Saturday, June 30, 2012

From The Archives: Sarah Karloff: Daughter of a Screen Legend!

(originally published on June 7, 2010.  This article has been slightly altered from its' original version)

Boris Karloff was a veteran character actor of Hollywood’s golden age, when he emerged from obscurity with his portrayal of the Frankenstein Monster in Universal Studio’s 1931 feature Frankenstein. He would star as the monster in two sequels, as well as go on to play the original version of the mummy Imhotep in (what else?) The Mummy, to say nothing of a multitude of other horror, comedy, and science fiction programs for both television and the cinema.

Sadly, Boris Karloff, the man once billed simply as Karloff the Uncanny, has long since passed from this world. However, he did leave behind one child, Ms. Sarah Jane Karloff, whom I am fortunate enough to speak with today.

Ms. Karloff is the owner and operator of Karloff Enterprises, a licensing company that oversees the use of her father’s image and helps to propitiate his legacy. She was a student at the prestigious Buckley School in California as well as a graduate of the University of Oregon, and, as I was delighted to discover, an excellent conversationalist as well.

Lone Fan: Good Evening, Ms. Karloff.

Sarah: Hello, Mark.

Lone Fan: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Sarah: That’s fine. I’m happy to do it.

Lone Fan: Well, I’d like to start this evening with a bit of an icebreaker. What was it like growing up as the daughter of Frankenstein?

Sara:h I never thought of myself as the daughter of Frankenstein, and actually it wasn’t Frankenstein, it was Frankenstein’s monster. My father was a quiet, soft spoken, very intelligent, and funny man. Because my father was the antithesis of the roles that he played I was able to grow up thinking of myself as the daughter of Boris Karloff and not the daughter of the creature.

Lone Fan: Have you ever gotten a chance to dress up as the Frankenstein Monster?

Sarah: For the first and the last time in my life, in 2008 on Halloween I agreed to let a friend of mine, Kevin Burns who is a producer and a director, dress me up in Frankenstein makeup for Hugh Hefner’s Halloween Party. The makeup was extraordinary. He did a wonderful job and it took about two and a half hours to put on and it was gruesome to take off. But we had a wonderful time and everybody got a big kick out of it and I will never do it again.

Lone Fan: What year were you born, Ms. Karloff?

Sarah: I was born on my father’s 51st birthday which was in 1938.

Lone Fan: At that time had he legally changed his name to Boris Karloff or was he still William Henry Pratt?

Sarah: He never changed his name to Boris Karloff. It was an AKA, and so he signed all his legal documents William Henry Pratt aka Boris Karloff. So I actually was the only legal Karloff because on my birth certificate I was Sara Jane Karloff Pratt.

Lone Fan: Rumor has it that your father adopted the title of ‘Boris Karloff’ because he felt like Pratt wasn’t a very good name for a stage actor.

Sarah: Yes, I believe that’s true. He felt that Pratt wouldn’t be particularly appropriate on a theater marquee, because of pratfalls, ect.

Lone Fan: Your father came from a rather large family. How many siblings did he have?

Sarah: He was the youngest of nine children; eight boys and one girl.

Lone Fan: I had heard that one of your father’s brothers did attempt to become an actor and died very young. Is that true?

Sarah: Yes, I believe it was the brother two up from my father, George, who had been an actor.

Lone Fan: Is it also true that he died young, or is that just a rumor?

Sarah: No, he died relatively young. I believe in his forties.

Lone Fan: Do you know what the circumstances of his death were?

Sarah: No, I really don’t. There is however a marvelous book coming out this October, written by an English Gentleman named Stephen Jacobs and his research is impeccable. He has done more research than has ever been done before on my father’s family and he will have all the details on everything anyone has ever wanted to know.

Lone Fan: I’ve read before that certain people felt there was some tension between your father and his brothers because they were in the diplomatic corps and he was an actor. Is that true?

Sarah: It’s true that his brothers were not pleased with his decision to become an actor.

Lone Fan: Have you had any contact with your aunt or your uncles? Has that side of the family been very close with you over the years?

Sarah: My father being the youngest by seven years, and with all his family living in England, most of them were deceased by the time I came of an age to explore relatives in that part of the world. I have however met a wonderful second cousin. She was the daughter of Richard Pratt, the seventh son of my father’s family. She was a wonderful woman with a steel trap memory for family information. She’d been a nurse in the first World War. She had lived in China. She was a remarkable woman. She died about a year ago, and it was a great loss to the family. And then I have met a second cousin once removed, I think. She was my father’s sister’s granddaughter. She lives in England and she is delightful. It means so much to me to meet any of my father’s family members, but those are the only two that I have met.

Lone Fan: Wasn’t your father also a founding member of the Screen Actor’s Guild?

Sarah: Oh yes, that was the work he was most proud of. He, along with a lot of other brave actors put their careers on the line, just by being involved in the formation of it. That was dangerous business to form a union against the studios. My mother told me that they would park their cars blocks away from one another’s houses and then walk to one another’s houses for their meetings. They would go to parties and dance by one another on the dance floor and whisper, the meeting’s Tuesday night at so-and-so’s house.

Lone Fan: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your mother; starting with her full name.

Sarah: My mother’s name was Dorothy Elizabeth Stine. She was an only child. She was born in Charlotte, Michigan. She lived there for many years and then she and her family moved to Portland, Oregon where she graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in library science. She was a librarian when my father met her, and I don’t know how or where they met. She was born in 1900 and she died in 1991.

Lone Fan: Before your parents were separated, what was your family life like?

Sarah: My parents were divorced when I was seven. So how many vivid memories does anyone have before the age of seven? But my childhood was a very lovely childhood, so full of animals and fruit trees and great expansive lawns, tile floors and a wonderful old Spanish house that was always full of friends and laughter.

Lone Fan: I know you said you don’t have a lot of memories from before your parents separated, but based on what you do remember, do you mark a significant difference in your life before your parents separated and after they separated?

Sarah: No, not really, except that my mother and I moved from Beverly Hills to San Francisco where I had a very happy, normal life out of the spotlight of Hollywood. Both my mother and father happily remarried, and I adored my stepfather. I was very, very fortunate to have a loving father and a loving stepfather. And my father’s remarriage was a very happy one to an English woman who had been a friend of the family’s and so I knew my stepmother.

Lone Fan: How did growing up as the daughter of a big star like Boris Karloff affect your childhood?

Sarah: Growing up in Hollywood with a famous last name was nothing special. There were a lot of children with famous last names. I went to the Buckley School and almost every youngster there had a famous last name, so it was no big deal. The kids were just kids and your parent’s friends were just your parent’s friends. It didn’t matter what they did for a living whether it was in the entertainment business or not. A child doesn’t know that. When I moved to San Francisco and attended a private girl’s school, that was a different matter, and having a famous Hollywood last name was unique and did stand out. But it was a college preparatory school and I was still judged by my academics and not by who my father was.

Lone Fan: What were your career goals early on?

Sarah: Political Science. I was very interested in politics early on. I ended up not going into politics, but I was a political science major and I have a real estate broker’s license which I no longer use. I also have a business called Karloff Enterprises that I use to protect and perpetuate the legacy my father left.

Lone Fan: Tell me about your relationship with your father in later years.

Sarah: I think it was impossible for anyone to have a bad relationship with my father. He was just a remarkable human being. He was one of the few people in the entertainment business about whom nothing negative was ever written or said. He was a kind and gentle man. He was a good listener which is an outstanding quality in any human being and especially in a parent.

Lone Fan: How did you react when you heard about your father’s passing?

Sarah: I was extraordinarily saddened when he died, as anyone would be over the passing of their parent.

Lone Fan: Tell me a little bit about your father’s funeral.

Sarah: There were no services for my father. He was a very, very private man. He died in England. He was cremated, and his ashes were entombed in a private facility.

Lone Fan: What exactly did he die of?

Sarah: Emphysema.

Lone Fan: This next question is a little silly, but I wanted to get your opinion on it. When he died, your father was living in a cottage called Roundabout in the Hampshire village of Bramshott. There is a story I came across that said there are people who claim to have seen your father’s specter haunting the old place. Have you ever heard that before?

Sarah: No, I’ve never heard that. He adored that cottage; both he and my stepmother did. I knew the couple who bought it after my father died. I had been in there after they bought it and if it had been haunted by anyone or anything I’m sure they would have told me.

Lone Fan: What do you think your father’s favorite project was?

Sarah: I can’t really say, though I know he loved being the Grinch.

Lone Fan: That’s right. Your father also did the voice of the Grinch in the Chuck Jones adaptation of the book.

Sarah: He did, and I can’t help but think what a wonderful legacy that is for him to leave to his grandchildren. He won a Grammy for it, and he loved doing it. When it premiered it was one of the very few times my father called me and said, ‘I want you to turn on the television tonight and watch this’. He loved the Grinch.

Lone Fan: Do you think his experience on the Grinch could have been a deciding factor for him to have done Mad Monster Party, the puppet movie that Rankin and Bass produced?

Sarah: I don’t think one led to the other. I just think he enjoyed doing that sort of work. Anything to do with kids, he loved. He loved doing anything lighthearted, or to be able to spoof his own boogey man image like he did on The Carol Burnett Show or The Red Skelton Show. When he and Vincent Price and Peter Lorre did The Comedy of Terrors they loved making fun of their own images.

Lone Fan: Now that your father’s gone, you’ve basically become the caretaker of his legacy, correct?

Sarah: First my stepmother was, and then after her death, I became the caretaker of his estate.

Lone Fan: The business you operate as his caretaker is called Karloff Enterprises and its website is karloff.com, correct?

Sarah: That’s correct and our e-mail is karloff@karloff.com

Lone Fan: How did Karloff Enterprises come to be?

Sarah: In 1992, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine held a convention in Crystal City. I was invited to it and Bela Lugosi Jr. was invited and Ron Chaney, Lon Chaney’s grandson, was invited and so was Dwight Frye’s grandson. None of us had ever met and I’d never been to a convention before and we all met and we liked each other and found out that we all had real lives and that we were real people and I learned that weekend about conventions and licensing and it happened that same weekend, my stepmother died and Bela and Ron were represented by the same agent that my stepmother had been represented by. That same agent began to represent me in licensing and that weekend Karloff Enterprises was born.

Lone Fan: Did you have any trouble copyrighting or trade marking your father’s image?

Sarah: No. There is a law in many states, California being one of them, that says the family members of the deceased celebrity are protected so that they can oversee the use of their deceased family member’s image and likeness. Their persona rights, it’s called. They cannot be used in merchandise without the permission of the family.

Lone Fan: What was it like meeting the children of these other three icons? Did you connect with any of them?

Sarah: Oh yeah, Bela and I are very good friends. Ron and I are good friends. Dwight Frye and I became great friends before he died. We had a marvelous time, and we appear at some conventions today still.

Lone Fan: I know there was a lawsuit between you and Universal Studios concerning your father. Did you sue them or did they sue you?

Sarah: I sued Universal Studios.

Lone Fan: Would you like to talk about that law suit?

Sarah: Well, the results of the lawsuit are sealed and confidential. I sued them for breaching my rights and it was settled out of court and I was not at all displeased by the results, and that’s all I can say.

Lone Fan: I do know that you had a notice on karloff.com, explaining that the reason you were engaged in this lawsuit was not because of a matter of money, but because you were protecting your father’s image.

Sarah: That’s correct.

Lone Fan: Was there a reason you had to put a disclaimer up on the website? Did some of the fans react badly to the lawsuit?

Sarah: No, I had an amazing amount of support from my father’s fans and from the media. But of course, I had a lot questions asked of me about the suit and what it was about and how it was going and how it was resolved. Because Universal insisted that the results of the lawsuit be sealed, I had to put something on my website so that people would know it had been resolved.

Lone Fan: Why don’t you tell us a bit about karloff.com.

Sarah: Karloff.com is the Karloff Enterprise’s website and we invite any of my father’s fans to come visit it and comment on it. We have a tribute section and we get some wonderful letters from my father’s fans, and I post some of them there. We have a marvelous artist’s gallery, because people send me some of their truly gifted artwork and we post it there. And when they do I ask them to send us their resumes and contact information so that anyone who might be interested in contacting the artists can do so, and it gives them additional exposure. We have a list of the places I’m going to be appearing, which aren’t very many over the course of a year. We have a gift shop for people who have licensed products through us. We advertise their products that I’ve bought from them and then sell on our webpage in our gift shop. It’s just a general Karloff site that’s fan friendly, or so we hope. It’s a place where people can contact me if they’re interested in licensing a product, and the purpose of licensing through the family is mainly so that the family can be certain that any products out there that bears my father’s name or likeness or uses his voice are appropriate and tasteful. I feel that the terms of any license have to work for the licensee or they won’t work at all, so we try to tailor any license to the needs and desires of the licensee.

Lone Fan: You also have a DVD on your website called Bill Diamond’s Monster TV. Would you care to tell us a little bit about that?

Sarah: It’s sort of like the Muppets meet Mad Monster Party. Bill actually worked with Jim Henson for years and this is the most family friendly project you can imagine.

Lone Fan: Would you mind telling us about some of the original artwork that’s for sale?

Sarah: We have some posters of various artworks you can see in our gift shop, but the marvelous art that’s in our art gallery belongs to the artists and they have it for sale, not us. We also have some of Basil Gogos’ art that was done in 1997. He did three beautiful pieces, hoping the post office might select those for stamps, but unfortunately they didn’t.

Lone Fan: You have a number of exciting properties that will be soon be available. One item in particular I noticed is the re-release of Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery comic book series which Dark Horse Comics will be reprinting.

Sarah: That’s something I’m very excited about. In the 60’s, my father had a comic book series that ran for 97 issues and a friend of mine, Kevin Sineer gave me his entire collection one year as a birthday gift. It was the most generous gift anyone could have given me and I was determined that this beautiful collection of my Dad’s comics wouldn’t just sit on my shelf. So I spent a great deal of time looking for just the right publisher who would do just the right thing with these comic books. My editor at Dark Horse is a young man named Rob Simpson and together with Dark Horse’s chief editor Mike Richardson, they have done a beautiful job with these comics.

Lone Fan: I’m not surprised. I’ve been a comic book collector for fifteen years, and Dark Horse is just about the best company there is for this sort of thing. Their reprint collections are a joy.

Sarah: I couldn’t agree more after just receiving my mockup copy, and I am thrilled to death with their work. The comics are going to be released in four volumes in their archival format and there will be four to six issues released in each hardcover volume. The first volume is due out this May, and I’ve written the introduction for it.

Lone Fan: You’ve actually written a few introductions before. I know you wrote one for Dwight Kemper’s mystery novel Who Framed Boris Karloff?.

Sarah: Yes I did. That is such a fun book. It really gives you a wonderful romp through Hollywood history.

Lone Fan: As I understand it, Dwight has another book coming out soon called Bela Lugosi and the House of Doom and while your father is not going to be the star of it, he is going to be involved. Are you excited about that one as well?

Sarah: Absolutely! Dwight is a wonderful, prolific writer.

Lone Fan: Can you give us an idea of what types of products you’re currently interested in licensing?

Sarah: I really leave that up to the fan base and the people who are more creative than I am. I’ve been approached about some marvelously inventive things, like life masks and model kits and t-shirts and all sorts of wonderful ideas.

Lone Fan: Have you ever thought about licensing a film about your father?

Sarah: Oh absolutely! I’d love to see a film made about my father, and I’d love to see Jeremy Irons play him.

Lone Fan: So Jeremy Irons is your first pick to play your father? No hesitations?

Sarah: None. I think he’d be superb.

Lone Fan: Have you ever considered following in your father’s footsteps and going into the theater?

Sarah: Heavens, no.

Lone Fan: But you have appeared in some documentaries.

Sarah: Well, yes, but those aren’t films.

Lone Fan: Would you care to tell us about a few of the documentaries you’ve been in?

Sarah: One fun project that I got to do was done by Prometheus Entertainment and it was for Anna and the King of Siam. Actually when my godmother, Cynthia Lindsay, wrote a biography on my father called Dear Boris, in her research she discovered that Anna Lee Owens, the real Anna who met the King of Siam, was my Great, Great, Great Aunt. And so when this documentary was being made of Anna Lee Owens, I was asked if I could come in and read some of the King’s letters and some of Anna’s letters to the King.

Lone Fan: In addition to the documentaries though, I understand you’ll be appearing in an upcoming horror movie called Deader Country.

Sarah: I’m not appearing in it. I did a couple of off screen lines.

Lone Fan: Will this be the first time you’ve appeared in a movie?

Sarah: I don’t remember.

Lone Fan: Speaking of which, what are your views on horror movies?

Sarah: I don’t like scary movies to the extent that I leave the room during Murder She Wrote.

Lone Fan: How do you feel horror has changed today as opposed to the way things were done in your father’s time?

Sarah: In my father’s time, it was titillating and it left a lot to the audience’s imagination. It didn’t dump all this blood and gore right in your lap. It invited the audience to participate, sometimes to speculate on the ending, sometimes to imagine what was around the corner. In today’s films they drive you right over the cliff.

Lone Fan: So you feel they’ve changed for the worse.

Sarah: I see no excuse for the violence in today’s films. I think there’s enough on the streets.

Lone Fan: Thank you for sharing that, Ms. Karloff. I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me, and answer some of these questions. Thank you so much.

Sarah: It was a pleasure, Mark.


You can visit the Karloff Enterprises’ website at: http://www.karloff.com/

Information on the upcoming Dark Horse Comic’s release of Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery can be found at: http://www.darkhorse.com/Books/15-819/Boris-Karloff-Tales-of-Mystery-Archives-HC

Information regarding Stephen Jacob’s upcoming biography on Boris Karloff can be found at:
http://www.tomahawkpress.com/tomahawk.html

Dwight Kemper’s original mystery novel featuring Boris Karloff can be purchased at: http://midmar.com/indexfsfrontbooks.htm

And his exciting sequel Bela Lugosi and the House of Doom can be purchased at: http://midmar.com/fictionhouseofdoom.html

The Author wishes to publicly thank Ms. Sarah Jane Karloff for taking time out of her busy schedule for this interview.

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