|Boris Karloff [William Henry 'Billy' Pratt]
(Host - Performer)
Birthplace: Camberwell, London, England, The U.K.
1933 Hollywood On Parade
1934 Fleischmann's Yeast Hour
1935 Hollywood On the Air
1935 Shell Chateau
1936 Royal Gelatin Hour
1936 Camel Caravan
1938 Chase and Sanborn Hour
1938 Baker's Broadcast
1938 Lights Out
1939 Eddie Cantor Show
1939 Rudy Vallee Hour
1940 Kay Kyser's Kollege Of Musical Knowledge
1940 Everyman's Theater
1941 Information Please
1941 United Press Is On the Air
1941 Inner Sanctum Mysteries
1941 Hollywood News Girl
1941 Voice Of Broadway
1941 Bundles For Britain
1941 United Press Is On the Air
1941 Time To Smile
1942 Keep 'em Rolling
1943 Theatre Guild On the Air
1943 Blue Ribbon Town
1944 Charlie McCarthy Show
1944 Creeps By Night
1945 Duffy's Tavern
1945 Fred Allen Show
1945 Hildegarde's Radio Room
1945 Report To the Nation
1945 Textron Theater
1945 Raleigh Room
1945 Radio Hall Of Fame
1945 The Charlie McCarthy Show
1945 Theatre Guild On the Air
1945 The Fred Allen Show
1945 Textron Theatre
1945 Radio Hall Of Fame
1946 Show Stoppers
1946 Request Performance
1946 That's Life
1946 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre
1946 Show Stoppers
1947 Jack Benny Show
1947 Philco Radio Time
1947 Jimmy Durante Show
1947 Kraft Music Hall
1947 The Lucky Strike Program
1947 Duffy's Tavern
1947 Philco Radio Time
1947 The Jimmy Durante Show
1947 The Kraft Music Hall
1948 Guest Star
1948 NBC University Theater Of the Air
1948 Sealtest Variety Theater
1948 Great Scenes From Great Plays
1948 Truth Or Consequences
1948 We the People
1949 Theater USA
1949 Spike Jones Spotlight Review
1949 Starring Boris Karloff
1950 Bill Stern Colgate Sports Newsreel
1950 Boris Karloff's Treasure Chest
1951 Stars On Parade
1952 Philip Morris Playhouse On Broadway
1952 Best Plays
1952 MGM Musical Comedy Theater Of the Air
1952 Martin and Lewis Show
1953 U.S. Steel Hour
1953 The Play Of His Choice
1958 Easy As ABC
1956 Recollections At 30
1956 Tales From the Reader's Digest
1957 Boris Karloff Presents (AFRTS)
1962 Tales From the Readers Digest
Boris Karloff ca. 1907
Boris Karloff, ca. 1923
Boris Karloff prepares to undergo three hours of makeup for Frankenstein's monster, ca. 1931
Boris Karloff nears completion of makeup for Frankenstein's monster, ca. 1931
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster, ca. 1931
Boris Karloff as ImHoTep in The Mummy (1934)
Boris Karloff publicity photo, ca. 1943
Boris Karloff at NBC mike, ca. 1947
Karloff and Lugosi camp it up for the cameras, ca. 1937
Karloff welcomes daughter Sara to the world, Nov. 23, 1938
Boris Karloff from his Thriller days, ca. 1960
|William Henry Pratt was born in1887, in Camberwell, London, England. He was the son of Edward John Pratt Jr., a Deputy Customs Commissioner, and his third wife, Eliza Sarah Millard. Billy Pratt was educated at London University in anticipation of a diplomatic career. Instead, he emigrated to Canada in 1909 to join a touring company based in Ontario. It was then that Billy Pratt adopted the stage name, "Boris Karloff."
Karloff toured with various companies from coast to coast across the U.S. for just over ten years before settling in Hollywood, virtually a vagrant. He supported himself on a shoestring with occasional roles during the apex of the Silent Film era. Between 1920 and 1930, Karloff appeared in fifty silent and early sound features and serials. He also supported himself as a 'lorry driver' or truck driver in the Los Angeles area.
Boris Karloff's big break finally arrived in 1931 when he was cast as the monster in the Universal Pictures ground-breaking production of Frankenstein (1931). Universal hyped the mystery surrounding the credit for the monster by listing it simply as "?" in the opening credits. Frankenstein became an overnight commercial and critical success, spawning another fifteen years of the Frankenstein franchise.
Now considered a hot property, Karloff promptly appeared in an array of other sinister roles of varying degree. He appeared in Scarface (1932), The Old Dark House (1932), The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), as Im-Ho-Tep in The Mummy (1932) and as Professor Morlant in The Ghoul (1933). He reportedly loved his role as Sanders in John Ford's famouse The Lost Patrol (1934) but his performance was panned as "overacting".
He reprised his Frankenstein's monster in the sensational Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and then in the so-so Son of Frankenstein (1939) that followed. On loan to Fox, Boris Karloff appeared with Warner Oland in Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936), then embarked on an attempt at a feature franchise with the relatively short-lived Mr. Wong detective series of five films between 1938 and 1940. This invites the obvious comparison and contrast with fellow 'Horror' genre proponent Peter Lorre and his Mr. Moto character, also filmed in the late 1930s. Ironically it was Bela Lugosi that Karloff was most often compared and contrasted with, although the two actors' careers bore no resemblance to each other at that point.
Struggling to maintain his own choice of roles and characters, the remainder of the 1940s saw him appearing in more and more of the evil scientist type of role, despite his best acting efforts to the contrary. Karloff appeared in over twenty more such exploitative features before early Television essentially saved him.
Beginning as early as 1948, Karloff began appearing in some of early Television's most prestigious drama anthologies, establishing a new level of dramatic gravity and versatility for himself. The effort paid off, ultimately resulting in a whole new career in Television that would eventually see him in over 200 television roles over the next twenty years.
Returning to Broadway, Karloff appeared as Jonathan Brewster in the long-running hit, Arsenic and Old Lace (1941-1944) and a decade later he enjoyed another two-year Stage run in Peter Pan (1950-1951), as Captain Hook.
Boris Karloff also found a very welcoming audience over Radio, beginning his Radio career in 1938 in Hollywood On The Air and running another twenty five years and an estimated 800+ appearances over Radio. Appearing as himself in both comedies and varieties, he also compiled an enviable body of straight dramatic roles in Radio. His appearances over Radio culminated with ABC Radio's Flair (1963), a fascinating, segmented program during which Karloff would take the children's or child care segments. Karloff adored children, often quoted as describing children as possibly even more perceptive than adults, when it came to watching feature films or television. Indeed in Karloff's perhaps most immortal tribute to children young and old, he voiced Chuck Jones' wonderful animated 1966 version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss' enduring Christmas message.
Best described in Karloff's own words, his observations about children and Film are fascinating:
"Perhaps the best possible audience for a “horror” film is a child audience. The vivid imagination with which a child is gifted is far more receptive to the ingredients in these pictures than the adult imagination, which merely finds them artificial. Because they have vivid imaginations we must not underestimate children, they know far more than we think they do.
When I played Frankenstein’s Monster I received sack loads of fan mail, mostly from young girls. These children had seen right through the make-up and had been deeply moved by sympathy for the poor brute.
Children choose what they want to see in an entertainment. This was brought home to me during the record run of Barrie’s Peter Pan at the Imperial Theatre in New York. I played Captain Hook and, being interested in the children’s reaction to the play, I invited a horde of them to come along to the theatre. Peter Pan, as everybody knows, is a mixture of romanticism and adventure. The somewhat frightening exploits of Captain Hook are offset by the whimsy of Tinker Bell. The frightening element would possibly, one would think, stay in a child’s mind far longer than the fairy element. After the final curtain I took them backstage and introduced them to the cast. Almost all the children would first want to meet Wendy and Tinker Bell and then they would want to put on the Captain’s hook. Their first reaction when they looked at themselves in the mirror was a grunt and scowl and make the same type of lurching gestures, as does Frankenstein’s monster.
The fascination of the “horror” film is perhaps because it is make-believe. Most people like to pretend that there is something just behind the door. It transports the audience to another world. A world of fantasy and of imagination. A world inhabited by the characters of Hans Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. The “horror” film is concocted more or less from the folk tales of every country. When I am asked if these films are harmful to children, my answer is always the same: Do Grimm’s fairy tales do any harm to children? I have never heard of fairy tale books being used in evidence in a juvenile delinquency case!"
Much like his contemporary, Peter Lorre, Karloff never took himself very seriously as an actor. He showed a charming tendency to play down his acting accomplishments. Known and respected throughout Hollywood as a refined, gentle, kind and warm hearted gentleman, Boris Karloff seemed to have preferred a pipe or cigarette and a good book to yet another Hollywood appearance somewhere. Devoted to his own child and the children of the world, Karloff championed many causes supporting child welfare.
Karloff passed away quietly and peacefully on February 2, 1969 from emphysema.
Karloff personally disliked the word “horror”, much like Peter Lorre and his preference for the term 'psychological terror' in lieu of 'horror'. In Karloff's words, the word horror:
". . . is a misnomer . . . for it means revulsion. The films I have made were made for entertainment, maybe with the object of making the audience’s hair stand on end, but never to revolt people. Perhaps terror would be a much better word to describe these films, but alas, it is too late now to change the adjective."
Boris Karloff was a fascinating man in so many ways. Truly a man of great contrasts between his professional and personal personae, Karloff spoke in an even, measured tone, irrespective of the roles he portrayed. As the various 'horror' or 'terror' film proponents emerged during the 1920s to 1940s, America seemed obsessed for a time with Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney, Jr.. And yet of this illustrious list of horror luminaries, Boris Karloff seems the one to emerge with both his credentials as a horror star and a straight dramatic actor intact after all these years.
Boris Karloff, perhaps more than his other contemporaries, found a great deal more to pursue in drama, and knew when to discard the roles that threatened to typecast him. And yes, Karloff had the benefit of some twenty years of Television to temper and reinvent his Frankenstein's monster typecasting. But he did it. He fought for it and acheived it. Thankfully, many of his own generation lived to see him reinvent himself.
Adding layer upon layer over the Frankstein's monster role, with a successful Radio career of twenty-five years and a further twenty years of dramatic variety on Television, Boris Karloff finally had it both ways. As was his right.
With Film, Radio, and Television exemplars to continually remind us of his extraordinary talent, it's safe to say that Boris Karloff will continue to solidify his credentials as one of the most memorable actors of the 20th Century.
We wouldn't have it any other way.