surgeries in his lifetime as a result of carrying Colin Clive up the stairs of the windmill in the climax of Frankenstein (1931).
Refused to reprise his role as Frankenstein's Monster in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), because he felt spoofs would not sell to the audience. He did agree to do publicity for the film and posed for pictures of himself going to see the film.
He 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.
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, California. 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 I, because of a heart murmur.
Took out his false teeth to achieve the metamorphosis in The Haunted Strangler (1958).
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.
Karloff was one of the 12 original founders of the Screen Actors Guild and held SAG card #9.
Karloff got the role in The Criminal Code (1931), a breakthrough role for him, because he was broke. He could not go to the Masquers Club because he could not pay his dues and could not afford his second choice, a cup of coffee, so he went to Actors' Equity, where he learned that there was casting for the role.
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.
Karloff was considered such an anonymous actor by Universal that he was not invited to the December 6, 1931 premiere of Frankenstein (1931).
Domestic partner of Olive de Wilton whom he married in 1916 and divorced in 1919.
His performance as Frankenstein's Monster was an inspiration for the Marvel comics character the Incredible Hulk.
Insured himself against "premature aging" due to the heavy stage makeup and prosthetics he often worked in.
He is commemorated by a plaque on the wall of 36 Forest Hill Road, Camberwell, London.
Was a huge fan and avid follower of rugby and cricket.
He has four roles in common with his Corridors of Blood (1958) and The Crimson Cult (1968) co-star Christopher Lee: (1) Karloff played Frankenstein's Monster in Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939) while Lee played him in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), (2) Karloff played the Mummy in The Mummy (1932) while Lee played him in The Mummy (1959), (3) Karloff played Dr. Fu Manchu in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) while Lee played him in The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and Sax Rohmer's The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) and (4) Karloff played Grigori Rasputin in Suspense: The Black Prophet (1953) while Lee played him in Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966).
He was a distant cousin of Quentin Crisp. Karloff's real name was William Henry Pratt while Crisp's was Denis Pratt. Karloff appeared in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) while Crisp appeared in the remake The Bride (1985).
He appeared with Bela Lugosi in eight films: Gift of Gab (1934) The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), You'll Find Out (1940), Black Friday (1940) and The Body Snatcher (1945).
He was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 1737 Vine Street; and for Television at 6664 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
Karloff's last words to his wife as he was dying of pneumonia were "Walter Pidgeon.".
Debunking a persistent, yet untrue, rumor: according to the authorized Karloff bio by Stephen Jacobs, the acting troupe Karloff was part of in 1912, touring Canadian cities and towns, was running out of money, the person in charge was drinking away their savings, and the troupe was on the verge of breaking up. Karloff himself was considering giving up on acting and becoming a farmer in the province of Saskatchewan where the troupe was touring in June of 1912. They were in Regina, Saskatchewan the day an F4 tornado ripped through the prairie city, killing 28 (including a couple that had missed their ride on the Titanic months earlier) and left thousands homeless. A persistent and well-intended myth would have us believe that Karloff helped in a recovery effort by organizing benefit performances and donating half the proceeds of each to the recovery effort; however, this story is simply not true, as uncovered by noted Canadian historian, Greg Nesteroff after doing extensive research on Boris Karloff's life in Canada and published in 2006, in the British Columbia History Newsletter, vol. 39, No. 1: Karloff was never part of the concert or benefits organizing.
As uncovered by noted Canada historian, Greg Nesteroff, and correcting previous erroneous information, in 1910 Canada, Boris Karloff worked as a realtor with the firm of Ward Burmester and Von Gravenitzand and lived a plush life at Hornby Mansions; however, he later was fond of claiming that he was starving and penniless prior to reaching his Frankenstein fame.
Was actually married a total of seven or eight times, according to noted historian Greg Nesteroff, who remarks that Boris Karloff was a serial adulterer. Adultery was indeed the reason given by Grace Harding as grounds for her divorce. He had taken up with one Margot Beaton, the sister of Jean Russell, the theater company owner with whom he toured in 1910's Canada. It is speculated that Karloff, never one to remain single for very long, probably married Ms. Beaton.
Although he was fond of embellishing his past and telling that "Karloff" was a last name he had plucked from a relative, his daughter Sara made it clear that there was no such ancestor in his family tree, as he had no Slavic or Russian roots whatsoever. As uncovered by Canada historian Greg Nesteroff, the most likely truth is that William Henry Pratt took the stage name "Boris Karloff" from the character in a 1904 book by Harold MacGrath called "The Man on the Box", which was made into a play in 1905 and later, films starting in 1914. Prophetically, a passage in the book about "Count Karloff" seemed to foretell the actor's own spooky future, as a character says: "'I wonder if I'll run into Karloff.' Karloff! The name chilled him, somehow.".
The very next day after divorcing Dorothy Stine, his second-to-last wife and the mother of his only child, Sara Karloff, Boris Karloff married Stine's own best friend, Evelyn Hope Hellmore who, according to Karloff's friend Cynthia Lindsay, "she was around the house all the time!".
Evelyn Hope, Boris Karloff's final wife, was best friends with Dorothy Stine, the mother of his only daughter and the wife that Karloff divorced to marry her best friend Hope the very next day after his divorce was finalized. Boris Karloff often divorced his wives only to marry the "other woman" he had been carrying affairs with, in a repeat pattern of serial adultery.
Karloff was so upset that Arsenic and Old Lace play creators (including Russel Crouse, who went by the nickname "Buck") did not allow him to reprise his stage role for the 1944 film that when Anna Erskine, his fan mail secretary, told Karloff she was marrying Crouse, his wired reply read in part: "Best news we've had for years; (...) Must make other arrangements for my mail. Refuse to contribute to Buck's support. Love, Boris.".
Boris Karloff often mirrored Bela Lugosi 's career and bizarrely seemed to tread closely in Lugosi's footsteps: starting with The Mummy (1932) which is long considered to be a close copycat for the master of horror's Dracula (1931). Bela Lugosi starred in The Black Camel (1931), a Charlie Chan movie. FIve years later, Karloff did Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936) ; Lugosi filmed The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934) and Karloff naturally followed suit years later with his own Mr Wong with Mr. Wong, Detective (1938). In 1939, Bela Lugosi filmed The Gorilla (1939); Karloff promptly followed suit with his own copycat, The Ape (1940). Bela Lugosi was also the first to portray the mad scientist starting with Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), a role that Karloff would appropriate 6 years later with both The Man Who Lived Again (1936) & The Invisible Ray (1936). The pattern continued throughout Lugosi's career, inexplicably culminating with the unfair appropriation by Karloff of Dr. Sovac, the part initially written for Bela Lugosi in Black Friday (1940). This turned an unknown actor into the star of the film, with Bela Lugosi being unjustly relinquished to a minor role, Karloff with a part he was ill-suited for and, disappointingly for fans, neither horror star sharing any scenes together in this film.
After Karloff's Frankenstein's fame, his then ex-wife, Pauline Karloff, was hounded by the press for details about her marriage, divorce and "the real Karloff". Reportedly, she kept quiet upon Boris' prompting.
Magazines of the era portrayed Karloff as some sort of a saint; one over-enthusiastic writer fan even openly addressed a letter to him, referring to him as "a good husband" in a near-sycophantic ode to the actor filled with saccharine praise ---the writer no doubt clueless about the true cause of Karloff's serial marriage troubles. The same article reported that Karloff did not own fly swatters as he would never hurt a fly. In a subsequent response by the actor, Karloff corrected the writer saying that he was a destroyer of snails.
In a January 1935 letter sent to a magazine that had published an open letter to Karloff, the actor stated that Lon Chaney had died a few years after he had a meeting with him and that, although he was ironically playing roles similar to what Chaney had and which were rightfully expected to be bestowed upon his son, Lon Chaney Jr., Karloff humbly remarked that he did not consider himself "a second Chaney". It is unclear whether that often reported meeting ever happened, or if it was one of Karloff's many tall tales (as noted by Canada historian Greg Nesteroff in his British Columbia newsletter of 2006) he told as a gentlemanly way to placate the public for taking over Lon Chaney's career instead of having these roles go to his rightful acting heir, Lon Chaney Jr..
Curt Siodmak revealed that Boris Karloff was too unskilled an actor to play the part written for him in Black Friday (1940) and that the bizarre script and role changes were actually insisted on by Karloff, who was to play the part which ended going to Stanley Ridges as "He was afraid of it. There was too much acting in it. It was too intricate." So Karloff unjustly appropriated Bela Lugosi 's role in that film, who was then left with a minor role, detrimentally ensuring that the two horror icons had zero scenes left together in said film, to the upset of their fans.
Karloff's personal life also closely eerily emulated that of Bela Lugosi: in January 1938, Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, gave birth to his first and only child, Bela Jr., a son. Upon hearing the news, Karloff promptly got busy and the very same year, In November 1938, his reported second-to-last wife, Dorothy Stine, gave birth to his only child, Sarah Jane, a girl. As if that weren't uncanny enough, both horror actors married a "Hope" as their final wife.
In an eerie yet amusing pattern of bizarre similarities where Karloff appears to have been copying Bela Lugosi's career, both gentlemen appeared in their own silent version of The Last of The Mohicans in fall 1920. However, while Lugosi starred in the German film Lederstrumpf, 1. Teil: Der Wildtöter und Chingachgook (1920) which came out first, in September 1920, with a sequel promptly following on November 10, 1920, Lederstrumpf, 2. Teil: Der Letzte der Mohikaner (1920), Karloff was merely an extra in the American version, The Last of the Mohicans (1920) which came out on November 21, 1920, a mere 11 days after Lugosi's second sequel!.
Karloff lived in the USA for 45 yrs but never sought American citizenship, unlike fellow horror actor, Bela Lugosi who became a proud U.S. citizen in 1931, the same year he first starred as, and became, the legendary Count Dracula in Hollywood.
Was supposed to go to the Chancellor's Service in China with his brothers.
Karloff's mother was Indian and was once described by the British Consul of San Francisco as "the most beautiful Indian woman" he had ever seen.
Actually wore a woman's wedding dress for his portrayal of the evil title role in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932).
Boris Karloff owed his fame, and thereby his subsequent career , to actor Bela Lugosi: if it weren't for Lugosi turning down the role of Frankenstein (1931) because of the heavy makeup and the part being mute, the role would have never been available for Karloff, who until then had only been an extra and played heavies.
Comedian Tony Karloff has claimed since the 1940's that he was the "son of Boris Karloff", and has appeared in vaudeville nightclub acts touted in press ads as "Tony Karloff, Son of Boris Karloff". Allegedly disowned, it is unclear which of Karloff's many ex-wives would have been Tony's mother. Reportedly aware of this, interestingly enough, Karloff never denied being his father.
On his marriage certificate to Grace Harding, Boris Karloff listed his profession as "broker", it is presumed of real estate, since his witness was Charles Burmester, one of the partners in the real estate firm he worked for. The Vancouver civic directory then listed Karloff's address as 'Hornby Mansions'. While Karloff would later peculiarly seek sympathy by telling that he was working menial jobs in Canada, prior to fame, and so destitute that he couldn't afford a donut with his coffee, in reality he was living in the lap of luxury while holding a plush job in a prestigious firm.
For 3 decades, comedian Tony Karloff has claimed he was the disowned "son of Boris Karloff" and has appeared in vaudeville nightclub acts touted as such. No response whatsoever, nor any objection to the claims, was ever heard from Boris Karloff, and it is unclear which of his many ex-wives would have been Tony's mother. To date, his claims have neither been proven nor disproved, leaving fans & historians alike to wonder whether, like his long-concealed multiple marriages, this was another of the many things Karloff hid from his past.
According to noted Canada historian, Greg Nesteroff's British Columbia newsletter published in 2006, Karloff's first wife, Grace Harding, divorced him on the grounds of adultery. Boris Karloff, her then husband, had taken up with one Margot Beaton, an actress with the theater company that he had, by then, joined. Nesteroff speculates that she may have been the leading lady's sister whom he believes Karloff later married. As Cynthia Lindsay wrote, in her biography, "Dear Boris", Karloff told her that his wives before Evelyn Hope "didn't matter". It is quite possible that he married Grace to be able to stay in Canada and Beaton to land a part in her sister's traveling theater troupe.
Perhaps Boris Karloff's fascination with his horror rival came from the simple fact that he owed his fame -- and thereby, his subsequent career -- to actor Bela Lugosi: if it weren't for Lugosi turning down the role of Frankenstein (1931), the part would have never been available for Karloff. Bela Lugosi was even promoted as the monster in 1931, but he refused the role because of the heavy makeup and the part being mute.
Although he came close in a deleted scene from The Mummy (1932), much like fellow horror actor, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff never once got to share a kiss with a female co-star in a romantic scene during his entire Hollywood career. This was in part attributed to the fact that Karloff was dark-skinned due to his Indian heritage, and it would not have been acceptable in the old Hollywood of his era.
Was a chain smoker of cigarettes but sometimes also smoked a pipe.
His hobbies included growing roses, drinking tea, cricket and watching rugby.
Upset about the critical acclaim that Bela Lugosi received for his portrayal as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein (1939), Boris Karloff refused to ever play the monster again, or to appear in another film opposite Lugosi, unless he was the star with the most screen time. This explains why Karloff appropriated the doctor role that was written specifically for Lugosi in their next major film, Black Friday (1940), leaving the Astro-Hungarian to play a minor, American gangster part, and forcing script changes to remove references to the doctor's past in Vienna, since Karloff spoke with a British accent. It also explains their final pairing, with Karloff securing maximum screen time in The Body Snatcher (1945), while having Lugosi relinquished to a "barely there" janitor role.
An archive of the papers of Boris Karloff's brother (Sir John Thomas Pratt) including correspondence between the two is held in the Archives and Special Collections of the SOAS University of London Library.
Further deepening the antagonism that Boris Karloff felt towards Bela Lugosi, thereby cementing the rivalry he alone had created by appropriating Lugosi's role in Black Friday (1940), Karloff refused to play Frankenstein opposite Lugosi's Dracula in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), stating the film concept too silly to be appreciated by audiences. Karloff went as far in his antagonism as to publicly announce he refused to watch the film! This would have been the final time the two horror icons would have shared the screen together. Yet, continuing his ironic pattern of copying Lugosi's career and film roles, Karloff did later appear in Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949) & Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953).
In the radio show Flair, Boris Karloff discussed Groundhog Day, for whose legend he had a special fondness. Ironically, he died on Groundhog Day, in 1969.
Bore an uncanny resemblance to silent horror legend, Lon Chaney, whose career he took over and emulated his "thousand faces" elaborate makeup transformations.
According to his daughter, Sara Karloff, his favorite film of his was Targets (1968) and his favorite actor was George Kennedy.
Was a staunch liberal.
Was cremated a mere 3 days after his death, and only 4 people were in attendance at the Guildford Crematorium in Godalming, Surrey, U.K. His ashes were buried there, in the Garden of Remembrance.
His daughter Sara wasn't informed by her former stepmother and Karloff's widow, Evelyn Hope that her father had died, nor that he had been cremated. Allegedly, Evelyn had excluded everyone from his deathbed.

Personal Quotes (26)

[on whether he resented being typed as a "horror star"] One always hears of actors complaining of being typed - if he's young, he's typed as a juvenile; if he's handsome, he's typed as a leading man. I was lucky. Whereas bootmakers have to spend millions to establish a trademark, I was handed a trademark free of charge. When an actor gets in a position to select his own roles, he's in big trouble, for he never knows what he can do best. I'm sure I'd be damn good as little Lord Fauntleroy, but who would pay ten cents to see it?
When I was nine, I played the demon king in "Cinderella" and it launched me on a long and happy life of being a monster.
My wife has good taste. She has seen very few of my movies.
[In 1936, on his appeal to children, who empathized with the monster] I don't really scare them any more than do Jungle Jim, Dan Dunn, Tarzan, and the other heroes of the comic sections.
You could heave a brick out of the window and hit ten actors who could play my parts. I just happened to be on the right corner at the right time.
The monster was the best friend I ever had.
[on his rival, Bela Lugosi] Poor old Bela, it was a strange thing. He was really a shy, sensitive, talented man who had a fine career on the classical stage in Europe, but he made a fatal mistake. He never took the trouble to learn our language. He had real problems with his speech and difficulty interpreting lines.
My dear old monster. I owe everything to him. He's my best friend.
My leg in a steel brace... operating with only half a lung... why, it's a public scandal that I'm still around. But as long as the people want me, I feel an obligation to go on performing. After all, every time I act I provide employment for a fleet of doubles.
I am a very lucky man. Here I am in my 80th year, and I am still able to earn my bread and butter at my profession. I am one of that very small family of the human race who happens to thoroughly enjoy his work. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't go on.
[on Jack P. Pierce] The best make-up man in the world. I owe him a lot.
Most actors, you know, come out here with contracts from New York. They have gone through their hardships back East, and once in Hollywood, everything is easy on them. But I can remember standing outside little one-arm restaurants along Hollywood Boulevard and wishing I had an extra dime - for a couple of doughnuts to go with my coffee.
Horror means something revolting. Anybody can show you a pailful of innards. But the object of the roles I played is not to turn your stomach - but merely to make your hair stand on end.
Certainly, I was typed. But what is typing? It is a trademark, a means by which the public recognizes you. Actors work all their lives to achieve that. I got mine with just one picture. It was a blessing.
[on his pet hate] Background music in films. I know my films have it too - the heavy, sinister stuff. But I still think background music is an insult to the intelligence of audiences. The mood should be conveyed by the action and not have to be underlined. There was that Hitchcock film Lifeboat (1944) in which three or four people were floating on a boat in the middle of the ocean. But from nowhere at all there came a celestial choir on the soundtrack. It's so silly.
[on his then current studio AIP] James Nicholon and Samuel Arkoff, the bosses, and everyone connected with AIP show me wonderful kindness and consideration. And their standards of production, writing, directing and color are very fine.
[on animals] I am very fond of dogs and used to keep them when I was in Hollywood. But we have an apartment in London, and I don't think one should have a dog without a garden for it to run in.
Of course, there are always things you see in your own films that you feel could have been done better. But once a film is finished, it's too late to do anything about it. The ship has sailed and one's mistakes are embalmed. But you can learn something for the next time.
[on his last wife, Evelyn Hope, as reported by daughter Sara Karloff, regarding his ambushed appearance in This Is Your Life (1952) TV show] She sold me out for a washer and dryer!
[As told in her biography, Dear Boris, asking his friend, Cynthia Lindsay to not publicize his marriage to Evelyn Hope] I'd appreciate it if you keep this our secret. The papers will get it, but I don't want anyone nosing around. I have been married four times before--they didn't matter really, mostly, but it would be nicer for Evie not to have it mentioned.
[in 1963, when asked if he did a lot of preparation & study like method actors] Well, I have my own opinion about the method actors; I don't think a great deal of it and perhaps I can put it in a nutshell. I believe Alfred Lunt was asked that question. How he prepared before he went on. The stage, this is. And he thought for a moment and he said 'Well, I stand in the wings, I listen for my cue, I check my fly, go on and try not to bump into people' and that was his method and I think that's about mine.
[on his alleged meeting with Lon Chaney] I did not dream that within a few years, Lon Chaney would be dead and that I would get my chance in roles similar to those which were even then making him famous. I do not consider myself a second Chaney.
[responding to J. Eugene Chrisman's saccharine ode dedicated to him in a published in a 1935 magazine's open letter] I should correct the story that I will not tolerate a fly-swatter in my house because of my dread of taking a life, even that of an insect. (...) You should see me going through the snails in my garden like a destroying angel.
[Losing his temper while speaking about the Italian people, when told that an Italian hotelier was unimpressed with Karloff staying at his hotel] They're venal, the Romans are venal, venal, venal!
[on his brother, George Marlowe] "Despite the fact that George was an extraordinarily handsome man, he never went very far on the stage, which was the reason he gave it up for a city job. But I tried to emulate him."
[on Marilyn Monroe & How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)] Marilyn & I have something in common: [that performance] could become for her what Frankenstein was for me. (...) Marilyn is probably grateful for the attention--not to mention the cash--her monster has won for her, just as I am. But can you imagine that girl living up to what she looks like?

Salary (12)

The King of the Kongo (1929) $75 /week
The Mummy (1932) $750 per week
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) $12,500 ($2,500 per week)
The Raven (1935) $10,000
Son of Frankenstein (1939) $3,500 /week
Voodoo Island (1957) $25,000
Grip of the Strangler (1958) $27,500
Frankenstein 1970 (1958) $25,000
Corridors of Blood (1958) $37,500
The Raven (1963) $30,000
The Sorcerers (1967) £11,000
Targets (1968) $22,000

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