Boris Karloff’s only daughter doesn’t like frightening movies.
“The Wizard of Oz” scared me when I was seven. Now I leave the room during “Murder, She Wrote,” said Sara Karloff, an elegant woman of a certain age, born when her father was 51.
The dark-skinned beauty’s coal-black hair sports an amazing white streak, reminiscent of the bride of you-know-who.
Chit-chatting genially at a book signing at Hollywood’s Larry Edmunds Book Shop organized to mark the publishing of the authorized biography, Boris Karloff, More Than a Monster, Ms. Karloff admitted she was already 19 when she first saw her father’s iconic performance in the Universal horror classic, “Frankenstein“: “I was out of sync [with the culture].”
“I was sitting in my stepfather’s living room and it came on t.v. one afternoon. I watched it closely, alone, thinking, hmnnn….”
She’s since seen the film innumerable times. (Her words, “I’ve had to see it many, many times.”) Carefully defending her father’s full range of talent — he did film, television, radio, spoken word, and theater throughout his career — she shared a daughter’s view of the Big, Flat-Headed One.
One element of the Frankenstein performance that she loves is, “the pathos in his hand movements. He had beautiful hands. And the angle of his body as he walked. And the angle of his arms, pulled slightly back, his fingers splayed…” She added with a murmur, “pure genius.”
“The film was James Whale the director, Jack Pierce, the make-up artist, and the manner my father portrayed the monster. It was a marriage of all those things.”
Sara, who lives in San Diego county, oversees a website dedicated to her father’s career. She was the actor’s only child (and his heir) from his five marriages, and the two share the same birthday, November 23. Evidence of a deep father-daughter connection was on view in rare family Kodachrome home-movie footage, real treasures, the most touching footage shot on the day of Sara’s christening. In them, the clearly overjoyed Karloff canoodles with his dark-haired newborn baby girl.
In a video of Karloff’s appearance on Ralph Edwards’ “This is Your Life” television broadcast in 1957, Karloff re-encounters a series of acquaintances from his humble climb to international stardom; among them, Jack Pierce, who transformed the lanky and strong-featured actor into a formidable, giant golem. Karloff says in the video, “Best make-up man in the world, I owe him a lot.”
A self-made man, Karloff essentially dropped out of school in the U.K., stowed away on a steamer to Canada, and, by sheer will, became an actor, learning on the job. He acted up till his death in 1969.
The man who starred in three Frankenstein franchises [“Frankenstein,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” “Son of Frankenstein”] was, “modest, self-effacing. He never talked about his career. He didn’t talk about other actors. He was the kindest, most warm-hearted man,” said Sara Karloff.
Frankenstein’s daughter admitted “my father was a very handsome man, too.”
The clip below demonstrates Karloff’s robust Frankenstein portrayal, starting with James Whale’s terrifying first view of the monster. That sequence must have scared the bejesus out of matinee ladies in 1931, because it freaks me out now.
photo credits: thank you Howard Lavick, also draculand
Sara you would know where can I get a complete set of all movies Boris was in ? I was on vacation returned home only to find I was robbed as were other houses . Besides my collection of horror movies plus very expensive Jewelry and Sports cards . The other actors movies was another great one in Basil Rathbone that was the 2 best of all time . I met your dad at a Restaurant he was with a producer and his wife . He gave us his autograph on a napkin my wife still has it . Probably at least 75 % of the were on DVD ‘S. I want to get them CD’S now . The quality of the DVD’S was not real good . Your Dad was the best . Good luck . Please advice. Owen.
I fondly remember a summer night at Lake Tahoe, in the mid-50s. I met you and we had a nice conversation and walk. I hope the years have been good to you.
The majority of people reading this seem to think Sara Karloff wrote the article, and that any subsequent letters and amatuer attempts at collaboration will be read by Ms. Karloff seven years after this blog post was published. All of you have Abby Normal brains!
Hi Sara I host an entertainment radio show live from Atlantic City NJ on Sat night. I am coming to the Chiller looking forward to meeting you big fan of your dad’s work. Would you like to call in my show on Oct 20th 2018 at 8:30pm East Time to about your dad’s work and plug The Chiller please let me know Jim Craine
Dear Sara, I am a fan of your dad’s work and of your ongoing support of same. I contacted you probably 14 years ago telling you thank you for being accessible and how I wish a movie on your dad’s life would be produced and that I believed Jeremy Irons would be the only actor possible to be able to do your dad justice in such a film. I am puzzled at why one has not been done yet. Maybe a petition along with the lifetime achievement petition is in order. G-d bless!
Dear, Ms. Karloff: My name is Sergio Becerra II. I’m a writer working on my first horror novel and I want it to be the final chapter of the Universal Frankenstein Saga and dedicate it to your father and all the other actors from all the Frankenstein films. I call my book “The Heir of Frankenstein.” To make it simple about the story: It takes place decades after Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) created the monster and now the great grandson of the old baron discovers his great grandfather’s creation still exists. He brings the monster back to life and then later starts going on a killing spree again and leaving the great grandson with no choice but to destroy the monster.
I have a wonderful picture of your father with my grandfather, Jack Sanford. My grandfather was a chef in a hotel and he baked a cake for your dad’s birthday. True to your father’s generosity, he looked at my grandfather for the picture and let my grandfather smile for the camera and be the star for that moment. Oddly enough, you and your father have the same birthday as my husband and daughter-in-law. May mother cherished that picture as do I. Thank you for sharing him with all of us.
Dear Miss Karloff,
I’ve watched all your Fathers movies and he was a class act. There was so much substance to his art. An innovator who could take you to a place through his craft with no special effects, but just great acting. I’ve never written something like this to a film star, but just wanted you to know I’m just one of millions who recognized his gift.
My grand mother was named Pratt and I know she was related to William, and indeed I have a vague memory of sitting on williams lap at a young age. On my grand mothers marriage she became a Riches and had five children the middle one of these becoming my father Wilfred Alfred Riches, unfortunately the Riches family was not a close one so trying to research family tree not easy.
Did not even know you were around,pleasant surprise
Yours Sincerely Peter Riches
Dear Miss Karloff, My name is Earl “David” Norman and I first became a fan of your father when I was about 10 years old and first saw the original Frankenstein movie on a late show. I admit to having been totally terrorized at the time and had to hide my eyes when certain scenes played. Despite the incredible make up and the magnificent job of acting that your father contributed to the movie, when they showed close ups of his face I found that I could still see a kindness in his eyes. From that point on I wanted desperately to get to know your father but never had the opportunity. Now that I have seen you in a Biography of your father I hope against hope that I might in some way become acquainted with you and learn about your life growing up in the Karloff house and learn more about you and the person you have become. If you would be willing to correspond with me please either email me at email@example.com or mail me at 230 Hawthorne Road Apt G-02 Elkin, North Carolina. 28621. I am 67 years old and this would fulfill a 57 year old dream to be able to correspond with and get to know a member of the Karloff Household. I do not mean to intrude on your life and privacy but would greatly appreciate a reply from you.
The Father of Horror, the King, a voice known across the land. Ohh the noise the noise the noise. Excuse me while I get me a roast beast sandwich.
I loved all your father’s work to me he was an amazing actor and human being God bless
My father and his parents were members of the “British colony” in Hollywood in the late 1920’s. My father played rugby at the time and used to tell me that Boris Karloff refereed the games. There were other celebrities involved, but my memory of their names has faded.
Hi miss sara, my name is gary w.kidd. My mom’s maiden name was pratt. So we always thought we are part of the family. Even we may distant relatives. I love your dad’s movies. I’m trying to see all his film’s. I like to watch TCM. I hope you are well and may God bless you.
Sara. At the age of 86 I guess I’ve seen just about every actor and actress since the beginning of the sound you hear in 1928 – 1929. There is no doubt in my mind that your father had a wider and broader range than any of them. I can’t thank him for all the many years of entertainment but I can certainly pass my thanks along to you as his daughter. My good friend Ginger Rogers always closed with one word. Blessings. My blessings to you.
Ms. Karloff, Simply put….your Dad was to acting as Sunshine is to summer…his affect on the profession was unsurpassed and Never will be/CAN be duplicated.. He Redefined the Horror genre as
we all know.. May God continue to Bless You….Mr. Sidney Travis Bey.
Hello Sara i hope you read this or somebody could pass this message on to you.My name is Marian Julia Pratt and i belive your father is my late father Raymond pratt’s relation his fathers name was maurice pratt we have managed to trace so far bback on the family tree so we know we are definitely your relations. We have photos of my father and of maurice and the pictures of your father are so alike they could be the same person i even look a bit like you my mother said .It would be wonderful if we could correspond.Yours sincerely Marian Julia Pratt.
Hi Ms Sara, and as others here, I loved your dad, but as much as he is remembered for the monster roles, I thought he was marvelous as the religious zealot in John Ford’s much unappreciated The Lost Patrol. How did he find working with both Ford and Victor McLaglen. Both were becoming huge in Hollywood.
Hello Sara, I wanted to ask you if you might be willing to do a phone interview for my Theatre of Horror radio show here in NJ? I have call ins, interviews, as well as movie highlights etc. If you see this request, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org which is my email or 732 604 6096 my phone contact. I think an interview with you would be the highlight of the year. Thank you for your time and consideration. John Spoulos
Sara hi ! What did you go as for Halloween ? Me> the monster, wolfman, creature from the black lagoon…
I’m a huge fan of your dad.
I’m a long retired rugby player (72), and when I was playing for the L.A. Rugby Club, there was a rumor that he fund-raised about 10k for a tour to England, and someone absconded with the $$.
Thanks for your time!
Hello beautiful Sara.At one point i did read a story that your father did indeed bring his work home.I read that he went home with his makeup on.He was actually doing garden work with his makeup on.And the people had stop their cars just to see the gentle monster at work in his garden.Sara i love your father.He did scare the hell out of me But ,a good happy scare.Sara i use the word love not loved because it means passed tence.I will always love your father cause he is in my thoughts,my mind and everywhere i go.Frankenstein will always be the BOSS of monster films.Love you both Sara dear.Stay well. P.S.Smoke good,drink good,fire no good ,friend good LOL.
Just wanted to say that I thought your father was a very handsome man, I was only twelve when he passed away but I have always liked horror movies done with some taste anyway. Your father seemed like such a gentle soul. I am 57 y.o. now and I still enjoy seeing him as host on thriller. All the best.
Yes,I can see the compassion you felt for your father in your eyes & face Sara, & am sure his light from his heart shines down from Heaven, like a star in the night, to the delight of all you do for your Father, William Pratt, and to the memory of Boris Korloff. Not a monster by fear by you,but a monsterous sized heart for what he did for us all. God Bless you for your warm dedication to not just an actor , but a father.
Sara my uncle was lou costello he and your dad are imortals of film and when you mentioned your christining its nice that your catholic at that too god bless
Sara, your father seemed like such a lovely, lovely man. How lucky you are to have had him as a father. I especially enjoyed watching “This is your life Boris Karloff” on youtube!!
From everything I’ve ever read avout him, your dad was a great actor and a truly kind and thoroughly decent man. How nice to know that he was only a monster on film. It’s a;ways a treat to see one of his movies. You must be a very proud daughter.
I am hoping that somebody will finally figure out that your fathers story
needs to be done in a way which conveys his humanity as well as his
really stupid type casting(not to mention a glimpse of Hollywood)
I always knew,even as a child,that he expressed more acting skill than
was ever given the credit by his studios,etc(I always felt sorry for the monster)
Anyway I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought of this,but anyway I really loved your father-he was one of the real deals!!!!
I actually tried to contact Jeremy Irons(I think he resembles him, not sure about if it reached)
Mary G Thompson
Dear Sara,I am a 51 year old artist living in missouri.I have done work for Ozzie Smith,Frank Sinatra,Stan Musial and many others.This is to let you know i am a serious artist,not an amatuer.I have a compact but,impressive collection of Frankenstien memorablia,including the bust from Universal,and all matter of models,posters,etc..I have also built a full size monster for my haunted house.A few years ago I painted a portrait of your father in costume,adding glasses to the monster to try to meet the intelligent gentle man and the monster,I called it Einstien Frankenstien.The reason for this post is to ask for anything you might you might have with your fathers signature(anything at all)to complete my collection? Yours in the highest regard, Richard”Indy”Bowers you can reach me at my e-mail address or call (636)629-2460 Thank you
Hi Sara. Enjoyed sitting with you and Lou at the BNP Parabas tournament. Just finished watching “This Is Your Life” on Youtube about your father. You look great in it, and it was great to hear about your father’s life.
Hope I get to see you again and maybe sit with you at next years tournament. Don’t know if I should give me email in this message for all to see, but possibly you have it, as I was required to post it above; if you feel comfortable conversing with me occasionally. Take care and say “Hi” to Lou for me.
Sincerely, Glenn Solomon
I loved your father, and I envy you the time you had with him.
Well done Debra!
thank you for writing such a lovely article