skip navigation
Overview for Boris Karloff
Boris Karloff

Boris Karloff


TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (21)

Recent DVDs

Doomed To Die ... The fifth installment in a six-part mystery series centering around beloved... more info $8.95was $9.99 Buy Now

Isle of the... Isle of the Snake People - Digitally Remastered. The inhabitants of a small,... more info $8.95was $9.99 Buy Now

Isle of the... Boris Karloff stars in a pair of eerie Val Lewton films. First, a plague... more info $14.36was $17.99 Buy Now

The Lost... Victor McLaglen, Boris Karloff, Wallace Ford. A WWI unit in Mesopotamia loses... more info $12.95was $17.99 Buy Now

Hollywood... "Doctor X" (1932) is an early shock classic with Lionel Atwill as a Long Island... more info $22.46was $29.99 Buy Now

Mongos Back in... A hired gunman walks into a hornet's nest of trouble in MONGO'S BACK IN TOWN.... more info $19.95was $19.99 Buy Now

Also Known As: William Henry Pratt,Karloff Died: February 2, 1969
Born: November 23, 1887 Cause of Death: respiratory disease
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: Cast ... actor farm worker truck driver


o a frequent destination, where Karloff earned a Tony nomination for "The Lark" (1952) as the bishop who orchestrated the execution of Joan of Arc. He also made an ideal Captain Hook in a 1950 musical production of "Peter Pan" with songs by Leonard Bernstein.

Though age and illness slowed Karloff physically in the 1960s, he remained remarkably busy throughout the decade. He enjoyed renewed popularity as the host of "Thriller" (NBC, 1960-1962), one of the best horror anthology series ever produced for television. And he became a horror icon in residence for the low-budget studio American International Pictures (AIP), which also counted Vincent Price and Peter Lorre among its resident boogeymen. Karloff teamed with both actors for "The Raven" (1963), a comic tale of warring sorcerers for director Roger Corman, who re-used the film¿s sets for "The Terror" (1963), a low-budget ghost story with Karloff and a pre-fame Jack Nicholson. AIP would cast Karloff in a string of features during the `60s, including the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation "Die, Monster, Die!" (1965), "The Curse of the Crimson Altar" (1968) with Lee and Barbara Steele, and even a pair of its beach party movies. These appearances made Karloff a popular figure among young moviegoers, many of whom had not been born when he appeared in "Frankenstein." He subsequently boosted his youth appeal tenfold by narrating "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!" an animated adaptation of the children¿s book by Dr. Seuss about a surly creature (voiced by Karloff) who schemed to disrupt a community¿s Christmas celebration. Karloff also narrated the story for a 1966 soundtrack LP that earned him a Grammy nomination. The special eventually became a holiday television perennial that introduced new viewers to Karloff with each passing year.

Karloff¿s healthy declined dramatically in the 1960s; emphysema and other physical ailments robbed him of the ability to stand for long periods of time or breathe without an oxygen tank. Yet he continued to act, summoning his strength for the duration of a take before collapsing into an off-camera wheelchair. Most of his work during his final years was forgettable, including a string of incomprehensible horror films made in Mexico. But in 1968, he gave one of his final performances in "Targets," a low-budget thriller by Peter Bogdanovich which juxtaposed the final days of an aging screen horror icon (Karloff) with the dawn of a new kind of terror: a seemingly all-American young man (Tim O¿Kelley) on an inexplicable shooting spree. "Targets" provided Karloff with a dignified coda for one of Hollywood¿s most legendary careers.

Karloff¿s final years were spent at his cottage in the village of Bramshott, England. He was hospitalized with pneumonia in 1969, and succumbed to the illness on Feb. 2, 1969. However, Karloff remained a star, even in death. His four Mexican films eventually saw release in the early 1970s, and episodes of an unreleased anthology series called "The Veil" (1958) were assembled into feature films that surfaced on late night television. An illustrated likeness of Karloff also continued to serve as the elegant but sinister host of a comic book series, initially titled "Thriller" but later changed to "Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery," which ran for two decades after his death. In 1997, his depictions of the Monster and the Mummy were commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp series celebrating classic movie creatures.

By Paul Gaitaich listed him as "?" A considerable success for Universal Studios, "Frankenstein" instantly minted the 44-year-old Karloff as a horror star on par with Bela Lugosi of "Dracula" fame (1931), who would become his frequent onscreen nemesis in subsequent years.

By 1932, Karloff was Universal¿s monster-in-resident, tackling a host of infamous figures in what would become a roster of classic horror films. He was a terrifying, inhuman butler in Whale¿s offbeat "The Old Dark House" (1932), then essayed Sax Rohmer¿s fiendish villain in "The Mask of Fun Manchu" (1932) before donning even more intensive makeup to play an undead Egyptian priest in Karl Freund¿s "The Mummy" (1932). His rogues¿ gallery soon came to encompass a religious fanatic in John Ford¿s "The Lost Patrol" (1932), a perverse Satanist in Edgar G. Ulmer¿s macabre "The Black Cat" (1934), a scientist transformed into a killing machine by his own invention in "The Invisible Ray" (1936) and a sadistic, club-footed executioner in "The Tower of London" (1939). Karloff also played Chinese detective Mr. Wong in three features during this period, as well as a heroic doctor wrongly imprisoned on "Devil¿s Island" (1939), among countless other films during this period.

But he was best known as the Monster, whom he would refer to as "the best friend [he] ever had," and whom he would twice reprise on film in the 1930s. His lonely, lovelorn creature was spurned by a feral Mate (Elsa Lanchester) in Whale¿s dizzyingly surreal "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), then as a dull sidekick to Bela Lugosi¿s ripe performance as the crippled shepherd, Ygor, in "Son of Frankenstein" (1939). But the series soon descended into B-movie territory, and Karloff would turn over the Monster to other actors for sequels, including Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Glenn Strange, none of whom could equal the humanity of his classic performance.

Cut loose from the role that made him a star, Karloff began the 1940s in a string of low-budget potboilers like "The Ape" (1940), a grotty chiller about a scientist who impersonated an escaped circus ape in order to obtain human spinal fluid for his clandestine experiments. He found greater rewards on the Broadway stage, where he appeared in the original production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1941) as a killer whose recent plastic surgery transformed him into a lookalike for¿ Boris Karloff. The actor was also a staple on radio dramas and comedies, for which he gamely spoofed his King of Horror image. Off-screen, he helped to form the Screen Actors Guild, and often spoke out about grueling conditions on sets like the ones he experienced in the early stages of his career. He was also a dedicated contributor to charities, especially those involving children, and frequently dressed as Santa Claus to deliver presents to hospitalized kids during the holidays.

In 1945, he left Universal to sign a three-picture deal with producer Val Lewton at RKO. Their resulting collaboration produced three of Karloff¿s best horror films since the early `30s: "Isle of the Dead" (1945), with Karloff as a Greek general on a plague-ridden island; "The Body Snatcher" (1945), which reunited Karloff and Lugosi in a story of 19th century grave robbing; and "Bedlam" (1946), with Karloff as the cruel head of a 18th century asylum. All three were critically acclaimed, if not financially successful, and restored Karloff¿s faith in a genre with which he would remain forever entwined.

The 1950s saw Karloff lend more of his time to television and stage, though he would also remain a consistent presence in horror films throughout the decade. His feature output during this period was consistently lightweight fare; there was a reunion with Abbott and Costello for "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1953) and agreeable programmers like "The Haunted Strangler" (1958) and "Corridors of Blood" (1958), which co-starred Christopher Lee, a horror star on the rise. In "Frankenstein 1970" (1958), an absurd updated take on the Monster and its maker, he played Baron von Frankenstein, who used atomic energy to animate his creature, which was revealed to have its creator¿s face in the final frames ¿ an awkward if well-intentional nod to Karloff¿s star-making role. On television, he enjoyed a greater range of roles, including turns as King Arthur, Don Quixote and Joseph Conrad¿s Kurtz from "Heart of Darkness," as well as countless turns on anthology dramas and suspense/supernatural programs. The stage was als

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute