Boris Karloff At Home --- Part 1
After the pleasant hours we spent with Bela Lugosi a few weeks ago, it’s only fitting we should drop by and check out Boris Karloff’s home-life, circa mid-thirties. Funny how those two names seem to come up in tandem nowadays. There’s no compelling reason why they should. After all, they had nothing in common outside of a handful of co-starring features. We think it’s the rivalry --- not only that which supposedly went on between the actors, but the one that persists to this day among their fans. In all the literature I’ve read on these subjects (and there has been an incredible amount of it), there's never been any indication of genuine competition, let alone malice, on the part of either man toward the other. Boris was obviously the more successful of the two during their lifetimes, and once or twice (after Lugosi’s death) did express a sympathetic regret that Bela hadn’t availed himself of a better opportunity to master the English language. Those remarks tend to rankle some of Bela’s fans. First of all, they think it's a little condescending. Here’s Karloff on his high horse, looking down on a guy who wasn’t as lucky as he, and who says Bela never mastered our language? I tend to agree with that last part. Lugosi may not have been Olivier with the diction, but one look, even at an early talkie like The Thirteenth Chair, and you know the man clearly understood how to get the most out of his dialogue. The one thing he had to have was fidelity to the script, and time to prepare himself. Comics like Milton Berle, Skelton, and their damnable ad-libbing were anathema to Lugosi. Had I been in the studio audience on those Halloween nights during the 50’s when they were ridiculing Bela live on stage, I’d have been ready with the razzberrys, if not the tomatoes. Karloff also preferred going with a printed page, as opposed to the improv stuff. Vincent Price was able to groove with Peter Lorre’s monkey-shines on The Raven in 1963, but Boris liked it not one bit. In a way, Karloff’s been the victim of his own success. We tend to side with the underdog, here Lugosi, in the same way Buster Keaton fans tend to take his side against Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Karloff got all the money and glory then --- now it’s Bela’s turn. Was it payback this past year when Universal, releasing a DVD of their co-starring features, entitled it The Bela Lugosi Collection? Revenge is a dish best served cold, and who would have thought Bela would finally get his fifty years after he died? It’s like a vindication for everybody who’s spent a lifetime rolling snake-eyes. The one-time co-starring team back again, this time in new roles --- Boris Karloff (make that "Karloff") the smug success story, and Bela Lugosi the hard-luck case that comes up from behind to finish the race and win.
I was really thrilled to stumble across these images of Boris Karloff enjoying quiet domesticity. It’s great to see him in the gravy after the tough climb he had. Truck driving, coal shoveling, ditch digging. Yikes! My back’s beginning to ache just thinking about it. And boy, did this guy get a hands-on education in stagecraft, or what? Touring in Canadian logging camps --- when that crowd was let down, they’d likely as not use their saws to cleave the actors in half. Check out Karloff’s sinewy arms in this ultra-moody Universal portrait. Yep --- the hard product of a hard school. No wonder he stood up to the studios as a founding member of the Screen Actor’s Guild. Plenty tough, I’d wager. And how about this neat Cricket Club shot? Dude puts in an eighteen-hour day hauling Colin Clive around on his shoulders, then summons up the energy to go out and swing that bat. And by this time, he’s in his mid-forties! They’re not kidding when they say men were men in those days. I really dig this pose under the shade tree at his Coldwater Canyon pad. Wonder what went wrong with that wife. Just can’t imagine Boris raising his voice at anyone, anytime. Must have been very civilized partings, and we know there were several before Evelyn. Sorry, no snaps of Boris with Violet The Pig, but how about these handsome dogs? More to come with our Karloff visit in Part 2. Stay tuned!