February 2, 2014
Here’s a short clip from 1963 in which an affable Boris Karloff discusses FRANKENSTEIN. Here, in his own voice, is Karloff’s oft-told, oft-quoted, gently humorous anecdote of being asked to test for The Monster’s part by director James Whale. It makes for a good story but it is unlikely, of course, that Karloff was simply picked out of a studio lunchroom crowd. It has been said that it was David Lewis, Whale’s companion, who had first spotted Karloff looking perfectly sinister as Ned Galloway, the murderous trustee in Howard Hawk’s THE CRIMINAL CODE.
Karloff, always grateful and generous with praise, namechecks his friend, makeup man Jack Pierce, and figures “too or three weeks” of experimenting on the Monster’s makeup before it was ready for a screen test. This timeline is much more plausible than some claims having Pierce working on it for months on end.
Karloff also discusses the appeal of horror films and stories and reflects on how The Monster “changed the whole course of my life”. He’s understandably unclear about how many Frankenstein sequels were made, guessing at “at least a dozen of them”. There were eight, all told. There’s also a bit of an exaggeration when he says he came to the part “an obscure, struggling, unknown actor”. Fact is, Karloff was very busy, scoring showy parts in such films as THE GUILTY GENERATION, FIVE STAR FINAL and the aforementioned THE CRIMINAL CODE, three of the 16 films he made in 1931. Without FRANKENSTEIN, that made Karloff a household name, he still had a fine career underway as a supporting player in gangster and villain roles, typified by his performance in SCARFACE of 1932. Karloff was also garnering good press notices. In early 1931, well before the Frankenstein project was even underway, a prescient critic had already tagged Karloff as a contender for Lon Chaney-type parts.
Karloff was a gracious interviewee and it’s lovely hearing him say, in palpable sincerity, how “The Monster turned out to be the best friend I ever had”.
I spotted this clip on Facebook, courtesy of Stephen Jacobs, author of Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster.