Boris Karloff

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Boris Karloff on USO tour (1945)

Boris Karloff , actually William Henry Pratt (born November 23, 1887 in London , in today's Southwark district , † February 2, 1969 in Midhurst , West Sussex , England ), was a British theater and film actor .

Karloff was best known as a performer in horror films after playing the role of the monster in Frankenstein in 1931 . During his more than fifty years of professional life, however, he was seen in various roles in film, on television and on stage, as well as on the radio and on record . He received nicknames like Karloff the Uncanny ( Karloff the Unheimliche ) or The Master of Horror .

life and work

Childhood, youth and emigration

William Henry Pratt was the youngest of nine children. Orphaned at an early age , he grew up with his considerably older siblings. The extensive, old Anglo-Saxon family Pratt had been resident in England since the Middle Ages and traditionally served the British Crown. His father worked as a British customs officer in India, his maternal grandfather was a member of the mounted artillery in Bombay . His mother was a niece of the women's rights activist and author Anna Leonowens ( Anna and the King ). One of his great-nephews was the comic book writer Hugo Pratt . The eccentric, actor and author Quentin Crisp aka Dennis Charles Pratt was related to him.

The Pratt family initially lived in India, but returned to England without their father before William Henry was born. As a child, Pratt first lived in various houses in the districts of Camberwell and East Dulwich south of the City of London in what is now the London Borough of Southwark . The family moved frequently. Exactly in which house William Henry was born is uncertain; According to recent research by film journalist Steve Vertlieb, Camberwell was the place of birth. The orphaned family later moved to rural Enfield in the far north of London.

William Henry successfully advanced through high school and was a student at Enfield Grammar School , Uppingham School and Merchant Taylor's School . Like his older brothers, he was to be prepared for administrative service in the British colonies according to family tradition . He then studied at King's College of the University of London . In his spare time he played cricket and was a member of the Enfield Cricket Club , where his photo is still hanging in the club room. He became interested in theater early on, took on roles in Christmas fairy tales and at the age of nine he appeared in a Cinderella performance as the demon king.

The young Pratt took private acting lessons and completed stage appearances a. a. at theatrical performances at his university. Soon, acting became more important to him than studying, which he increasingly neglected. At the age of 21, he and his family left the UK from Liverpool for Montreal in Canada. Then he moved on to Ontario , later to British Columbia . On the way he hired himself as an unskilled worker a. a. in agriculture, rail and road construction and as a truck driver. At the same time, he tried again and again to gain a foothold at traveling stages and traveled with various actors through the Canadian and American provinces.

Shortly after arriving in Canada in 1909, Pratt married English actress Olive Wilton. The subsequent divorce must have taken place very quickly: Just a year later , Wilton emigrated to Australia, where he made a silent film in 1910 and 1911, and in the 1920s she co-founded a private theater in Hobart , Tasmania . Boris Karloff later only spoke sparingly about his first marriage.

The 1910s and 1920s

Extra and small actor

In the 1910s - the exact time is unknown - William Henry Pratt came to Hollywood and sought a connection to the burgeoning silent film industry . He was first in front of the camera as an extra , then in tiny roles as a small actor : His first verifiable film appearance is an insignificant little scene in the silent film drama The Dumb Girl of Portici, made in 1916 (not a German distribution title ; directed by Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber ) - with the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pawlowna Pawlowa in her first and only film role. There was also Jack Holt in a major supporting role , a popular actor in westerns in the 1930s and 1940s .

Pratt becomes Karloff

In the meantime, William Henry Pratt had renamed himself Boris Karloff. According to his own statements, the name Karloff should refer to his mother's Slavic ancestors, which Karloff's daughter and estate administrator Sara Karloff long expressly denied. However, she put the biographical homage to her father from Steve Vertlieb, who also assumes the Slavic or Russian ancestors of Pratt's mother in his text, as a recommendable text on the homepage of her company Karloff Enterprises ; However, so far there is no concrete evidence for this thesis.

Karloff or Karlow is actually a place name in the sense of Karlstadt , Karlshof or Karlsdorf and occurs in Russian as a family name. It is found as Karlov in Czech (e.g. Karlov = Karlshof in Prague) and similarly in Croatian (e.g. Karlovac , formerly Karlstadt ); The form Karlow or the nobility name of Karlow has been handed down from Western Pomerania (see Karlow Castle in Kruckow ). Names derived from Karl can also be found in Serbian , Slovak and Bulgarian . A family connection between Boris Karloff and these and similar Slavic family and place names cannot be ruled out, but currently cannot be proven.

A pragmatic explanation for the name choice, which is unusual in Hollywood, cannot be completely ruled out: Since the actor was cast as an exotic, outsider or villain from the beginning of his career due to his rather dark, angular and not in the classic sense "attractive" appearance , he wanted his career presumably force it by choosing a suitable, memorable artist name . The four-year-old fellow actor Lon Chaney Sr. , with whom the young William Henry Pratt had befriended in Hollywood, is said to have advised him to do so; At least that's what Chaney Senior's grandson Ron Chaney reports, who remembers the great stars of Hollywood horror cinema - his grandfather, his father Lon Chaney jun. , Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff - maintains to this day.

Most biographers attribute Karloff's slightly dark-skinned, exotic appearance to an Indian ancestor, which family research - although not clearly verifiable - seems to confirm. The family tree, created after research by the ornithologist and Anna Leonowens biographer, a controversial hobby historian, Dr. WS Bristowe, gives an ancestor very vaguely as an “unidentified Indian” without providing any concrete evidence. Karloff's great-nephew Hugo Pratt gave a. a. Jewish - Turkish ancestors; However, this assertion cannot currently be proven by sources either.

The film journalist Elliot Stein brought a new variant into play: William Henry was the fruit of his mother's misstep with an Egyptian during a visit to the Suez Canal . Karloff's father had left his pregnant wife, who was living with him in India, who returned to England alone with eight children and gave birth to William Henry in one of the Pratt family houses; shortly afterwards both parents died. Stein does not name any sources, but knew Boris Karloff personally and conducted one of the last interviews with him before his death.

Type actor in supporting roles

Boris Karloff
in The Man from Downing Street (1922) far right as Maharajah

For Karloff, the late 1910s and 1920s were characterized by appearances as an extra, later also by more important supporting roles as a type actor, mostly of an exotic or negative character. He was often unnamed in B-films as a pirate, Indian, Mexican, Black African, Asian and very often as an Indian, Levantine or Arab; cast as a bodyguard, café owner, pickpocket or simply as a “villain”.

Within the Hollywood typecasting called occupation practice Boris Karloff covered all genres of American silent film this time - from adventure film about comedy through to the detective film . The first film role Karloff took on with a proper name was that of the seedy Jules Barney in the comedy The Deadlier Sex (director: Robert Thornby ) with Blanche Sweet , who was popular in Hollywood as a flapper at the time, in the female lead . Another example, among many others, is Omar the Tentmaker (no German rental title, 1922; director: James Young ) with Karloff as Imam Mowaffak and Noah Beery as "Shah of Shahs". In Tarzan and the Golden Lion ( Tarzan and the Golden Lion , 1927; director: JP McGowan ) Karloff acted alongside the leading actor James Pierce as the dark African Ozawa .

Only a few of these films found a German or Austrian distributor, most of them westerns and pirate films. The first film with Boris Karloff for which a German distribution title can be verified was The Last of the Mohicans ( The Last of the Mohicans , 1920; directed by Clarence Brown and Maurice Tourneur ). Karloff embodied in it - like his later film partner and professional rival Bela Lugosi - a nameless Indian from the tribe of the Hurons . In the pirate film Corsairs or Horrors of the Seas ( Old Ironsides , 1926; director: James Cruze ) he embodies alongside u. a. Wallace Beery namelessly a "Saracen guardsman".

The first provable German-language distribution title in Austria - not in Germany - for a film with Karloff was the Western Mann ohne Furcht ( The Man in the Saddle , 1926; directed by Lynn Reynolds and Clifford Smith ). In it the future horror star played a nameless robber; the female star of the film was the only nineteen-year-old Fay Wray . In the same year the dark, atmospherically very dense film The Bells was made (no German distribution title; director: James Young). The film story about an Alsatian innkeeper ( Lionel Barrymore ), who is to be convicted of the murder of a Jew with the help of an - nameless - mesmerist (Karloff), is considered the first horror film with Karloff. In the adventure comedy Die Schlachtenbummler ( Two Arabian Knights ) set in World War I , an A-movie with stars such as William Boyd and Mary Astor , he played the nameless paymaster of a Russian freighter in 1927, directed by Lewis Milestone .

Since Karloff's fees were low and not enough to make a living, he had to work as a truck driver in addition to his film work until the 1920s - without a driver's license. His frequent divorces also caused him financial problems: by the end of the 1920s, after the separation from Olive Wilton, two further marriages of Karloff were legally terminated.

Expansion of the career in sound film

Boris Karloff made the transition from silent to sound films at the end of the 1920s without any problems. Unlike many of his colleagues, Karloff was able to use his voice training, which he had trained at English training institutes, for his career in Hollywood: he trained his Oxford English to creak deeply and knew how to put this into tension with his exotic appearance and his Slavic-sounding name. The fact that he naturally lisped was not perceived as annoying, but also reinforced the attraction of the extraordinary.

Karloff became a sought-after type actor in his house studio, Universal Studios . His first role in a sound film - still using the elaborate needle-tone process - was that of villain Scarface Macklin in King of the Congo in 1929, directed by Richard Thorpe . In the same year he shot his first “real” sound film using the optical sound system under the direction of Lionel Barrymore: In The Unholy Night (not a German distribution title) he played the role of Abdoul Mohamed Bey .

The 1930s

Breakthrough as an actor in socially critical films

Boris Karloff had his breakthrough as an actor in the early 1930s . During this time he tried to break through his largely established role as a villainous exotic and outsider and took on character roles in socially critical social dramas and crime films that became fashionable in the early 1930s. The extent to which he himself had an influence on the choice of roles remains questionable, since a rigorously operated casting practice left the actors who were firmly attached to the studios, who were not (yet) stars, hardly free. The actors were occasionally "loaned" to other studios - Karloff to MGM and Columbia, for example . But only A-Class stars really had an influence, and only as long as they were successful at the box office.

Karloff's first major Hollywood success was in a sophisticated supporting role in 1931 prison drama The Criminal Code ( The Criminal Code ), directed by Howard Hawks . As a prison inmate who became guilty of the murder of a fellow prisoner , he acted alongside Walter Huston as prison director in a socially critical film study about the force of the law, everyday prison life and the honor of criminals. In the same year Karloff made other films committed to realism in roles that were unusual for him: In late edition ( Five Star Final ; director: Mervyn LeRoy ), a reporter film about responsibility and freedom of the press, he was the opaque Reverend Vernon T. Isopod . The star of the film was Edward G. Robinson . And The Guilty Generation (no German distribution title, directed by Rowland V. Lee), a kind of Romeo and Juliet - adaptation in Mafia -Milieu embodied Karloff the standing between family honor and love for his child crime boss Tony Ricca .

Frankenstein's monster

In the meantime, Carl Laemmle , studio boss at Universal Studios , had been made aware of the actor Boris Karloff. He offered him the role of the nameless and silent monster in a planned Mary Shelley - film adaptation of the famous horror classic Frankenstein , which his son Carl Laemmle, Jr. produce wanted. For the role Laemmle sen. actually intended for Bela Lugosi , the star from Hungary of the Dracula film, which was filmed shortly before that same year . However, he declined the role because he believed that the role of the speechless monster would not be challenged.

Karloff, who by his own admission saw his film work primarily as a profession and not as a calling, accepted the role offered to him without hesitation. The British director James Whale , like Karloff , discovered him together with Carl Laemmle, Jr. while viewing Universal films. He had noticed his compatriot before while filming on the Universal studio grounds for the reporter film Graft (1931; director: Christy Cabanne), which is rarely shown today . Later Laemmle jun. and Whale and their footage and found the monster actor for their current project. Whale later said that he first noticed Karloff's sad eyes; the ideal prerequisite for equipping Frankenstein's creature, as intended by Whale, with touching human features.

The Frankenstein film became a huge financial hit for Universal, and the monster portrayed by Karloff became a popular culture icon . The actor, who until then had remained unknown to the public despite having already shot over 70 films, became famous overnight. The figure of the sad, silent monster has remained inextricably linked with his name in the memory of the cinema audience to this day. The fact that Karloff was not mentioned by name in the opening credits of Frankenstein , but was only listed as "?", Also created a mysterious aura and fueled speculation about the "essence" behind the mask; in the credits he was then listed by name alongside his role.

Scar Face , The Mummy , Dr. Fu-Manchu and other films

Karloff had obligations from old contracts from the time before Frankenstein , which forced him to continue to take on insignificant roles for the time being. In his next film that same year, the MGM screwball comedy Tonight or Never (no German distribution title) directed by Mervyn LeRoy , he played an unnamed waiter alongside stars like Gloria Swanson and Melvyn Douglas .

In 1932 alone, Karloff made nine films in supporting and leading roles. Among his most famous this year that are not attributable to the horror film genre, the gangster film belongs Scarface ( Scarface ) by Howard Hawks . In addition to Paul Muni and George Raft , Karloff plays the silent gangster Gaffney . The scene in which Scarface / Muni Gaffney / Karloff liquidated at the bowling alley is famous . In two other crime films, Karloff played a seedy restaurant and nightclub owner with ties to the Mafia: Neither Spiel am Abgrund ( The Miracle Man , 1932; director: Norman Z. McLeod ) nor Night World (not a German loaned title, 1932; director: Hobart Henley ) became financial successes. In the same year Karloff established himself with the role of the undead Im-ho-tep ( Imhotep ) in The Mummy ( The Mummy ) in the American horror cinema of the 1930s, directed by Karl Freund .

Due to his success as Frankenstein's monster , Boris Karloff had become so well known that Universal no longer announced him by his full stage name, but as Karloff the Uncanny (Karloff the Uncanny) and thus advertised The Mummy on film posters . Mask and make-up were even more complex for him in this film than in Frankenstein : Make-up artist Pierce needed eight hours of preparation before the actor could step in front of the camera. Above all, the procedure for applying the part of the face that looked like crumbling parchment is said to have been extremely painful for him, Karloff remembers.

1932 Boris Karloff again worked with director James Whale together and played in the house of horror ( The Old House ) the lead role. As a servant of a noble family and the prodigal son of a mentally ill clan, Karloff runs amok in his parents' home and mutates into a mad pyromaniac . In the same year he slipped to the film studio MGM in The Mask of Fu Manchu ( The Mask of Fu Manchu , directed by Charles Brabin ) in the title role. In it he played a villainous Asian who is striving for world domination.

Boris Karloff was to play Asians even more often in the late 1930s and early 1940s - but again in B-films: In Yellow Rulers ( West of Shanghai , 1937; director: James Farrow ) he played a Chinese general in 1937 and from 1938 for the little one independent low-budget studio Monogram five times the detective Mr. Wong , a kind of Charlie Chan after that time popular in the US Heftroman series, each directed by William Nigh. In the Charlie Chan film Murder in the Opera House ( Charlie Chan at the Opera ; directed by H. Bruce Humberstone ) the actor played a mysterious opera singer with amnesia.

In 1933 Karloff returned to his British homeland to make another horror film with an ancient Egyptian theme: The Ghoul (no German distribution title; director: T. Hayes-Hunter). In it he plays Professor Morlant , an Egyptologist obsessed with his research field , who becomes undead after his death.

Karloff also made two atypical films with political statements during this decade: In John Ford's The Last Patrol ( The Last Patrol , 1934) he is one of twelve British soldiers trapped in an oasis who defeated the attacking Arabs and during the First World War fight the desert heat. In the final scene, Karloff, addicted to religious madness, drags a huge cross through the scorching desert sand to the pathetic music of Max Steiner . In the film biography ( biopic ) Die Rothschilds ( The House of Rothschild , 1934; director: Alfred L. Werker ) he played Count Ledrantz , Prussia's anti-Semitic envoy in London at the time of the Napoleonic Wars .

Frankenstein's bride

In 1935 Karloff stood in front of the camera for a second time as Frankenstein's monster . Frankenstein's Bride ( Bride of Frankenstein ), again directed by James Whale with Elsa Lanchester in the title role, is referred to in reference works as the best Frankenstein film in the horror film genre and one of the highlights of Boris Karloff's work. It is also considered one of the best films in Hollywood cinema of the 1930s. James Whale had gained more freedom in directing through his financial success for Universal and was able to enforce his own ideas against the dreaded interventions of the studio boss Laemmle.

In contrast to the first Frankenstein film, the monster also has a few lines of dialogue and falls in love with a companion created especially for him. This time, too, despite the disfiguring mask, the actor succeeded in eloquent facial expressions and, with sparingly placed gestures, a touching interpretation of the man-made monster as a tragic lover and a human role design. Make-up artist Pierce had deliberately designed the monster appearance to be less alienating and let the real features of Karloff's face shine through more. No savings were made with humorous swipes at the horror film genre: Karloff / the monster tried unsuccessfully to smoke a cigarette in one scene. This film was also a great success and cemented Karloff's fame as a film monster.

The black cat , the raven and roles as "Doctor Maniac"

In historical retrospect, the 1930s are considered to be the most artistically fertile for actor Boris Karloff. Five times he was at this time with Bela Lugosi on camera: In The Black Cat ( The Black Cat ) - loosely based on motifs from Edgar Allan Poe - he played in 1934, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer before Hungarian setting a murderous architects and Satan priest and Lugosi a chess-playing nobleman with a cat phobia . The low-budget film , shot in just 15 days , was Universal's box office hit of the year, but it fell through with contemporary film reviews mainly because of the crude script. Today, because of its expressionist means of expression, film is considered a typical work in Ulmer's oeuvre.

In the film The Gift of Gab (no German distribution title; director: Karl Freund), produced in the same year , both horror stars made short unannounced appearances, so-called cameos : Lugosi as a tango dancer and Karloff as a phantom . The female lead in this fast-paced burlesque with a lot of music was played by the then 24-year-old Gloria Stuart .

Lugosi and Karloff had a bigger task to cope with in the film Der Rabe ( The Raven ), once again shot by director Lew Landers very freely based on motifs by E. A. Poe for Universal . Film critics consider this very dark film about a crazy neurosurgeon and Poe enthusiast (Lugosi) and his willing assistant, a wanted criminal (Karloff), to be the only one of the horror films produced by Universal Studios in the 1930s without any hint of humor. Lugosi dominates the canvas doggedly and expansively, while Karloff assists him with the restrained expression he is familiar with. The manic Hungarian and the rather understated Brit complemented each other perfectly. The film then got problems with the censorship authorities because of alleged homoerotic approaches and sado-masochistic scenes in the in-house torture room and was banned in Great Britain.

In 1936, the two of them stood together again in front of the camera: In Deadly Rays ( The Invisible Ray ; director: Lambert Hillyer ) they took on the leading roles as two shady scientists in a mystery film about mysterious rays from space. The demonic scientist or doctor was in these years of Boris Karloff multiple-operated roll cliche: So he's in the UK manufactured B-movie The man who exchanged his brain ( The Man who Changed his Mind , 1936, directed by Robert Stevenson ) an obsessed, literally cadaverous surgeon; Film partners were Anna Lee , John Loder and Cecil Parker . On posters for this film, Karloff was featured as Dr. Maniac ("The Crazy Doctor") presented. In the walking corpse ( The Walking Dead , 1936, directed by Michael Curtiz ) he was against not demonic perpetrator but a victim of medical experiments: innocent hanged and then by a doctor ( Edmund Gwenn revived), it mutates into a "undead" Killer .

In the film Die Teufelsinsel ( Devil's Island or Song of Hell ; director: William Clemens), released in 1939 shortly before the outbreak of World War II , he once stood on the side of the good: As a French doctor Dr. Gaudet fought Karloff against the inhumane conditions in a French penal colony . The film was banned in France, where for a time all films of the producing studio Warner Bros. on the index were set.

Frankenstein's son and the end of the classic horror film era

A third and final film in the Frankenstein series with Boris Karloff was shot in 1939: Frankenstein's Son ( Son of Frankenstein ; Director: Rowland V. Lee ). Bela Lugosi plays the devious Ygor - hunchbacked, bearded and disheveled - he wakes the monster out of his coma and becomes his best friend. In terms of staging, the film is considered to be the weakest of the three Frankenstein films with Karloff - both in terms of the script and the directing work. In addition to Bela Lugosi's play, film critics praised the camera work, the masterful use of light and shadow and the buildings of the old European, gloomy scenario . Karloff acts as a monster, since he is initially in a coma, motionless for long stretches of the film and - unlike in Frankenstein's bride - is again continuously mute. In the last third he acts in the usual routine manner after the resurrection by Ygor / Lugosi.

The film did not have a good star: Universal Studios had been sold to new owners, director James Whale was no longer available and Dr. Frankenstein actor Colin Clive had died two years earlier as a result of his alcohol addiction. The role of Frankenstein or his son Wolf took over Basil Rathbone , known for the embodiment of the "elegant villain". Lionel Atwill , batch actor a. a. for criminal investigators, plays a police inspector with a wooden hand who is supposed to put a stop to Frankenstein and Co. But even the ranks of these solid acting actors could not save the film - it was not a success with audiences and critics.

Frankenstein's son was Karloff's last film as the Frankenstein monster. After that, he wasn't ready to shoot a fourth Frankenstein film. Once, however - seven years before his death - he was to be unfaithful to his resolution: In the Halloween episode Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing of the Route 66 series , he appeared in his old costume in 1962; the episode is still popular in the US to this day and is shown regularly on television during Halloween time. In the other sequel films of the Frankenstein series, Lon Chaney junior were initially in the role of the monster . and then several times to see Glenn Strange .

During the making of this film, on Karloff's 51st birthday, on November 23, 1938, his only child - daughter Sara Jane - was born; the mother was his fourth wife, Dorothy Stine, an employee of the Los Angeles City Library .

Under Roland V. Lee, Karloff was also to shoot his last film of this decade: The Executioner of London ( Tower of London , 1939). In this allegorical costume horror film based on motifs by William Shakespeare , he played death himself - embodied in the human form of an executioner ; The film partner was again Basil Rathbone. Film historians interpret Karloff's role as a coded allusion to Adolf Hitler.

With the decade of the 1930s and the beginning of the Second World War, the era of horror films about monsters, vampires and mummies in old European settings gradually came to an end in Hollywood . The real horrors of the time called for other, more realistic plots , including in the entertainment cinema. In the years to come, Boris Karloff focused primarily on portraying mad scientists and mentally disturbed, criminal intellectuals; mostly in B-films.

Radio work - mystery radio plays and more

From the late 1930s, Boris Karloff's voice was regularly featured on public and commercial US radio stations . He contributed to one-hour readings prime time stories of Edgar Allan Poe, in up Rudyard Kipling and Charles Dickens at CBS , NBC , ABC before and other favorites. He also regularly appeared in speaking roles in thirty-minute mystery series such as Lights Out on NBC, sat on the advice team on radio quiz shows, and participated in talk show rounds to promote new films. His expressive voice was a staple on US radio from 1938 until his death.


From "Mad Doctor" films to corpse thief and other films

In the 1940s and 1950s Karloff made a large number of mostly forgotten films. Especially during the Second World War, he was often seen in roles as a mad professor who wants to create a kind of " superman ". Most of these films were made in the Columbia film studios. In contrast to the very violent, dark mad maniac films of the 1930s, these so-called mad doctor movies with their macabre humor are more likely to belong to the genre of black comedy . What was in the air as a threat in Frankenstein's times had become a reality for everyone in the world and also in Hollywood after 1939; The real horror was encountered in American cinema, at least in the B-film, with gallows humor .

One example of this is the 1942 film The Boogie Man will get you (no German distribution title; director: Lew Landers ). In this film, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, mad scientists, kill rows of boarders for medical purposes in the basement of a boarding house in New England , without the naive owners noticing. Lorre, who always provided his appearances in horror films with a pinch of weird humor, and Karloff with his usual British understatement, show their comic sides here. The absurd film grotesque is full of allusions to the simultaneously successful crime comedy Arsen and Lace Cap , in which Karloff played Jonathan Brewster ; Lorre had a year earlier in the Warner Bros. film of the same name, the Dr. Einstein played

Karloff had made the film You'll Find Out with Bela Lugosi as early as 1940 , with the alternative title Here Come the Boogie Men (not a German distribution title). The film was produced by RKO , the leading studio for horror and mystery films in the 1940s under the head producer Val Lewton . Directed by David Butler , the two horror stars drove macabre jokes, garnished with a lot of music, about a seedy judge (Karloff) and a crazy necromancer (Lugosi) - assisted by Peter Lorre as an intellectual psychologist. The film, which was designed as a mystery comedy, was not particularly well received by the audience: Karloff and Lugosi did not appear together in any scene and were unable to fully exploit their trump cards as complementary film partners.

Boris Karloff was seen only once during this time in a film that referred to the war events in Europe: In British Intelligence (no German distribution title, 1940; director: Terry O. Morse) he was a German operating in Great Britain disguised as a butler Spy in the First World War. Some actors who have emigrated from Nazi Germany and are now forgotten played in small supporting roles, primarily as German officers.

In 1944, Universal finally cleaned up his monsters and horror characters of the classic style: In Frankenstein's House ( The House of Frankenstein ; Director: Erle C. Kenton ) based on a story by Curt Siodmak , Karloff, as a mad professor Niemann, presented the old heroes of horror films such as the werewolf and Dracula as creepy jokes in the Panopticon, assisted by Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine (as Dracula ), and Lionel Atwill; Bela Lugosi is not here. Glenn Strange slipped into Karloff's old role as Frankenstein's Monster , later known as bartender Sam in the television series Rauchende Colts ( Gun Smoke ).

Few of the films made with Boris Karloff in the 1940s were shot in color , although the Technicolor process had been increasingly used in Hollywood since the mid-1930s. Up until the end of the 1950s, his horror films in particular were black and white films , which suited the intended morbid mood of these works. The first, less successful color film with Karloff from this time was The Climax (no German distribution title; director: George Waggner) with the Turkish-born Hollywood star Turhan Bey as Karloff's opponent. In this thriller set in the Viennese opera setting, Karloff played an elegant tails role as a doctor who murdered out of jealousy.

Protrudes from the abundance of settled mostly in B-movies of this area Karloff decade mainly in 1945 by RKO in black and white on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson produced The Body Snatcher ( The Body Snatcher , directed by Robert Wise ) out. In this dark story about medical experiments on the newly deceased in 19th century Scotland, Karloff played the devious corpse thief Gray , who turned into a murderer in the course of the film , who provides unscrupulous surgeons and pathologists with fresh supplies; Partner was once again Bela Lugosi, this time only in a supporting role as the tumultuous caretaker Joseph . In the end, Gray / Karloff kills the drunk Joseph / Lugosi by suffocating him with his bare hand; It was the last joint film appearance of the two horror movie stars.

Two other films from the RKO horror forge with Karloff in the lead role are Die Todesinsel ( Isle of the Dead , 1945) and Bedlam (no German distribution title, 1945), each directed by Mark Robson . In the first film, set during the Balkan Wars 1912–1913, Karloff played a Greek general, head of a group of refugees stranded on a desert island. Film partners were u. a. Ellen Drew and Ernst Deutsch, who emigrated from Germany . In the gloomy, atmospherically very dense film, which, in addition to the horrors of war, also thematizes the consequences of an isolated coercive community for the human psyche, Karloff acted as a Nikolas Pherides who was gradually falling into madness ; this time not a malicious perpetrator, but a pitiful victim.

In Bedlam, on the other hand, a mystery drama about the London madhouse of the same name, which existed in real life up to the 1930s , he embodied a. a. next to Anna Lee a sadistic head of the institution. The black and white film paints a bleak picture of the conditions in former British mental institutions.

Supporting roles, Abbott and Costello films, and the Chinese nightingale

Boris Karloff was not supposed to play a leading role in the 1947 film Angelockt ( Lured ) directed by Douglas Sirk : However, in the opinion of the film critics, he designed his 5-minute appearance as an eccentric fashion designer alongside stars like Lucille Ball , George Sanders and Charles Coburn as a small showpiece of the art of acting.

By the late 1940s, audiences rarely saw Karloff on screen. Although he continued to play alongside big stars and under well-known directors, but in insignificant, only very small roles. Twice he played in that time the role of an Indian chief: 1947 in the Western The Undefeated ( The Unconquered ) with Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard (directed by Cecil B. DeMille ), 1948, directed by George Marshall in the Valley of the passion ( Tap Root ) alongside Van Heflin , Susan Hayward and Julie London ; both films were shot in color, appropriate to the genre.

Boris Karloff experienced a professional low point in his film career in the late 1940s and 1950s. In our own assessment and in the opinion of film historians, the slapstick films with comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello such as Abbott and Costello meet the killer, Boris Karloff (no German distribution title, 1949; director: Charles Barton) are among the worst things he did at that time turned. Just like Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney jun. the aging horror star should make it more attractive to the audience by appearing in one of these films, which were very successful at their time. In Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff he played a rogue Indian in a turban. Four years later, Karloff appeared in another film in the series, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (no German title, 1953; director: Charles Lamont) with. Film historians usually only mention these films with Karloff in passing. In the meantime, however, there are again fans of the trash genre who particularly appreciate these films because of the funny dialogues and the over-the-top spoofing of the horror film genre.

At the end of this creative decade there was a film-historical rarity: In The Emperor's Nightingale ( Cisaruv Slavík , no German distribution title, 1949), the English-language dubbing of a Czechoslovak puppet film by Jiří Trnka for the US market, Karloff took on the role of narrator . The film was based on the fairy tale The Emperor's Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen , and Karloff, with his well-groomed and surprisingly gentle voice, laid the foundation for successful work as a voice actor , reader and narrator on the radio and on record .

As early as 1946, after the fourth divorce, Boris Karloff had a fifth marriage with the 16 years younger Englishwoman Evelyn Helmore. This, a native of London like him and an employee of Darryl F. Zanuck, was to remain by his side until his death.

Broadway theaters - arsenic and lace

Karloff experienced one of the greatest successes of his professional life on Broadway in New York - in a role that the playwright Joseph Kesselring had written especially for him: In the play Arsenic and Lace Cap , which premiered in 1941 , he played the wanted mass murderer Jonathan Brewster , who was in the house of his gentle murderer Aunts, his "normal" brother Mortimer and his harmless, mentally ill brother Teddy seek refuge from the police. He is accompanied by Dr. Einstein , a plastic surgeon with drinking problems. He had transformed Jonathan's face into the face of Boris Karloff in the role of Frankenstein's monster under the influence of alcohol , as he saw the film Frankenstein on television during the operation .

The play ran with great success on Broadway for three years and had over 1,400 performances. Already in 1941 it was Frank Capra with Cary Grant as Mortimer and Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein was filmed, but was not allowed to be shown in cinemas until 1944 because of the ongoing theater performances. The role of Jonathan played Raymond Massey in the film , as Karloff was not released from his theater contract for the shooting . Since Karloff had financed the theater production with his own money, he became a wealthy man through the royalties . The comedy was in the 1940s and 1950s, one of the most successful plays of the US, and Jonathan for signature role for character actor who had the talent for a train into the demonic: At about the same time as Karloff took to a stage in Chicago Erich von Stroheim , the Role; Karloff and Lugosi went on tours of several weeks across the USA with their respective theater productions .

In the consciousness of the American public, however, the role, like Frankenstein's monster, has remained inextricably linked to Boris Karloff: The crime comedy was staged three times with him as Jonathan for the television station CBS : in 1949 in the series The Ford Theater Hour , in 1955 in The Best of Broadway with Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein and in 1962 for the last time in the Hallmark Hall of Fame series with Tony Randall as Mortimer . Several radio play versions in which Karloff spoke the role of Jonathan were also made. The version from 1955 is considered to be the most interesting, as it was the only time that Karloff and Lorre met each other in their respective roles.

Karloff was unable to repeat this success for the time being with appearances in two other plays subsequently staged on Broadway: Both The Linden Tree by John Boynton Priestley (1948) and The Shop at Sly Corner by Edward Percy (1949) were each after only seven Performances canceled.

Radio work - speaking roles, quizzes, talk and comedy

During the 1940s Boris Karloff was able to expand his presence in the radio medium, which was very dominant at the time. He regularly took on speaking roles in horror and mystery series. The series Inner Sanctum Mysteries and Creeps by Night , in which the actor could be heard as a guest speaker, were particularly popular, produced by ABC for many years based on scary stories from notebooks . The individual episodes were each 30 minutes long and were broadcast weekly on Sundays and Wednesdays.

He regularly sat u. a. with Ruth Gordon in the advice team of the famous radio quiz show Information, Please! from NBC, which was also seen on television from time to time ( moderator : Clifton Fadiman ). He fooled around with comedians like Eddie Cantor ( Times to Smile , NBC) and Groucho Marx ( Blue Ribbon Town , CBS) on their radio shows and was the only guest on Jay C. Flippen's talk show That’s Life (CBS) in 1946 . He could be heard in the radio play versions of well-known plays, such as the successful play Arsen und Spitzenhäubchen , which was edited several times for radio , he did a doctorate for his current films and also made guest appearances as a singer in radio music shows by well-known stars such as Bing Crosby .

In 1949 he received Starring Boris Karloff, his first radio broadcast as a presenter on ABC; however, the crime series was discontinued at the end of the year, as was the television version that was broadcast at the same time.

The 1950s

B films in the US and England

During the 1950s Karloff made a manageable number of feature films, most of them in the lower B range. While he was able to take on demanding tasks on the radio and later also on television, the only roles left on screen were dumb servants or mad scientists .

At the beginning of this decade, however, Karloff's work resulted in a film that was still in the tradition of classic horror films: Behind the Walls of Horror ( The Strange Door , 1951; Director: Joseph Pevney ) based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. In this costume film, which lets elements of suspense and thriller flow into the horror genre, Karloff is not the villain. He sacrifices his life for justice. Charles Laughton played the main role of the psychopathic villain this time .

Also in the film The Black Castle ( The Black Castle , 1952; Directed by Nathan Juran), a mixture of horror, science fiction and fantasy , fought Karloff as Dr. Meissner on the side of justice against evil as well as against crocodiles in the German Black Forest . Besides further from its participation in a handful of B movies similar style - he played in Voodoo Iceland (no German distribution title, in 1957, directed by Reginald Le Borg ) a kind of exorcist , which is an island of a Voodoo - curse should free - was Karloff can now be seen mainly on radio and television as well as on stage.

In the horror film Frankenstein - 1970 (1958; director: Howard W. Koch), which for unknown reasons the German distribution title Die Hexenküche des Dr. Rambow , Karloff is the German baron Viktor von Frankenstein , who was once driven mad by the Nazis and who is now working in a converted nuclear reactor to create a new person. The now over seventy-year-old was advertised as the new “demon of the atomic age” on posters for this film.

Better fared Boris Karloff as a film actor in his native England, where he turned in 1958 two films: In Grip of the Strangler (no German distribution title, directed by Robert Day), he played a writer who by a serial killer in a nightmarish Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story gets involved. In Corridors of Blood or The Doctor from Seven Dials (not a German rental title; Director: Robert Day) he was a drug addict in the slums of London who finances his addiction by trafficking in corpses and organs . Both films are now considered representative examples of B-films of that time and are occasionally shown at film festivals.

TV work - From Heart of Darkness and Sleepy Hollow to Inspector March

In the 1950s, the actor created a second mainstay through television . He was a frequent guest on television shows that were extremely popular at the time, such as the Dinah Shore and the Rosemary Clooney Show.

American television in those years was still heavily oriented towards theater and literature and produced sophisticated literary adaptations . This included, above all, the Playhouse 90 series (1956–1961) , which received the Golden Globe Award . In the 1958 production Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad , Karloff played Colonel Kurtz alongside Roddy McDowall as Marlow , Oskar Homolka as Doctor and Eartha Kitt as Queen . Karloff described this role as one of the most important of his life, alongside that of Bishop Cauchon in The Lark and that of Orlok in Movable Targets . Decades later, Marlon Brando made film history with the same role in Apocalypse Now . Conrad was one of the favorite authors of Boris Karloff, who was known to be very well-read, and who occasionally recited English poetry and prose in private .

As early as 1952, the now almost 65-year-old was working with two young colleagues, both of whom would later also become world-famous: in the CBS Television Workshop series, he played the title character in the production Don Quixote ( Don Quixote ) and 23-year-old Grace Kelly his Dulcinea ; Sidney Lumet, 28, directed the production .

TV series were not as dominant in the US at the time as they were in later years. So-called series on a specific topic were popular: As hosts, well-known stars regularly presented self-contained episodes in which they appeared together with other stars. One example is Shirley Temple's Storybook (1958-1961): It embodied Karloff in the episode The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving next Shirley Temple as Katrina Van Tassel the Father Knickerbocker . In 1999, Johnny Depp resulting film adaptation of the material by Tim Burton took Christina Ricci and Christopher Lee the respective roles.

As the host, the horror star, now white-haired and a distinguished gentleman , presented u. a. In 1958 the mystery series Veil (German: veil or curtain ) nine times , a kind of forerunner of formats like the much more successful series Twilight Zone, which started a year later . He took up his role as host again in the early 1960s in the mystery series Thriller (67 episodes).

In his native England, Boris Karloff tried in 1956 in the crime series Colonel March of Scotland Yard (not shown in Germany) as an investigator, in which he played the title role based on a template by John Dickson Carr . In it, wearing a tweed coat and an eye patch, he solved tricky cases in the border areas of crime and mystery; He was assisted as Inspector Gordon by the Austrian character actor Eric Pohlmann , who later also became known on German television. However, the series was discontinued after a year.

Other work on Broadway - The Lark and Peter Pan

In 1955/56 Karloff appeared on Broadway for the last time - as Bishop Cauchon with partner Julie Harris as Johanna von Orleans in Jeanne or Die Lerche ( The Lark ) by Jean Anouilh , for which he received a Tony Award nomination. Christopher Plummer took on the role of Warwick , Leonard Bernstein wrote the opening music. The production brought it to more than 200 performances, the minimum number for a success on Broadway. This play was also staged again for Hallmark Hall of Fame with Karloff and Harris in the corresponding roles for television; Basil Rathbone played the inquisitor and Eli Wallach played the dauphin .

In a stage version of Peter Pan , Karloff had already played - also successfully - alongside Jean Arthur in the title role and Marcia Henderson as Wendy both "the bad guy", Captain Hook , and "the good guy", Mr. Darling . Bernstein had composed stage music for this as well. The production for the benefit of the children's hospital The Hospital for Sick Children ( Peter Pan's Hospital ) in Karloff's native London brought it to more than 300 performances.

Radio Work - From Charles Dickens to Reader's Digest

During the 1950s, Boris Karloff expanded his radio presence further. In 1950, he presented children's literature several times in the program Boris Karloff's Treasure Chest for the New York broadcaster WNEW . He regularly took on demanding speaking roles in CBS's The Theater Guild on the Air series, which prepared well-known novel templates as 60-minute radio plays . He spoke in 1950 alongside Richard Burton and Flora Robson in David Copperfield to Uriah Heep , 1952 next to Basil Rathbone a role in Oliver Twist (both by Charles Dickens), and the same year next to Burgess Meredith a role in The Sea Wolf ( The Sea Wolf ) by Jack London .

In an edition of the MGM Musical Comedy Theater 'on the Air series, which was broadcast on all channels across the United States, Karloff starred in the radio version of the musical Yolanda and the Thief in 1952 . Alongside Lisa Kirk and John Conte , he was the guardian angel Angelo - a role that did not exist in the 1945 film version by Vincente Minnelli and had been written especially for Karloff; Swing standards like Got a Date with an Angel were incorporated into this radio musical and only achieved their actual popularity through broadcast.

In 1953 Karloff stood in London in the BBC studio for an edition of the series The Play of His Choice . Here he spoke in the radio play The Hanging Judge by Bruce Hamilton the Sir Francis Brittain ; Partner was his old film colleague Raymond Massey.

Boris Karloff's radio work concluded with the series Tales from the Reader's Digest , which was tailored to his needs . In three-minute short programs that were regularly broadcast via Syndicated Network between 1956 and 1969 , he summarized stories and reports from the magazine Reader’s Digest as a kind of news summary ( news talk ). The show was very popular in their time at the US listeners and was entitled as Karloff on the Soldatensender Armed Forces Radio Service also used internationally (AFRS).

The 1960s and death in England

TV work - guest star in crime series and others

On television, Karloff continued to appear as a guest star in shows and series at the beginning of this decade. In 1964 he had a guest appearance in the comedy music show The Entertainers , u. a. next to Caterina Valente , who was part of the regular cast of this show series.

From 1960 to 1962 he presented the mystery series entitled Thriller and took on demanding roles in television productions. He played in 1962 in a live recording of the detective piece The case Paradine ( The Paradine Case ) next Viveca Lindfors , Richard Basehart and Robert Webber to Judge Lord Thomas Horfield , a role that in 1948 Charles Laughton in the eponymous film by Alfred Hitchcock had embodies .

In the crime series Tennisschläger und Kanonen ( I Spy ), which was also popular in Germany at the time , Karloff was a guest star in 1967 in the episode A Knight Without Fear and Blame ( Mainly on the Plains , 2nd season, episode 22). As the Spanish scientist Don Ernesto Silvando with a Don Quixote tick, he pissed off the leading actors Bill Cosby and Robert Culp with his eccentricity; Carl Schell appeared as Horst in this episode . The sequence is repeated occasionally.

A year earlier, Karloff had appeared in the crime series The Girl from UNCLE with Stefanie Powers as agent April Dancer (in Germany it was only broadcast in 1995 under the title Dancer for ONCEL on Super RTL ). In the episode Always Trouble with Mother ( The Mother Muffin Affair , Season 1, Episode 3) he portrayed the transvestite and assassin Mother Muffin . Especially this episode of the now largely forgotten spin-off series on Solo for UNCLE ( The Man from UNCLE ) is still broadcast regularly on US and British television and has cult status in fan circles - just because of the spectacular appearance of Boris Karloff as an aged and cunning drag queen alongside guest star Napoleon solo Robert Vaughn .

Collaboration with Roger Corman and Jacques Tourneur

The director and producer Roger Corman hired the aged Boris Karloff for roles in two films that today have cult status among friends of B-movies: Der Rabe - Duell der Zauberer (The Raven) and The Terror - Schloß des Schreckens ( The Terror ), both shot in a very short time in 1962.

In terms of content, The Raven is not linked to the film of the same name with Karloff and Lugosi from the 1930s, but, like this one, is based on the poem by E. A. Poe with the same title. The script for this horror fun that self-ironically explores the genre comes from the pen of the well-known horror and science fiction author Richard Matheson . Karloff is in it Dr. Scarabus , an evil master of black magic who found the wizard Dr. Adolphus Bedlo ( Peter Lorre ) turned into a raven. Vincent Price plays the "good" magician as a representative of white magic . At the end of the film he defeats Scarabus / Karloff in a kind of magical duel. Vincent Price, 24 years younger than Karloff, became the leading American horror star of the 1960s. The young Jack Nicholson plays the dumb "sorcerer's apprentice" and Bedlos / Lorre's son in one of his first film roles.

Another collaboration between Karloff and Jack Nicholson took place immediately after the shooting: The Raven finished faster than planned, but Karloff was still tied to Corman by a temporary contract; Nicholson still turned everything that was offered to him at this time. So the director seized the opportunity to shoot another film within three days with the remaining budget in the same setting: The Terror - Castle of Terror . In this costume film, set in the time of Napoleon, Boris Karloff is a baron with a dark secret, Nicholson is a French officer. Co-directors of this film were, in addition to Corman himself, the young actor Nicholson, cult director Jack Hill and the 25-year-old directing novice Francis Ford Coppola . Both films are now considered to be the finest pieces of horror cinema of that decade.

Boris Karloff worked with Price and Lorre again in 1963: in the crime comedy Ruhe Sanft GmbH ( The Comedy of Terrors ), directed by Jacques Tourneur . With the support of Basil Rathbone, they act as weird undertakers who want to renovate their ailing family business through the unconventional supply of “fresh” customers; Karloff played Price's strange father-in-law. With Jacques' father Maurice, a native of France, Karloff had already filmed in 1920 in The Last of the Mohicans , in which he played a nameless Indian. Thanks to Tourneur's son, the old master of horror in black and white came late to color film.

Small appearances and roles in Italian and English horror films

Walking and acting in front of the camera became increasingly difficult for the 70-year-old Karloff: his back pain had worsened, and there was also severe arthritis , which forced the actor into a wheelchair again and again when turning. The heavy smoker's lung disease worsened into emphysema , so that it was now necessary to provide an oxygen device when filming. Nevertheless, until shortly before his death in 1969, he took on roles not only in American, but also British, Italian and Mexican productions.

These include short appearances in slick films like Bikini Beach (1964) as well as a leading role as the vampire Wurdalak in the episode film The Three Faces of Fear ( I tre volti della paura , 1963) directed by the Italian horror specialist Mario Bava . In this literary-inspired film based on themes by Guy de Maupassant , Alexei Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov , Karloff also acted as the narrator between the three episodes and addressed the audience directly from the screen. His film partners were u. a. Michèle Mercier and Mark Damon . In the USA, the film was also released under the title Black Sabbath and is said to have inspired a then unknown rock band around Ozzy Osbourne when they came up with a name.

There were fewer and fewer roles for an actor like Karloff in American horror films in the late 1960s. Although the genre had flourished again after its decline in the 1950s, the content had changed: events such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War were perceived by many US citizens as real catastrophes of almost apocalyptic proportions and also influenced that Horror movie. The horror no longer presented itself in the form of a single monster, but as an anonymous mass: now unknown young actors fought against faceless hordes from another dimension; Movies like Night of the Living Dead ( Night of the Living Dead , 1968) by George A. Romero later developed for the genre. Only Vincent Price was able to maintain his status as a representative of classic horror cinema in the USA.

In those years Karloff also played together with German film stars in an American production: In the spy film Midnight Canale Grande ( The Venetian Affair , 1967; director: Jerry Thorpe), he once again acted alongside Elke Sommer , Karlheinz Böhm and leading actor Robert Vaughn in the role of a seedy "doctor".

Towards the end of this decade, Italian and above all British low budget productions such as the Hammer Films and other smaller production companies with horror blood orgies dominated the market. Karloff did not work for Hammer - there the relevant roles were cast with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee .

Shortly before his death, Karloff worked for two British low-budget productions: Under the spell of Dr. Monserrat ( The Scorcerers ; Director: Michael Reeves ) he acted - hollow-eyed and visibly seriously ill - as hypnotist Prof. Marcus Montserrat in a primarily young team: the director and the main actor Ian Ogilvy were both in their mid-twenties, the actress Susan George was only 17. The quirky film combined a horror plot with the hyperbole of the mini-skirt generation in “ Swinging London ” of the late 1960s and early 1970s in a way that is typical of British films . Accordingly, Boris Karloff in this film looks like a fossil from another time.

His last film was 1968 British black mass on blood-red altar , and Curse of the Crimson Altar ( The Curse of the Crimson Altar ; Director: Vernon Sewell) with Christopher Lee as a partner. The female star of this strange film about dark family secrets, satanic cults, witches and vampires was Barbara Steele , who had advanced to become the "Scream Queen" in Italian horror cinema in the 1960s. During the filming, the actor, who now had only one lung, contracted severe pneumonia from which he died in February 1969. Nothing is known about the reasons why he was ill and, at the age of over eighty, still worked in this film and previously in five other trash horror films shot in the USA.

Last roles in Mexican productions

Four horror films produced in Mexico did not come onto the market until 1970, after Karloff's death. The lead writer and co-director of these films was Jack Hill , who had experience making B-films while working with Roger Corman . The films were produced by Acteca Films and Columbia Pictures . The scenes with Karloff were shot in a small studio in Santa Monica . The very aged actor portrayed crippled and blind criminals and, since he could hardly walk, mostly acted while sitting. In some of these films, including the last in the series entitled Torture ( The Fear Chamber ), which came out in 1972, the well-known Mexican stage, film and television actress Julissa played the lead role.

One of Jack Hill's first films, starring Boris Karloff and Julissa, was released in 1968 while the actor was still alive; in Dance of Death in the Schreckensschloss ( House of Evil , also Dance of Death or Macabre Serenade , 1968; directed by Jack Hill and Juan Ibanez) he played the old toy maker Mathias Morteval , Julissa his daughter. In this role he transforms life-size dolls into murderous zombies , the Mortevals , who gradually kill relatives who are hungry for inheritance. In the finale, Karloff accompanied the macabre dance of death with eerie sounds on the in-house organ.

The film was rediscovered by fans of the genre at the beginning of the 21st century and was released as a DVD on the German market in 2006.

Moving Targets

Boris Karloff's last work in Hollywood and film fans and historian his best film role was that of Byron Orlok in Peter Bogdanovich's Moving targets ( targets ) of 1968. The name of the film character is a tribute to the German silent film star Max Schreck and his famous role Graf Orlok aka Nosferatu .

The young director and screenwriter Sammy Michaels (Bogdanovich) wants to make another film with the famous old horror film star Orlok (Karloff), who is now struggling with his established, standardized image - this time based on a script he wrote himself. But the actor wants to withdraw from the film business and reflects with quiet melancholy on himself and his role in the history of Hollywood. At first he accidentally crosses the path of a fanatical sniper and then takes on a silent fight against him. In a drive-in cinema , the two finally come to a showdown in which the lines between violence and horror in the film and in reality are blurred.

The film quotes films with Boris Karloff and begins with an excerpt from the Roger Corman film The Terror, made five years earlier : Roger Corman had given the novice Bogdanovich material for this film and his leading actor, because Karloff still owed Corman two days of shooting at the time. With a budget of only 125,000 US dollars and support from Samuel Fuller , which was later not mentioned , the young director was able to complete his work for Paramount Pictures in just three weeks.

While the director and film star get drunk in his hotel room in one scene, Hawk's film The 1931 Criminal Code with Karloff in one of his few cinematic character roles, shortly before Frankenstein was made , is shown on television . The director and his star may have given a hint for the path that the actor would have liked to follow, but which was ultimately denied to him in the film - but not in television and on stage. As already mentioned, Karloff himself described this role as one of his most important shortly before his death. For him, it also became a kind of swan song , as it was his final farewell to the classic dream factory. The beginner Bogdanovich, on the other hand, as a representative of a new generation of filmmakers, succeeded in entering the then A-League of Hollywood with the low-budget film, which received much attention from critics .

Activity as a speaker - from the Grinch to fairy tales

In the 1960s, Karloff had increasingly used his distinctive voice for dubbing , radio productions and recordings. In the animated film How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), which is still popular on US Christmas television programs and the first ever Grinch film, he voiced the main character. Contrary to what is stated on the cast list, he did not sing the well-known song You are a Mean One, Mr. Grinch! . Rather, this was done unnamed by voice imitator and voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft , who imitated Karloff's voice. Since 2006, the song can be downloaded from the Internet as a ringtone , still with Boris Karloff as the alleged artist .

A year later, Frankenstein's Monster Party ( Mad Monster Party , 1967), a puppet film by Jules Bass, was made . In it, Baron Boris von Frankenstein, with Karloff's voice, once again invites all the heroes of the horror film - from werewolf to vampire and of course Frankenstein's monster - to a weird evening party at his castle; Baron Boris' doll bears a distant resemblance to Karloff. The film was primarily intended for children and is reminiscent of the Muppet Show ; it is occasionally shown in US children's programs .

Less well known is the film The Daydreamer, also developed by Bass (no German distribution title, 1966), a combination of scenes with actors and comic characters about Hans Christian Andersen's youth and the making of his fairy tales. In the film, which is not based on authentic facts, Karloff speaks in the episode Thumbelina ( Thumbelina ), the rat , Tallulah Bankhead in another episode the sea ​​witch .

During this time, the actor also produced records on which he played fairy tales and stories, etc. a. by Rudyard Kipling , but also read complete novels such as Dickens' Die Pickwickier ( The Pickwick Papers ). There was also a recording of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf with the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera and Boris Karloff as narrator. These recordings are still popular in English-speaking countries and some of them are available as audio books .

Last years and death in England

After completing the shooting of one of the last television films in the USA and the aforementioned Mexican trash films, Karloff and his wife finally moved back to his native England, where he had owned a house in London in the Kensington district and a country house in Hampshire for some time . There he lived as an English gentleman, worked in the garden, as far as his health still allowed, went to cricket and bred dogs. The switch from the Californian climate to the humid weather in England did not help the actor with lung disease in the long run: On February 2, 1969, Boris Karloff died at the age of 81 from complications from pneumonia in a hospital in Midhurst, Sussex. He was cremated and buried in the Guildford Crematorium in Godalming, Surrey . At the express request of the actor, the funeral took place in a simple setting and without public participation.


Boris Karloff in art, music and film

Although the actor has been seen in a wide variety of roles in film and television as well as on stage in his more than 50 years of professional life, he is still mainly reduced to Frankenstein's monster in public perception and especially in Europe . Behind this character, which he embodied only three times in the film, the human form of Boris Karloff alias William Henry Pratt disappeared almost completely. The angular monster head with the sad, empty look became an icon of surreal horror and made Karloff immortal. As early as 1938, the monster mask had become the symbol of the great surrealism exhibition in Paris.

An original film poster for the first Frankenstein film from 1931 with Karloff in the monster mask was auctioned off for $ 198,000 in 1994 - the highest amount that an original film poster had ever achieved at auction . Three years later, an original poster for The Mummy from 1932 even went under the hammer at a Sotheby’s auction for a record sum of more than 450,000 US dollars - so far only one poster for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has achieved more for around 600,000 US dollars. Dollar.

The actor can only be seen masked on the three postage stamps with Karloff's likeness that the US Federal Post Office has issued so far: in 1997 in the Famous Movie Monsters series as Frankenstein's monster and as the undead bandaged all over his body in The Mummy ; 2003 in the series American Filmmaking: Behind the Scenes (with make-up artist Pierce, who is adjusting the mask for him).

Artistic portraits of the person Boris Karloff alias William Henry Pratt without a mask can be seen in the National Portrait Gallery in London: a charcoal drawing by Nicolai Fechin from the 1930s and a photograph each by Yousuf Karsh and Ben Pinchot from the 1940s.

In 1962 the musicians Bobby "Boris" Pickett & The Crypt Kickers dedicated their only number 1 hit Monster Mash to Boris Karloff , today a well-known Halloween song in the USA. Pickett mimicked Karloff's voice and moved like Frankenstein's monster during performances . Karloff was amused by the song, which became a summer hit again in Germany in 1973, and sang it once on a television show.

In the horror punk and graver rock scene in the USA, Great Britain, Germany and Scandinavia , Boris Karloff has cult status , especially in the form of Frankenstein's monster . Several bands and musicians like u. a. Misfits , The Spook , Frankenstein , The Monsters and Frankenstein Drag Queens allude to him and occasionally give their origins in a playful and joking way with Graveland, Karloffornia . Musicians like the British punk rocker Billy Karloff , the Scottish band Karloff or Christopher Karloff from the British rock formation Kasabian derive their stage names directly from him. Boris Karloff is also mentioned in the song Monsterparty by the band Die Ärzte .

In the 1998 biopic Gods and Monsters by Bill Condon about the Frankenstein director James Whale ( Ian McKellen ) Karloff is played by Jack Betts , who looks astonishingly similar to him; the younger Karloff alias Das Monster is played by the Egyptian Amir Aboulela.

In the 1973 film legory El Espíritu de la colmena (no German distribution title, English distribution title Spirit of the Beehive ) by Spanish director Victor Eríce , seven-year-old Ana Torrent plays a little girl who, in 1940, started the Frankenstein film together with her big sister in a traveling cinema from 1931 sees. The child identifies with Maria from the film, is fascinated by Frankenstein's monster alias Karloff and secretly goes in search of him.

In February 2006 the renowned Filmforum in New York City organized a one-week Boris Karloff retrospective with 14 films on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Frankenstein . Not only the well-known horror classics and Moving Targets were shown , but also rarely shown films such as Graft , The Last Patrol and The Guilty Generation . Lectures held u. a. Peter Bogdanovich and Robert Day, director and producer of the English horror film Grip of the Strangler (shown in the US as The Haunted Strangler ) from 1958. Spirit of the Beehive was also shown at this festival.

Films and memorabilia about Boris Karloff are also kept at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens , New York City. Replicas by Boris Karloff a. a. as Frankenstein's Monster and The Mummy are in wax figure cabinets and a. in Hollywood, San Francisco and New York City.

The trademark rights to appearance, image, name, voice and signature of her father belong to Sara Karloff and her family, who have been granting the corresponding licenses through Karloff Enterprises since 1992 . Exceptions are the appearance of Karloff as Frankenstein's monster and as a mummy , the marketing of which has been at Universal since 2001 after a legal dispute with a subsequent out-of-court settlement .

Until ten years after his death, his likeness graced the popular comic series Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery at Gold Key Comics ; the publisher was u. a. became known through comics to popular television series such as Star Trek .

Memorial sites

A plaque on the house of the Pratt family commemorates Boris Karloff (it remains a matter of dispute whether it is really, as it says there, the house where Karloff was born, or whether it is not another house in nearby Camberwell , in East Dulwich, Southwark , London - formerly an old Victorian residential district, today a trendy district mainly inhabited by migrants and artists, which is the birthplace).

Another memorial plaque is in St. Paul's Church ( Actor's Church ) in Covent Garden , London; a memorial service was held there for him after the actor's death.

A third plaque is in the Garden of Remembrance , 2nd Dept., at the place of his burial in Surrey.

Karloff has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1735 Vine Street and 6664 Hollywood Blvd.)

In 2018 an asteroid was named after him: (101383) Karloff .

Books on Boris Karloff

In film encyclopedias and handbooks, Karloff's outstanding contribution to the horror film genre in the Frankenstein films, in The Mummy , The Raven , The Corpse Thief and, last but not least, Moving Targets is extensively recognized. Independent biographies about the actor and people are rare - the few books about him that have appeared in the USA were written and authorized by authors from Sara Karloff's environment , she is a co-author of one. The daughter takes great care to only present a completely positive image of Boris Karloff as a cultivated British gentleman to the public, which she approves. No biography of Boris Karloff has yet been published in German.

Further information

Political activity for SAG

The actor was committed to the professional interests of his colleagues, was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in 1933 and sat on its board of directors. Karloff, who in Hollywood circles was said to have sympathy for left-wing or anarchist ideas, was the only prominent star in the film metropolis who publicly confessed to his work for SAG at the time. The actor was an advocate of the union idea after being forced to work unprotected under labor law for around 25 hours without a break in his heavy costume while filming Frankenstein in 1931 . He was also upset that regardless of his success as a monster, when his contract with Universal was renewed, his weekly allowance had been arbitrarily cut from $ 1,000.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was hostile to Karloff until the end of his life, as in his eyes it only represented the interests of the studios and not those of the actors - both financially and artistically. Even under no circumstances would he have accepted an honorary Oscar from the Academy for his life's work; at least that's what the journalist Bill Warren says after a conversation with Boris Karloff in 1968. In fact, Karloff never received an Oscar nomination; However, there are increasing voices from supporters to posthumously award the actor an honorary Oscar.


  • During the shooting of the first Frankenstein film in 1931, the production team feared that seven-year-old Marilyn Harris, who was about to be thrown into a lake by the monster in the role of little Maria, would be too frightened by Karloff's creepy mask and costume to be able to play the scene. When the assembled crew was supposed to drive to the location together, Marilyn ran from the car she was supposed to drive over to the "monster" Karloff, took his hand and asked: "May I drive with you?" Very pleased and in typical Karloff -The man replied: "It would be my pleasure, little one." Then she drove all the way to the location with the "Monster" in its limousine. (freely translated from the biography in the IMDb, see web link)
  • During the shooting of Karloff's last Frankenstein film, Frankenstein's son , his first and only child, his daughter Sara Jane, was born on November 23, 1938 - the actor's birthday. The 51-year-old new father hurried - still in a monster mask and costume - from the set to the nearby hospital to take a look at the newborn, to the horror of the nurses. Narrated by Sara Karloff based on stories from her parents.
  • Sara Karloff remembers that her father feared being bugged in his Hollywood home because of his work for SAG. That's why he always had a handful of change in his pocket - for public payphones .


  • “My dear old monster. I owe everything to him. He's my best friend. ”(Translated from The Missing Link , horror film magazine, see web link)
  • “Once an actor is able to choose the roles, then he has a big problem - because he never knows which role is best for him. I'm sure I would have made a damn good Little Lord Fauntleroy , but who would have paid 10 cents to see me in that role? "(Translated to IMDb)
  • "When I was nine, I played the Demon King in Cinderella , and that was the beginning of a long and happy life as a monster." (Translated to IMDb)
  • After Bela Lugosi's death: “Poor old Bela. It was strange with him. Without question, he was a shy, sensitive and talented man who played high-quality classical theater in Europe. But he made a fatal mistake: he never took the trouble to learn our language properly. He had great problems pronouncing and understanding his script lines correctly. "(Translated from The Missing Link )


Feature films (selection)

TV films (selection)

  • 1949: Arsenic and Old Lace
  • 1952: Don Quixote
  • 1955: Arsenic and Old Lace
  • 1956: Inspector March of Scotland Yard (TV series)
  • 1957: The Lark
  • 1958: Heart of Darkness
  • 1958: Veil (host)
  • 1959: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  • 1960: Treasure Island, from The DuPont Show of the Month series
  • 1960–1962: Thriller (host)
  • 1962: Arsenic and Old Lace
  • 1962: The Paradine Case
  • 1962: Wizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing, from the series Route 66 , Season 3, Episode 6
  • 1966: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (voice)
  • 1966: Always Trouble with Mother ( The Mother Muffin Affair ), from the series Dancer for ONKEL ( The Girl from ONCLE ), Season 1, Episode 3
  • 1967: A Knight Without Fear and Blame ( Mainly on the Plains ), from the series Tennis Rackets and Cannons ( I Spy ), Season 2, Episode 22



  • Forrest J. Ackerman: Boris Karloff: The Frankenscience Monster. Ace Publishing Corporation, New York City, NY, 1969
  • Peter Underwood: Boris Karloff - Horror Man. Leslie Frewin, London, 1972 ISBN 0-85632-005-6 & Drake Publishers, New York City, NY 1972, ISBN 0-87749-258-1
  • Denis Gifford: Karloff: The Man, the Monster, the Movies. Curtis Books, New York City, NY 1973
  • Donald F. Glut : The Frankenstein Legend. A Tribute to Mary Shelley and Boris Karloff. Scarecrow Press, Metuchen NJ 1973, ISBN 0-8108-0589-8
  • Richard Bojarski, Kenneth Beals: The Films of Boris Karloff. The Citadel Press, New York City NY 1974, ISBN 0-8065-0396-3
  • Paul M. Jensen: Boris Karloff and His Films. AS Barnes, South Brunswick 1974, ISBN 0-498-01324-3
  • Robert Moss: Karloff and Company. Pyramid, NY, 1974 & in German as The classic horror film - Heyne Filmbibliothek Nr.39. Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, 1982
  • Cynthia Lindsay: Dear Boris. The Life of William Henry Pratt AKA Boris Karloff. Limelight Editions, London 1975, ISBN 0-87910-106-7 .
  • Gregory William Mank: Karloff and Lugosi: The Story of a Haunting Collaboration, with a Complete Filmography of Their Films Together. McFarland and Company, Jefferson NC 1990, ISBN 0-89950-437-X .
  • Scott Allen Nollen: Boris Karloff. A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radion, Television and Recording Work. With a foreword by Ray Bradbury . McFarland and Company, Jefferson NC 1991, ISBN 0-89950-580-5 .
  • Beverley Bare Buehrer: Boris Karloff. Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, CT, 1993, ISBN 0-313-27715-X .
  • Gary J. Svehla, Susan Svehla (Eds.): Midnight Marquee Actors Series: Boris Karloff. Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore 1996, ISBN 1-887664-07-6 .
  • Scott Allen Nollen, Sara Jane Karloff: Boris Karloff. A gentleman's life. Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore 1999, 2005 ( Reissued ), ISBN 1-887664-23-8 .
  • Gordon B. Shriver: Boris Karloff: The Man Remembered. Publish America, Baltimore, 2004, ISBN 1-4137-1049-2 .
  • Stephen Jacobs: Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster. Tomahawk Press, Sheffield 2011, ISBN 978-0-9557670-4-3 .


  • Rainer Dick: Boris Karloff. A monster that knows love. in: R. Dick: The Stars of the Horror Film . Tilsner, Munich 1996, pp. 88-97. ISBN 3-910079-63-6 .
  • William K. Everson: classic horror film ( Classics of the horror film ). Goldmann, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-442-10205-7 .
  • Ronald M. Hahn , Rolf Giesen : The New Lexicon of Horror Films. With the collaboration of Volker Jansen. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, Berlin 2002. ISBN 3-89602-507-4 (sorted by German film titles)
  • Ephraim Katz: Boris Karloff. in: The Film Encyclopedia. Revised by Fred Nolan and Ronald Dean. HarperCollins, New York 1993, 2005. ISBN 0-06-074214-3 .
  • Leonard Maltin: Boris Karloff. in: Leonard Maltin: Movie Encyclopedia. Dutton, New York 1994. ISBN 0-525-93635-1 .
  • Claudius Weil, Fernand Jung, Georg Seeßlen: Boris Karloff. in: The Horror Film - Encyclopedia of Popular Film. 2 volumes. Roloff and Seeßlen, Munich 1977, 1980, ISBN 3-88144-112-3 , ISBN 3-88144-122-0 .
  • Kay Less : The film's great personal dictionary . The actors, directors, cameramen, producers, composers, screenwriters, film architects, outfitters, costume designers, editors, sound engineers, make-up artists and special effects designers of the 20th century. Volume 4: H - L. Botho Höfer - Richard Lester. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-89602-340-3 .


  1. See family tree and coat of arms [1]
  2. See article in the Times of India about the marriage of the parents ( Memento of February 2, 2002 in the Internet Archive )
  3. ↑ It is unlikely that Pratt came to Canada together with Wilton, as you can often read, since she already had an engagement on New York's Broadway in the 1904/1905 season, see the entry on Olive Wilton in the Internet Broadway Database ( IBDb ) [2]
  4. See short entry on Olive Wilton in the IMDb [3]
  5. See the website of the Playhouse Theater Page no longer available , search in web archives:@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /
  6. See the article by Larry Meredith on the families of horror stars [4]
  7. See the family tree published by Sara Karloff [5]
  8. See the official obituary for Hugo Pratt by the Ehapa publishing house [6]
  9. See article by Elliott Stein in Village Voice [7]
  10. See presentation of the film The Mummy on a private film page, with poster and posters [8]
  11. See film still with Boris Karloff in Das Haus des Grauens in the IMDb [9]
  12. See photo from the set with director Whale and his "creature" in the IMDb [10]
  13. See film still from Frankenstein's bride with Karloff and Lanchester and Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein and Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Praetorius [11]
  14. See film still with Karloff and Lugosi in Der Rabe in the IMDb [12]
  15. See film still from Frankenstein's bride with Karloff and Lugosi [13]
  16. See the list of Boris Karloff's radio presence by John Eccles, Jr. [14]
  17. See interpretation of The Boogie Man will get you by Joe Winters, with film poster and film stills ( Memento from June 8, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  18. See film still from Der Leichendieb with Karloff as Gray [15]
  19. See the original movie poster for The Strange Door with Karloff and Laughton [16]
  20. See the original film poster for Frankenstein - 1970 with Boris Karloff [17]
  21. See episode index by Colonel March with photo [18]
  22. See photos from The Mother Muffin Affair with Karloff, Powers and Vaughn - ( Memento of the original from April 16, 2003 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  23. See presentation of the film on a French page with advertising photo [19]
  24. See film still from Comedy of Horror with Boris Karloff in IMDb [20]
  25. See the film poster for the film The Scorcerers from France, which ran there under the title La Créature Invisible , in the IMDb [21]
  26. See the memories of the film journalist Bill Warren of the shooting with a frail Boris Karloff, with private photos [22]
  27. See the review of the film Targets / Movable Targets by Björn Becher in German ( Memento from September 29, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  28. See information material and photos for Mad Monster Party from the production company Rankin / Bass [23]
  29. See presentation of Boris Karloff's grave in Find a Grave [24]
  30. BBC: Long film poster fetches record
  31. See the detailed explanations of Larry Meredith on the Movie Monsters stamps [25]
  32. See page of the National Portrait Gallery, London [26]
  33. See Bobby "Boris" Pickett in an interview with Terry DuFoe ( Memento from March 7, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  34. The Doctors. Monster party. In:
  35. See presentation of the film Gods and Monsters in Dirk Jaspers Filmlexikon, in German with photos from the set Archived copy ( Memento from May 17, 2006 in the Internet Archive )
  36. See review of Victor Eríce's film by Ekkehard Knörer [27]
  37. See the information page of the Filmforum New York on the Karloff retrospective ( Memento from January 22, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  38. See the homepage of Karloff Enterprises [28]
  39. See photo of the plaque on the Pratts' house in East Dulwich [29]
  40. See the founding photo of SAG with Boris Karloff among his colleagues [30]
  41. See fan initiative on an unofficial Oscar page ( Memento from October 13, 2006 in the Internet Archive )

Web links

Commons : Boris Karloff  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on May 3, 2006 in this version .