Boris Karloff (1887-1969)
- 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….
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- Stanley Ridges, Black Friday, 1939. Bela Lugosi was set as Dr Sovac transplanting a gangster’s brain intohis colleague, Karloff.Director Arthur Lubin felt Boris was no hood and he was rapidly replaced by Ridges.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.
- Lon Chaney Jr, The Wolf Man, 1941. First intended for Karloff.
- 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.
- John Carradine, Bluebeard, 1944 .“My favourite performance,” said Carradine for years.
- Raymond Massey, Arsenic and Old Lace, 1944. Boris starred ina stage production, gleefully delivering the line: “I killed him because he said I looked like Boris Karloff.” When the film was made, “Yes, my name was in the script but Massey was under contract to Warners.”
- 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.
- Orson Welles,Black Magic, 1949. Boris announced his own version ofCagliostro beforeWelles. It could not have been worse.
- George Sanders, Samson and Delilah, 1949. A monstrosity to miss!
- Robert Newton, Blackbeard, The Pirate, 1951. Producer Val Lewton was the first trying to make the movie, with a piratical Karloff in 1950. Newton made it his own pirate - “ARRRRRRRR!” - much imitated but 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.
- Chill Wills, Giant, 1955.
- 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.
- 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.”
- Basil Rathbone, The Comedy of Terrors, 1963. Arthritis made it impossible for Karloff to play John F Black. Hollywood’sresident realisateur Jacques Tourneur switched him to Mr Hinchley and called Rathbone to tackle Black.
- John Le Mesurier, City inthe Sea (UK: The City Under The Sea), 1964. Karloff was in his 80th year, “My leg in a steel brace... operating with only half a lung..why it's a public scandal I'mstill 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.”
- 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.
- Mario Romagnoli, Fellini Satyricon, Italy, 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. (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).