There are books and then there are labors of love. Stephen Jacobs' exhaustively-researched, meticulously-detailed 568-page biography of William Henry Pratt (aka Boris Karloff) is a true labor of love, a critical yet affectionate tribute to the king of horror films. I've read many show biz biographies over the years but precious few can lay a hand on BORIS KARLOFF, MORE THAN A MONSTER. For so many reasons, it deserves six stars.
As revealed in Jacobs' book, Boris Karloff was much more interesting than many of the characters he played over the years. Judging from all the testimonials in BKMTAM, Karloff was a kind, considerate, self-effacing and gentle gentleman. Truth be told, I have never read a biography filled with so many laudatory comments about the subject. Likewise, Karloff had an incredible work ethic. Despite serious health problems, some of which resulted from his early film work, Karloff kept working in movies, TV, on the stage and other areas right up to his death in February 1969. Yet Karloff was also an intensely private man. An unhappy childhood coupled with his worries about his Anglo-Indian - not Anglo-Russian! - heritage, his mother's mental problems and Karloff's five marriages resulted in a very tight-lipped individual whose statements to the media weren't always accurate.
In terms of his acting career, Karloff never received the credit he was due. Though labeled the 'King of the Horror Film' by the media, Karloff's acting resume, as detailed in Jacobs' book, reveals an actor equally at home on the stage or in front of the camera. He was an actor capable of essaying Frankenstein's monster, Jonathan Brewster in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, Mord the Executioner in TOWER OF LONDON, Captain Hook in PETER PAN, Chinese detective James Wong, John Gray in THE BODY SNATCHER and so many other roles. Though Karloff's imposing face was often concealed by makeup, nothing could mask those eyes that could be pitilessly cold and dead or sparkling with merriment. Vocally, Karloff had few peers as borne out by his work in DR. SUESS' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS.
In short, BORIS KARLOFF, MORE THAN A MONSTER is entertaining, insightful and a great read. By book's end, you'll have learned more about William Henry Pratt the man and the actor than you thought possible. And, along the way, you'll probably have grown terribly fond of that singular gentleman. Highly recommended.