Friday, September 23, 2016

Boris Karloff Horror Man by Peter Underwood


Boris Karloff-Horror Man was first published in England in 1972, and I bought my copy that very year from the Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood. A later, American edition was published with a different cover. Peter Underwood wrote the first major biography on Karloff and it has stood the test of time, as does Karloff himself. What distinguishes this biography from later retellings of the Karloff story is the fact that Underwood knew Karloff and respected him, perhaps even idolized him. Further, Underwood understands the craft of filmmaking and he understands acting. He was a member of the British Film Institute and published numerous articles on film, psychic activity and extra-sensory perception. He was also president of the famed Ghost Club and an investigator into paranormal activities. In short, Peter Underwood was a fascinating whirlwind himself. Boris Karloff-Horror Man offers a precise and factual account of Karloff’s life and career, accentuates the major film accomplishments, and adds the necessary details regarding Karloff that demonstrate his love for the stage, his dedication to acting, and his humble nature. Included is a bibliography, filmography and discography. A middle-section of photographs highlights Karloff’s many roles. The book covers Karloff’s early struggles in England, his efforts to find work in Canada, and his luck in traveling to Hollywood in 1917. From that point on his luck would change, albeit a tad slower than he might have preferred. Karloff was broke by 1923 and desperately trying to land a job. He took a job as a lorry driver which led to some contacts that resulted in several film roles. This in turn resulted in Karloff slowly building a reputation as a capable and reliable actor. He eventually made the transition to sound films in 1929 with The Unholy Night directed by Lionel Barrymore (filmed under the title The Green Ghost). His eventual casting as the monster in Frankenstein is the stuff of legend. Perhaps the crucial aspect of this book belongs to the fact that Underwood documented Karloff’s feelings about being typecast as a “Bogey Man” for the remainder of his career. In fact, Karloff was more than an armchair student of thrillers and ghost stories. He embraced his roles with relish, worked studiously at each performance, all of which were far removed from his own gentle personality. The portrait of Karloff that emerges here is one of a highly intelligent, caring and modest individual who quite simply loved being an actor. An excellent biography, and in my opinion, the only Karloff biography you need.

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