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Boris Karloff: 5 Surprising Facts About the Horror Icon

Boris Karloff: 5 Surprising Facts About the Horror Icon

Boris Karloff is absolute horror royalty. Of course, he’s a legend for his turn as Frankenstein’s monster and as Imhotep in 1932’s The Mummy. However, his prolific career stretched far beyond the 30s Universal Monster classics. Here are a few surprising facts even the most studious monster kids may not know.

He Was Long in the Tooth Before He Got His Big Break

Born William Henry Pratt, Karloff was something of a late bloomer. He starred in over 70 films before his big break and often drove a concrete truck to make ends meet. Boris was 44 years old before his break in 1931’s Frankenstein. Despite his late start, he ended up with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for film and one for his TV work. Jack Nicholson even credited Karloff for giving him the idea to mark up his lines in scripts after the two worked together in 1963’s The Terror.

Boris Karloff Endured Hours of Make-up for His Most Famous Roles

Of course, special make-up effects pioneer Jack Pierce took some time to create the iconic looks of the major monsters. The Wolf Man, The Mummy, and Frankenstein’s monster are all credited to him. However, the grueling application process Karloff endured was epic.

For 1931’s Frankenstein, Pierce devoted three hours each morning to meticulously apply makeup and prosthetics to Boris. At the end of the day, removing the elaborate makeup was an equally arduous and time-consuming process. Karloff faced an even greater challenge when he assumed the role of the ancient villain Imhotep in The Mummy. Transforming the actor into the character involved a grueling eight-hour ordeal that included applying multiple layers of bandages, clay, tape, and makeup. Despite the grueling hours, Karloff had a deep friendship with Pierce.

It is worth noting that these additional hours were not compensated, which led Karloff to become a staunch advocate for actor’s rights and the establishment of a union.

He Was a Union Man

The Screen Actor’s Guild was established in March 1933 by a group of six actors. In just three months, it formed a board of directors consisting of Karloff, James and Lucile Webster Gleason, Claude King, and Morgan Wallace. During a 2021 appearance on Gilbert Gottfried’s podcast, Karloff’s daughter, Sara Karloff, claimed that his membership card number was nine. The SAG-AFTRA, formed by the merger of SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 2012, represents about 160,000 actors and professionals in the media industry.

Boris Karloff Inspired Ozzy Osbourne

Even though Boris Karloff is a horror icon and his career spans decades, he only played a vampire once. In Mario Bava’s 1963 horror anthology film Black Sabbath, Karloff plays the bloodsucker Gorca. Of course, Ozzy’s metal band, Black Sabbath, takes their name from this film.

Karloff and Christmas Go Hand in Hand

Karloff provided both the narration and the voice of the Grinch in the animated adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This film has become an instant classic and even won a Grammy Award. Generations of children have watched the program, clueless that a horror icon narrates the beloved Christmas classic.