Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Publication Day

Today is the official publication date for Little Douglas's new book, The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies, which is on sale now everywhere in the English-Slurring World, or by just clicking on the link.

Little Douglas seems to think it's a Big Deal. "A second book," he trumpets to me when I could be drinking, "I've beaten Harper Lee! I win, Harper you bitch, I WIN! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!" I was forced to slap him, yet again. The Headless Indian Brave has been avoiding him for weeks, pretending to have a head (No mean feat in itself.) whenever he encounters Dougie in hallways, so Dougie won't recognize him, as if Douglas's attention ever wandered above the Headless Indian Brave's loin cloth bulge. All this because Dougie has been talking his neck-stump off about this pointless new book.

I can't stress this point enough; this book is not about me! Why on earth would anyone want to read it? I'm going to show you just how not-about-me it is. I have reluctantly allowed Douglas to reprint below a piece from the new book, to give you a taste of the bilious poop he's trying to peddle to you. However, I selected Dougie's biographical profile of Boris Karloff. Boris Karloff, as my rabid fans all know, was my fourth husband. [No, he wasn't. - Ed. note] Yet Douglas recounts the man's life and work, and never mentions our marriage, the movies we made together (Fu Manchu's Blessed Event & Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Pussy.), nor indeed does my name appear anywhere in the whole profile! He treats me as though I am a - a - a fictional character! The Cheek! As if he's so fucking real. There was exactly one interesting fact about Boris Karloff in his whole life, and that was that he was married to me for two years, and Douglas omits it! How utterly pointless is this whole book?

Here's proof of our marriage; a shot from 1933 of Jack Pierce, his assistant, and myself (Bottom of photo), all helping, in our different ways, to prepare Boris for a performance of his beloved one-man stage show, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. I was an essential part of getting Boris up for the show.

Anyway, here's a bit of the book. Buy it if you like it. It's your money.

Cheers Darlings.

Q Profile
The King of Blood.
Boris Karloff
Q Quote: "He nothing common did, or mean,
upon that memorable scene."

The words of the above Q Quote are inscribed on a plaque in St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, in London, in memory of a British actor who was both a gentleman and a gentle man, and who achieved undying worldwide fame and affection under the self-created stage name Boris Karloff.

Of the seven supreme iconic horror stars, The Chaneys, Karloff, Lugosi, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee, Karloff is unquestionably Number One, "The King of Blood" as he refers to himself in Targets.

In the amazingly ongoing Karloff vs. Lugosi acting debate, the attentive reader will have long since worked out that I fall squarely into the Karloff Camp. I favor Karloff over Lugosi because, based on my own viewing of a large number of their respective movies, Karloff seems to me, by far, the better actor. I have never seen him run riotously, over-the-top, out-of-control, on camera, as Lugosi so often did.

Not that Boris Karloff always give a great performance. In 1958, Boris shot ten episodes of an anthology fantasy TV series for Hal Roach, called The Veil. Like his great later series Thriller, Boris hosted all the episodes, and acted in some of them. The series was never sold, never broadcast, and Boris was never paid, a fact he never forgot. It has, however, come out on DVD. In one episode, The Crystal Ball, Boris plays André Giraud, a charming French roué. Imagine Boris playing Maurice Chevalier’s role in Gigi, and you have his André Giraud. He’s ghastly in the part. It’s a laughable embarrassment. And he was also terrible in … ah … I’m sorry. I can’t come up with a second example.

Boris was born William Henry Pratt, the youngest of nine siblings, on November 23, 1887, in Camberwell, a suburb of London. Boris’s great-aunt, the sister of his mother’s mother, was Anna Leonowens, the Anna in Anna and The King of Siam and Rogers & Hammerstein’s The King and I.

Boris’s mother was half-Indian, and his Asian heritage showed in his perpetual tan. Out of make-up, Boris had very dark skin, too dark for a pleasant boyhood in conservative, 19th Century England. His father deserting his family when Boris was five didn’t help either. His mother’s death, two years later, made matters still worse.

Billy Pratt, as he was known, was groomed for a diplomatic career, but he was infected with the acting bug very young, so at 21 he sailed to Canada to seek a theatrical career.

His earliest known film performance was in a 1919 Douglas Fairbanks film called His Majesty, the American. He worked off and on in films thereafter, his swarthy complexion often getting him cast as American Indians, Indian Indians, and Arabs. He was befriended by Lon Chaney, who told him, "The secret of success in Hollywood lies in being different from everyone else. Find something no one else can or will do, and they’ll begin to take notice of you." Karloff certainly took this advice. So, apparently, has Johnny Knoxville.

It was roles in two early classic crime melodramas, Scarface and The Criminal Code, that led to Whale casting him as the monster in Frankenstein, and catapulting him to major stardom. Prior to November 1931, he was unknown. In 1932 he played the mute brute butler in Whale’s hilarious black comedy, The Old Dark House, Sax Rohmer’s Chinese super-villain in the incredibly camp, racist, MGM thriller The Mask of Fu Manchu, and the austere, elderly Imhotep in The Mummy, an unprecedented display of versatility that cemented him as Hollywood’s Head bogeyman.

A classic Hollywood liberal, Boris was one of the original founders of the Screen Actors Guild, holding early planning meetings in intense secrecy in his own home at, make no mistake, great personal and professional risk. His SAG Membership card number had only a single digit.

Boris, like Lugosi, was married five times. In a TV interview, his only child, the charming and intelligent Sarah Jane Karloff, said in reference to the end of her parent’s marriage, "I don’t have the faintest clue what went wrong. But at the same time, he married my stepmother the day after the divorce was final." No, she doesn’t have the faintest clue. That clue glares as bright as the Sun.

Boris was a homebody who loved doggies, gardening, and cricket. By all accounts he was a kindly, gentle, generous man. No one who knew him ever had a bad word to say about him, except perhaps Bela Lugosi when he was in a foul mood, and Lugosi’s son disputes even that. (But does one show one’s nastier side to one’s own son? Many a Lugosi co-star testifies to Bela’s bitter assessment of Karloff.)

Along with maintaining a career as a major movie star, he regularly returned to the Broadway stage, giving acclaimed performances in Arsenic and Old Lace, The Lark, The Linden Tree, On Borrowed Time, and as Captain Hook in Peter Pan.

By the time I fell in love with Boris, he was in his final years. Fortunately, millions of my fellow baby boomers were also falling for him at the time, thanks to the release of his Universal pictures to television, so his career was in it’s last, incandescent resurgence. He was on TV a great deal, guest starring on variety and dramatic TV shows, and hosting the aforementioned Thriller, in one episode of which he co-starred with Caroline Kearney, the mother of my friend, composer and actor Charles Bloom. Much as I loved Caroline simply for being the terrific person she was, the fact that Caroline had co-starred with Boris Karloff lifted her into my Firmament of the Awesome.

Karloff’s career resurgence also resulted in fresh movies: the delightful comedies The Raven and The Comedy of Terrors, both with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, the incoherent mess The Terror, The terrible H. P. Lovecraft adaptation Die Monster, Die!, the idiotic beach movie, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, the Man From UNCLE rip-off The Venetian Affair, the quite interesting British thriller The Sorcerers, and a role co-starring with his London neighbor and most-famous successor in the role of the Monster, Christopher Lee, in The Curse of the Crimson Altar.

Two roles that stand out on the final page of his resume are narrating the animated TV version of Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a vastly better treatment of the material than the wretched Jim Carrey movie, and as horror actor Byron Orlock in Peter Bogdanovich’s directoral debut Targets.

In Targets, Boris essentially played himself, a horror star at the end of his career, feeling that the horrors of the day-to-day headlines now far eclipsed his elegant literary terrors, only to confront a psychotic sniper-killer at a drive-in playing his lame movie The Terror. It’s a well-written, first-rate thriller, a fine, respectful coda for his career.

Only the body of Boris Karloff died on February 2, 1969. His work and his spirit will never die. In Son of Frankenstein, Lugosi’s Ygor says to Basil Rathbone’s Wolf Von Frankenstein of Karloff’s monster, "He cannot be destroyed, cannot die. Your father made him live for always." Bela never spoke truer words.

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