“K is for William Pratt.” Eh…wait a minute… William Pratt was born in Camberwell, London, England in 1887. His great aunt, Anna Leonowens, was immortalized in The King and I. When he was nine years old, he played the demon king in a play of Cinderella and was bitten by the acting bug as well and kicked off a long career of playing monsters. Although his parents wanted him to graduate college and build a career in British Government, Pratt had other plans. His parents died while he was still young. Pratt left college and moved to Canada where he would take the stage name Boris Karloff, although he never legally changed his name. While in Canada, Karloff found work where he could as a farm hand and doing physical labor. He eventually was able to weasel his way into a repertory theater that had been seeking experienced actors. While in the stock company, he honed his craft as a character actor, often changing his appearance with makeup to play criminals and murderers. He moved on to North Dakota where he also took on physical odd jobs while working in another stock company. When Karloff eventually made it to Hollywood, he appeared in several silent films, but work was sporadic and he still had to rely on hard physical labor to make ends meet. One day, while dressed in his best suit, eating at the studio’s commissary, James Whale happened upon Karloff and asked him to audition for the film that would make him a star, Frankenstein (1931). Ironically, Bela Lugosi had been originally cast as the monster but felt that none of his fans would recognize him beneath the heavy makeup and thought the monster’s grunts instead of dialogue would be a waste of his talents. It would be the first of several times Lugosi’s and Karloff’s careers would intersect. Karloff was happy to play the monster and was not afraid of being typecast as a criminal or monster. Although Karloff’s image and name are synonymous with the monster from Frankenstein, he only played the monster in three films: Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1944). Son of Frankenstein also featured Lugosi in heavy make-up and what some consider a scene-stealing role of Ygor. Karloff would also be cast in supporting roles while others donned the monster make-up a costume in other Frankenstein films such as House of Frankenstein (1944) and Frankenstein 1970 (1958). My personal favorite Frankenstein-related role, other than the 1931 original and 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein, is that of Baron Boris von Frankenstein in the Rankin-Bass 1967 stop-motion animation classic Mad Monster Party? He provides the voice of the mad scientist and the stop motion puppet was made in his likeness as was the image of the monster which was voiced by Allen Swift. Karloff became one of the most iconic actors of the horror genre with Frankenstein (1931), but he maintained his reign of horror master with decades of horror films with The Mummy (1932), The Ghoul (1933), The Black Cat (1934), and The Body Snatcher (1945) as the most notable. The latter film also featured Bela Lugosi. Karloff was not afraid to make fun himself or the genre that made him a star as apparent in the aforementioned Mad Monster Party? (1967) and when he appeared in Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949). In Black Friday (1940), Karloff played Dr. Ernest Sovac, a brain surgeon who switches the brain of his life-long friend, George who is dying after a gangster, Red Cannon, accidentally runs over him in a car chase. Dr. Sovac switches the brains first as an attempt to preserve his best friend but then becomes obsessed with the idea that he can gain access to Red Cannon’s stash of loot in order to fund his own laboratory as Cannon’s memories and personality start taking over that of Geoge’s in blackouts. It was a scheme worthy of Dr. Frankenstein himself. In this movie, the actor who once portrayed the scientific mishap became the mad doctor! Aside from the monster, Karloff’s other most iconic and noteworthy role would come as a shock to most. The man known for horror films would lend his voice as the narrator and the Grinch in the Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966). Karloff would be awarded a Grammy for “Best Recording for Children” although the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” was performed by an uncredited Thurl Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft’s performance was mistakenly attributed to Karloff. Ravenscroft is better known to the world as the “Grrrrrrrreat” voice of Tony the Tiger! Even though he is a horror icon, Karloff also donned yellowface in the detective films The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), Mr. Wong, Detective (1938), and Mr. Wong in Chinatown (1939). Lugosi had previously played the titular character The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934) with no attempt to disguise his accent. I was surprised to discover that Karloff was a charter member of the Screen Actors Guild. He was outspoken regarding hazardous working conditions that actors faced in the mid-1930s. I was also delighted to find that he starred on Broadway in Arsenic and Old Lace as a mobster who had altered his face and was often mistaken for Boris Karloff. He would later be passed on for the film version. Later, Bela Lugosi would take on the role, but the infamous shtick was changed so he would be mistaken for Bela Lugosi in the play. Boris Karloff’s personal life was kept exceptionally private. He was married five times and had one daughter, Sara Karloff, with whom he shared a birthday. He was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Karloff died in 1969 of emphysema. Three low-budget horror films featuring Karloff were released posthumously. See larger image Frankenstein: Complete Legacy Collection [Blu-ray] The original Frankenstein is one of the silver screen’s most unforgettable characters and, along with the other Universal Classic Monsters, defined the Hollywood horror genre. Frankenstein: Complete Legacy Collection includes all 8 films from the original legacy including the tragic classic starring Boris Karloff and the timeless films that followed. These landmark motion pictures defined the iconic look of Henry Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride, and continue to inspire countless remakes and adaptations that strengthen the legend of Frankenstein to this day. New From: $20.83 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.