When one states the name Boris Karloff, various images come to mind, the portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster in Frankenstein (1931) and Imhotep in The Mummy (1932), and then maybe other likely to think of the other green monster he played, The Grinch , whichever the case one definitely recalls his influence in the horror genre. However, this incredible actor, never signed his name Boris, no he used his real name William Henry Pratt, he conquered his stutter but never his lisp, none of this stopping his ascend to horror immortality. It’s why we honor him as this month’s Horror Icon, while others celebrate the birth we go with the remembrance of their death, November 23, 1887 – February 2, 1969).

Pratt started his career in small theatrical performances in Canada honing his skills, while working a scattering of jobs, including a laborer which put great strain on his back, but to help disguise himself he changed his name to Boris Karloff, the reasons vary greatly among scholars and fans alike. Although his first on screen payment came as a crowd extra for a Frank Borzage picture at Universal Studios earning him $5 in 1918(*1); which is $83 dollars today. He continued to obtain many tiny obscure parts in silent films, while engaging dig-ditching and other construction gigs. His life started to change with the introduction of serial films for The Lightning Raider and The Masked Rider both in 1919. Then in 1930 he had an uncredited role in The Unholy Night (1930) a mystery and thriller flick directed by Lionel Barrymore. This all led up to his break-out year of 1931, in which made 3-pictures, first The Criminal Code (1931), a role reprised from his theatrical days, but this production came from legendary filmmaker Howard Hughes, then the well-known gangster film Scarface (1932), but issues with censors delayed the release, and finally Frankenstein (1931).

Frankenstein’s Monster

Before Karloff, made his appearance in Frankenstein/monster role, 80-movies already laid on his resume, the role didn’t come without pain and suffering, all he endured by director James Whale for this opportunity. Among the torments, a bulky costume, 4-inch platform boots, that weighed 11-pounds each. Once the completed look appeared on the screen Universal Studios quickly copyrighted the makeup design of the Frankenstein monster. Although for Karloff, it took a tad longer to establish his arrival as the credits for the movie left his role with a “?”, which came in 1932, with films such as The Old Dark House (1932) and the lead role as Imhotep in The Mummy, these roles and the box office success made him a star in the Horror Genre and instant Horror Icon. In fact, a little known tidbit, applying the mammy makeup took a record amount of time, think of in this manner arrive on set 10am start at 11am applied makeup finish at 7pm and then film to 2am, then the removal processes a grueling effort to entertain the masses. Such is life.


Although he occasionally dabbled in non-horror roles, he knew where the fame, attention, and paychecks came from as he the reprised his monster role in the Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and that lead to working with Bela Lugosi on The Raven also in 1935, but he still had one more project to come out this same year The Black Room for the Columbia Pictures. He reteamed with Bela to switch genres with a sci-fi flick called The Invisible Ray (1936) and continued to stay busy with the horror film The Walking Dead (1936).

In 1939, Universal discovered the reissuing (not remakes) new sequels to the previous stories, such as Son of Frankenstein which Karloff reprised his famous role and co-starred with Lugosi as Ygor and Basil Rathbone as the doctor. Speaking of Rathbone, Karloff worked with him, once again  on Tower of London (1939) and then with the rising horror star Vincent Price. Boris still enjoyed the passion of theater and return to the stage for the production of Arsenic and Old Lace, which later became an adapted screenplay for the movie of the same name in 1944, which included the reference of a homicidal individual enraged when frequently mistaken as Karloff.

Boris returned to the cinematic world in the mid-40s, making three movies with Val Lewton at RKO studios The Body Snatcher (1945), Isle of the Dead (1945), which marked the last time he co-starred with Lugosi and Bedlam (1946), this film, met with a poor showing at the box office, however, has gone onward to obtain a respectable admiration. After World War II ended, the horror genre, declined once again in popularity, especially as the wretched real life horrors of that war became the part of everyone’s actual lives. However, Karloff shifted co-starring with the comedy-duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, and starred in to pictures with them Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949) and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953). Although did a few horror flicks in the early part of the 50s, he stormed back in the horror market in 1957/58 with Voodoo Island (1957) and in 1958 with a trio of productions The Haunted Strangler, Frankenstein 1970 from  directed Howard W. Koch, and the Corridors of Blood with Christopher Lee.

While his film career still carried onward, he began dabbling in radio programs, and hosting television shows such as Thriller, The Veil, and Out of this world. The popularity of Thriller, led him to have his name and likeness to grace the Gold Key Comics based on the series, now a sought after collector’s item, after the tv-series ended the comics didn’t and was renamed to Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery. By the 1960s he did many films for American International Pictures (AIP), such as Black Sabbath (1963) directed by Mario Bava and then worked for Roger Corman on both The Raven (1963), that starred Hazel Court, as well as Vincent Price and Peter Lorre; then The Terror (1963) which featured Dick Miller in the movie. An added trivial tidbit Jack Nicholson starred in both of the pictures The Raven and The Terror. He continued his work with AIP with The Comedy of Terrors (1963), a movie that one could call the entourage of horror stars, as Price, Lorre, and Rathbone all starred alongside Karloff; he ended his stint with the studio after two more films.  Nevertheless, in 1966, an animated television special would guarantee him immortality with his voice portrayal of The Grinch, in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, though the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, so often Boris was incorrectly identified as the singer. For this contribution, Karloff earned two-stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and is quite frequently visited by fans; one at 1737 Vine Street and then on 6664 Hollywood Boulevard.


As time marched swiftly on, the years caught up to Karloff, but he still gave a great performance in Peter Bodganovich’s movie Targets (1968) that contains two separate stories meeting together for a climatic finale. A young man goes on a shooting rampage before settling down at a drive-in theater, meanwhile retiring horror film actor Byron Orlok (Karloff) giving one final appearance at the same location, his world of fakery horror meets real horror and madness. Karloff’s career ended with Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), followed by four very low-budget flicks.

One needs to wonder, where would the horror genre be without Karloff’s contributions, he didn’t get his major start until his early 40s, so often Price, Lugosi, and Lee get that recognition, and while justly so, Karloff also deserves it but sometimes finds himself lurking the shadows. However, unlike those previously mentioned horror icons, he earned two Classic Monster Movie Stamps from the U.S. Postal Service in September 1997. Although, all actors should equally thank him for aiding in the founding of the Screen Actors Guild, as he was one of the first members of a six-actor group that started the union in March 1933. Sara Karloff, Boris’ daughter continues to thank the fans for the enduring messages to her about her father’s scary moments on screen and she thanks Bobby Boris Pickett “The Monster Man” a favorite of his, and one all horror and Halloween fans enjoy very much.

Boris Karloff’s Horror Feature Filmography:

Isle of the Snake People (1971)

Alien Terror (1971)

Cauldron of Blood (1970)

The Crimson Cult (1968)

House of Evil (1968)

Fear Chamber (1968)

The Sorcerers (1967)

The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)

Monster of Terror (1965)

Black Sabbath (1963)

The Raven (1963)

The Terror (1963)

The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

Corridors of Blood (1958)

Frankenstein 1970 (1958)

The Haunted Strangler (1958)

Voodoo Island (1957)

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)

The Black Castle (1952)

The Strange Door (1951)

Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)

Bedlam (1946)

The Body Snatcher (1945)

Isle of the Dead (1945)

House of Frankenstein (1944)

The Climax (1944)

The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)

The Devil Commands (1941)

Black Friday (1940)

You’ll Find Out (1940)

Before I Hang (1940)

The Ape (1940)

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

The Walking Dead (1936)

The Invisible Ray (1936)

The Man Who Lived Again (1936)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Black Room (1935)

The Raven (1935)

The Black Cat (1934)

The Ghoul (1933)

The Mummy (1932)

The Old Dark House (1932)

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

Behind the Mask (1932)

Frankenstein (1931)

King of the Wild (1931)

The Mad Genius (1931)

The Bells (1926)