Saturday, 1 October 2016

Boris Karloff film posters - what an excellent way to waste a Saturday afternoon on Pinterest!

William Henry Pratt was born in Camberwell in 1887, but changed his somewhat prosaic name to the more exotic Boris Karloff after drifting into acting in Canada (where he had drifted after leaving King's College London without a degree). The change of name was to spare his family embarrassment: his brothers were all foreign office types, and he assumed they'd be horrified by choice of career. It makes one wonder whether, had he retained his original name, Hollywood studios would still have tried to market him using his surname alone - the PRATT monicker might not have proved quite so effective on film posters, especially back in the UK, where prat had meant buttock since the 16th Century - hence "pratfall", which only appeared as a word in the 1930s. (I fear I may be toddling down Irrelevance Boulevard, so...)

Is there anyone of relatively advanced years in the civilised world who doesn't experience a glow of affection at the mention of Boris Karloff's name? I clearly remember our sixth form English teacher - a genuine film fan - starting one lesson by announcing, with a sad smile, that Boris Karloff had died, and giving a sort of wistful half-shrug before sighing, "Ah, well!" I knew just how he felt. I'd learned from my favourite magazine at the time, Famous Monsters of Filmland, that the grand old man had retired to the Hampshire village of Bramshott, and I had hatched a simply wizzard plan to take a train down there and drop in unannounced for tea one day during the summer holidays: I was sure the old boy would be absolutely thrilled! And now he'd never have the pleasure of meeting me. Sad.

So, what's the purpose of these reminiscences? None, really. I've suddenly become hooked on Pinterest, because so many of the film, music, cute animal, isn't-nature-wonderful and art images I download these days are on it. In the unlikely event that you're even more out of touch than I am and don't know what Pinterest is, it's a free application which gives you access to millions of images - and bits of video - uploaded by users, and you can choose what types of images turn up in your timeline. It's a visually-based equivalent of Twitter, I suppose - and just as useful for wasting time. By some circuitous route or other, I ended up earlier today spooling through original posters for Boris Karloff movies. He just had one of those distinctive faces which lend themselves perfectly to posters. Here are some more of favourites:

Not a bad career for a failed civil service candidate with a marked thpeech impediment. 

When he first returned to England in 1933 to star in The Ghoul, Bill Pratt was worried that his family would accuse him of dishonouring the family name. Naturally, his siblings all turned up to meet him, had their photos taken with their illustrious brother - and asked for signed copies to prove that they really were related to one of the world's most famous actors. 

Despite spending so many years working in America, William Pratt never took out US citizenship - but that didn't stop the US Postal Service offering him this truly splendid homage in 1997:


  1. His films are best viewed in a dilapidated cinema on a foggy November night in S.W.17.Not easy to find these days.

    1. I can't remember what the cinema was called - the Streatham Odeon or Classic? "House of Frankenstein" and "Son of Dracula" double-bill, and an audience composed mainly of leather-clad thugs who behaved impeccably. What a thrill!