THE KARLOFF COMPENDIUM by Stephen Jacobs
You could say I am somewhat of a student of the horror genre, not The Student Of Prague (1913). I have read extensively on Dear Boris including Mr. Jacobs’s first volume Boris Karloff: More Than A Monster and like those sequels, I wondered what else one mine from the life of one William Pratt.
I was pleasantly surprised by The Karloff Compendium, a three hundred-plus page coffee table-sized book that you can pick up anytime, open a page and learn something new on the one and only Boris Karloff.
Chapters are filled with anecdotes that one can go into more detail within the first book. Practically every conceivable production is given a synopsis plus multiple reviews. Interesting to me and perhaps others would be the review contents as many not being complimentary to most of the later films and even some of the so-called classic age.
Bit of perspective on how Horror was thought of by people then which resulted in the promise of trying to save Universal Studios which it did not. The comments of Boris himself prove illuminating in that he often didn’t like the roles he did, particularly in later years. He always wanted to not be just a horror actor for fear that he would drop out of favour and be jobless.
New revelations abound on what he thought of himself plus personal photos. His relationship with Bela Lugosi and how he was proud yet somewhat shy and distrustful due to the language barrier. Distrustful of being upstaged or having a scene stolen from him when he found that wasn’t the case with Boris, they became friends.
Key points like an entire chapter of James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and Bride Of Frankenstein (1935). Karloff’s opposition to the infamous lake scene and the flower that didn’t float. His thoughts on the injuries he sustained during the making of those films would plague him for the rest of his life. Glimpses into his personal life such as his love of reading, animals and coming to terms with success that some of his family in England didn’t quite understand or give merit. Hollywood history as well as the formation of the Actors Union and how genre films fit into the landscape.
This work includes details of the Broadway debut and the fear it induced in Mr. Karloff so much that he stuttered due to lack of sleep and lost his voice during rehearsal. The Arsenic and Old Lace Director came to the rescue offering the actor a corn cob pipe with Eucalyptus to ease his throat from the gruelling voice work. Fascinating details on his mad scientist, Mr. Wong series that he did for Monogram Pictures to keep working. The children’s recordings, the radio work, the later theatrical triumphs in the role of Captain Hook in Peter Pan and television appearances all here adding to the Karloff legacy often shrouded in myth. Forrest J Ackerman wrote that ‘He threw people off things, into things, chased them yet millions cried when he died.’
The Karloff Compendium is an exhaustive resource of a man who thought of himself as a ‘jobbing actor’ with humility that would fit into any library. I would suggest it is a book not just to be used as reference work but to leisurely pass the time leafing through the glossy pages. Books of this size and breadth sit on shelves or tables for collectors, however, the work deserves to be read in repeated sittings. The only drawback I see of (can’t see) well is the size of the type might slow some people down is the amount of information would take time to assimilate.
Read it or look at the captions on any page and enjoy. Its physical size would support other books very well in more ways than one. Profusely filled and posters and commentary from the one and only Sara Jane Karloff in the form of an introduction, it’s like having Mr. Karloff in your home forever. Not the same as having Boris and his delightful performances but close.
Review by Terry Sherwood