One of the most beloved stars in the history of movies, Boris Karloff would be 120 years old today had he not passed away in 1969, which doesn’t sound all that old if you compare it to the 3700 candles on the birthday cake of the character he played in one of his films, The Mummy (1932). And he’d be delighted to know that nearly 40 years after his death he may be best remembered not as the star of horror movies but as the narrator of the much-loved children’s classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Karloff always loved children, and recorded many albums of stories for them. He also had one of his biggest career successes on Broadway starring as Captain Hook in Peter Pan, and when he appeared on the quiz show “The $64,000 Question,” he correctly answered every question in his chosen category, children’s fairytales.
Karloff was a little-known character actor, age 43, when he got the role of the monster in Frankenstein. If it typecast him for the rest of his life, it’s because he did more with the role than anyone could have expected, bringing a depth of pain and tormented humanity to what on paper was merely a monster. He only played the role three times, but was always grateful for the career break it gave him.
He was also known for his sense of humor: in the original Broadway version of the madcap comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, he originated the role of Mortimer Brewster, the mad killer who goes berserk when people point out that botched plastic surgery has made him look like Boris Karloff. (He didn’t appear in the movie because it was filmed in Hollywood while he was still doing the role on Broadway. But he did appear in two television adaptations of the play, and fans eagerly hope that a copy of one will someday surface.) In the clip below, you can enjoy him making fun of his image as a proposed summer replacement host for the Dinah Shore Show.