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Boris Karloff: Career Tribute

Boris Karloff

The Story & Career of the Man Who Gave Frankenstein's Monster His Iconic Visage

William Henry Pratt was born on November 23 1887 and is best known by his stage name Boris Karloff. He was born in England and started theatrical performances in Canada around 1911. After several years in theater he made his debut in Hollywood, starting with several silent films.

His first on screen movie that survived the decay of the dawn of cinema is The Lightning Raider from 1919. Karloff’s roles were mainly bit parts but he also portrayed different races of characters, from a Native American in Last of the Mohicans to an Arabic character in the 1921 film Cheated Hearts.

He played in many films during this period of film but his big break was in 1931, becoming the icon of horror for many years to come for being the basis of the Mummy and more famously, Frankenstein’s Monster.

The Young Life of Boris Karloff

Born in Dulwich, Surrey in an area that would be a part of London, William Henry Pratt’s maternal Indian heritage gave him a slightly darker complexion which explained his many multiracial roles in film and stage plays. He was raised by his older siblings after the death of their parents and spent most of his youth in Enfield.

After going through Enfield Grammar School, he received private education in Uppingham School and Merchant Taylors’ School. He then attended King’s College London with a career focus for service in the British government before dropping out to become a drifter working several odd jobs in Canada. It was around this period in his life when he got into theater work.

The Portrayals of Frankenstein’s Monster

Before his iconic appearance in Frankenstein, he appeared in over 80 different films and was a major character in a few of them. Portraying the monster in Frankenstein was the most physically demanding role of his career, between the make up, prosthetics, and the rigid movements he had to practice for the character.

Becoming Frankenstein’s monster shot Karloff to being one of the first major horror icons in the black and white era. He also became one of the major actors of the Universal Classic Monsters, including Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. The iconic look of Karloff’s Frankenstein codifies the appearance of the character, from the green rotted color of the skin to the stitches on the arms, neck, and the large bolts in the neck.

Boris Karloff

Karloff portrayed Frankenstein’s monster as an innocent, misunderstood creature suffering a miserable existence, not knowing what he’s doing. In a way, it’s similar to the novel version of the creature who was also abandoned by his creator. By the film, Frankenstein’s Bride, the monster has become fully sympathetic and in many ways is the protagonist of later adaptations. Karloff’s visage of Frankenstein’s monster has been considered the key concept whenever a new form is used, whether in animation, different films without Karloff, or video games where the monster is an enemy.

Other Popular Portrayals of Boris Karloff

Along with Frankenstein, Karloff has portrayed Imhotep in The Mummy film from 1932. The character was portrayed as a priest cursed to live as an immortal mummy protecting the secrets of the temple after trying to resurrect his lover. When archaeologists disturb the site and desecrate certain artifacts within – including the book of Thoth – sure enough, the mummy awakens and chaos ensues.

Karloff has also done a multitude of voice work, including narrating Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas in the 1960s along with being the voice of the titular character. Boris continued on many other works, often going away from physical acting and doing voice work as his health waned.

The Legacy of Boris Karloff 

Karloff passed away in 1969 from a combination of health issues due to his active smoking lifestyle. Like all accomplished artists and performers, he forged a legacy from his work. Along with having an extensive filmography, Karloff became one of the most popularized and referenced versions of Frankenstein’s monster by design and profile.

His voice was also popular for the sinister edge he gave for the Christmas icon Grinch. He additionally worked on a number of horror anthologies, including Tales of Terror and his own Boris Karloff Horror Anthology in 1965. He would continue to perform on screen in minor roles and off screen as a narrator until his death in 1969. The legacy of Boris Karloff lives on, with many of his social accomplishments opening opportunities for other creators and performers. He will be known for decades as the true face of Frankenstein’s monster, still evident in recent works inspired by his makeup and prosthetics.

Boris Karloff

Frankenstein (1931) Original Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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An enthusiast of Fantasy and Sci-Fi. I loved reading about the stories and worlds of video games and movies and writing on a multitude of subjects, from lists to reviews.