English actor Boris Karloff (William Henry Pratt) was born 23 November 1887. 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).
Karloff grew up in Enfield & attended Enfield Grammar School before moving to Uppingham School and Merchant Taylors’ School, and King’s College London where he studied to go into the consular service. He dropped out in 1909 and worked as a farm labourer and did various odd jobs until he happened into acting. His brother, Sir John Thomas Pratt, became a distinguished British diplomat. Karloff was bow-legged, had a lisp, and stuttered as a young boy. He conquered his stutter, but not his lisp, which was noticeable all through his career. In 1909, Pratt travelled to Canada and began appearing in stage shows throughout the country; and some time later changed his professional name to “Boris Karloff”. Some have theorized that he took the stage name from a mad scientist character in the novel The Drums of Jeopardy called “Boris Karlov”. Karloff joined the Jeanne Russell Company in 1911 and performed in towns like Kamloops, British Columbia and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. After the devastating Regina, Saskatchewan, cyclone of 30 June 1912, Karloff and other performers helped with cleanup efforts. He later took a job as a railway baggage handler and joined the Harry St. Clair Co. that performed in Minot, North Dakota. Once Karloff arrived in Hollywood in 1918, he made dozens of silent films, such as The Masked Rider (1919), The Hope Diamond Mystery (1920), King of the Wild (1930) and The Criminal Code (1931), a prison drama in which he reprised a dramatic part he had played on stage. Another significant role was an unethical newspaper reporter in Five Star Final, a harshly critical film about tabloid journalism which was nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture of 1931-32. However it was His role as the Frankenstein monster in Frankenstein (1931) which made Karloff a star. A year later, Karloff played another iconic character, Imhotep in The Mummy. The Old Dark House (with Charles Laughton) and the starring role in The Mask of Fu Manchu quickly followed. These films all confirmed Karloff’s new-found stardom and In 1933, he went back to Britain to make The Ghoul.
Karloff appeared in other films besides horror. including the 1932 film Scarface and the 1934 John Ford epic The Lost Patrol.However, horror remained Karloff’s primary genre, and he appeared in many 1930s Universal horror films, including several with Bela Lugosi, his main rival as heir to Lon Chaney, Sr.’s status as the top horror film star. After earning fame in Frankenstein, Karloff appeared as the Frankenstein monster in two other films, The Bride Of Frankenstein in 1935 and The Son Of Frankenstein in 1939, with the latter also featuring Lugosi. Karloff also starred as the villainous Dr. Niemann in House of Frankenstein (1944). Karloff returned to the role of the “mad scientist” in 1958’s Frankenstein 1970, as Baron Victor von Frankenstein II, the grandson of the original inventor. The long, creative partnership between Karloff and Lugosi produced some of the actors’ most revered and enduring productions, beginning with The Black Cat. Follow-ups included Gift of Gab (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Black Friday (1940), You’ll Find Out (also 1940), and The Body Snatcher (1945) & Tower of London (1939). From 1945 t0 1946 Karloff also appeared in Isle Of The Dead, The Body Snatcher, and Bedlam.
He returned to the Broadway stage in the original production of Arsenic and Old Lace in 1941. He also appeared as Captain Hook in the play Peter Pan with Jean Arthur. 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 was also reprised on Hallmark Hall of Fame. In later years, Karloff appeared in a number of television series, including, Out Of This World, and The Veil & the British TV in the series Colonel March of Scotland Yard. He also appeared in The Comedy of Terrors, The Raven, and The Terror, the latter two directed by Roger Corman, and Die, Monster, Die! He also featured in Michael Reeves’s second feature film, The Sorcerers, in 1966. Karloff also guest starred along with horror actor Vincent Price in a parody of Frankenstein, with Red Skelton as the monster “Klem Kadiddle Monster.” In 1966, Karloff also appeared with Robert Vaughn and Stefanie Powers in the spy series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. That same year he also played an Indian Maharajah on the instalment of the adventure series The Wild Wild West titled “The Night of the Golden Cobra.” In 1967, he played an eccentric Spanish professor who believes himself to be Don Quixote in a whimsical episode of I Spy.In 1968, Karloff starred in Targets, a film directed by Peter Bogdanovich about a young man who embarks on a killing spree. The film starred Karloff as retired horror film actor, Byron Orlok, a thinly disguised version of Karloff himself. It was his last film shot in the United States.In 1968 he played occult expert Prof. Marsh in a British film called The Crimson Cult (Curse of the Crimson Altar), which was the last film to be released during Karloff’s lifetime.
Karloff ended his career by appearing in four low-budget Mexican horror films: The Snake People, The Incredible Invasion, The Fear Chamber, and House of Evil. He also starred in Cauldron of Blood, in 1967 alongside Viveca Lindfors.
Boris Karloff lived out his final years in England at his cottage, ‘Roundabout,’ in the Hampshire village of Bramshott.Sadly After a long battle with arthritis and emphysema, he contracted pneumonia, succumbing to it in King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, Sussex on 2 February 1969. He was cremated, following a requested low-key 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. However, even death could not put an immediate halt to Karloff’s media career. Four Mexican films for which Karloff shot his scenes in Los Angeles were released over a two-year period after he had died. Karloff also 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 nearly a decade after the real Karloff died; the comic lasted until the early 1980s. Starting in 2009, Dark Horse Comics started to reprint Tales of Mystery in a hard bound archive.