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Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster

Eucalyptus P. Millstone

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Currently in limited release in movie theatres and available on the Internet, Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster.

Tuesday, November 23, marks the 134th anniversary of the birth of William Henry Pratt, more famously known as "Boris Karloff." This 2021 documentary directed and co-written by Thomas Hamilton is a laudable celebration of the actor who is regarded by some horror film fans as "The King of the Monsters" (Godzilla might have something to say about that!).

Karloffphiles and "classic" monster movie lovers, perhaps, won't find anything new in Hamilton's doc. Yet, I (both a Karloffphile and monster movie lover) was surprised to learn that Karloff had a brutish father who abused his mother, and a brother who was arrested and tried for murder -- dark secrets obviously not shared with publicists by the genteel, relatively reserved actor. Oddly, the documentarians do not report on how W.H. Pratt concocted his professional name.

Another "dark secret" about Boris Karloff that gets welcome (by me, anyway) exposure in BK:TMBtM is his biracial ethnicity. John Carradine (in another documentary, on horror movies) described Karloff as a "Hindu." Karloff might have felt self-conscious about -- perhaps even embarrassed by and ashamed of -- being "half-caste."*  But, in the 21st century when the racial, ethnic, and cultural makeup of the United States of America is undergoing a (for some, threatening; for others, celebratory) significant multiracial, multicultural transformation (evolution), I, for one, applaud Mr. Hamilton for presenting a colorful aspect of his subject that, for me, makes Boris Karloff even more fascinating, interesting, endearing, and beloved.

Among the many interviewees sharing their views and reminiscences about Karloff are Orson Bean, Dick Miller, and Christopher Plummer -- now all deceased. The "cast" list on the Internet Movie Database includes Lee Grant, Caroline Munro, and Nehemiah Persoff -- but I must have blinked because I did not see them. Sharing the most personal memories of Karloff is his daughter Sara.

'Tis a pity and a shame that Boris Karloff: the Man Behind the Monster was not deemed worthy of being granted wider release. But lest I be chastised for "looking a gift horse in the mouth," I hereby express my deep, sincere gratitude to Thomas Hamilton, co-writer Ron MacCloskeyRichard Abramowitz (of Abramorama Films), and all involved with this precious and wonderful tribute to "The Gentle Monster, "The Happy Monster": William H. Pratt, a.k.a. Boris Karloff.

* When asked about his dark "tan," Karloff would joke, it was the result of "a tight collar and plenty of gin."



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