The Many Faces of Boris Karloff (Interview 1966)
[deutsche Übersetzung - siehe unten ! ]
When we interviewed Boris Karloff, he had just moved into an apartment in Kensington, a fashionable London residential area. The presence of painters and the paraphenalia of interior decoration did not lend itself to the sinister atmosphere we had anticipated. Our knock was answered by the vivacious Mrs Karloff who ushered us into the apartment, still in the process of being renovated. From a room hidden to our eyes came a greeting in that mild English voice famous throughout the world.
Then suddenly Boris Karloff (78) stood framed in the doorway, much taller and better built than we had been led to believe by erroneous reports of a withered and declining 78 year old. Not at all ! Standing before us, he seemed to personify the radiant and mature good health associated with the British.
A blue carpet led us to his cheerful and tastefully furnished study. Here was no somber corner of a cold Carpathian castle … no hint of dark malevolent spirits. Instead, the warm London sunlight filtered through a large window. Cricket trophies and a bookshelf crammed with historical texts and volumes by the late Winston Churchill displayed the patriotic tastes of the very British Mr. Karloff.
The only disturbing accessory was a silver oxigen cylinder which bore mute testimony of a recent illness. Seated in comfortable armchairs, we began by showing a 1933 interview in which Karloff had stated that he would not like to return to London because of the many changes since his departure. How, we asked, did he find the old place in 1966 ?
Karloff : Well, it's strange, of course. I found great changes when I first came home in 1933. Not so much in London – that was a rather peculiar thing. I found much more changes in the countryside because I left England in 1909 to go to Canada, and in the interval, there had been the great advent of the motorcar, you see. That opened up great arterial highways and all the rest of it. There were lots of new buildings and that sort of thing, of course. In London, with the smoke and the grime, they weather so quickly it all becomes part of the scene, you know, and you don't notice it so much.
Castle of Frankenstein : Do you think you could settle a very important biographical controversy … Are your real Christian names William Henry or Charles Edward ?
Karloff : William Henry ! I don't know how that Charles Edward came about. Somebody, when I was under contract at Universal, I think, made the mistake in the publicity department. If a thing ever goes out, you know, it never dies ; it crops up again and again.
CoF : Were you born in Enfield or Dulwich ?
Karloff : In Dulwich.
CoF : Have you a personal preference for villainous parts ?
Karloff : No, not really. I think all actors get typed. I know they rebel against it. Some actors do … or are supposed to ...I don't know if they really do. But I think all actors are typed, and when you are typed, you are a very lucky man … because the audience has shown a preference. I think the audience must be your master.
They have shown a preference for what they would like to see you do, and I think you ought to stick to it.
CoF : But you were able to get out of it with Colonel March, weren't you ?
Karloff : I don't quite understand what you mean by 'get out of it'. If you're thinking of the Frankenstein monster, I only played him three times … and that was a long time ago.
CoF : But one wouldn't really call him a villain …
Karloff : No. I know when youngsters wrote to me at the time, if anything, they expressed great compassion for the Monster.
CoF : Do you think this is because most of your villains have been victims of circumstances ?
Karloff : Well, I think most villains are – even in real life. I hadn't thought about it particularly. I don't think the average chap who gets into trouble – call him a villain if you like – deliberately sets out to do that. I think people get caught up in things as they happen.
CoF : You've worked in both films and theater …
Karloff : Oh yes, I began in theater ; I had been ten years in the theater.
CoF : Which do you prefer ?
Karloff : Theater – it's live, it's immediate, it's a sustained effort and it's in continuity.
It's much harder work than films and much more difficult because films aren't shot in continuity … they're spread over so long a time. It's hard to sustain a thing in film – especially when it's not known in which order it's going to be shown.
CoF : What sort of films do you go to yourself ?
Karloff : I don't go to a great deal, really.
CoF : What about the rumour that it was Lon Chaney who introduced you to films ?
Karloff : Good heavens, no ! I had been on stage for ten years, and I found myself in San Francisco. A friend went to Los Angeles ahead of me ; he was going to organise a vaudeville sketch at the Variety stage. I came down to join him, bit it didn't work out so I began as an extra in films. When I was playing bits and small parts, I met Lon Chaney twice on the studio lot … but that's all.
CoF : Most of your biographies list His Majesty, The American (1919), as your first film.
Karloff : That is true. I was an extra in that with Douglas Fairbanks.
CoF : You didn't make one previously with Anny Pavlova ?
Karloff : Not that I know of (laughing) … Don't believe everything you read !
CoF : There are many different accounts of how you were cast as the Monster in Frankenstein. What really happened ?
Karloff : What really happened was this : I'd been in a play in Los Angeles called The Criminal Code. It was sent out from New York with four or five parts to be cast locally and I had the luck to get one that was very showy – small, but it was very showy and well sptted in the play. I think James Whale, the director, saw it.
A few months later it was filmed. Because I'd been in the play, I had the chance to play the same part in the film, and I think he'd also seen that. I was working at Universal at the time, and James Whale was in the commissary having lunch.
He asked me over to his table to have a cup of coffee and said he wanted me to take a test for the Monster. I can only assume that he had seen The Criminal Code –either the play or the film. I didn't ask him, and he didn't tell me.
CoF : Did you ever see the very first version of Frankenstein made in 1910 by Thomas Edison ?
Karloff : No, I never did. I didn't know it had been made : it's news to me. I know it had been done as a play – here in London, I believe.
CoF : It's said that Bela Lugosi made tests for the part. Did you ever see these ?
Karloff : No, I never did, but I was once told that he insisted on doing his makeup himself – and did this awful hairy creature, not at all like our Monster.
CoF : How much of the conception of the Monster's appearance came from Jack Pierce ?
Karloff : All of it … except for one very tiny detail. It was effective because he experimented and tried all sorts of things. Finally, when we were in the last stages and getting it down to what it would be, my eyes seemed to normal and alive and natural for a thing that only just been put together and born, so to speak.
I said, 'Let's see if we can do something about it' … and we played around … and I said, 'Let's put some putty on the lids.“ He put some putty on and shaped it so that the lids were the same … and that was it. It was trying to veil them ...“
CoF : What kind of director was Whale ?
Karloff : Oh, a fine one … a very fine director indeed. He did Journey's End, the play which R.C. Sheriff wrote. A very, very fine director indeed …
CoF : Why was the scene with the little girl cut ?
Karloff : Well, that was the only time I didn't like Jimmy Whale's direction. We were on our knees opposite each other when the moment came that there were no more more flowers. My conception of the scene was that he would look up at the little girl in bewilderment, and, in his mind, she would become a flower.
Without moving, he would pick her up gently and put her in the water exactly as he had done to the flower – and, to his horror, she would sink. Well, Jimmy made me pick her up and do THAT (motioning violently) over my head which became a brutal and deliberate act. By no stretch of the imagination could you make that innocent.
The whole pathos of the scene, to my mind, should have been -and I'm sure that's the way it was written – completely innocent and unaware. But the moment you do THAT it's a deliberate thing … and I insisted on that part being removed.
CoF : Of the three films in which you played the monster, which did you prefer ?
Karloff : The first, In the second they made a great mistake about which I also complained, but, you know, you don't have much say in it. The speech … stupid ! My argument was that if the Monster had any impact or charm, it was because he was inarticulate … this great, lumbering, inarticulate creature. The moment he spoke you might as well take the mick or play it straight.
In the third one I didn't like it because they changed his clothes completely … Wrapped him up in furs and muck, and he just became nothing. I mean the makeup, like the clothes, had become part of him. If you accepted the convention that he lived or came to live, at the end of the film … after practically being destroyed … you could accept that he wore the same clothes to meet the script. So the first one I enjoyed … which was the best of the three.
CoF : Several years later you made House of Frankenstein in which Glenn Strange played the Monster …
Karloff : That's right, and in the meantime, it had been played by Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. … and the Glenn Strange.
CoF : What did you think of Strange's Monster ?
Karloff : Well, he wasn't as lucky as I was.
I got the cream of it, being the first. I know I wished him lots of luck … hoping it would do as much for him as it did for me, but …
CoF : Have you seen any of the recent colour versions ?
Karloff : No, I haven't seen any of them. I've seen a few of the so-called 'horror' films made in America, and I think a mistake is made when they go in for shock for the sake of shock instead of letting it work out naturally from the story and situation and character.
I think it really rather vulgarizes it.
(It was with that in mind that I refused to play the Monster after the third one. I could see exactly what was going to happen.)
The word 'horror' is the wrong word I've always contended ; it's pedantic, perhaps, but the meaning of the word 'horror' is revulsion, and, of course, that isn't the idea at all.
I think it rather lends itself to the cheapened quality that has crept in – which is a pity because these stories always have an audience in spite of any changing fashions. I've thought it must be because they have their roots very deep in the various folklores and legends of every race in the world.
You could make these films without dialogue. They would be better without dialogue.
CoF : Did you enjoy working on Thriller ?
Karloff : Very much, indeed. The man who produced it, Bill Frye, is a very good friend of my wife and I, and I have a great respect for him. I think he's a wonderful producer and a great loss to television – he's gone to Columbia to make films.
CoF : You made several films with Bela Lugosi. What's your opinion of him ?
Karloff : He was a very fine actor and a wonderful technician ; in his younger years he had been the leading man at the State Theater in Budapest.
Poor Bela had two troubles … I think he remained slightly old-fashioned in his acting. He didn't grow with the times, and I think one must.
He didn't learn the language in which he earned his bread and butter, and that made it difficult for him. He was in America much longer than Peter Lorre.
I've worked with both … in fact, we all worked together in a film with Kay Kyser. But there was no difficulty for Peter : he really got down to the language.
Bela didn't, and I think that handicapped him enormously. It was a pity.
CoF : Were you helped in your Oriental roles – Fu Manchu and Mr. Wong – by diplomatic training ?
Karloff : I didn't have any. No. I had two elder brothers in the ICS, and two were in the consular service in China. The elder of the two – who still lives – was in the Foreign Office for many years in charge of Far Eastern Affairs. I was supposed to go into the same service, but i didn't want to. I couldn' t pass the exam anyhow. I wanted to be an actor. I didn't have any.
CoF : You made Black Sabbath in Italy. Did you enjoy working there ?
Karloff : Very much – except that it was brutally cold, and the hotel was a sort of marble palace.
They didn't warm up with one match being struck, and it was there that I got quite ill.
I came back to England at the end of the film. I was able to complete it with a great deal of difficulty ; I was desperately ill that summer.
I had a very narrow squeak, and it left my lungs, as you can hear, very short-winded. I had pneumonia.
CoF : Wasn't there an unusual ending to the story in the Italian version with the camera pulling back to show the Wurdalak on a rocking horse ... ?
Karloff : Yes, it twas a most amusing ending, really. Sort of getting on this rocking horse and everything. The producers in Hollywood didn't like it, and they had a very valid point.
If there had been any suggestion of comedy in any of the three stories, then it would have tied in.
But there was no suggestion whatsoever, and this would have come as such a shock that it would have destroyed the film.
I don't know if they were right. I think they must have been because they were very intelligent men and very successful. [Nicholson and Arkoff of American International] They know their market, they know their field very well, and they've been extremely considerate to me.
I'm most grateful to them.
CoF : In 1953 you made another film in Italy – Il Mostra dell' Isola -[The Monster of the Island] …
Karloff : Oh, yes. Oh, God.
CoF : Can you recall much of this one ?
Karloff : No. I haven't the least idea what it was like. Incredible ! Dreadful ! No one in the outfit spoke English ; I speak no Italian. Just hopeless.
I had a very good time, but that's beside the point.
CoF : Die, Monster, Die is based on Lovecraft … and your previous professional encounter with Lovecraft was when you included one of his stories in your anthology …
Karloff : Yes, I had to read thousands in choosing the stories, and they were very pleased with the result. I know that Lovecraft is regarded as one of the masters at this sort of thing.
CoF : You recently hosted the science fiction TV series Out of This World. Do you think the rise of science fiction on mass media is going to mean less gothic horror in the future ?
Karloff : No. I think it's all part of the general pattern. The only trouble with science fiction is as someone said during the war, 'It's no good doing a play with this sort of thing. You can't compete with the headlines.' With science fiction it's pretty hard to compete with what is actually happening today.
CoF : Just after you completed Frankenstein 1970, you were widely quoted as having said, 'They don't know how to make decent horror films anymore'.
Karloff : I don't think I ever said that – not publicly anyway.
CoF : Which director have you most enjoyed working with ?
Karloff : Films ? … I should say Lionel Barrymore ! That was the first sound film I worked in … at MGM. I'd worked with him before … as an actor in a silent film called The Bells. That was for an independent company before we went to MGM. It was wonderful for me working with him as an actor ; I admired him enormously.
And then at MGM I worked in the film he directed (The Unholy Night) and he was absolutely marvelous. In those early days of sound, it was all rather primitive.
We were short of stages, the hours were too long and he just couldn't cope with it. It was a great loss. He was a great director, and I think he was a wonderful character actor.
One of the three Barrymores, I'd say he was the best of the three.
CoF : What's the approach of Daniel Haller who directed Die, Monster, Die ?
Karloff : Well, it's his first film, and he was under great pressure. I enjoyed working with him. I think he's going to make a good director … you see, he's a wonderful art director ; he did all the sets for The Raven. I think he's got a great future.
CoF : One final question : which part would you most like to have played ?
Karloff : I never have really bothered about that. I think it's much better for somebody outside yourself to choose the part. You can always say no.
You always know what you can't do. But when you say, 'I'd like to do that,' maybe it's something you can do, maybe you can't. Let the other people choose for you.
CoF : Thank you very much, Mr. Karloff.
Karloff : Not at all.
Interviewers : Mike Parry and Harry Nadler
Boris Karloff (75) Interview : 'Between The Bolts' (1963, USA)
Transcribed by Rhonda Steerer
CE : This is Colin Edwards in Carmel / California. I'm talking to the man who has one of the best known names among a whole range of film stars : Mr. Boris Karloff.
Mr. Karloff, your name suggests a Russian family. But you're English, aren't you ?
BK : Yes, I'm English. Actually the name Karloff is a family name on my mother's side a long, long way back. My real name is William Henry Pratt.
When I decided to go on stage in 1910, I realised that the name 'Pratt' (laughs) perhaps was not the most advantageous name for an actor, and so I cast around and I decided to use the old family name. And the other name, the actual Christian name of Boris, I confess I just plucked that one right out of the air.
CE : So, Karloff sounds Russian …
BK : Well, that has been extremely fortunate for me. That's all I can say.
CE : It's a sort of forbidding name in a way – at least to an Anglo-Saxon audience, I suppose.
BK : Well, I didn't start to do forbidding parts till I … till the 30s sometime – I had a long apprenticeship of over 20 years before anybody ever heard from me.
CE : Do you find today that people associate you with Frankenstein almost exclusively ?
BK : Oh yes ... Not exclusively, but they always think of that. And I think I'm a very fortunate man that they do.
I think any man, any actor who can become identified with a role … not a particular role, but with a whole – how shall I put it ? - a whole line of country, as it were, is a very fortunate man. He is presented with …
CE : … you didn't resent it ?
BK : Good heavens, no. I mean, if … after all, an actor is in business. He's there to sell his services.
You see, he's in service, isn't he. Well now, if you make tobacco or if you make shoes or something, you will spend millions of dollars to try to get a trademark that can be accepted. Well, I think if an actor gets a trademark handed to him on a silver platter, he is a jolly lucky man.
CE : Of course many actors are always afraid that being typecast and then getting into one type of role …
BK : … every actor is typed, isn' t he ? If you're a young actor, you're typed of playing young parts – and if you get typed, you get typed in the thing that you can do best.
And if you get typed in a field where it's not too restricted, and you can really make it your own up to a point, I think you're extremely lucky.
CE : You have actually done quite a range of things that are outside of the horror category, haven't you.
BK : It's a dreadful word, it's the wrong word.
CE : What term would you like to be applied to the films you're doing ?
BK : Well, I don't know … I think the trapping was in the early days, when they first made these films, and they were trying to get one word to express it – and they chose the word horror.
But the word 'horror' … that has a connotation of 'revulsion', you know … really. That's what the word really means. Well, the aim is certainly not to repell you or to revolt you, it's to attract you, it's to excite you, it's to alarm you perhaps.
It's excitement. I think the word is 'thriller' really or 'shock'. That sort of thing. But certainly not 'horror'.
CE : You had a whole line of these films, the criminal type …that was an early one …
BK : Well, an early one – that was The Criminal Code. By golly, that's the one that really set me on the road.
CE : In Hollywood ?
BK : I was in the play on the coast for a short time, for about six or eight weeks. And then, after that, it was made into a film by Columbia – it was in the early 30s ... 1930 I think it was.
And in those days, they had no contract players, they only had freelance players. So, as I had been seen in the play, I had an opportunity to do the part, and that is the thing that turned the tide for me.
CE : How soon after that came Frankenstein ?
BK : The following year ! We did The Criminal Code in 1930, and then work began to pour in of all kinds. Nothing very exciting, but at least it was work - which was the most important thing.
And in that massive work I got the chance to make a test for the Monster in Frankenstein, and they liked the test. And I got the part and … that told the story and that sort of kicked the goal.
CE : What did you think about the acting possiblities in the role with that tremendous mask on that was really expressionless and moving around so slowly and pondering ?
BK : Well, it was extremely interesting because it was a sort of a challenge !
Here you are playing an inarticulate creature with a half-formed brain that was barely functioning, but bit by bit was beginning to function more and more, and still you had to communicate with the people, to the other characters in the story and with the audience. And the only way you could do that really was with your eyes.
And then we had the problem that if your eyes were alive and normal – and I hope fairly intelligent (laughs) – it would simply destroy the makeup, it would destroy the illusion. And that's when we used putty over the eyes to distort them, in a way to veil them a little bit, so they wouldn't be too clear and too sharp. It was most interesting.
CE : That was quite a long time ago …
BK : 1931.
CE : It's quite a time since I've seen any of the Frankenstein films. If I recall there were moments in it where the Monster showed moments of great gentleness.
BK : Of course he did. Actually the Monster, poor old thing, he was extremely misunderstood and abused.
Actually the Monster only got violent when he was attacked by people who got frightened and panicked. And when they attacked him, he attacked back naturally - and being rather big and strong, he was dangerous.
CE : You developed quite a lot of sympathy for this character.
BK : Well now, actually children ... going back to the word 'horror', the revulsion, meaning such nonsense ... any letters I got from children and I got a great many – if they had anything to say at all, they expressed great compassion for the Monster, which I thought was interesting because it was really indicative of what the part really was.
CE : Yes. Helpless in a way.
BK : Sure. Helpless and inarticulate … in a hostile, rather cruel world.
CE : Were there two sequels to this ?
BK : Oh, they made a dozen of them. Good heavens, yes. But I was only in the first three.
I was in Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and The Son of Frankenstein. It was quite proper order, it was all respectable, the Bride came first.
CE : Not the House of Frankenstein ?
BK : That was made some years later – and in that I think I played Frankenstein himself.
CE : The scientist ?
BK : Yes. I've done that twice for my sins, but I only played the Monster three times.
CE : Who played the Monster in that one then ?
BK : Lon Chaney Jr.
CE : The son of … ?
BK : Of the great Lon Chaney.
CE : He was also a monster man like that.
BK :Well, not really a monster man, but he was a brilliant make up artist. And a very, very, very fine actor.
CE : You had a tremendous amount of make up on your face. Was it a mask or was it make up ?
BK : No, it was make up, and it took about 4 hours to put it on. It was a terrible job.
CE : How many days were you on the set, having to put it on ?
BK : Well, I think I worked every day in the film. And the film took about 8 weeks to make, and there was one - I remember one - awful occasion when I got into the make up shop at 3.30 in the morning to be ready to go out on location.
And we went out and worked in the hot sun on the edge of the lake, the scene with the little girl that you were talking about. And we came back to the studio in the evening, had some supper, we went out onto the back lot - and I worked all night till 5 in the morning.
CE : Good heavens !
BK : I had it on for over 25 hours. That was a long pull.
CE : And the lights ? Are they as strong as TV lights, like Klieg lights ?
BK : They were a different kind of lights then. It was the 'carbon light' and they were dreadful.They were dreadful. Hurt your eyes.
CE : The body pads of you … They made you a bit taller.
BK : Well yes, I had enormous lifts on and enormous body pads. And the boots weighed about 16 pounds a piece.
All told, the whole outfit weighed about 40-45 pounds .
CE : So, that helped give you this lurchy body movement …
BK : And it helped me to lose 20 pounds ! Because we were doing it in August, in the height of the summer, you know. It was really savagely hard work.
CE : And as you lost weight, you had to put more padding on.
BK : Yes ! More or less !
CE : The heavy boots also increased your height.
BK : Oh yes, enormous lifts, you see. And the shoot with the low camera - they shoot up. That adds to your height. There are all sorts of tricks.
CE : What do you find ... in the reaction to the Frankenstein films, do you find yourself getting a lot of fan letters ?
BK : Oh yes, oh yes. You always do. You get fan letters usually asking for photographs – or you get told sort of „send me a photograph“. But the interesting thing about that and the rewarding thing about that film to me, outside everything it has done to me and what it meant to me, was the effect it has had on youngsters.
That they all could see right through the make up and could see the tragedy of this poor figure and expressed great compassion for him. And I felt awfully rewarded.
CE : Do you find any letters from people who sort of saw the wrong things in the Monster ?
BK : Oh, see, you get frank letters. Everybody gets frank letters of course. 'You ought to be ashamed of yourself going around frightening little children'.
But – rubbish ! I don't frighten little children, they frighten me ! (Laughs)
CE : You were in a film that was a comedy : The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Danny Kaye.
BK : Oh yes, I was doing my old stuff in that of course. I was frightening Danny, you see, playing a psychiatrist.
CE : Tell me – some of the other people who were in the monster business, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney. Did you know them very well, did you get together ?
BK : No, I worked with Bela Lugosi in probably 3 or 4 pictures, but outside the studio we didn't meet.
You know it's an enormous rambling big place, spread out all over Southern California – and you perhaps do a picture with somebody and maybe your paths don't cross again for a year. It depends upon what your individual tastes were.
CE : The similarity of the role didn't put you together ?
BK : No, good heavens, no. I spent my spare time in those days … I used to play a lot of cricket, you see. Which I don't think would have appealed to Bela (laughs).
CE : It's very sad how he died …
BK : Terribly sad. He had a tragic, tragic life, that man. He really did. I've always felt extremely sorry for him.
In a way, he was his own worst enemy - he was a fine actor, he was a brilliant technician, in every sense of the word. But he hadn't moved with the times. He was the leading man, I believe, in the State Theatre of Budapest when he was a young man, with a fine, fine European reputation.
But he just did't move with the times. When he came to America, he didn't really learn the language as well as he might have. I'm afraid those things were bad for him.
CE : Limited him really.
BK : Yes ! An unhappy man, an unhappy life.
CE : Is that his real name, Bela Lugosi ?
BK : I think so, I think so … Yes.
CE : The other man who comes to mind is Lon Chaney ... Lon Chaney Jr.
BK : Yes, yes. Lon Chaney was a wonderful man, the father, and he was a magnificent actor. And he did all his own make up.
When he was on top, alive and on deck - that was before the days of the great make up departments that they have now, you see. And the actor had to do his own make up, and he designed and executed his own make ups.
CE : Some actors still do this. Hal Holbrook who does the Mark Twain tonight, he's a friend of ours … He spends 3 or 4 hours a day …
BK : … but in films, you see, the camera is so exacting that they have experts to do it. And it saves them a lot of time and money. It's an economic thing.
CE : You did Fu Manchu, one of those films.
BK : Yes, I did it once. I was loaned by Universal to MGM and did Fu Manchu.
CE : You didn't speak Chinese ? Some words ?
BK Good heavens no. Good heavens no. No no. Good lord no – it was a shambles, it really was, it was simply ridiculous.
I shall never forget … for about a week before we started, I kept asking for a script, you see, and I was met with roars of laughter. The idea that there would be a script …
And I went … on the morning we started shooting, I went into the make up department and worked there for about a couple of hours, getting this extremely bad make up on, as a matter of fact - Fu Manchu, ridiculous.
And as I was in the make up chair, a gentleman came in and handed me about four sheets of paper which was one enormous long speech. That was to be the opening shot in the film and I was seeing it for the first time then and there.
And it was written in the most impeccable English. And I said, 'well, this is absolute nonsense – I can't learn this in time to use this' … 'Don't worry, it'll be all right'. So I got the make up on from the make up shop.
On my way to the stage I was intercepted by somebody else who took these pages away from me and gave me others that were written in Pidgin English (laughs). They had about five writers on it. And this was happening all through the film.
CE : Too many cooks spoil the broth.
BK : Some scenes were written in beautiful Oxford English, others were written in god knows what … (laughs). However !
CE : Did you get any reaction to this film by Chinese here … to the image ?
BK : What - sure not. Rubbish. They'd hoot with laughter of course (laughs).
CE : Some minorities getting so sensitive …
BK : Yes, and that is so stupid I think. That is so utterly stupid.
CE : What do you feel about horror movies today ?
BK : Well, frankly, I haven't seen any. And I don't go to movies a great deal. Sounds peculiar, but somehow or other I don't have much time.
But I have a feeling … this sounds rather invidious … and I don't quite know how to put it, but I think they make a terrible mistake in the things that one sees today.
I've seen one or two perhaps, I don't name them. But it is shock and horror I mean, real horror in the sense of 'revulsion', for the sake of shock. It hasn't got its basis in a story.
Anybody can show you blood and stuff – and say 'look, this is horrible'. Well, fine - it is, but that doesn't make a story, does it. It must stem out of stories, and after all, the things that were done – I mean the Frankenstein story – is an old legend.
And all these tales, they all have their roots in the folklore of every race in the world, don't they. And everybody loves to play a game, everybody loves to pretend there's something behind the door. You know perfectly well there isn't, but it is fun pretending.
CE : In modern films there is an increasing amount of sadism …
BK : Oh, shocking violence – bloody … It's not shocking anymore, it's become ridiculous.
CE : The horror aspect of the movie …
BK : Well, I don't know that it even does that, I think it is a 'reductio ad absurdum'.
I mean, fights on the screen today are so violent that you just roar with laughter, if you trouble to watch.
CE : There's a new type of monster coming in some plays and films in recent years, and that's the sort of psychological monster. The one type you saw eating the little child in 'The Bad Seed' (1956), did you see that ?
BK : Yes, I saw that ... yes, I saw that. Well, it's rather sadistic, isn't it. Very sadistic.
CE : Makes you uneasy. Tell me, did any of the monsters you played in those great old …
BK : … I only played one, you know.
CE : Only Frankenstein ?
BK : That's all.
CE : What about The Haunted Strangler and things like that ?
BK : That wasn't a monster. Good heavens, no.
CE : A villain.
BK : No, that wasn't. No no no. It wasn't a villain even. It was the same pattern as the pattern of a whole raft of stories I did at Columbia, some years ago.
A sort of … a man was on the verge of a discovery that he feels is going to be for the good of mankind. Creating some kind of scientific thing, you see. And it goes wrong.
And in going wrong, he goes wrong. And in the last act, very reluctantly, you have to destroy him, it's as though you have to shoot a faithful dog who has gone mad. That isn't a monster – but a man who starts out with a good idea, that was The Haunted Strangler.
If I remember it now, he was a writer, wasn't he, and he felt that given this miscarriage of justice … and he felt it was wrong that in those days poor men were convicted of crime, as a witch perhaps, maybe quite innocent – because they hadn't got the means to defend themselves. And it just went sour.
CE : It has sociological motives.
BK : Yes. Yes, yes.
CE : Did any of the people or characters you played ever mistreat women violently ? Or is that something only produced in recent years ?
BK : Well, that's boring gangster films. No, I haven't done that, no. Not yet ! (Laughs)
CE : You were born actually …
BK : … I was born in Dulwich.
CE : You went to Dulwich College ?
BK : No, I was the youngest of 8 sons and all the others went to Dulwich College – but by the time I was about 4 or 5, we moved from there to Enfield which is in the North of London, you know, Middlesex.
So I went to the Grammar School at Enfield, for a little bit, then to a small private school in Enfield. Then I went to Merchant Taylors up in London …
CE : … famous …
BK : … but it was a day school, you see. That was when it was in Charterhouse Square, they'd moved to the country since – and I was there for about 2 years, then they sent me up to Uppingham.
I went to boarding school up in Rutlandshire.
CE : You ever go back there ?
BK : I went back the first time I went back home after leaving in 1909. I didn't get home till 1933. And I went back up to Uppingham and did it in the holiday time – and I crept around like a ghost.
CE : Meet the boys ?
BK : I'd be terrified ! I'd be terrified. I couldn't face the little wretches … (laughs)
CE : Well, is it in England that you started your acting career ?
BK : Oh no. I came to Canada. I was supposed to … well, nearly all my brothers were abroad, in sort of government service. Two were in the Indian Civil Service, two were in the Consular Service out in China.
And I was supposed to go to the Consular Service out in China. Well, a) I didn't want to, I wanted to be an actor – because when I was a small boy in Enfield, about 10, we used to do a parish play every year. A pantomime for two nights, for the 'Band of Hope' for one night – and something for the other night.
And the first thing I ever played was the Demon in 'Cinderella' when I was about 10, you see. And I tasted blood, so to speak (laughs), and from then on I was determined to be an actor.
Well, my older brothers – I'd lost my father when I was an infant – my older brothers saw which way the wind was blowing after I'd played in 2 or 3 of these things as a small boy, and they put their foot down and stopped it. But the seed was planted. (Laughs.)
And I was a lazy little devil at school, I didn't do much work and I was determined somehow or other to go on stage and so ...I didn't want to go into the Consular Service in China for that reason – and there was an even more important reason, I knew I didn't have the brains to pass the examination which was quite stiff.
So I tossed a coin as to whether I should go to Australia or to Canada with the idea of being an actor, which shows I knew nothing about it. And it fell heads or tails, as the case may be, and I went to Canada. And I worked on a farm in Ontario for about 2 months or something like that – and the farmer was delighted to see me leave at the end of the time.
And I went on out to Vancouver and there I worked for all sorts of things, I laid tracks for the B.C. Electric who tracked the streetcars into town, and I shuffled coal and cleared land – and what not. And eventually I got into the Survey Parties, we were surveying a couple of lakes about 40 miles out of Vancouver and 30 or 40 miles up into the bush, also for the B.C. Electric.
And in the meantime I'd gone down to Seattle and I'd interviewed a theatrical agent down there. His name was Walter Kelly and I told him a pack of lies of course, you see. All the plays that I'd seen as a boy in London from the gallery, and that sort of thing, I swore that I'd been in ...(laughs). He pretended to swallow it.
And I said that I'd come to Canada for my health and I was just recovered now and was prepared to re-enter the ranks of my profession (laughs). I tracked it down … and so, off I went on the Survey Party - and one day, by golly, I got a letter that came from this fellow, saying 'go to Kamloops in British Columbia and join the Jean Russell Company there. There is a vacancy for an actor'.
So I left my axe in the air, practically, hotfooted it down and made my way to Kamloops and joined the little company. And that's where I began my so-called theatrical career in Western Canada.
CE : How long did it take you then to get to New York or to Hollywood ? Because you weren't in New York theatre ...
BK : Ah, my first play in New York was Arsenic and Old Lace. Let me see – I started in Kamloops in British Columbia in 1910, and my first play in New York was Arsenic and Old Lace in 1941. That was my first play.
CE : Oh really ? So you went to Hollywood then.
BK : I had about 10 years of small stock and rep, all over Western Canada, and in the Western part of the States.
And then I found myself out of work – in Hollywood, and I got a job, this was about 1920, when I got a job as an extra.
CE : Was it the birth of the movies ?
BK : Oh no. They'd been going on … Oh no. This was in the silent days. They'd been there for a long time – they'd been there for 10 years.
And I, sort of, messed around as an extra for a little bit, but I got a few little bits to play. Then I began to play some parts, all unimportant parts in unimportant films.
And then hard times came along and I drove a building material truck, there, for about a year and a half.
And then, all of a sudden, the phone rang – and I was back in films again, sort of playing a little bit. And it was in and out like that.
Just, sort of, it was a struggle, but who doesn't have a struggle ? And then, in 1930, I got a chance to be in the play of The Criminal Code which had come out from New York with a few small parts to be cast, and I had the luck to get one.
And it happened to be rather showy – small, but showy – and from that I got a chance to play the same part in the film made by Columbia, and then the work began to come in, because it was a successful film.
And in all that massive work, I had the opportunity to make a test for The Monster in Frankenstein which was in the summer of 31. And that really kicked the goal for me.
CE : And that – and The Criminal Code – were among the early talkies.
BK : Oh yes, oh yes.
CE : Which of the people in the silent movies are you associated with, which were the directors ?
BK : Oh, these were quite small unimportant films, I …
CE : Not Griffiths ?
BK : Oh good heavens, no - good lord, no.
CE : You did not get in with the Chaplin crowd or a lot of English 'music hall' people ?
BK : No no no. Nobody knew I was in Hollywood for 10 years – except me and the landlady who just discovered I owed her rent.
CE : Were there so many studios in operation ?
BK : Oh yes, yes. There were more studios in operation. I worked in Vitagraph, for instance, some of the early films I played parts in … they were the silent films.
Of course, that's all gone. Oh yes, a great many more studios.
CE : Then you didn't get to New York, on Broadway, till 1941 ?
BK : 1941 !
CE : All that time in Hollywood ?
BK : All that time in Hollywood ! Films … And I got back home twice in that period in 33, I was sent by Universal to … they loaned me to do a film.
And I was only home in England for about … oh … 6, 7 weeks, something like that – after a quarter of a century.
And then I got back again in 1936 when I did a couple of films, and I was home then for about 4-5 months. And then I didn't get back again till 1952.
By that time I had moved into New York to live there. I'd left Hollywood and was in New York – and I'd made the astounding discovery that from New York one could be in London overnight. And I started going every year.
And in the second year I said, 'my wife and I, we'll arrange to come back and live'. At least to base ourselves which we have done.
CE : Which would you describe as your favourite film ?
BK : The one for which I'm most grateful for of course – the first Frankenstein, naturally. Because that really changed the whole course of my life. And that poor dear abused Monster ist my best friend (laughs).
But I mean – apart from that consideration – my favourite … ? Oh, I don't know, it is hard to say. I think the film that one is currently engaged in becomes your favourite, because you … all the problems that are connected with it, you're so close to it, you work so hard on it, you concentrate.
It's hard to say really.
CE : Which one of the directors you worked with stand out in your mind ?
BK : Well, there are two young men who I worked with at RKO and a producer named Val Lewton. And they were quite young men and they were beginning as directors, they had been cutters. And they've both gone a long, long way.
One is Robert Wise and the other is Mark Robson and they've done fine, fine work. Well, I had the chance to, sort of, be with them. And there's a young director in England, his name is Robert Day, who directed the two English films that I did and whom I think very very highly of indeed.
CE : Is that the latest one you're talking about ?
BK : Yes. He directed The Haunted Strangler or The Grip of The Strangler - whatever it is called – and The Doctor of Seven Dials. And I'd a great admiration and a great respect for him.
CE : There's one film you made called The Lost Patrol.
BK : That was directed by Jack Ford who of course speaks for himself.
CE : Wonderful, wonderful.
BK : That's a long time ago.
CE : I'm trying to recall that film.: was it about a Foreign Legion group lost in the desert ?
BK : No, it was the First World War. And it was just a patrol who got lost.
CE : Western Front ?
BK : Yes.
CE : Who was in it ? McLaglen ?
BK : Victor McLaglen, Reg Denny. Alan Hale was in it …
CE : Ah yes.
BK : Yeah, yeah.
CE : There's quite a British colony in Hollywood. You were a great cricketer.
BK : I wasn't a great cricketer - I played a lot. I was just a happy rabbit.
CE : And rugby too.
BK : I used to play rugby, yes.
CE : Did you play with Sir Aubrey Smith when he was, sort of, reigning ?
BK : Oh yes, oh yes – oh Lord, yes. Actually I started playing cricket out in California in the South about 1920. But … with the Overseas Club … but it was very „scratch cricket“, and if you were lucky, you got about 5 games a year, that's all.
Then, when Aubrey arrived – Aubrey Smith turned up in the very early 30s, 1930s, something like that. Inside of 6 months he had decent grounds for us and about 5 clubs were organised and they were flourishing. And we played every Sunday and we had a tremendously long season : 5 months.
CE : No wonder he got the knighthood (laughs). Well, he deserved it.
BK : (Laughs) He did indeed. He was a wonderful man. Wonderful man.
CE : Who were some of the others in that British group ?
BK : Nigel Bruce played with us. Basil Rathbone played, H.B. Warner played. Not a great many actors played. That's about it. But an awful lot of people there – when they heard there was cricket – would turn up. Ageing enthusiasts.
CE : Has anyone inherited the mantle of Sir Aubrey Smith ? In the British colony, clinging together ?
BK : Nobody could. No.
CE : I suppose it has dispersed more or less.
BK : I don't know there really was an English colony. I think that was an American phrase. There were a lot of English actors out there. But, I mean, I had friends – English, I had Americans, and they didn't cling together quite as tightly.
At least I hope not. Would be too provincial.
CE : You don't live in Hollywood now.
BK : I live in London. And – in aeroplanes.
CE : (Laughs) Yes. Commuting across the Atlantic ... You have a family.
BK : I have a daughter who's married to a young man in the American Air Force – and at the moment they live outside of Phoenix, Arizona. And she has presented me with 2 grandsons, quite small.
CE : Has your daughter ever complained to you about you having been in so many of those roles ?
BK : Good heavens, no. Oh no.
CE : She enjoys it ?
BK : Oh yes.
CE : You did do a series in which you play quite another type of role and this is on TV, a role as the detective ...
BK : Oh yes ! Colonel March of Scotland Yard. They were made in England in the winter of 53 and 54.
CE : For the American audience ?
BK : They were made for the American market.
CE : Well, it's been a very great pleasure talking to you, Mr. Karloff, or should I call you Mr. Pratt ?
BK : Either one !
CE : Are you still known as Mr. Pratt ?
BK : No, I'm more used to Karloff, because I use that. I mean, for everything really. Except on legal documents and passports, that sort of thing : and then I use both.
CE : Do you find yourself being, sort of, approached by people who recognise you in the street very much ?
BK : Oh yes, oh yes. Thank goodness !
CE : Is it even more now than before you were on TV with your series ? [Thriller, 1960-61]
BK : Yes, it's not that so much - but I think one has a much wider circulation on the TV than on films. Much much wider circulation because it's every week.
It's constant, you see, if you do reach an enormous audience.
CE : Thank you very much indeed, Mr. Karloff, for telling us about your career and your life.
BK : Not at all.
Die vielen Gesichter des Boris Karloff (Interview 1966)
Als wir Boris Karloff interviewten, war er gerade in eine Wohnung in Kensington, einer chicen Londoner Wohngegend, eingezogen. Die Anwesenheit von Malern und des Instrumentariums eines Innenanstrichs vertrug sich nicht mit der finsteren Atmosphäre, die wir erwartet hatten. Nach unserem Anklopfen wurde die Tür von der lebhaft-anmutigen Mrs. Karloff geöffnet, die uns in die Wohnung führte, welche sich noch im Renovierungsprozess befand. Aus einem unseren Augen verborgenen Raum kam eine Begrüßung in jener sanften englischen Stimme, die auf der ganzen Welt berühmt ist.
Dann stand plötzlich Boris Karloff im Türrahmen, viel hochgewachsener und kräftiger, als irreführende Berichte über einen stark gealterten und gebrechlichen 78-jährigen uns weisgemacht hatten. Überhaupt nicht ! Wie er da so vor uns stand, schien er die strahlende und reife Gesundheit auszustrahlen, die wir mit den Briten assoziieren.
Ein blauer Teppich führte uns ins freundliche und geschmackvoll möblierte Arbeitszimmer. Hier gab es keine düstere Ecke eines kalten Karpathen-Schlosses … keinen Hinweis auf böswillige Geister. Statt dessen strahlte warmer Londoner Sonnenschein durchs Fenster. Cricket-Trophäen und ein Bücherregal, vollgepackt mit historischen Texten und Bänden des verstorbenen Winston Churchill, stellten den patriotischen Geschmack des sehr britischen Mr. Karloff dar.
Das einzig verstörende Accessoire war eine silbrige Sauerstoffflasche, die stummes Zeugnis ablegte für eine kürzliche Erkrankung. Als wir in bequemen Sesseln saßen, begannen wir damit, dass wir Karloff ein Interview von 1933 vorzeigten, in dem er festgestellt hatte, er wolle nicht nach London zurückziehen - wegen der vielen Veränderungen seit seiner Auswanderung. Wie, fragten wir, fände er denn seine alte Heimat im Jahr 1966 ?
Karloff : Well, es ist natürlich seltsam. Ich fand große Veränderungen vor, als ich 1933 zum ersten Mal heimkam. Nicht so viele davon in London – das war etwas ziemlich Merkwürdiges. Ich fand viel mehr Veränderungen auf dem Land vor - weil ich England 1909 verlassen hatte, um nach Kanada zu ziehen, und in der Zwischenzeit hatte es ja den großen Siegeszug des Autos gegeben.
Das sorgte für den Bau großer Verkehrsadern und von allem, was dazugehört. Es gab natürlich viele neue Gebäude und solche Sachen. In London, mit all dem Rauch und Schmutz, da verwittert alles so rasch, dass es Teil der Szenerie wird, wissen Sie, und man bemerkt es kaum noch.
CoF : Könnten Sie vielleicht eine sehr wichtige biografische Kontroverse schlichten … Sind Ihre richtigen Vornamen William Henry oder Charles Edward ?
BK : William Henry ! Ich weiß nicht, wie das mit Charles Edward zustande gekommen ist. Ich glaube, dass jemand in der PR-Abteilung den Fehler gemacht hat, als ich bei Universal unter Vertrag war. Wenn so eine Sache nach draußen dringt, lebt sie ewig, wissen Sie; das taucht immer wieder auf.
CoF : Sind Sie in Enfield oder in London-Dulwich geboren ?
BK : In Dulwich.
CoF : Haben Sie eine persönliche Vorliebe für Schurkenrollen ?
BK : Nein, nicht wirklich.
Ich denke mal, dass alle Schauspieler in Schubladen gesteckt werden. Ich weiß, dass sie dagegen rebellieren. Einige Schauspieler tun das – oder man nimmt es von ihnen an … Ich weiß aber nicht, ob sie es wirklich tun.
Doch alle Darsteller werden typisiert, und wenn man in der Schublade steckt, hat man sehr viel Glück … weil das Publikum seine Vorliebe gezeigt hat. Ich glaube, das Publikum sollte der Herr und Meister sein.
Es hat seine Vorliebe für etwas gezeigt, was es von dir sehen möchte, und ich denke, daran sollte man sich halten.
CoF : Doch mit der Rolle des Colonel March konnten Sie da wieder herauskommen, oder ?
BK : Ich verstehe Sie jetzt nicht so ganz, was Sie mit „wieder herauskommen“ meinen. Wenn Sie an das Frankenstein-Monster denken, das habe ich nur drei Mal gespielt …. Und das ist sehr lange her.
CoF : Aber niemand würde das [Monster] als Schurken bezeichnen.
BK : Nein. Ich weiß, dass mir Jugendliche damals schrieben und, wenn sie überhaupt etwas damit ausdrücken wollten, dann war es großes Mitgefühl mit dem Monster.
CoF : Glauben Sie, dass das damit zu tun hat, dass die meisten Ihrer Schurken Opfer ihrer Lebensumstände wurden ?
BK : Well, ich denke mal, so ist es bei den meisten Schurken – auch im wirklichen Leben. Ich hatte aber darüber nicht besonders nachgedacht.
Ich glaube nicht, dass der Durchschnittsmensch, der mit dem Gesetz in Konflikt kommt – nennen Sie ihn ruhig einen Schurken - das absichtlich plant.
Ich denke, Menschen verfangen sich in solchen Dingen, die ihnen einfach zustoßen.
CoF : Sie haben sowohl beim Film als auch im Theater gearbeitet …
BK : Oh ja, ich fing im Theater an; ich war zehn Jahre beim Theater.
CoF : Was bevorzugen Sie ?
BK : Das Theater. Es ist live, es ist direkt, es ist ein kontinuierlicher Prozess und wird fortlaufend, chronologisch dargeboten.
Es ist viel schwerere Arbeit als beim Film und viel komplizierter, weil Filme nicht chronologisch gedreht werden … Sie dauern oft eine lange Zeit.
Es ist schwierig, etwas im Film kontinuierlich aufrechtzuerhalten - besonders, wenn man gar nicht weiß, in welcher Reihenfolge das Ganze gezeigt wird.
CoF : Welche Art von Filmen sehen Sie selbst gern ?
BK : Ich sehe nicht wirklich viele Filme.
CoF : Was ist mit dem Gerücht, dass Sie Lon Chaney ins Filmgeschäft gebracht hat ?
BK : Du lieber Himmel, nein ! Ich war zehn Jahre auf der Bühne und befand mich dann in San Francisco. Ein Freund fuhr vor nach San Angeles ; er wollte für mich einen Auftritt im Varieté organisieren, auf der Bühne des „Variety“.
Ich kam dann nach, um dort mitzumachen, aber das funktionierte nicht, also fing ich als Statist beim Film an.
Als ich dann Kleindarsteller war und kleinere Rollen spielte, traf ich Lon Chaney zweimal auf dem Filmgelände … aber das ist alles.
CoF : Die meisten Ihrer Biographien listen His Majesty, The American (1919) als Ihren ersten Film.
BK : Das stimmt. Ich war darin Statist mit Douglas Fairbanks.
CoF : Haben Sie nicht vorher einen mit Anna Pawlowa gemacht ?
BK : Nicht, dass ich wüsste (lacht). Glauben Sie nicht alles, was Sie lesen !
CoF : Es gibt viele verschiedene Berichte darüber, wie Sie als Frankensteins Monster engagiert wurden. Was ist wirklich passiert ?
BK : Was wirklich passiert ist, war das : Ich war in einem Theaterstück in Los Angeles, das The Criminal Code hieß. Es wurde von New York herüber geschickt, mit vier oder fünf Rollen, die örtlich besetzt werden sollten und ich hatte das Glück, eine davon zu bekommen, die sehr auffällig war – klein, aber sie war sehr auffällig und fand Beachtung im Stück. Ich denke, James Whale, der Regisseur, sah das.
Wenige Monate später wurde das verfilmt. Weil ich im Stück gewesen war, hatte ich die Chance, die gleiche Rolle im Film zu spielen, und ich glaube, das sah er auch. Ich arbeitete damals bei Universal und James Whale war in der Kantine beim Lunch.
Er bat mich herüber an seinen Tisch zu einer Tasse Kaffee und sagte, er wolle, dass ich einen Test für das Monster machte. Ich kann nur vermuten, dass er den Criminal Code gesehen hatte – entweder das Stück oder den Film. Ich habe ihn nicht gefragt und er sagte es mir nicht.
CoF : Haben Sie jemals die erste Frankenstein-Version gesehen, die 1910 von Thomas Edison gemacht wurde ?
BK : Nein, habe ich nie gesehen. Ich wusste gar nicht, dass es sie gab; das sind Neuigkeiten für mich. Ich weiß, dass das als Stück aufgeführt wurde - hier in London, glaube ich.
CoF : Es wurde gesagt, dass Bela Lugosi Tests für die Rolle gemacht hat. Haben sie die je gesehen ?
BK : Nein, habe ich nie, aber mir wurde einmal mitgeteilt, dass er darauf bestand, seine Maske selbst zu gestalten – und machte dieses schlimme haarige Ungeheuer, überhaupt nicht wie unser Monster.
CoF : Wie viel vom Konzept des Monster-Aussehens kam von Jack Pierce ?
BK : Alles … abgesehen von einem ganz winzigen Detail. Es war effektiv, weil er experimentiert hat und alle möglichen Dinge ausprobiert hat. Schließlich, als wir im Endstadium waren und die Gestaltung fast fertig hatten, schienen mir meine Augen so normal und lebendig und viel zu natürlich zu sein für ein Wesen, das gerade erst zusammen gefügt wurde und gewissermaßen gerade erst geboren war.
Ich sagte, „Schauen wir mal, ob sich da etwas machen lässt“ … und wir spielten herum … und ich sagte, „Lass uns etwas Gips auf die Augenlider legen.“ Er nahm etwas Gips und formte ihn so, dass die Lider gleichmäßig aussahen … und das war's. Ich versuchte, sie [die Augen] zu verschleiern ...“
CoF : Was für eine Art Regisseur war Whale ?
BK : Oh, ein erstklassiger … In der Tat ein ganz erstklassiger Regisseur. Er drehte auch Journeys End, das Stück, das R.C. Sheriff geschrieben hat. Ein ganz, ganz erstklassiger Regisseur, in der Tat ...
CoF : Warum wurde die Szene mit dem kleinen Mädchen weggeschnitten ?
BK : Well, das war das einzige Mal, dass ich Jimmy Whales Regie nicht mochte. Wir [er und das Mädchen] waren auf Knien, uns gegenüber, als der Moment kam und keine Blumen mehr da waren. Mein Konzept der Szene war, dass er [das Monster] verwirrt zum Mädchen aufblickte und sie in seinem Hirn zur Blume wurde.
Ohne sich viel zu bewegen, würde er sie sanft hochheben und sie ins Wasser setzen, genau wie er es mit der Blume getan hatte – und sie würde, zu seinem Schrecken, versinken. Well, Jimmy ließ mich sie hochheben und DAS über meinem Kopf machen (BK gestikuliert heftig), was zu einer brutalen und absichtlichen Handlung wurde.
Keine noch so flexible Phantasie konnte das als unschuldig erscheinen lassen.
Das gesamte Gefühl für diese Szene hätte meiner Ansicht nach – und ich bin mir sicher, dass sie so geschrieben wurde – vollkommen unschuldig und unbewusst sein sollen. Aber in dem Moment, in dem du DAS tust, ist es etwas Absichtliches, und ich bestand darauf, dass dieser Teil entfernt wurde.
CoF : Welchen der drei Filme, in denen Sie das Monster gespielt haben, bevorzugen Sie ?
BK : Den ersten. Im zweiten wird ein Fehler gemacht, über den ich mich auch beschwert habe, aber, wissen Sie, viel zu sagen hat man da ja nicht.
Die Sprache … dumm ! Mein Argument war - falls das Monster irgend einen Eindruck oder Charme hinterließe - wäre es dies : dass es sich nicht artikulieren konnte … Diese große, sich schwerfällig bewegende Kreatur, die unfähig ist zu sprechen. In dem Moment, als er sprach, konnte man ihn entweder veralbern oder ihn ernst spielen.
Im dritten mochte ich es nicht, dass man seine Kleidung komplett veränderte … Ihn in Pelze und in so einen Dreck einwickelte, und er wurde einfach zu einem Nichts. Ich meine, die Maske, genau wie die Kleidung, war zu einem Teil von ihm geworden.
Wenn man den üblichen Brauch akzeptierte, dass er lebte oder wieder zum Leben erweckt wurde, nachdem er am Ende des Films praktisch vernichtet worden war … konnte man eigentlich akzeptieren, dass er dieselbe Kleidung trug und man konnte sich so nach dem Drehbuch richten. Also, am ersten hatte ich Freude … das war der beste der drei.
CoF : Mehrere Jahre später haben Sie House of Frankenstein gedreht, worin Glenn Strange das Monster spielte.
BK : Das ist richtig, und in der Zwischenzeit war es von Lugosi und Lon Chaney Jr. gespielt worden … und dann von Glenn Strange.
CoF : Was hielten Sie von Stranges Monster ?
BK : Well, er hatte nicht so viel Glück wie ich.
Ich bekam das Sahnehäubchen davon, weil ich der Erste war. Ich weiß, dass ich ihm viel Glück wünschte … und hoffte, das würde ihm so viel Gutes tun können wie mir, aber …
CoF : Haben Sie irgendeine der kürzlichen Farbversionen gesehen ?
BK : Nein, ich habe keine davon gesehen. Ich habe ein paar der so genannten „Horror“-Filme gesehen, die in Amerika hergestellt wurden, und ich denke, es wird ein Fehler gemacht, wenn sie den Schock um des Schocks willen erzeugen, anstatt das Ganze natürlich entstehen zu lassen aus der Geschichte und der Situation und der Rollenfigur.
Ich denke, dass es dadurch ziemlich vulgär wird.
Mit diesen Vorstellungen im Kopf habe ich mich übrigens geweigert, das Monster nach dem dritten Film zu spielen. Ich konnte ganz genau sehen, was da passieren würde.
Ich habe immer insistiert, dass das Wort „Horror“ der falsche Begriff ist ; das ist vielleicht pedantisch, aber die Bedeutung des Wortes „Horror“ ist Abscheu, und natürlich ist das überhaupt nicht der Gedanke dahinter.
„Terror“, also „der Schrecken“ wäre der passendere Begriff.
Ich denke, „Horror“ passt zu der verbilligten Qualität, die sich eingeschlichen hat – was sehr schade ist, denn diese Stories haben trotz des Wandels dessen, was modern ist, immer ein Publikum gehabt.
Ich habe mir gedacht, das müsse so sein, weil die Stories ihre Wurzeln sehr tief in der unterschiedlichen Folklore und den Legenden aller Rassen dieser Welt haben.
Man könnte diese Filme ohne Dialog machen. Sie wären besser ohne Dialog.
CoF : Hat Ihnen die Arbeit an Thriller Freude gemacht ?
BK : Sehr sogar, in der Tat. Der Mann, der sie produziert hat, ist ein sehr guter Freund von meiner Frau und mir, und ich habe großen Respekt vor ihm. Ich denke, dass er ein wundervoller Produzent und ein großer Verlust fürs Fernsehen ist – er ist zu Columbia gegangen, um Filme zu drehen.
CoF : Sie haben mehrere Filme mit Bela Lugosi gemacht. Was ist Ihre Meinung über ihn ?
BK : Er war ein sehr guter Schauspieler und wunderbarer Schauspieltechniker; in seinen jüngeren Jahren war er der jugendliche Liebhaber im Budapester Staatstheater.
Der arme Bela hatte zwei Schwierigkeiten … ich denke, dass er in seiner Spielweise etwas altmodisch blieb. Er hat sich der modernen Zeit nicht angepasst, und ich glaube, das müssen wir.
Er hat die Sprache nicht gelernt, in der er sein Brot verdiente, und das machte es schwierig für ihn. Er war ja viel länger in Amerika als Peter Lorre, der in den 30ern aus Berlin kam.
Ich habe mit beiden gearbeitet … Fakt ist, dass wir alle in einem Film mit Kay Kyser zusammen gearbeitet haben. Aber es gab keine Schwierigkeit für Peter : er hat sich die Sprache wirklich angeeignet.
Bela nicht, und das hat ihn wohl enorm behindert. Es war schade.
CoF : Half es Ihnen in Ihren orientalischen Rollen – Fu Manchu und Mr. Wong – dass Sie eine diplomatische Ausbildung hatten ?
BK : Die hatte ich gar nicht. Nein.
Ich hatte zwei ältere Brüder im ICS (Internationaler Diplomatischer Dienst / Corps Diplomatique) und zwei waren im Konsulardienst in China.
Der ältere meiner beiden Brüder – Sir John Pratt, der noch lebt – war viele Jahre im Außenministerium als Minister für Fernost-Politik.
Ich sollte in denselben diplomatischen Dienst eintreten, aber das wollte ich nicht. Ich wollte das Examen sowieso nicht bestehen. Ich wollte Schauspieler werden. Keine diplomatische Ausbildung also.
CoF : Sie haben in Italien Black Sabbath gedreht. Hat es Ihnen Freude gemacht, dort zu arbeiten ?
BK : Sehr sogar – mal abgesehen davon, dass es brutal kalt war und das Hotel so eine Art Marmorpalast war. Die haben nicht ein einziges Streichholz angezündet, um es zu erwärmen, und dort wurde ich ziemlich krank.
Ich kam am Ende des Films zurück nach England. Unter großen Schwierigkeiten war ich in der Lage, den Film zu beenden; in dem Sommer war ich schrecklich krank.
Mit ganz knapper Not bin ich davongekommen, aber wie Sie hören können, habe ich seitdem eine sehr kurzatmige, verengte Lunge. Seit dieser Lungenentzündung habe ich nur noch einen Lungenflügel zum Atmen.
CoF : Gab es da nicht ein ungewöhnliches Ende der Geschichte in der italienischen Version ? Die Kamera ging auf Distanz und zeigte den Wurdalak auf einem Schaukelpferd ?
BK : Ja, das war wirklich ein äußerst amüsantes Ende (lacht). Dann so aufs Schaukelpferd zu klettern und das alles. Doch die Produzenten in Hollywood mochten das nicht und sie hatten da ein sehr begründetes Argument.
Falls in irgend einer der drei Filmstories irgend welche Andeutung von Comedy gewesen wäre, dann hätte das gepasst. Doch es gab überhaupt keine Andeutung von Komik, und dies wäre dann ein solcher Schock gewesen, dass es den Film zerstört hätte.
Ich weiß nicht, ob sie Recht hatten. Das müssen sie aber wohl, denn es waren sehr intelligente Männer - und sehr erfolgreich. Sie kennen ihren Markt, sie kennen ihr Gebiet sehr gut, und sie sind mir gegenüber sehr rücksichtsvoll gewesen.
CoF : 1953 haben Sie einen Film in Italien gemacht – Il Mostra dell' Isola – The Monster of the Island …
BK : Oh ja. Oh Gott.
CoF : Können Sie sich an viel erinnern ?
BK : Nein. Ich habe nicht mehr die geringste Ahnung, wie es gewesen ist. Unglaublich !
Grauenhaft ! Keiner am Drehort sprach Englisch; ich spreche kein Italienisch.
Einfach ein hoffnungsloser Fall.
Ich habe dort aber eine sehr schöne Zeit verbracht, doch das ist ein anderes Thema.
CoF : Die, Monster, Die, ihr aktueller Film, basiert auf Lovecraft … und Ihre frühere berufliche Begegnung mit dem Dichter Lovecraft war, dass sie auch eine seiner Geschichten in Ihrer Anthologie veröffentlichten …
BK : Ja, ich musste tausende Geschichten lesen, als ich die Story ausgewählt habe, und über das Resultat war man sehr erfreut. Ich weiß, dass Lovecraft angesehen wird als einer der Meister dieser Art von Stoff.
CoF : Kürzlich waren Sie Gastgeber bei der TV-Science Fiction-Serie 'Out of this World'. Glauben Sie, dass die Zunahme von Science Fiction in den Massenmedien bedeutet, dass es in Zukunft weniger gotischen Horror geben wird ?
BK : Nein. Ich glaube, dass es alles Teil des Gesamtmusters ist. Der einzige Ärger bei Science Fiction ist Folgender, wie es mal jemand während des Krieges formulierte : „Es taugt nichts, über diese Sache ein Theaterstück zu schreiben. Mit den Zeitungsschlagzeilen kann man nicht konkurrieren.“
Mit Science Fiction ist es ziemlich schwierig, das zu überbieten, was heutzutage tatsächlich abläuft.
CoF : Direkt nachdem Sie Frankenstein 1970 beendet hatten, wurden Sie überall zitiert mit den Worten : „Die können heutzutage keine anständigen Horrorfilme mehr machen“.
BK : Ich glaube nicht, dass ich das jemals gesagt habe – jedenfalls nicht öffentlich. (grinst)
CoF : Mit welchem Regisseur haben Sie am liebsten gearbeitet ?
BK : Filme ? … Ich würde sagen Lionel Barrymore ! Das war der erste Tonfilm, in dem ich gearbeitet habe … für MGM. Ich hatte vorher schon mit ihm gearbeitet, als wir beide Schauspieler waren in einem Stummfilm namens The Bells. Das war für eine unabhängige Filmproduktion, bevor wir zu MGM gingen.
Es war wundervoll für mich, mit ihm als Schauspieler zu arbeiten; ich habe ihn enorm bewundert.
Und dann bei MGM arbeitete ich in einem Film, bei dem er Regie führte (The Unholy Night) und er war absolut fantastisch.
Doch in diesen frühen Tagen des Tonfilms war alles ziemlich primitiv. Wir hatten nicht genug Bühnen, wir mussten zu viele Stunden arbeiten, und damit kam Lionel nicht zurecht.
Das war ein Riesenverlust. Er war so ein großartiger Regisseur und er war wohl auch ein wundervoller Charakterdarsteller..
Einer der drei Barrymores - ich sage mal, er war der beste der drei.
CoF : Was ist die Arbeitsmethode von Daniel Haller, der Regie geführt hat bei Die, Monster, Die ?
BK : Well, es ist sein erster Film, und er stand unter großem Druck. Ich habe Freude an der Arbeit mit ihm gehabt. Ich glaube, er wird noch einen guten Regisseur abgeben … wissen Sie, er ist ein wundervoller Art Director; er hat alle Sets für The Raven entworfen. Ich glaube, er hat eine große Zukunft.
CoF : Eine letzte Frage : welche Rolle hätten Sie am liebsten mal gespielt ?
BK : Well … Vielleicht Maxim de Winter in Hitchcocks Rebecca ? Joan Fontaine hat das übrigens mit mir im Radio gespielt. Doch Larry Olivier, den ich sehr, sehr verehre, hatte bei Hitchcock natürlich die besseren Karten. (lacht)
Ansonsten habe ich mir darüber keine wirklichen Gedanken gemacht. Ich denke, es ist besser, wenn jemand anderes als man selbst die Rollen aussucht. Man kann ja immer noch nein sagen.
Und man weiß ja stets, was man nicht kann.
Doch wenn man sagt, „ich möchte das tun“, ist es vielleicht etwas, was man kann. Vielleicht aber auch etwas, was nicht klappt. Lass doch die anderen etwas für dich aussuchen.
CoF : Vielen Dank, Mr. Karloff.
BK : Gern geschehen.
Interviewer : Mike Parry und Harry Nadler.