Boris Karloff

  1. Claude Rains, The Invisible Man, 1933.   Ego thy name is… actor!  Universal naturally offered the HG Wells creation to its top horror star. “But I’m not seen until the end!”  Scenarist RC Sheriff found Universal had no copy of the novel, just various treatments, set as far apart as Czarist Russia and Mars. Author HG Wells was  more upset by the script making a lunatic of his brilliant scientist. Said director James Whale: “In the minds of rational people only a lunatic would want to make himself invisible.”  Rains refused the sequel, having made his mark he now wanted to be… seen.  Ego thy name is….
  2. Claude Rains,The Mystery of Edwin Drood,1935   .The South London son of Dulwich was disappointed atlosing a Dickensian role. He’d been Universal’s first choice – inevitably – forthe opium addict in Charles Dickens’ final (indeed,unfinished) novel. The film flopped, like Great Expectations before it, causing the end of “Uncle” Cart Laemmie’s reign at Universal.
  3. Humphrey Bogart, The Return of Dr X, 1939.    Bogie, just three years away from eternal glory, hated “this stinking movie. I had a part that somebody like Karloff or Bela Lugosi should have played. I was this doctor, brought back to life, and the only thing that nourished this poor bastard was blood. If it had been Jack Warner’s blood… maybe I wouldn’t have minded as much.”
  4. Charles Laughton, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1939. Seven years earlier. Universal had announcd that (future director icon)  John Huston was scripting the first talkie of Victor Hugo’s classic – for the in-house ghoul. But  RKO made it without the #1 choice of legions of “Karloffans of Karlofffilms made in Karlofforina.” 
  5. Stanley Ridges, Black Friday, 1939.      Bela Lugosi was set as Dr Sovac transplanting a gangster’s brain into his colleague, Karloff. Director Arthur Lubin felt Boris was no hood and he was rapidly replaced by Ridges… who was nobody!  The truth was Lubin felt Karloff would be a better Sovac and poor Lugosi was demoted to a less important (and supposedly hypnotised) cameo. No surprise, therefore, that of their eight films together, this is the only one where they never shared a scene.
  6. Lionel Atwill, Man Made Monster, 1940.   Without  ever knowing why, Atwill and Lon Chaney Jr  inherited what was  The Electric Man when bought  by Universal in 1935 for  Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi… aka as The Man in the Ca
  7. Lon Chaney Jr, The Wolf Man, 1941.  First intended for Karloff…  because as Fay Helm said as Jenny: “Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”  Instead, it was given to, of all people, Dick Foran – a B-Western star! Then, Junior Chaney was noticed on the lot… His make-up took six hours to put on and three hours to take off. There’s another day gone!

  8. Raymond Massey, Arsenic and Old Lace, , 1941.
    A rich man due to his investment in the Broadway play, Karloff had top billing as the monstrous Jonathan Brewster. Naturally ,director Frank Capra wanted him to cont9inue as Cary Grant’s brother in the movie. But the Broadway producers refused to release him. The film already had three of the cast and to keep the box-office churning, they needed to keep at least one of the original stars. – particularly the one who desivered the line:
    “I killed him because he said I looked like Boris Karloff.” Shot in 1941, the release was delayed, as per contract., until after the play closed… in 1944.  Massey was made up to look like Karloff to make the joke that he looked like Karloff even funnier.

  9. Glenn Strange, House of Frankenstein, 1943.    Boris had had quite enough of the Creature’s make-up procedure and basically played Frankenstein (aka Dr Gustave Niemann) in this outing. He trained Strange (quite a Karloff lookalike) as his successor.  A 6ft 5ins (some said, 6ft 7ins) Irish-Cherokee giant who’d tested for Tarzan and became a major B and TV Western villain,  Strange played the role again in House of Dracula, 1944, and for laughs in  Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1947.
  10. John Carradine, Bluebeard, 1944   .“My favourite performance,” said Carradine for years.
  11. Eduardo Ciannelli, Seven Keys to Bald Pate, 1946.   Karloff left as soon  as co-star Jack Haley decided he had no desire to make the fifth re-make of the Broadway play by Yankee Doodle Dandy himself, George M Cohan.

  12. Glenn Strange, Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948.    Saying spoofs would not work, Karloff refused to be the Monster a fourth time in whateven Costello called crap – “my little girl could write something better than this.” The spoof was a hit, so Karoff agreed to two more with the comedy duo.  His New York Times obituary was illustrated,of course, by Frankenstein’s monster… but the photo was of Strange, not Karloff.
  13. Orson Welles, Black Magic, 1949.   Boris announced his own version ofCagliostro beforeWelles. It could not have been worse.
  14. George Sanders, Samson and Delilah,  1948.      A monstrosity to miss!  Or as Groucho Marx expressed it:  “No picture can hold my interest where the leading man’s bust is larger than the leading lady’s!”
  15. Robert Newton, Blackbeard, The Pirate, 1952.      Karloff and Charles Laughton were also in an earlier mix for the titular Edward Teach. Newton stole the entire enterprise with asomehow endearing way over the top, rollling-eyed performance that became the matrix for all pirates. – ARRRRRRRR! – much imitated , never equalled by Wallace Beery, Hobart Bosworth (1910), Johnny Depp, Dustin Hoffman, Charles Laughton, Victor McLaglen, Geoffrey Rush, Peter Ustinov or 1960’s Murvyn Vye.
  16. Chill Wills, Giant, 1955.
  17. Peter Cushing, The Curse of Frankenstein, 1956.    The first and obviously cheap idea was a simple re-make, still in black-white and still with a monstrous Karloff. Hammer then respun Mary Shelley and shot it all, blood included, in color    And a studio was born. Plus two great stars, Lee and Peter Cushing.
  18. Mervyn Johns, The Old Dark House, 1962.    “I murdered a goodly number of innocent souls” as the mute, fiendish butler, Morgan, in the original 1932 version of JB Priestly’s novel.“The new version was simply not to my liking. [Too funny]. Wanted no part of it. After all, I’ve been in the acting profession for more than half a century.  High time to pick and choose my vehicles.

  19. Basil Rathbone, The Comedy of Terrors, 1963.    
    Rathbone took on John F Black and Karloff became the easier to handle Mr Hinchley when his severe arthritis made the role impossible for him in his 80th year. “My leg in a steel brace… operating with only half a lung… why it’s a public scandal I’m still working!   But, as long as people want me, I feel an obligation to go on performing. After all, every time I act – I provide employment for a fleet of doubles.”

  20. John Le Mesurier, City in the Sea (UK: The City Under The Sea), 1964.   Vincent Price plus Jacques Tourneur should have added up to… something. Even if Karloff  – in his 80th year- had to miss meeting the gillmen. Set in Cornwall (what was Tab Hunter doing in Cornwall?), this dismal finish to Tourneur’s career was Blue-Rayed as…wait for it…War-Gods of the Deep.
  21. Frank Finlay, The Deadly Bees, 1967.     Psycho author Robert Bloch penned rival bee-keepers Ralph and Manfred for the old firm. Christopher Lee and Karloff.
  22. Mario Romagnoli, Fellini Satyricon, Italy-France, 1969.  An offer from Fellini!  How Karloff must have been thinking where was the maestro  ten years ago…? Now Karloff was too ill to play Trimalcione – and was, indeed, dead, nine months  before the film opened. Fellini also desired various   of his most cherished Hollywood stars in his ancient Rome extravaganza:  Jimmy Durante, Van Heflin (surprisingly), Groucho Marx and Mae West (In a rival production that was released when  Fellini was still shooting,  Trimalcione was played by Ugo Tognazzi, after “losing a year like an idiot,” waiting for Fellini to find backing for Voyage de G Mastorna).
  23. Ed Begley, The Dunwich Horror, 1969. “People seldom visit Dunwich,” said HP Lovecraft. “The town is ruined, decadent and its annals reek of overt viciousness, murder, crime and violent deed, un-nameable.”   The film, not so much…  Pity because it nearly had the Italian horror ace, Mario Bava, directing what  AIP unimaginatively called Scarlet Friday.  Bava  wanted his old mates, Boris Karloff and Christopher,  as the two doctors  guarding The Necronomicon book –   “able to unlock the gates to another dimension, to another race of beings.“ But we got a weak Dean Stockwell and long-nailed Sandra Dee’s nudity supplied by a short-nailed body-double.  Unless Sandra cut her nails while waiting for the lighting…



 Birth year: 1887Death year: 1969Other name: Casting Calls:  23