I really enjoy a good old monster movie during the Halloween season. When I say old, I mean old.
It was 1931 and British born actor Boris Karloff was struggling to establish himself in Hollywood when the roll of a lifetime was offered up by director James Whale.
Karloff had appeared in dozens of movies, mostly as an extra or in bit parts before the opportunity to play “the monster” in Frankenstein came his way. The role had been offered to Hungarian born actor Bela Lugosi (Hollywood’s first Dracula) and to a young John Carradine (father of David, Keith and Robert Carridine) before Karloff was chosen for the role.
Karloff spent more time in the make-up chair than he did actually shooting his parts for the film. Master make-up artist Jack Pierce created the iconic look that Karloff would wear for three Frankenstein productions: (Frankenstein, Bride Of Frankenstein and Son Of Frankenstein). Universal Studios copyrighted the monster’s flat-headed look to ensure that competing studios couldn’t benefit from the Jack Pierce creation. The platform boots that Karloff wore added four inches to the actor’s height and each boot weighed eleven pounds. What a work-out!
It was while filming Son Of Frankenstein that Karloff was summoned to respond to an emergency phone call. It was the hospital calling to inform him that his wife was in labor. Karloff, in full monster make-up, ran to his car and raced to be be with her. Can you imagine the scene he must have made running through those hospital doors? Picture in your mind’s eye, the Frankenstein monster standing at the “daddy window” of the maternity ward with all the other proud new papas. Hey buddy, would you like a cigar? “Fire….Bad!!!!”
The first two movies, Frankenstein and 1935’s Bride Of Frankenstein were both good movies and both were directed by the very creative James Whale. Son Of Frankenstein was released in 1939 and suffered in comparison to the two previous films. Karloff had had enough and moved on to other things. But, the monster had left it’s mark on Karloffs’s career and rarely was he cast in any role of substance outside of the horror genre. The Karloff filmography includes The Mummy, The Black Cat, The Raven, Black Friday, The Body Snatcher and The Man They Could Not Hang.
Baby boomers were treated to some of that creepy Karloff charm when he voiced the narration for How The Grinch Stole Christmas in 1966.
Karloff was labeled as “King Of The Monsters”. However, Bela Lugosi fans may feel otherwise.