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Saturday, 1 June 2019

William Henry Pratt 1887-1969

Not a name that sparks a memory is it? Perhaps thats why the plaque found at 36 Forest Hill Road, a location now occupied by the Sea Master fish and chip shop notes two names. William Henry Pratt was born at the location in 1887. Its solid middle class area although perhaps lacked the cachet of the more prestigeous neighbouring area of Dulwich which might explain why young William claimed to come from that area. William was the youngest of nine children, and following his mother's death was brought up in Enfield. He attended Enfield Grammar School, and later the private schools of Uppingham School and Merchant Taylors' School. Following in hos elder siblings footsteps he went to King's College London with the intent of joining the Consular Service. He left before graduating and, instead emigrated to Canada in 1909. It's here that he changed his name to Boris Karloff, possibly in order to avoid embarrassing his family and began acting joining the Jeanne Russell Company in 1911, working manual jobs to make ends meet. This led to back problems which meant that he was not drafted in WWI. Instead he drifted south in various theatrical companies such as the Harry St. Clair Players, the Billie Bennett Touring Company, the Maud Amber Players and the Haggerty Repertory Company until beginning work in the embryonic Hollywood taking minor roles in silent movies. His first major role was in The Hope Diamond Mystery in 1920 and he worked solidly through the twenties before working with Howard Hawks in The Criminal Code (1930) and Scarface (1931) clocking up 80 film appearances It was his work with another Briton, James Whale that Karloff would largely be remembered. In 1931 Whale who was already well established in Hollywood cast Karloff as the Monster in the Universal Studios telling of the story of Frankenstein. The film was a huge hit both with critics and with the public. The image of the monster which Universal copyrighted is still instantly recognisable. Once the success of the film became evident Karloff became recognised in the horror genre making The Old Dark House,The Mask of Fu Manchu and The Mummy in 1932 and the Ghoul in 1933 and The Black Cat and The Gift of the Gab in 1934. Karloff reprised his breakthrough role in 1935 in The Bride of Frankenstein, The Son of Frankenstein in 1939, House of Frankenstein in 1944. He also worked with Howard Hawks on The Criminal Code (1931) and Scarface (1932). He left Universal for RKO feeling the the Frankenstein franchise had run its course. He worked at his new studio with Val Lewton appearing in The Body Snatcher and Isle of the Dead in 1945 and Bedlam in 1946. After the war horror films were out of vogue so Karloff switched to other roles notably in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947).His career made the leap to television after the war appearing regularly as a panellist on NBC's "Who said that". He also worked extensively on stage playing Jonathan Brewster in the original production of Arsenic and Old Lace. He continued to work on radio. At times spoofing his horror career. His film career also took in AIP films in the 1960s working with Mario Bava and Roger Corman in Black Sabbath and The Raven respectively. Thus late resurngence also encompassed roles in The Comedy of Terrors in 1964 and Die Monster Die! in 1967. He has not one but two stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He died of Emphysema in 1969.