Monday, November 23, 2015

Born Today November 23: Boris Karloff!


So obviously this is BIG one!  Born William Henry Pratt in at exactly 36 Forest Hill Road in London England, where a plaque marks the occasion.  His maternal grandmother's sister's, or great aunt, tales of the courts of Siam were reportedly the inspiration for the Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical The King and I.  Both of the sisters were Anglo-Indian in ethnicity.  He was bow-legged, suffered from both a lisp and stuttered as a child; it is possible that attempts to conquer the speech issues may have led to an interest in the stage, as he was actually able to rid himself of the stutter.  He studied at London University with idea going into diplomacy.   Instead in 1909 he moved to Canada and at some point started using the stage name that we know him so well by now.  There has always been a lot of strange and ridiculous speculation and to where the name came from.  Personally, I believe what he himself had to say on the subject--and why not, he was known to be a man of honour and honesty.  He says he chose "Boris" because it sounded exotic, and that the name "Karlov" was a family name from some time back--and why, with his ethnicity wouldn't he assume he had the right to do this?  It certainly made one heck of impression!  Though his daughter has said that she personally doesn't have any knowledge of any Slavic ancestor's--it's still a great name!  He also claimed that the reason for the name change was to prevent embarrassment to his family.  He was the youngest of nine children and had older brothers in British foreign service.  [Apparently they didn't feel any such way, when Karloff met back up with his family in Britain in 1933, they not only embraced him, they reportedly vied to have photos taken with their younger brother.].  His stage career in Canada was a rough one, with him taking various odd jobs to make ends meet--with him ending up in North Dakota performing in a penny opera.  When he did finally make it to Hollywood, things didn't improve much.  Though his first film credit came in 1919, and he was in many silent films from then on, many of the roles are very, very small and he still had to take odd jobs, such as digging ditches, to make ends meet.  For an example of a bit role from the 1920's, he played "an Indian" in an uncredited roles, which now confirmed part, in The Last Of The Mohicans (1920), starring Wallace Beery as Magua.  Many roles were of eastern or Native American or Mexican "exotics" in bit parts, due to his east Indian ancestry.  This, of course, began to change after his role as The Monster in Frankenstein in 1931; however, even after this he still has eastern ethnic role that were uncredited.  One has to get to 1932 in another James Whale classic The Old Dark House, to see that his career, largely in the horror genre takes off.  All of the manual labor he did from 1909 until relief came much later on in his career left him with permanent back troubles that would last for the rest of his life.  He was a great lover of children and at one point had his own children's radio show.  Beginning in 1940 he would dress as Father Christmas and hand out presents to disabled children at a Baltimore hospital.  Although he lived a great deal of his life in the United States, he remained a UK subject throughout his life.  And contrary many reports, he never legally changed his name to Boris Karloff.  He was born William Henry Pratt and he died with that name on 2 February 1969 (incidentally the same day as my own grandfather passed away 11 years later when I was just a kid), in a Sussex hospital after years of living the Hampshire county of England.  He died of pneumonia, brought on as a complication of a years long battle with emphysema.  He was cremated at Guilford Crematoria, where there is also a plaque in his name.

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