Boris Karloff (born William Henry Pratt on November 23, 1887 in Camberwell, London) was a 44-year-old journeyman actor when director James Whale, unable to convince Bela Lugosi to accept the role, cast the mild-mannered Englishman as “the Monster” in the 1931 Universal horror film, Frankenstein. The actor’s sensitive portrayal of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s creature made him an immediate star, but forever typecast him in increasingly low-budget horror and science fiction films from the 1930s to the late 1960s. In 1966, the veteran actor who had made some of the most notable genre films in the history of motion pictures (Bride of Frankenstein, 1935; The Body Snatcher, 1945) had been reduced to appearing in cheapie productions like The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, although that same year he had done the winning narration for the now-classic animated television production of Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
In 1968, 29-year-old film critic turned director Peter Bogdanovich gave Karloff his last memorable screen role as aging horror movie star, “Byron Orlok,” in Targets. Bogdanovich’s directorial debut (which he also produced, co-wrote, and edited) was inspired by ex-Marine Charles Whitman’s deadly 96 minute rampage on the campus of University of Texas-Austin on August 1, 1966. Hours after murdering his mother and wife in separate incidents, Whitman amassed a small arsenal of high-powered rifles, and positioning himself atop the university’s Tower, killed 13, and wounded 31 before being shot to death by a campus security guard. In a more sedate scene from Targets featured on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfXOx04d6m4) , Bogdanovich (seated on couch) convinces Karloff to retell W. Somerset Maugham’s short piece, “Appointment in Samarra” (1933). Karloff died on February 2, 1969, but not before footage taken of him in late 1968 was added to four low-budget films shot in Mexico: Cult of the Dead, Alien Terror, House of Evil, and The Fear Chamber.
The Bogdanovich mss, purchased from the filmmaker in 1995 and periodically supplemented, is housed in the Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF). Materials must be requested in advance for use in the Lilly Library by using the Bogdanovich mss. collection description and inventory in conjunction with IUCAT. Among the collection’s more than 100,000 items are production materials, research, related business correspondence, and scripts for his films including Targets (1968), The Last Picture Show (1971), Directed by John Ford (1971), Paper Moon (1973), Daisy Miller (1974), Saint Jack (1979), Mask (1985), et al. Also included are reel-to-reel audiotapes of interviews conducted by Bogdanovich with directors George Cukor, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Sidney Lumet, Otto Preminger, Raoul Walsh, and Orson Welles. The accompanying photos feature a unique item from the collection: a 3-pound hand painted fiberglass casting of Karloff’s bust by veteran Hollywood make-up man and F/X sculptor Norman Bryn commercially available through Classic Creature Craft, LLC.
– David K. Frasier, Reference Librarian