Image: RKO Radio Pictures
Without the Universal Monsters, where would horror films be these days? While people always credit Vincent Price or Bela Lugosi as the grandfathers of horror, Boris Karloff, born William H. Pratt, was a huge part of the franchise, playing both Frankenstein's monster and Imhotep (better known as the Mummy) as well as roles in lesser-known installments like Black Friday, Night Monster and The Strange Door.
In honor of what would be Karloff's 130th birthday, let's look back at some fun facts you may not have known about him.
Nobody expected him to become a star after being in ‘Frankenstein’
He was one of the first members of the Screen Actors Guild
The union still exists today under the name SAG-AFTRA. It was started by six actors in March 1933 and within three months, it has a board of directors that included Karloff, as well as James and Lucile Webster Gleason, Claude King and Morgan Wallace.
He didn’t get a starring role in Hollywood until he was 43 years old
If you’ve always wanted to be a Hollywood star but haven’t succeeded just yet, don’t give up! Karloff wasn’t in Frankenstein until he was 43 and as noted before, nobody even thought the movie would launch his career.
He knew a lot abut fairy tales
In 1956, Karloff was a the celebrity contestant on The $64,000 Question and audiences learned he knew a lot about children’s fairy tales. He quit after winning the $32,000 level — apparently due to tax considerations, according to IMDB.
‘Frankenstein’ messed up his back
Karloff had to have three back surgeries after making the film and had chronic back pain the rest of his life. This was due not only to the scene in which he had to carry Colin Clive up stairs, but also because of the large, heavy brace he had to wear during the rest of the film, to give him that stiff look.
The spooky guys in Hollywood all got along
Though there were always rumors that he and Bela Lugosi had a rivalry, that actually was not true. They were quite friendly. In fact, had Lugosi not turned down the role as the Monster in Frankenstein, Karloff may not have reached the star status he did! Christopher Lee (Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Wicker Man) was also Karloff’s neighbor for many years!
He spent a lot of time in the makeup chair
Part of the reason Lugosi turned down the role of Frankenstein’s monster was that he didn’t want to wear so much makeup. For good reason — it’s a long process! However, the longest time Karloff had to spend in the makeup chair was actually for 1932’s The Mummy. Bloody Disgusting reported that the process of turning Karloff into the Mummy was eight hours long. He’d begin having his makeup applied at 11:00 am and finishing at 7:00 pm, and then they would film until 2:00 am.
Frankenstein’s Monster wasn’t his only green character
In the 1966 How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Karloff voiced both the narrator and the grumpy Grinch.
Image: Warner Bros. Television / Giphy