Boris Karloff Overview:

Legendary actor, Boris Karloff, was born William Henry Pratt on Nov 23, 1887 in Camberwell, London. Karloff died at the age of 81 on Feb 2, 1969 in Midhurst, Sussex and was laid to rest in Guildford Crematorium Cemetery in Guildford, Surrey, England.

Boris Karloff

Early Life

Boris Karloff was born William Henry Pratt on November 23rd, 1887 in London, England and was the youngest of nine children. His father, Edward, spent much of his time in India working as the Commissioner of Custom Salt and Opium for the Indian Salt Revenue Service for the British colonial government.  He was distantly related to Anna Leonowens, whose stories and experience in the royal court of Siam served as the basis for the musical The King and I. His mother, Eliza, was Edward's third wife and was suspected to be of Indian heritage due to Boris's darker complexion.  She died while Karloff was still a child, leaving his eight older siblings to raise him while their father was away at India.

Like many energetic children, Karloff was more interested in sports and music than studying the classics. While at Enfield Grammar School he would make his stage debut in the school adaption if Cinderella. However, as Karloff grew older and entered the Uppingham School in London, he began to take his schooling more seriously. He would graduate in 1907 and attend King's College at the University of London in 1907 with the plan of following his brothers into civil service.  Once again, however, he grew tired of his study and found himself drawn more and more to the theatre. Soon he was spending more time at the theater than in class, a habit that was reflected in his grades - failing many of his exams. After receiving some money from his mother's estate, Karloff dropped out of school, packed his bags, and sailed east for Canada.

Early Career

Upon his arrival in Ontario, Karloff found work as farmhand just outside of Hamilton. He then traveling further inland, making his way to Vancouver and often working manual labor gigs to make ends meet. He continued to pursue his dream of becoming an actor, approaching various theater companies despite his lack of proper training or experience. He was eventually hired by the Jean Russell Players after lying about his experience, telling the managers that he had worked the stage in London. Although they quickly saw through the lie and cut his salary in half, Karloff remained with the troupe, cutting his theatrical teeth across Canada with them for the next two years. He then joined the St. Clair Players. Unlike the Jean Russell Troupe, the St. Clair Player performed on both sides of the boarder, allowing Karloff to enter the United States via North Dakota for the first time in 1913. He then traveled through out the United States for the next four years, working with the St. Clair players on and off, performing in low budget theaters across the United States. By 1917 he had arrived in Los Angeles and on the stoop of a rapidly growing film industry.

Film Career

Upon arriving in Hollywood, Karloff began appearing as extra in whatever films he could. Because his early film career was not documented proficiently, it's impossible to tell his exact film debut, as he appeared in so many. One of his earliest credits came in 1919 when he appeared as Mexican in a saloon in chapter two of the series The Masked Rider and followed that up with an uncredited henchman roles in the Douglas Fairbanks vehicle His Majesty, the American. For the next few years Karloff  found consistent work in Hollywood, appearing as an extra or in bits parts. Because of darker complexion and semi-exotic looks, Boris was usually cast as a person of color due to the fact that Hollywood was almost exclusively an all-white club. After several years in the film industry, Karloff remained a bit player with little prospect for advancement and was still forced to work manual labor jobs to eke out a living. It wasn't until the late 1920's that Karloff got the advice that would shape his career. While meeting with horror star Lon Chaney, Karloff was told by the veteran actor that in order to succeed in Hollywood, an actor needs something that makes that stand out and find something no one else can do. With that advice in mind, Karloff began reveling in the role of villain, playing up gaunt face and unnerving screen presence.  

In 1930 Karloff was cast in the stage production The Criminal Code, as incarcerated killer, Ned Galloway. The play was moderate hit with Karloff receiving positive praise from the critics. When the play was adapted into film, Karloff went along with it, reprising the role of Ned and gaining the attention of Hollywood while at it. He would act in fourteen more movies that year including the one that would make him a legend: Frankenstein.


In the big screen adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein, Karloff played Frankenstein's monster, a confused but sensitive reanimated/reassembled corpse whose hideous appearance makes him the object of scorn and fear amongst the local populace. The costume Karloff was forced to wear for the role was nothing short of arduous, with the shoes alone weighing a staggering eleven pounds each. But the heavy costume and long hours in the make-up chairs proved well worth it, as the final results were nothing but chilling. The monster had been born.  The film was tremendous hit with critics and audiences, making over a million dollars at the box-office and solidified Karloff's place in film and pop-culture history. After the success of Frankenstein, Universal Studios was quick to sign Karloff to long-term contract. They immediately cast him more horror films such as Behind the Mask, The Mask of Fu Man Chu and The Mummy but also let him flex his acting chops with non-horror pictures such as the Howard Hawks gangster classic Scarface.

With his new found stardom, the 44 year old actor also found he had also had some new found clout. He used his voice in Hollywood as an advocate for actor's welfare and in 1933 became the co-founder of the Screen Actors Guild. The next year he starred in the Edgar G. Ulmer horror picture The Black Cat opposite Bela Lugosi. The film was the first of eight in which Karloff and Lugosi would star together, forming somewhat of a friendly actors' rivalry with one another. The next year he would reprise his role of The Monster for The Bride of the Monster. At this point in his career Karloff was so famous as a thriller actor that he was simply billed as "Karloff," without his first name of Boris.  He would revive the role on film once more in 1940's Son of Frankenstein opposite Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone.

Stage and Television

In 1940 Karloff returned to the stage to star in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace. In the play Karloff played Jonathan Brewster, a murderer from an eccentric who travels with a plastic surgeon to keep his identity at bay. In a bit of self-referential humor a running joke through the play was that Jonathan's new appearance made him look just like... Boris Karloff. The play was hit on Broadway and went on a subsequent 66-city tour that lasted through World War II. Although mostly devoted to the stage in the early 1940s, he did make the occasional film appearance in pictures such as The Boogie Man Will Get You and The Climax. After the war Karloff remained hard at work in Hollywood appearing in films such as The Body Snatcher, Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome and Lured. However, because the publics taste has since moved away from Monster horror films, none of them ever reached his earlier success.

By the 1950s Karloff found himself making the move to television although he still managed to show up on the big screen from time to time. He made his TV debut on the Ford Theatre Hour, which presented a live televised performed of Arsenic and Old Lace. He then continued populate the small screen, making appearance in series such as The Plymouth Playhouse, Robert Montgomery Present and Suspense. In 1951 he returned to the stage as the menacing Captain Hook opposite Jean Arthur's titular role in Peter Pan. He would appear on Broadway for last time with the show The Lark that ran for over 225 performances.

Later Life

Although his health was in decline by the 1960s, Karloff remained busy. From 1960 to 1962 he was the host of the popular NBC series Thriller In 1963 he would star with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre in the low budget, comedic horror film The Raven. He would work with director Roger Corman again later that year with The Terror. In 1966 he narrated and provided the voice of the Grinch in the Christmas classis How the Grinch Stole Christmas. He later narrated the LP soundtrack for the film and earned a Grammy in the process. By the late 1960s, however, Karloff heath was in rapid decline. Although he still managed to work, he would often do so at the expense of his own health, maintaining his strength for the camera and collapsing after the take. Most of his films made during this time period were fairly forgettable but his performance in the low budget, Peter Bogdonvich's 1968 thriller, Targets was met with great critical praise. Karloff spent his final years in the small town of Bramshott, Engand before eventually succumbing to pneumonia. Boris Karloff died on February 2nd, 1969. He was 81 years old.  

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



He was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the categories of Motion Pictures and Television. In addition, Karloff was immortalized on a US postal stamp in 1997. Karloff was never nominated for an Academy Award.

BlogHub Articles:


By Dan Day, Jr. on Aug 7, 2022 From The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog

Last night I watched the 2021 documentary : THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER on the Tubi streaming channel. The film was directed and co-written by Thomas Hamilton. It's a fine program, giving a fairly complete retrospective on 's acting career. What makes it a cut above is the a... Read full article

at RKO: Body Snatcher, Isle of The Dead, Bedlam

By 4 Star Film Fan on Oct 30, 2021 From 4 Star Films

In our current climate, it almost seems like an oxymoron to have a shoestring budget period piece, but many of Val Lewton’s best movies were founded on this formula. His three-film partnership was beneficial for all parties involved and we would like to consider how he was able to fashion Karl... Read full article

Film Noir Review: Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, (1949)

By Danilo Castro on Sep 8, 2019 From Classic Movie Hub Blog

?Things have been awfully dead around here.? I am forever indebted to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The duo were my entry point into classic film as a kid, and many of their comedies (Buck Privates, Rio Rita, Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man) still rank among my all-time favorites. The... Read full article

Silver Screen Standards:

By Jennifer Garlen on Aug 12, 2019 From Classic Movie Hub Blog

Silver Screen Standards: It was an early afternoon in June as I trooped along from Edinburgh?s Royal Mile near George IV Bridge with my family in tow. We were headed for Greyfriars Kirkyard to poke around the tombs until our tour time at Edinburgh Castle, and the old city heaved wit... Read full article

On Blu-Ray: in Frankenstein 1970

By KC on May 24, 2019 From Classic Movies

Decades after getting his big break in Frankenstein (1931), revisited the idea in Frankenstein 1970 (1958). This time he was the one harvesting body parts and playing with knobs as Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Karloff is the draw in this low-budget quickie production which recently made it... Read full article

See all articles

Boris Karloff Quotes:

[repeated line]
The Monster: Friend, friend.

Dr. Van Den: I know one thing, Julian - there are things human beings have no right to know!

Dr. Henryk Savaard: Think of it! The Edison or Pasteur of tomorrow need not die merely because his heart is worn out. We'll give him a new heart taken perhaps from the body of a young man who's been killed in a automobile accident. And our great genius is awakened to another sixty years of useful life! You ask me if that's a benefit to mankind? I answer it's the gift of eternal life! But whether man's wise enough or old enouh to receive such a gift, I don't know. I don't know!

read more quotes from Boris Karloff...

Share this page:
Visit the Classic Movie Hub Blog CMH
Also a Sagittarius

See All Sagittariuses >>
Boris Karloff on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame

See All Walk of Fame Stars >>
Boris Karloff Facts
In contrast to the image he presented in most of his films, the private Karloff was, by every account, a quiet, bookish man off- screen. A true gentleman, he had many friends, both in and out of show business, and he was particularly fond of children. For the latter, among other things, he recorded many successful albums of children's stories.

He was the original inspiration for the first illustrations of the Incredible Hulk.

Maintained an apartment in New York's The Dakota apartment house.

See All Related Facts >>
Related Lists
Create a list

See All Related Lists >>