Mostly Credited As: Boris Karloff
Sometimes Credited As: Karloff
Birth Name: William Henry Pratt
Date Of Birth: November 23, 1887 (Age 81)
Country Of Birth: United Kingdom
Birth Place: Camberwell, London, England
Date Of Death: February 02, 1969
Cause Of Death: Pneumonia and complications from emphysema
Born William Henry Pratt on November 23, 1887, to Edward John Pratt Jr., and Eliza Sarah Millard, in Camberwell, London, Boris was later raised in Enfield. After his parents passed away he was raised by his older siblings. His dark complexion was most likely brought about from the mixed heritage of his maternal grandmother, who was part Indian. Karloff himself frequently claimed Russian ancestry to explain his exotic looks, but his daughter Sara has stated she has no knowledge of any Slavic ancestry.
Originally Karloff planned to follow in the footsteps of his brother Sir John Henry Pratt, a diplomat, and enter into the foreign service, even seeking his education at London University. His plans changed though after he was bitten by the "acting bug". In 1909 he packed his bags and headed to Canada with the promise of work in the Jeanne Russell Theater Co. in Kamloops, British Columbia. The next few years saw him change his name and cut his teeth on the theater circuit of North America, working his way through Canada and the United States. In 1912, he spent a brief time as a rescue worker after a tornado hit Regina, Saskatchewan, following his appearance in a play there. Due to health reasons, he was unable to fight in World War I, so for the next 10 years he continued to tour in regional theater companies until eventually making his way to California.
Arriving in Hollywood without much money, Karloff immediately began looking for work in the new medium of silent film. Some of his earliest appearances were in films like, The Dumb Girl Of Portici (1916), Omar the Tentmaker (1922), Perils Of The Wild (1925) and Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927). He got his biggest break though when in 1931, Universal Pictures planned to follow up their success with Dracula by casting Bela Lugosi as "The Monster" in Frankenstein. Lugosi turned down the role and instead it went to Karloff. The film was a huge success and opened the doors to a brilliant career for Boris. The following year he made Scarface, The Old Dark House, The Mask Of Fu Manchu and The Mummy. A short time later he was brought back to play the role that made him famous in the sequel The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935). With box office gold on their hands, Universal quickly began pairing the masters of menace, Karloff and Lugosi, in such films as The Black Cat, The Raven and, in Boris' last official appearance as "The Monster", Son Of Frankenstein (1939) with Lugosi as "Ygor". It wasn't his last Frankenstein film though, he returned as "Dr. Neimann" a mad scientist who resurrects the classic creatures Dracula, the Monster and the Wolfman in House of Frankenstein (1944).
He continued making movies into the 50's and 60's while also exploring other opportunities in the early days of television. Often appearing as himself and playing up his horror background for comedic effect he appeared on programs like The Milton Berle Show (1948), and The Red Skelton Show (1951). He also had a few shows of his own like Starring Boris Karloff (1949), The Veil (1958) and Thriller (1960). He even showed a kindlier side with vocal performances in children's programming like Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) and the stop motion animated Mad Monster Party? (1967).
Sadly, just as his career was experiencing a revival and he was becoming known to a whole new generation of fans, Boris passed away on February 2, 1969. He was cremated and interred at Guildford Crematorium, England, where he is commemorated by a plaque in the Garden of Remembrance.