Birth name William Henry Pratt
Born November 23, 1887(1887-11-23)
Flag of England Camberwell, London, England
Died February 2, 1969 (aged 81)
Years active 1909-1969
Spouse(s) Evelyn Hope Helmore (1946-1969)
Dorothy Stine (1928-1946)
Helene Vivian Soule (1924-1928)
Montana Laurena Williams (m. 1920)
Olive de Wilton (m. 1915)
Grace Harding (1910-1913)
Official site www.karloff.com
Boris Karloff (born William Henry Pratt) (Camberwell, London, England, November 23, 1887 – February 2, 1969) was an English actor, who migrated to Canada in the 1910s, best known for his roles in horror films and his portrayal of Frankenstein's monster in 1931 film Frankenstein. His popularity following Frankenstein in the early 1930s was such that for a brief time he was billed simply as "Karloff" or, on some movie posters, "Karloff the Uncanny".
William Henry Pratt was 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. The future actor was born in Camberwell, London, England. His birth there was acknowledged in 1998 with the addition of one of London's commemorative blue plaques which adorn sites associated with people of note. He was brought up in Enfield. His paternal grandmother was Eliza Julia (Edwards) Pratt, a sister of Anna Leonowens, whose tales about life in the royal court of Siam (now Thailand) were the basis of the musical The King and I. Her maternal grandmother was of East Indian origin from Calcutta in Bengal.
Orphaned in his youth, he was raised by his elder brothers and sister and attended Enfield Grammar School before moving to Uppingham School and Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood, and eventually the University of London. Karloff's first goal in life was to join the foreign service — his brother, Sir John Henry Pratt, became a distinguished British diplomat — but instead he fell into acting. In 1909, Pratt travelled to Canada, changing his name to something more in keeping with his new vocation while on his way to an acting job with the Jeanne Russell Theater Co. in Kamloops, British Columbia. He spent years testing the waters in North America while living in smaller towns like Kamloops and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. In 1912, while appearing in a play in Regina, Saskatchewan, Karloff volunteered to be a rescue worker following a devastating tornado. He also lived in Minot, North Dakota, for a year, performing in an opera house above a hardware store. For health reasons, he did not fight in World War I.
Name change to Karloff
Some time after emigrating to Canada in 1909, William Pratt 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." However, the novel was not published until 1920, at least three years after Karloff had been using the name on stage and in silent films. (Warner Oland played "Boris Karlov" in a movie version in 1931.) Another possible influence was thought to be a character in the Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy novel H.R.H. The Rider which features a "Prince Boris of Karlova," but as the novel was not published until 1915, the influence may be backward, that Burroughs saw Karloff in a play and adapted the name for the character. Pratt/Karloff always claimed he chose the first name "Boris" because it sounded foreign and exotic, and that "Karloff" was a "family name." However, his daughter Sara Karloff publicly denied any knowledge of Slavic forebears, "Karloff" or otherwise. One reason for the name change was to prevent embarrassment to his family. Whether or not his brothers (all dignified members of the British foreign service) actually considered young William the "black sheep of the family" for having become an actor, Karloff himself apparently worried they did feel that way. He did not reunite with his family again until 1933, when he went back to England to make The Ghoul, extremely worried that his siblings would disapprove of his new, macabre claim to world fame. Instead, his elder brothers jostled for position around their "baby" brother and happily posed for publicity photographs with him.
Karloff as The Monster from the Bride of Frankenstein trailer (1935)
Once Karloff arrived in Hollywood, California, he made dozens of silent films, but work was sporadic, and he often had to take up manual labor--such as digging ditches and driving a cement truck--to pay the bills. His role as the Monster in Frankenstein (1931) made him a star. A year later, he played another iconic character, Imhotep, in The Mummy.
The five foot eleven, brown-eyed Karloff played a wide variety of roles in other genres besides horror. He was memorably gunned down in a bowling alley in the original version of Scarface. He gave an excellent performance in the 1934 John Ford epic The Lost Patrol. Karloff gave a string of superb performances in 1930s Universal horror movies, including several with his main rival as heir to the horror throne of Lon Chaney, Sr., Bela Lugosi, whose rejection of Karloff's role in Frankenstein made Karloff's subsequent career possible. Karloff played Frankenstein's monster three times; the other films being Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), which also featured Lugosi as the demented Ygor. Karloff would revisit the Frankenstein mythos in film several times after leaving the film role of the creature. The first would be as the villianous Dr. Niemann in House of Frankenstein (1944) where Karloff would be famously contrasted against the then more popularized Glenn Strange who became the standardized interpretation of the Monster during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Karloff returned to the role of the "mad scientist" of Frankenstein mode in 1958's Frankenstein 1970 as Baron Victor Von Frankenstein II, the grandson of the original inventor. The final twist reveals the crippled Baron has given his own face (i.e., "Karloff's") to the Monster. The actor appeared at a celebrity baseball game as the Monster in 1940, hitting a gag home run and making catcher Buster Keaton fall into an acrobatic dead faint as the Monster stomped into home plate. For a fantasy sequence in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, director Norman Z. McLeod filmed a sequence with Karloff in the Monster make-up, but it was deleted. The final time Karloff donned the headpiece and neck bolts was 1962, for a Halloween episode of the TV series Route 66, but he was playing "Boris Karloff" who, within the story, was playing "the Monster."
While the long, creative partnership of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi never led to a close mutual friendship, it produced some of each actor's most revered and enduring productions, beginning with The Black Cat. Follow-ups included Gift of Gab (1934; not horror, but a whimsical comedy featuring cameos from contract stars), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Black Friday (1940), You'll Find Out (also 1940), and The Body Snatcher (1945), which many believe contains Karloff's greatest performance. During this period he also starred with Basil Rathbone in Tower of London (1939).
Karloff and Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein.
In contrast to the characters he played on screen, Karloff was known in real life as a very kind gentleman who gave generously, especially to children's charities. Karloff was also a charter member of the Screen Actors Guild, and was especially outspoken regarding working conditions on sets (some extremely hazardous) that actors were expected to deal with in the mid-1930s. He married six times.
An enthusiastic performer, he was able to return to the Broadway stage in the original production of Arsenic and Old Lace in 1941, in which he played a homicidal character enraged to be frequently mistaken for Karloff. Although Frank Capra cast Raymond Massey in the 1944 film, Karloff reprised the role on television with Tony Randall and Tom Bosley in a 1962 production on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. Somewhat less successful was his work in the J. B. Priestley play The Linden Tree. He also appeared as Captain Hook in the play Peter Pan with Jean Arthur, and in the process revealed a surprisingly good singing voice. 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 hosted and acted in a number of television series, most notably Thriller, Out of This World and The Veil, the latter of which was never broadcast and only came to light in the 1990s. In the 1960s, Karloff appeared in several films for American International Pictures, including Comedy of Terrors, The Raven and The Terror, the latter two directed by Roger Corman, and appeared as the very brave "retired horror film actor" Byron Orlok (a lightly-disguised version of himself) in Peter Bogdanovich's critically acclaimed 1968 film Targets which was one of Karloff's final film appearances.
On The Red Skelton Show, Karloff guest starred along with horror actor Vincent Price in a parody of Frankenstein with Red Skelton as the monster "Klem Kadiddle Monster". Karloff also appeared with Robert Vaughn and Stefanie Powers in the hit spy series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. in the episode, entitled, "The Mother Muffin Affair" in which Karloff performed in drag.
In the mid-1960s, Karloff gained a late career surge of American popularity when he narrated the made-for-television animated film of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Due to the credits stating "the sounds of the Grinch are by Boris Karloff", it is sometimes erroneously stated that Karloff sang the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch". The song was actually sung by American voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft (also the voice of Tony the Tiger) in the style that was very dissimilar to Karloffs voice. Karloff later won a Grammy award in the spoken word category after the story was released as a record.
Boris Karloff lived out his final years at his cottage, 'Roundabout', in the Hampshire village of Bramshott. After a long battle with arthritis and emphysema, he contracted pneumonia, succumbing to it in the King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, Sussex, on February 2, 1969, at the age of 81. 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. They were dismissed as undistinguished efforts by critics and fans alike. Also, a few years prior to his death, he lent his name to a comic book for Gold Key Comics entitled 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.
For his contribution to film and television, Boris Karloff was awarded two stars on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1737 Vine Street (for motion pictures) and 6664 Hollywood Boulevard (for television) (Lindsay, 1975).
In 1998, Karloff (as Frankenstein's Monster and The Mummy) was featured in a series of "Monster Stamps" issued by the U.S. Postal Service.
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In 1931, Boris Karloff took out insurance against premature aging from his fright make-up.
The 1931 Frankenstein 6-sheet movie poster, featuring Karloff as the monster, is considered to be the most valuable movie poster in the world. There is only 1 copy of the poster known to exist.
Despite his great performances in many classic horror movies, there's reason to think he never took such roles seriously. He once said, "My wife is a woman of very great taste. That's why she's never seen any of my films."
In the 1940's, Karloff was frequently on the radio program "Information Please", which showed his incredible knowledge for facts and trivia, as well as his pleasant personality, something never seen in his films.
Boris Karloff made numerous appearances on the CBS television program "Suspense." The episode titled "The Yellow Scarf" was broadcast June 7, 1949 and "A Night at an Inn" was broadcast April 26, 1949. They are not yet available commercially on DVD. There is a public film showing at the Mid atlantic nostalgia convention in September 2007 in Aberdeen, Maryland.
Karloff always credited film star Lon Chaney with giving him the best advice of his career, when the elder Chaney told the then-struggling Karloff to "find something that no one else can do, and do it better than anyone else can do it, and you'll leave your mark."
Karloff was bow-legged, had a lisp and stuttered as a young boy.He conquered his stutter, but not his lisp, which is noticeable all through his career. Due to the years of difficult manual labor in Canada and the U.S. while trying to establish his acting career, he suffered back problems all of his later life.
Karloff had a very soft and warm voice. A line from the play "Sir Henry at Rawlinson End" by Viv Stanshall describes a character as being "Karloff soft spoken”.
Had one daughter, Sara Karloff, by his fifth wife (b.1938).
Beginning in 1940, Karloff dressed up as Santa Claus every Christmas to hand out presents to crippled children in a Baltimore hospital.