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William Henry Pratt (23 November 1887 – 2 February 1969), better known by his stage name Boris Karloff, was an English actor.
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 was born at 36 Forest Hill Road, East Dulwich, London, England, where a blue plaque can now be seen. His parents were Edward John Pratt, Jr. and Eliza Sarah Millard. His paternal grandparents were Edward John Pratt, an Anglo-Indian, and 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.) The two sisters were also of Anglo-Indian heritage.
Karloff was brought up in Enfield. He was the youngest of nine children, and following his mother's death was raised by his elder siblings. He later attended Enfield Grammar School before moving to Uppingham School and Merchant Taylors' School, and went on to attend 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". However, the novel was not published until 1920, at least eight 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. 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 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 joined the Jeanne Russell Co. in 1911 and performed in towns like Kamloops, BC and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. After the devastating Regina, Saskatchewan, Regina 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, for a year, in an opera house above a hardware store.
Due to the years of difficult manual labour in Canada and the U.S. while trying to establish his acting career, he suffered back problems for the rest of his life. Because of his health, he did not fight in World War I.
Once Karloff arrived in Hollywood, 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 earn a living. A number of his early major roles were in movie serials, such as The Masked Rider (1919), in Chapter 2 of which he can be glimpsed onscreen for the first time, The Hope Diamond Mystery (1920) and King of the Wild (1930). In these early roles he was often cast as an exotic Arabian or Indian villain. A key film which brought Karloff recognition was The Criminal Code (1931), a prison drama in which he reprised a dramatic part he had played on stage. Another significant role in the fall of 1931 saw Karloff play a key supporting part as 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.
But it was his role as Frankenstein's monster in Frankenstein (1931) which made him a star. The bulky costume with four inch platform boots made it an arduous role but the costume and torturously administered make-up produced the classic image. Boris was lucky to get the part, not least as it had supposedly been offered it to Bela Lugosi, who declined it. A year later, Karloff played another iconic character, Imhotep in The Mummy. Also quickly followed The Old Dark House with Charles Laughton and the star role in The Mask of Fu Manchu. These films all very much confirmed his newfound stardom.
The 5'11" (1.8 m) 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 1932 film Scarface. He played a religious World War I soldier in the 1934 John Ford epic The Lost Patrol. Karloff gave a string of lauded performances in 1930s Universal horror movies, including several with his main rival for heir to Lon Chaney, Sr.'s horror throne, Béla Lugosi. Karloff was cast for the role of The Monster in Frankenstein after Bela Lugosi refused to play the part, making his subsequent career possible. Karloff played Frankenstein's monster in two other films, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), with the latter also featuring Lugosi. Karloff would revisit the Frankenstein mythos in film several times afterward. The first would be as the villainous Dr. Niemann in House of Frankenstein (1944), where Karloff would be contrasted with Glenn Strange's portrayal of The Monster.
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 finale reveals that 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. Norman Z. McLeod filmed a sequence in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Karloff in The Monster make-up, but it was deleted. Karloff donned the headpiece and neck bolts for the final time in 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 between Karloff and Lugosi never led to a close mutual friendship, it 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). During this period, he also starred with Basil Rathbone in Tower of London (1939).
From 1945 to 1946, Karloff appeared in three films for RKO produced by Val Lewton: Isle of the Dead, The Body Snatcher, and Bedlam. In a 1946 interview with Louis Berg of the Los Angeles Times, Karloff discussed his three-picture deal with RKO, his reasons for leaving Universal Pictures and working with producer Lewton. Karloff left Universal because he thought the Frankenstein franchise had run its course. The latest installment was what he called a "'monster clambake,' with everything thrown in — Frankenstein, Dracula, a hunchback and a 'man-beast' that howled in the night. It was too much. Karloff thought it was ridiculous and said so." Berg continues, "Mr. Karloff has great love and respect for Mr. Lewton as the man who rescued him from the living dead and restored, so to speak, his soul."
During this period, Karloff was also a frequent guest on radio programs, whether it was starring in Arch Oboler's Chicago-based Lights Out productions (most notably the episode "Cat Wife") or spoofing his horror image with Fred Allen or Jack Benny.
An enthusiastic performer, he returned to the Broadway stage in the original production of Arsenic and Old Lace in 1941, in which he played a homicidal gangster enraged to be frequently mistaken for Karloff. Although Frank Capra cast Raymond Massey in the 1944 film, which was shot in 1941, while Karloff was still appearing in the role on Broadway, 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. 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 last 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 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' second feature film The Sorcerers (1966).
During the 1950s Karloff appeared on British TV in the series Colonel March of Scotland Yard, in which he portrayed John Dickson Carr's fictional detective Colonel March who was known for solving apparently impossible crimes.
Karloff, along with H. V. Kaltenborn, was a regular panelist on the NBC game show, Who Said That?, which aired between 1948 and 1955. Later, as a guest on NBC's The Gisele MacKenzie Show, Karloff sang "Those Were the Good Old Days" from Damn Yankees, while Gisele MacKenzie performed the solo, "Give Me the Simple Life". 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." In 1966, Karloff also appeared with Robert Vaughn and Stefanie Powers in the spy series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., in the episode "The Mother Muffin Affair." Karloff performed in drag as the titular Mother Muffin. That same year he also played an Indian Maharajah on the adventure series The Wild Wild West ("The Night of the Golden Cobra"). In 1967, he played an eccentric Spanish professor who thinks he's Don Quixote in a whimsical episode of I Spy ("Mainly on the Plains").
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, and also provided the voice of the Grinch, although the song, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was sung by American voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft. Karloff later received a Grammy Award in the spoken word category after the story was released as a record. (Because Ravenscroft was uncredited for his contribution to How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, his performance of the song was often mistakenly attributed to Karloff.)
In 1968 he starred in Targets, a movie directed by Peter Bogdanovich about a young man who embarks on a spree of killings carried out with handguns and high powered rifles. The movie starred Karloff as retired horror film actor, Byron Orlok, a thinly disguised version of himself—facing an end of life crisis, resolved through a confrontation with the shooter.
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. This was a package deal with Mexican producer Luis Vergara. Karloff's scenes were directed by Jack Hill and shot back to back in Los Angeles in the spring of 1968. The films were then completed in Mexico. All four were released posthumously, with the last, The Incredible Invasion, not released until 1971, two years after Karloff's death.
Cauldron of Blood, shot in Spain in 1967 and starring Karloff and Viveca Lindfors, was also released after Karloff's death.
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An Evening With Boris Karloff 01 Introduction
An Evening With Boris Karloff 02 Dracula Part One
An Evening With Boris Karloff 03 Dracula Part Two
An Evening With Boris Karloff 04 Dracula Part Three
An Evening With Boris Karloff 05 All About The Monster
An Evening With Boris Karloff 06 Frankenstein
An Evening With Boris Karloff 07 The Mummy Part One
An Evening With Boris Karloff 08 The Mummy Part Two
An Evening With Boris Karloff 09 The Mummy Part Three
An Evening With Boris Karloff 10 The Mummy Part Four
An Evening With Boris Karloff 11 The Bride Of Frankenstein Part One
An Evening With Boris Karloff 12 The Bride Of Frankenstein Part Two
An Evening With Boris Karloff 13 The Bride Of Frankenstein Part Three
An Evening With Boris Karloff 14 The Bride Of Frankenstein Part Four
An Evening With Boris Karloff 15 The Son Of Frankenstein Part One
An Evening With Boris Karloff 16 The Son Of Frankenstein Part Two
An Evening With Boris Karloff 17 The Son Of Frankenstein Part Three
An Evening With Boris Karloff 18 The Son Of Frankenstein Part Four
An Evening With Boris Karloff 19 The Son Of Frankenstein Part Five
An Evening With Boris Karloff 20 The Wolf Man Part One
An Evening With Boris Karloff 21 The Wolf Man Part Two
An Evening With Boris Karloff 22 The House Of Frankenstein Part One
An Evening With Boris Karloff 23 The House Of Frankenstein Part Two
An Evening With Boris Karloff 24 Finale
Arthur Jean and Boris Karloff - Peter-Pan 01
Arthur Jean and Boris Karloff - Peter-Pan 02
Arthur Jean and Boris Karloff - Peter-Pan 03
Arthur Jean and Boris Karloff - Peter-Pan 04
Bergen and McCarthy 451028 Boris Karloffs Haunted House
Best Plays 520706 Arsenic and Old Lace
Bill Stern Sports Newsreel 500113 532 Guest Boris Karloff
Boris Karloff - Poe The Raven Bela Lugosi Ep.1 1935
Boris Karloff - Poe The Raven Bela Lugosi Ep.2 1935
Boris Karloff - Poe The Raven Bela Lugosi Ep.3 1935
Boris Karloff - The Haunted Strangler
Boris Karloff narrates - Rip Van Winkle
Boris Karloff narrates - Sleepy Hollow
Boris Karloff Show 5712xx Boris Karloff Special Message To Station Owners
Boris Karloff Show xx-xx-xx The Vampires Grave
Boris Karloffs Treasure Chest 501126 Johnny Appleseed
Creeps By Night 44-03-07 04 The Strange Burial of Alexander Jordan
Creeps by Night 44-05-02 11 The Final Reckoning
Creeps By Night 44-05-02 12 The Final Reckoning
Creeps By Night 44-05-09 13 The Hunt
Creeps By Night 44-05-16 14 The Walking Dead
Creeps By Night 44-06-06 17 The Three Sisters
Dr Seuss w Boris Karloff - Youre A Mean One Mr Grinch
Duffys Tavern 45-01-12 154 Archies Adaptation of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff
Duffys Tavern 51-10-05 408 Archie Get Boris Karloff To Scare Off Buyers Of The Bar
Fred Allen Show 451028 04 Charlie McCarthy Sues Fred for Slander
Fred Allen Show 451118 07 Renting A House
Helen Hayes Theater 451208 Angel Street
How The Grinch Stole Christmas Narrated By Boris Karloff
Information Please 410124 Boris Karloff Louis E Lawes
Information Please 420220 J.Carradine Boris Karloff
Information Please 430517 Jan Struther Boris Karloff
Inner Sanctum 410525 Death Is a Joker
Inner Sanctum 410803 The Tell Tale Heart
Inner Sanctum 420503 Study for Murder
Inner Sanctum 451023 Corridor of Doom
Inner Sanctum 451106 The Wailing Wall
Inner Sanctum 520622 Birdsong for a Murderer
Inner Sanctum 520713 Death For Sale
Inner Sanctum 560622 Birdsong For A Murderer
Inner Sanctum Boris Karloff - Homicidal Maniac
Its Time to smile - 1941-12-17 - Eddie Cantor - Guest - Boris Karloff
Jack Benny - 47-01-19 - I Stand Condemned
Jimmy Durante - 471210 Guest Boris Karloff
Kraft Music Hall 471225 With Boris Karloff
Lights Out 380323 The Dream
Lights Out 380330 Valse Trieste with Boris Karloff
Lights Out 380406 Cat Wife
Lights Out 470716 Death Robbery
Martin and Lewis 520418 Guest Boris Karloff
Movies 4 The Blind - 1940 - British Intelligence
Mystery Playhouse 440425 Creeps by Night - Those Who Walk in Darkness
Mystery Playhouse 441121 Six Who Did Not Die
NBC University Theater 481017 History of Mr Polly
Philco 471029 005 Boris Karloff Victor Moore Bing Crosby
Readers Digest 57-12-16 Boris Karloff - Chung Ling Soo
Readers Digest 57-12-17 Boris Karloff - Shakespeares Hometown
Readers Digest 57-12-18 Boris Karloff - Story Of Wood
Readers Digest 57-12-19 Boris Karloff - Dr Harvey Cushing
Readers Digest 57-12-20 Boris Karloff - The White House
Readers Digest 57-12-21 Boris Karloff - Two Stories
Readers Digest 58-01-10 Aunt Chloes Reward
Readers Digest 58-01-11 How Smart is a Fish
Readers Digest 58-01-12 Laughter is the Best Medicine
Readers Digest 58-01-13 Napoleon
Readers Digest 58-01-14 Teachers Tricks
Report To The Nation 451103 John Daly Boris Karloff
Rip Van Winkle
Screen Guild Theatre - Arsenic & Old Lace - 251146
Sealtest Variety Theater 481028 - Happy Halloween
Sealtest Variety Theater 490623 - The Stranger arrives
Shell Chateau 350831 Karloff Georgia Weathern
Spike Jones Show 490409 Boris Karloff
Stars on Parade 05-04-51 Big Man with Boris Karloff
Suspense 450125 Drurys Bones Boris Karloff
Suspense 471210 Wet Saturday with Boris Karloff
Tales of the Frightened 01 The Man In The Raincoat
Tales of the Frightened 02 The Deadly Dress
Tales of the Frightened 03 The Hand Of Fate
Tales of the Frightened 04 Don't Lose Your Head
Tales of the Frightened 05 Call At Midnight
Tales of the Frightened 06 Just Inside The Cemetary
Tales of the Frightened 07 The Fortune Teller
Tales of the Frightened 08 The Vampire Sleeps
Tales of the Frightened 09 Mirror Of Death
Tales of the Frightened 10 Never Kick A Black Cat
Tales of the Frightened 11 The Ladder
Tales of the Frightened 12 Nightmare
Tales of the Frightened 13 Voice From The Grave
The Raven - Movie Promo - Raven Record
The Year without a Santa Claus
Theater Guild On The Air 45-11-11 Emperor Jones Where the Cross Is Made
Theater Guild On The Air 50-12-24 David Copperfield
Theatre Guild On The Air 53-05-04 Great Expectations
Truth or Consequences 481030 Boris Karloff