Monday, February 2, 2009

Dear Boris...

November 23, 1887 - February 2, 1969

My friend Sam and several bloggers beat me to it (here, for example), but I had to chime in anyway--today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Boris Karloff.

Forty. Years. That's hard to believe.

The very first monster movie I ever saw was Son of Frankenstein (I was maybe 5 and, like many children, empathized with the monster), the very first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland (#31, 1964) I ever bought featured Karloff on the cover as The Mummy, so he's been a part of my life for a very, very long time In fact, though I've had many Short Duration Personal Saviors, Boris has been for the long term.

By all accounts he was the complete opposite of the menacing, frightening characters he portrayed-- kind, generous, thoughtful, intelligent, professional, and above all, a consummate gentleman.

And children loved him.

Typical story (from here):
During the production of Frankenstein (1931) there was some concern that seven-year-old Marilyn Harris, who played Maria, the little girl thrown into the lake by the creature, would be overly frightened by the sight of Karloff in costume and make-up when it came time to shoot the scene. When the cast was assembled to travel to the location, Marilyn ran from her car directly up to Karloff, who was in full make-up and costume, took his hand and asked "May I drive with you?" Delighted, and in typical Karloff fashion, he responded, "Would you, darling?" She then rode to the location with "The Monster."

One of my favorite Karloff stories (though possibly apocryphal*) involves the play Arsenic and Old Lace. When approached for the role of Jonathan Brewster, Karloff initially turned it down, citing numerous prior commitments, his lack of theatrical experience, and his doubts at being able to succeed in a starring role on Broadway. Then the producers showed him a key piece of dialogue:

DR. EINSTEIN: You shouldn't have killed him, Chonny. He's a nice fellow--he gives us a lift--and what happens...? (gestures strangulation)

JONATHAN: He said I looked like Boris Karloff! That's your work, Doctor. You did that to me!

Boris took the part.

Tonight I say the same thing I said forty years ago--"Good night, Boris, wherever (and whatever) you are. Thanks for the frights!"

*Oops! Maybe not! See Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radio, Television, and Recording Work by Scott Allen Nollen, Chapter 21.

Also Boris Karloff: A Gentleman's Life by Scott Allen Nollen and Dear Boris: The Life of William Henry Pratt a.k.a. Boris Karloff by Cynthia Lindsay

1 comment:

JSaM said...

God bless you for this Lee. I miss him more as the years go by. Any man who could play Kurtz In Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" AND Captain Hook in "Peter Pan" (not to mention Mr. Darling), not to mention daily recorded radio spots for Readers' Digest, must be noted. I do remember how sad I was that day in 1969 without even knowing about his personal life. I have just gone out to the archives in the snow in my bare feet to retrieve the quotation that is on Mr. K.'s commemorative plaque:
"He Nothing Common Did or
Mean Upon That Memorable
And that I think is perfect.