December 18, 2004

Boris Karloff

While cruising the net, I ran across this image, which brought back memories:


[The stamps issued consist of] five portraits of the actors based on publicity photographs of their most famous horror films. Lon Chaney appears as the Phantom of the Opera, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein and the Mummy and Lon Chaney Jr. as Wolf Man.

The descendants had wanted stamps that carried two portraits of their famous relatives, one with monster makeup and one without. Designer Derry Noyes of Washington met their wishes by placing signed photographs of the four actors at the top of the sheets of 20 stamps.

The stamps are the second to contain hidden images, using a process developed by Graphic Security Systems Corp. of Lake Worth, Fla. This time designers have scrambled an image -- not letters -- into each of the stamps: bats on the Dracula stamp, hieroglyphics on the Mummy, masks on the Phantom, wolves on the Wolf Man and lightning bolts on Frankenstein.

To see the images requires purchase of a $4.95 "decoder lens" from the Postal Service.

With that as inspiration, here's the last in a series of brief bios based on those classic stamps.

(in the extended entry)

Boris Karloff was born William Henry Pratt in 1887 in London, England. Coming from a long line of British diplomats, he turned away from family tradition to become a performer on the stage.

"When I was nine I played the demon king in Cinderella and it launched me on a long and happy life of being a monster." - Boris Karloff

In 1912, a then-unknown Karloff had taken some time off to canoe while performing in Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada. Upon his return, he learned that his hotel had been destroyed by a tornado that killed 28 people. He helped to organize a concert that raised some much needed relief funds for the city.

Karloff had a dark skin tone from his mother's East Indian heritage, so in silent films he was cast most often in Arab and American Indian roles. His breakthrough role was as the monster in 1931's Frankenstein, when he was 44 years old. Frankenstein was his 81st movie. All total, he acted in some 200 movies and made almost 100 television appearances.

He got the part as Frankenstein's Monster when Bela Lugosi turned it down because there was no dialogue and he'd be unrecognizable under the makeup. The costume included huge lifts and a heavy brace, which made the role physically difficult. In fact, Karloff suffered from back trouble for the rest of his life as a result of the costume, and underwent three major back surgeries.

After becoming a star, he wasn't so self-important that he couldn't poke a little fun at himself. His first Broadway play was "Arsenic and Old Lace" in a role that was written for especially for him. He played the black sheep of the family, whose face has been changed by a disreputable plastic surgeon so that he looks like Boris Karloff. The resemblance is comically remarked upon often during the play (and later the movie starring Cary Grant but not, inexplicably, Karloff).

Known as a warm and generous man, Boris Karloff enjoyed a reputation both as a professional performer and as a good friend. He was married five times and died in 1969 in his native England.

Posted by Ted at December 18, 2004 10:11 AM
Category: Cult Flicks
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