Boris was born November 23, 1887 as William Henry Pratt in Camberwell, London, England. Williams parents were Edward John Pratt Jr., the Deputy Commissioner of Customs Salt and Opium and Eliza Sarah Millard (Edward's third wife). Young William appeared for the first time on stage at the age of nine in 1986 as the Demon King in a play of 'Cinderella'. Williams brothers pushed him into King's College, but the youngest Pratt had no desire for this and soon his grades suffered and his family shuned him from returning.
Young William decided to move to Canada and arrived in Ontario in 1909. He soon moved to Vancouver. He tried being a farmhand and a real estate agent and decided this was not for him. He came across an ad of a theatrical agent and decided that acting should be his way of life. He told the agent of all of his theatrical experience (which he had little of) so he made up some to get accepted. He also decided on a stage name 'Boris Karloff', a Slavic collision of a surname from his mother's Russian ancestry and a first name that seemed dramatically appropriate.
Boris made his Professional debut as a character three times his age and his salary was $30. For nearly a decade he hooned his craft with various theatre companies, at one point playing 106 different roles in 53 weeks in North Dakota. He understood that he would best play character roles instead of the leading man. Boris worked very hard before his first film appearance as an extra in a 1918 film with Douglas Fairbanks. He worked as an extra and did theater work until he got a minor role as the convict Galloway in the stage production of 'The Criminal Code' (1930) which he reprised in Howard Hawks film version the same year. Film roles were coming at a clip now, playing opposite both Lionel and John Barrymore, Laurel and Hardy, E.G. Robinson, and even trying to sell drugs to 10-year old Jackie Cooper in the 1931 'Young Donovan's Kid'.
In 1931 director James Whale saw Boris having lunch at the studio commissary and decide that Boris would be fitting for the next Horror Film. Boris achieved World Wide Fame as 'The Monster' in the 1931 classic 'Frankenstein' and was typed cast as a horror icon from there on, despite his gentle voice. Carl Laemmle said that he cast Boris as 'The Monster' because his eyes mirrored the suffering that of the Monster.
Taking Bela Lugosi's often quoted dismissal of the role as one in which any extra could grunt, the studio had no idea who audiences would see as the real star of this hugely successful and very controversial horror film. Karloff had touched a nerve. Horror had its new King.
Because of his British accent and a pronounced lisp, studios had some concern how audiences' would receive him. They had nothing to fear for in 1932 when he was cast as Fu Manchu in 'The Mask of Fu Manchu' (1932) for MGM the audience showed that they loved their new king and Universal soon retrieved him for Ardath Bey in 'The Mummy' (1932). Boris went on to play many wonderful roles. He was in 'The Black Cat' (1934), 'The Raven' (1935), 'Charlie Chan at the Opera' (1937), the 'Mr Wong' Series (in 1938 - 1939), 'Black Friday' (1940), 'Bedlum' (1946), 2 Abbott and Costello films, 'Comedy of Terrors' (1963), and so many more.
Boris hated the idea of returning to stage but was finally convinced and did 'Arsenic and Old Lace' and played 'Captain Hook' in 'Peter Pan'. He was asked once why he never did the classic, and Boris humbly said that he didn't have enough talent to do Shakespeare (I don't think I can agree with this statement though). In 1966, Boris let his voice the Christmas Classic ' How the Grinch Stole Christmas', still a classic for the holidays and is enjoyed by millions every year.
Boris was a very private person staying out of the Hollywood Scene, but he was always happy to help a fellow thespian. Because of this he was a founding member of the Screen Actor's Guild.
Boris was a professional until the very end, wheel-chair ridden and suffering from respiratory illness, he would always perform.
Boris once said that When he was nine he played the King in Cinderella and it launched him on a long and happy life of being a monster and later in life admitted that The Monster was the best friend he ever had.
Boris suffered from chronic back trouble for most of his adult life (he had underrgone 3 back surgeries), the result of the heavy brace he had to wear as part of his Frankenstein costume. He never let it slow him up, and kept very active until the end of his life. Boris passed away from emphysema on February 2, 1969 at the age of 89. A very, very sad and tragic loss for horror fans all of the world. Thankfully so many of Boris's films and televison appearences are still available, we can still watch a master at work.
Sara Karloff (Boris's Daughter) has did a lot to keep her fathers spirit alive for us. She spends time
doing the Conventions Circuit and talks of here father, she also sells very nice collectable items with Boris's
likeness on them. If you get a chance to meet her stop by and say hello.
(her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org)