William Henry Pratt (1887 - 1969) MP

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Nicknames: "Billy", "the Uncanny", "Boris Karloff"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: 36 Forest Hill Road, East Dulwich, London SE22, England
Death: Died in King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, Sussex, England
Cause of death: Emphysema
Occupation: Actor
Managed by: Tim Wilkinson
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About William Henry Pratt

  • from the New York Times obituary, which ran Tuesday, February 4, 1969:

In his later years the actor lived in and near London. His films were still billed as horror movies, although he objected to the adjective.

"I never liked the word horror," he explained. "It should have been terror. They needed a word (in 1931) to describe what we were filming, but they picked the wrong one. Horror means something revolting, but I don't think there's been anything revolting in the parts I've played. I believe in fear and excitement, in shock that emerges from the story, in terror - not horror.""

Mini Biography

Along with fellow actors Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price, Boris Karloff is recognized as one of the true icons of horror cinema, and the actor most closely identified with the general public's perception of the "monster" from the classic Mary Shelley book, "Frankenstein". William Henry Pratt was born on November 23, 1887, in Camberwell, London, England, the son of Edward John Pratt Jr., the Deputy Commissioner of Customs Salt and Opium, Northern Division, Indian Salt Revenue Service, and his third wife, Eliza Sarah Millard.  Despite living and working in the United States for many years, Karloff never became a naturalized American citizen, and he never legally changed his name to "Boris Karloff." He signed official documents "William H. Pratt, a.k.a. Boris Karloff."

He was educated at London University in anticipation that he would pursue a diplomatic career; however, he emigrated to Canada in 1909 and joined a touring company based out of Ontario and adopted the stage name of "Boris Karloff." He toured back and forth across the USA for over ten years in a variety of low-budget theater shows and eventually ended up in Hollywood with very little money to his name. Needing cash to support himself, Karloff secured occasional acting work in the fledgling silent film industry.

His big break came in 1931 when he was cast as "the monster" in the Universal production of Frankenstein (1931), directed by James Whale, one of the studio's few remaining auteur directors. The aura of mystery surrounding Karloff was highlighted in the opening credits, as he was listed as simply "?." The film was a commercial and critical success for Universal, and Karloff was instantly established as a hot property in Hollywood. 

His career experienced something of a revival in the 1960s thanks to hosting the TV anthology series "Thriller" (1960). His TV career was capped off by achieving Christmas immortality as the narrator of Chuck Jones's perennial animated favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) (TV). 

He never took himself too seriously as an actor and had a tendency to downplay his acting accomplishments, yet Karloff was one of the twelve original founders of the Screen Actor's Guild and held SAG #9.

Renowned as a refined, kind and warm-hearted gentleman, with a sincere affection for children and their welfare, Karloff passed away on February 2, 1969 from emphysema. He was cremated at Guildford Crematorium, Godalming, Surrey, England, where he is commemorated by a plaque in Plot 2 of the Garden of Remembrance.

Married 

  1. Grace Harding (23 February 1910 - 8 January 1913) (divorced)
  2.  Olive de Wilton (1915 - ?) (divorced)
  3.  Montana Laurena Williams (1920 - ?) (divorced)
  4.  Helene Vivian Soule (3 February 1924 - 1928) (divorced)
  5.  Dorothy Stine (12 April 1930 - 10 April 1946) (divorced) 1 child
  6.  Evelyn Hope Helmore (11 April 1946 - 2 February 1969) (his death)

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-------------------- Profile

Actor. Film star Boris Karloff, whose name became synonymous with the horror genre, was born William Henry Pratt in London, England, on November 23, 1887. He studied at London University, then went to Canada and the United States, aiming become a diplomat like his father, and became involved in acting.

When Bela Lugosi refused to take the part, the role of the Monster in 1931's Frankenstein went to Boris Karloff. His performance received huge praise and he became an overnight sensation. His career was mostly spent in popular horror films, where he brought a pathos to the characterization. He is also well known for providing the voice to the 1966 cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

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Boris Karloff's Timeline

1887
November 23, 1887
36 Forest Hill Road, East Dulwich, London SE22, England
1909
1909
Age 21
1920
1920
Age 32
1923
1923
Age 35
1929
1929
Age 41
1932
1932
Age 44
1945
1945
Age 57
1946
1946
Age 58
1969
February 2, 1969
Age 81
King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, Sussex, England