What MAKES Sammy Run? - The Killer Boris Karloff
Today, November 23, is Boris Karloff's birthday. He was born on this day in 1887. If he were alive he would be 124 years old. However, the most notable thing to me about Karloff was his incredible work-ethic and determination to succeed.
For you young actors, he had a full career, was one of the original forming members of the Screen Actor's Guild, and has 2 stars on the Walk of Fame, one each for television and movies. In addition to his famous roles as the title character in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), he narrated the original cartoon, THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, had his own T.V. show, "Boris Karloff's THRILLER," and his name was even featured in the title of an Abbott and Costello movie. And, oh by the way he was revered on the stage in both England and the United States, where he was nominated for a Tony Award.
He passed on February 2, 1969 at the age of 81, after having both a full life and career. And guess what? Most young actors can take a page from his book. Karloff himself, was no stranger to heartbreak in this business. He made a movie - THE BELLS - in 1926, his 31st film. He played an eye-popping character, The Mesmerist, and was featured alongside its top star, Lionel Barrymore. It was a role designed to get him noticed. It would be akin to a young actor - say Ahney Her for example (I directed her in NIGHT CLUB) - being plucked from obscurity by Clint Eastwood to star alongside him in GRAN TORINO. Only for Karloff, the movie didn't make him a star, and he trudged forward.
He still - after that point - had to drive a truck for extra income. He made more than 40 films from that point, until he was playing a small supporting role in a movie at Universal Studios, when director James Whale spotted him eating in the commissary and thought he looked like the title character of his new movie, "FRANKENSTEIN." (Technically, the character was called The Monster, but let's not split hairs ;) ). Karloff received his big break after more than 12 years and 70 films in the business - including everything from extra (which he stopped doing once he received supporting and leading parts) work to supporting and leading roles.
Karloff played the Monster, with back-breaking (literally) furosity and intensity. In fact, he had a lingering back condition and pain from the physical requirements of the role that lasted the rest of his life. But, Karloff LOVED his craft. He thrived in Universal horrors; he was a true actor's actor (like some others I will write about in future blogs) and played characters such as Mr. Wong, a Charlie Chan-type character. But, then again, Karloff was featured earlier IN a Charlie Chan movie - CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA in 1936, 2 years before he ever played Mr. Wong.
He played the Monster a total of three times, but did many other films varying in genre, always having a huge following in the classic horror genre. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his role opposite Julie Harris in THE LARK on Broadway. Through it all, Karloff LOVED to work, and he loved the adoration he got from children, and often contributed to helping underprivileged youngsters. He was - and IS - a shining example to any young actor here on ForTalent, trying to break into the business. He never let heartbreak or rejection stop him. He didn't stay passive - not logging on in every day to update or check his profile. He would have entered every contest - headshots, monologues - had he been alive today. He stopped at nothing - and THAT is why he made it. THAT is why he has 2 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Why he worked his way towards his break as The Monster in FRANKENSTEIN.
Even death couldn't put a halt to his career, as 4 more Mexican films - for which Karloff filmed his scenes in L.A. before his death - were released over the next couple of years after his passing. To be sure, it was not his best work, however, this man worked just about right up until his death. He must have loved it just the same. His likeness continued to run in a comic titled, Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery. The illustrated likeness of Karloff continued to introduce each issue of this publication for nearly a decade after his passing, lasting until the early 1980s. There is so much more I could write, and so little time or space.
Finally, you want to see Karloff's impact? He and Bela Lugosi both are as closely associated with Halloween - the holiday - than any other actor. The images of Karloff's Frankenstein and Lugosi's Dracula are ever-popular on this holiday; ever-present icons of pop culture, and a reminder of our past.
Oh, and 42 years after his death, Karloff is still ranked 3,709 on imdb. That's higher than some talented and famous actors such as Charles Durning (4,604) and comparable to Robert Loggia (3,037), and they're not only alive, they haven't been dead for 42 years.
Happy Birthday, Boris, you had a gentle humility that is sadly lacking in some - but not all - of the actors of today. It is my hope that this BLOG can inspire many people on ForTalent to take the reins from Boris. To determine on this day - what would have been Boris' 124th birthday - that they too, will NOT quit. They, too, will keep fighitng the good fight. With the same gentle humility that Karloff possessed. Remember, in this world - and this business - you create your own luck. It took approximately 70 films for Boris Karloff to get his "break" as the Frankenstein Monster. And he didn't have the luxury of the internet or ForTalent or any of the contests posted here.
Nope, all he had was an incredible work-ethic and determination to succeed. Can you say the same?
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Film / Theater / TV, Writing
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