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Boris Karloff

actor best known for his roles in horror movies

Boris Karloff

William Henry Pratt was born in Camberwell, London, England, on November 23, 1887, the youngest of eight sons born to Edward John Pratt Jr., the Deputy Commissioner of Customs Salt and Opium, Northern Division, Indian Salt Revenue Service, and his third wife, Eliza Sarah Millard. Both parents died while he was still a child, and William was raised by his older brothers and a stepsister.

Educated in local schools and at London University, William was expected to follow his brothers into diplomatic service, but he had other plans. Emigrating to Canada in 1909, he joined a touring theater company and adopted the stage name of Boris Karloff. According to him, he got "Karloff" from somewhere in his family tree, while "Boris" just sounded good. He spent the next several years criss-crossing Canada and the United States with various theater groups before making his way to Hollywood. There, he worked a variety of jobs in between appearances (mostly bit and extra parts) in some 80 films before getting the role that made him famous.

Karloff was a bit player at Universal Studios when he happened to meet director James Whale, a fellow Brit who agreed to let him try out for a role in his upcoming film, Frankenstein. Ultimately cast in the role of the monster, Karloff's part in the movie was considered so unimportant that he was listed as "?" in the credits and wasn't invited to the movie's December 6, 1931 premiere. Despite those slights, Karloff's performance got noticed, and that notice became even more pronounced with his portrayal of the lead character in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), and of Imhotep in The Mummy (1932).

Karloff would go on to appear in a variety of roles in well over 50 more films, including two more appearances as Frankenstein's monster. He was also a frequent guest on radio programs in the 1940's, made many appearances on television in the 1950's, and even made occasional returns to the stage. In addition to his long list of acting credits, Karloff also enjoyed a "secondary" career narrating children's records, as well as a voice actor in animated features, including as the narrator in the television classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (1966). And, as if all of the above wasn't enough, Karloff also found time to be one of the 12 original founders of the Screen Actors Guild.

Karloff spent the last decade of his life in England (although he continued to work in the United States on occasion), and died in Midhurst, Sussex, on February 2, 1969.


Despite living and working in the United States for many years, Karloff never became a naturalised American citizen. He did, however, pay all required taxes.

Pratt never legally changed his name to "Boris Karloff," and signed official documents "William H. Pratt, a.k.a. Boris Karloff."


Grace Harding -- February 23, 1910 - January 8, 1913 (divorced)
Montana Laurena Williams -- 1920-1922 (divorced)
Helene Vivian Soule -- February 3, 1924 - June 6, 1928 (divorced)
Dorothy Stine -- April 12, 1930 - April 10, 1946 (divorced) -- 1 daughter, Sara
Evelyn Hope -- April 11, 1946 - his death


The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916)
The Lightning Raider (1918)
The Masked Rider (1919)
His Majesty, the American (1919)
The Prince and Betty (1919)
The Deadlier Sex (1920)
The Courage of Marge O'Doone (1920)
The Last of the Mohicans (1920)
The Hope Diamond Mystery (1921)
Without Benefit of Clergy (1921)
Cheated Hearts (1921)
The Cave Girl (1921)
The Man from Downing Street (1922)
The Infidel (1922)
The Altar Stairs (1922)
Omar the Tentmaker (1922)
The Woman Conquers (1922)
The Gentleman from America (1923)
The Prisoner (1923)
Riders of the Plains (1924)
The Hellion (1924)
Dynamite Dan (1924)
Parisian Nights (1925)
Forbidden Cargo (1925)
The Prairie Wife (1925)
Perils of the Wild (1925)
Never the Twain Shall Meet (1925)
Lady Robinhood (1925)
The Greater Glory (1926)
Her Honor, the Governor (1926)
The Bells (1926)
The Nickel-Hopper (1926)
The Golden Web (1926)
The Eagle of the Sea (1926)
Flames (1926)
Old Ironsides (1926)
Flaming Fury (1926)
Valencia (1926)
The Man in the Saddle (1926)
Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927)
Let It Rain (1927)
The Meddlin' Stranger (1927)
The Princess from Hoboken (1927)
The Phantom Buster (1927)
Soft Cushions (1927)
Two Arabian Knights (1927)
The Love Mart (1927)
The Vanishing Rider (1928)
Burning the Wind (1928)
Vultures of the Sea (1928)
The Little Wild Girl (1928)
The Devil's Chaplain (1929)
The Fatal Warning (1929)
The Phantom of the North (1929)
Two Sisters (1929)
Anne Against the World (1929)
Behind That Curtain (1929)
The King of the Kongo (1929)
The Unholy Night (1929)
The Bad One (1930)
The Sea Bat (1930)
The Utah Kid (1930)
The Mother's Cry (1930)
Sous les verrous (1931)
The Criminal Code (1931)
King of the Wild (1931)
Cracked Nuts (1931)
Young Donovan's Kid (1931)
Smart Money (1931)
The Public Defender (1931)
I Like Your Nerve (1931)
Graft (1931)
Five Star Final (1931)
The Yellow Ticket (1931)
The Mad Genius (1931)
The Guilty Generation (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)
Tonight or Never (1931)
Behind the Mask (1932)
Alias the Doctor (1932)
Business and Pleasure (1932)
Scarface (1932)
The Miracle Man (1932)
Night World (1932)
The Old Dark House (1932)
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
The Mummy (1932)
The Ghoul (1933)
The Lost Patrol (1934)
The House of Rothschild (1934)
The Black Cat (1934)
Gift of Gab (1934)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The Raven (1935)
The Black Room (1935)
The Invisible Ray (1936)
The Walking Dead (1936)
Juggernaut (1936)
The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936)
Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)
Night Key (1937)
West of Shanghai (1937)
The Invisible Menace (1938)
Mr Wong, Detective (1938)
Devil's Island (1939)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939)
Mr. Wong in Chinatown (1939)
The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)
Tower of London (1939)
The Fatal Hour (1940)
British Intelligence (1940)
Black Friday (1940)
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
Doomed to Die (1940)
Before I Hang (1940)
The Ape (1940)
You'll Find Out (1940)
The Devil Commands (1941)
The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)
The Climax (1944)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
The Body Snatcher (1945)
Isle of the Dead (1945)
Bedlam (1946)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)
Lured (1947)
Unconquered (1947)
Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947)
Tap Roots (1948)
The Emperor's Nightingale (1948)
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)
The Strange Door (1951)
Colonel March Investigates (1952)
The Black Castle (1952)
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)
The Island Monster (1954)
The Hindu (1954)
Voodoo Island (1957)
The Juggler of Our Lady (1958)
The Haunted Strangler (1958)
Frankenstein 1970 (1958)
Corridors of Blood (1958)
Black Sabbath (1963)
The Terror (1963)
The Raven (1963)
Bikini Beach (1964)
Mondo Balordo (1964)
The Comedy of Terrors (1964)
Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
The Daydreamer (1966)
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
The Venetian Affair (1967)
Mad Monster Party? (1967)
The Sorcerers (1967)
Targets (1968)
Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)
Fear Chamber (1968)
House of Evil (1968)
Blind Man's Bluff (1970)
The Incredible Invasion (1971)
Isle of the Snake People (1971)

Internet Movie Database
The Official Boris Karloff Web Site

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The Robinson Library >> Linguistics, Languages, and Literatures >> Dramatic Arts >> Biography: United States

This page was last updated on 09/23/2017.