Boris Karloff – A Gentle Monster

Day 200 of Colourisation Project – November 23

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

You will have to look hard to recognise today’s subject. His name is synonymous with horror films of the 1930s. He had a softly spoken voice with a lisp that caused the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up.

Boris Karloff

Publicity Still  –  Boris Karloff c 1920s – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Born this day, November 23, 1887, in London, England, William Henry Pratt was better known to the world as Boris Karloff. He should have been a diplomat. That is what he studied for at London University. Like his older brother, the distinguished British diplomat, Sir John Thomas Pratt, he was expected to go into the British Foreign Service.

But fate had other ideas. In 1909 at the age of 22 he emigrated to Canada where he eloped with the first of his five wives. He found his way into a touring company based out of Ontario where he adopted the stage name of ‘Boris Karloff’, and became known as a skilled character actor.

In a career which spanned more than 150 films, Karloff was generally typecast in ‘monster’ roles. Bela Lugosi had turned down the role of ‘The Monster’ in Frankenstein (1931) because there were no speaking lines, and the part required his face to be hidden by makeup. So the role went to Boris Karloff. The die was cast. Karloff appeared in dozens of similar films and went on to become a household name.

A founding member of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933, Karloff was considered a late bloomer in Hollywood. He appeared in 80 films before his breakthrough role in Frankenstein which premiered when he was 44 years old.

Off screen, Karloff was far removed from his monster character and known within the film industry for his great kindness and gentle manner. Every Christmas, since 1940 up until his death, he dressed up as Santa Claus and gave gifts to handicapped children at a hospital in Baltimore. Karloff was the epitome of the English gentleman, a very cultured and well-read man, he was obsessed with cricket and never lost his ‘Englishness.’

Karloff died in in 1969 at his home in England from emphysema at the age of 81. He was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for motion pictures and television posthumously.

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“When I was nine I played the demon king in “Cinderella” and it launched me on a long and happy life of being a monster.”   –   Boris Karloff

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