Wednesday, September 12, 2012
In 1931, Karloff took on the role that made him a star: Frankenstein. The part had been offered to Bela Lugosi, but Lugosi passed. The Frankenstein costume had a heavy back brace and 4-inch platform boots which weighed 13 pounds each. The bulky costume would bring Karloff back pain for the rest of his life. Karloff reprised the monster role in Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. He also played key roles in The Mummy, The Mask of Fu Manchu and Scarface where his character was gunned down in a bowling alley.
Karloff & Lugosi were Universal's top horror stars in the 1930's. Though they were not close friends, their legendary "feud" was merely a publicity stunt. Off the screen, Karloff was a kind gentleman who gave generously to children's charities. He was a charter member of the Screen Actor's Guild and spoke out about hazardous working conditions for actors. Suspicious of film studio anti-union tactics, Karloff always carried a role of dimes so he could conduct union business on pay phones. (He was convinced his home phone was tapped.) In 1941, Karloff starred as a homicidal gangster in the stage version of Arsenic and Old Lace. Karloff turned to radio and television in the 40's and 50's. He did a parody of Frankenstein with Vincent Price on the Red Skelton Show and his final appearance as Frankenstein came in a 1962 episode of Route 66.
Though he worked in the US for more than half his life, Karloff never became a naturalized American citizen. He also never legally changed his name to "Boris Karloff." He married six times and had one daughter at age 51. He gained new fame in 1966 as the narrator in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. He lived out his final years in England battling arthritis and emphysema. He died of pneumonia in 1969. Four low-budget Mexican horror films which he made late in life appeared after his death. Take that Tupac. (4" x 6", black ink print)