William Henry Pratt, better known by his stage name Boris Karloff, is a well-known English actor adored by the public for his portrayal of the grim monster created by Dr. Frankenstein in Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), and the voice of the grumpy Grinch in the 1966 television animation of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
He is arguably the most famous of all horror actors and an indisputable legend of classic horror movies. Although Karloff is best remembered for his masterful portrayal of “The Monster” in Frankenstein, many people forget that he actually starred in numerous other movies, establishing himself as the king of horror.
In his successful 60-year old career, Karloff starred in over 90 movies and made countless television appearances.
Karloff was only nine years old when he made his acting debut playing the demon king in a church production of Cinderella and, as he once said, it launched him on a long and happy life of being a monster. However, becoming an actor was not his first career option and upon graduating from London University his first goal was to become a diplomat. But emigrating to Canada meant that his plans were about to change. He soon changed his name and began pursuing an acting career.
In the years before he began his reign as king of Hollywood horror, the London-born actor, like numerous other actors of the era, struggled to get a role in a movie. His career path changed overnight when on Friday, November 20, 1931, Frankenstein premiered at the Alhambra Theater in Milwaukee.
In Gregory William Mank’s book Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration, with a Complete Filmography of Their Films Together, the author cites the Washington Post review of the iconic movie which reveals the original impact of Karloff’s Monster:
“The most remarkable performance by far in Frankenstein is that of the giant fiend himself by Boris Karloff… It’s a skillful but unsavory bit of imaginative and grotesque portraiture that the delicately constituted will dream about through many haunted nights.”
In the upcoming years, Karloff gained immense popularity portraying heartless monsters and bad guys. He was on several occasions dubbed “The King of Monsters.”
In contrast to his on-screen persona, in private life, Karloff was by every account a shy, sweet and generous person.
“He had this really broad career, but he was fortunate enough to own two holidays – Halloween and Christmas,” Sara Karloff, the daughter of Boris Karloff once said. “He always referred to it as his busy season,” she added.
While onscreen he was stealing Christmas, in his private life he was practically the “Spirit of Christmas.”
In complete contrast to his role as the Grinch, from December 1940 Karloff initiated a charity cause, which by all means was in the Christmas spirit. Every Christmas, Karloff would dress as Santa Claus and hand out presents to the physically disabled children at Baltimore Hospital.
Karloff was particularly fond of children and, alongside his extensive involvement and influence in the horror genre, he made a lot of records for the children’s market.
Some of the most famous recordings were: Three Little Pigs and Other Fairy Stories, Tales of the Frightened (volume 1 and 2), Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories with Cyril Ritchard and Celeste Holm, Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, and Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark.
Apart from being an iconic actor and a true legend of horror, Karloff was also a star of a weekly children’s radio show on WNEW, back in the beginning of the 1950s. The ex-monster from Frankenstein and numerous other cult movies here portrayed a softer side, playing music and reading stories for children.