Karloff: A Gentleman Playing Monsters

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While best known for playing Frankenstein’s monster, Boris Karloff proves in The Body Snatcher that not all monsters have bolts in their neck. Karloff plays John Gray, a creepy man with a pulse for finding dead bodies. The character couldn’t have been more different than his portrayer though, as Director Robert Wise said of Karloff: “He was a highly educated and sensitive and well-read man with great taste.”

Take a look behind the scenes into Karloff’s The Body Snatcher below.

1. Boris Karloff was the first cast.

Originally Karloff’s character had a much smaller role in Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story inspired by a true tale of men who sold their victim’s bodies. Producer Val Lewton believed that the part, once expanded, would lend itself perfectly for Karloff.

2. Karloff cared about the film.

After donning monster attire for several years, Karloff left Universal, hoping to find other opportunities. Karloff saw The Body Snatcher as a chance to play a wider range of emotion. Director Robert Wise said, "I realized how much more there was to him than those monster creatures with which he had been identified so strongly. I think [he] was absolutely first-rate.”

3. Karloff was the opposite of his character.

Despite his star status and back pain during the production, Karloff was “marvelous” to work with and often left his dressing room door open for visitors. At the wrap party, he even autographed pictures for anyone who asked. Robert Clarke said, "I never worked with any man that I had more admiration for."

4. The 1945 film was the final Karloff-Lugosi team-up.

Karloff and Bela Lugosi were heavy-hitters in the horror genre, having found success in Universal’s monster movies as Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula respectively. The pair were in eight movies together, including Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), Black Friday (1940), and You'll Find Out (1940).

5. Karloff felt for Lugosi who experienced chronic pain.

Lugosi’s sciatic nerves caused such severe pain throughout production that he was prescribed morphine and often had to rest between scenes. While there have been rumors that Karloff and Lugosi were at odds, Director Wise remembers Karloff being especially patient and gentle when helping his co-star. Actor Robert Clark said that Karloff often said, “Poor Bela”.