Boris Karloff

From Academic Kids

Boris Karloff (November 23, 1887 - February 2, 1969), born William Henry Pratt, was a famous actor in horror films.

A 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, and brought up in Enfield. His maternal grandmother was Eliza Julia Edwards, a sister of Anna Leonowens, whose stories about life in the royal court of Siam were the basis of the musical "The King and I". Through her, Karloff could claim East Indian ancestry, as it seems that Eliza Edwards and her sister, Anna, were the children of a mixed-race marriage. Karloff, however, often claimed Russian ancestry to explain his exotic looks, though his daughter Sara Karloff publicly denied any knowledge of Slavic forebears.

Orphaned in his youth, he was raised by his elder brothers and sister and attended Enfield Grammar School before moving to Uppingham School in Rutland, 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 1908, Pratt travelled to Canada, changing his name to something more in keeping with his new vocation while on his way to an acting job in Kamloops, British Columbia. He spent years testing the waters in North America while living in smaller towns like Kamloops and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He also lived in Minot, North Dakota for a year, performing in an opera house above a hardware store. In 1912, while appearing in a play in Regina, Saskatchewan, Karloff volunteered to be a rescue worker following a devastating tornado. For health reasons, he did not fight in the First World War.

Once he arrived in California, Karloff made many silent films, before appearing as the Monster in Frankenstein (1931), the film that made him a star. Karloff (who, in the wake of Frankenstein's success, was billed for a time only by his last name) was a very fine actor who played a wide variety of roles in other genres besides horror. He gave an excellent performance in the 1934 John Ford epic The Lost Patrol.

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In contrast to the characters he played on screen, Karloff was known in real life as a very kindly gentleman who gave generously especially to children's charities. Karloff was also a charter member of the Screen Actors Guild, and was especially outspoken as regards working conditions on sets (some extremely hazardous) that actors were expected to deal with in the mid-1930s.

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 character enraged to be frequently mistaken for Karloff. Somewhat less successful was his work in the J. B. Priestley play The Linden Tree. He also appeared with Jean Arthur as Captain Hook in the play Peter Pan, and was nominated for a Tony Award for his work opposite Julie Harris in The Lark.

In later years, Karloff hosted and acted in a number of television series, most notably Thriller and The Veil, the latter of which was never broadcast and only came to light in the 1990s. In the 1960s, Karloff successfully spoofed his image in the 1963 cult classic film The Terror, directed by Roger Corman, and appeared as "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 his final film appearances.

In the mid-1960s, he narrated the famous made-for-television animated feature How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Due to an error in the credits, it is sometimes erroneously stated that Karloff sang the famous song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" but this was in fact voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft.

After battling emphysema for a number of years, Boris Karloff died from its complications at his home in Midhurst, Sussex, England on February 2, 1969 at the age of 81. He was interred in the Mount Cemetery in Guildford, Surrey, England. However, even death could not put an immediate halt to Karloff's media career. Three films Karloff shot in Mexico just prior to his death were released over a two-year period after his passing, but were dismissed as undistinguished efforts by critics. 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.

See also

External links

fr:Boris Karloff fi:Boris Karloff sv:Boris Karloff


Lindsay, Cynthia. Dear Boris. New York: Knopf, 1975.


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