Happy Birthday Boris Karloff 

1997 32¢ Classic Movie Monsters: Boris Karloff as Frankenstein
US #3170 from the Classic Movie Monsters issue.

Boris Karloff was born William Henry Pratt on November 23, 1887, in Camberwell, London, England.

The youngest of nine children, Karloff initially pursued a career with the British Government’s Consular Service but left college before graduating.  He then went to Canada where he worked on a farm and held a variety of odd jobs before he discovered acting.  His first performances were in Canadian theater and it was at this time he adopted his stage name, possibly to prevent embarrassing his family, many of whom were diplomats.

1997 32¢ Classic Movie Monsters: Boris Karloff as The Mummy
US #3171 – Boris Karloff as The Mummy.

For nearly a decade, Karloff acted with several different theater companies and continued to perform odd jobs to pay the bills.  The extensive manual labor took a toll on his body and left him with back problems for the rest of his life.  By the late 1910s, Karloff reached Hollywood and appeared in several silent films, though he had yet to make his big break.  Some of these early appearances included The Masked Rider (1919), The Hope Diamond Mystery (1920), and King of the Wild (1931).  Soon Karloff received more significant roles in The Criminal Code (1931), Five Star Final (1931), and Scarface (filmed in 1931 and released in 1932).

Karloff finally got his big break with Frankenstein in 1931.  Despite the uncomfortable costume that included four-inch high, 11-pound shoes and extensive makeup, Karloff brought the monster to life, establishing himself as a horror movie icon.  Within the next year, he had starring roles in The Mummy, The Old Dark House, and The Mask of Fu Manchu.  Though he became known for his horror roles, Karloff also appeared in non-horror films such as John Ford’s epic The Lost Patrol (1934).

1997 32¢ Boris Karloff as Frankenstein Mystic First Day Cover
US #3170Frankenstein Mystic First Day Cover

Soon, Karloff was paired with another horror star, Bela Lugosi.  Though the two men never had a close friendship off-screen, they would star in a number of movies together over the years including The Black Cat (1934), Gift of Gab (1934), The Raven (1935), and The Invisible Ray (1936).  Karloff would also reprise his role as Frankenstein’s monster several more times over the years.

1997 32¢ Boris Karloff as The Mummy Mystic First Day Cover
US #3171The Mummy Mystic First Day Cover

While continuing to appear in films, Karloff returned to the stage in 1941 for Arsenic and Old Lace.  Later in the decade, he had his own radio and television series, Starring Boris Karloff.  And in 1950, he played Captain Hook in a stage production of Peter Pan, for which he received a Tony Award nomination.

2003 37¢ American Filmmaking: Makeup
US #3772e from the American Filmmaking set

Karloff appeared on a number of television shows in the 1950s and 60s.  This included his last appearance as Frankenstein’s monster for a Halloween episode of Route 66 in 1962.  Karloff enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in 1966 when he narrated and provided the voice for the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  He went on to receive a Grammy for Best Recording for Children.

2004 37¢ Dr. Seuss
US #3835 was issued for Dr. Seuss’ 100th birthday

Karloff continued to act in his final years before dying on February 2, 1969, in Sussex, England.

Click here to visit the official Boris Karloff website.

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8 responses to "Happy Birthday Boris Karloff "

8 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Boris Karloff ”

  1. I meant to give this post 5 stars but hit 3 stars by mistake!!! Please correct this-it is a great post and I put it on my facebook page. Thanks

  2. I was 10 in 1934 so was very familiar with Karloff’s Frankenstein role, but never knew about his stage role as Captain Hook or his voice as the Grinch. Thanks for a wonderful review that brought back memories.

  3. He was a great actor. Always enjoyed his films and the voice narration of the classic “Grinch”. Thank you, Mystic, for a great article!

  4. A wonderful article. I will be looking for his old movies to watch. Other than the horror films. I will never forget seeing Frankenstein for the first time. Thank you, Mystic.

  5. I appreciate this background review about William Henry Pratt (Boris Karloff.) I think he was a good actor and I always enjoyed his movies. Despite the facial Emodifications to make him look like “Boris Karloff”, he actually was a handsome Englishman … and not a Russian! I am glad YOU, Mystic, shared this information about Mr. Pratt; he does deserve public recognition because in no way did he embarrass his family in ANY way and today he may well be the ONLY member of his diplomat-oriented wealthy family that most of today’s public remembers. You guys are great, Mystic !

  6. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and remember very well Boris Karloff and being glued to the TV to watch him. Didn’t know he was from England but whatever he was a big part of my growing up years. Thanks again for the “memory lane “ trip.


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