48. William Henry Pratt AKA Boris Karloff

The Monster Mash 

When William Henry Pratt loped, with a forward lean, into our New York recording studio on thick, ripple-soled walking shoes, he did evoke the Frankenstein monster, his most memorable role.  He introduced himself as Bill, but he signed the recording contract, “Boris Karloff.”  He spoke not with the accent of Imperial Russia, as his film name implied, but with the soft tones and gentle lisp of an English country gentleman.  He looked and sounded every bit like William Henry Pratt.

Of course, that’s what I wanted. I had seen him on television, reading from Shakespeare, and had caught onto his wish to shed his image as a monster… but what the hell, it brought him a good career and steady work.  However, I wanted to play him against type, and I had just the project to do it.  It was my hard-won contract with Bob Blechman to adapt his pseudo religious mock-up of the Anatole France story THE JUGGLER OF OUR LADY, and transplanting his tiny squiggles onto a giant CinemaScope screen!

Karloff caught the drift immediately, not to sound at all like a parody, but a sincere, dignified reading. He did a masterful job of narration, with just the right, elegant touch. I did not want, and Blechman did not want, to debase anything anyone believed in. We played it absolutely cool, taking care to let the gentle parody speak for itself.  After all, we were four Jewish guys messing with a sacred Catholic myth: R.O Blechman, the author and designer. Al Kouzel, who drew the layouts and action plan, Phil Scheib, who composed the music, and me, who gently kept the other three onto the true path. We all wanted to avoid crucifixion!  We wanted to put across this universal parable which told the worthy story that each person’s effort has value.  This was to be unlike any major studio movie cartoon short that ever was, a gentle religious satire, lovely, mildly amusing!, but not sacrilegious.

 Could we get away with it?  Naturally, Bill Weiss thought not. I’m sure he didn’t veto the project simply because he was sure it would seal my fate at the box office.  Thinking back, I suppose he was right about that, but I felt it was worth a try… an effort to give prestige to Terrytoons.  How about that for a hopeless endeavor?  If there was a joke here, it was that all the four of the people who played the leading roles in the movie cartoon reconstruction of this Catholic tale were Jews!

Boris Karloff and William Henry Pratt.  Which is the better make-up job?

2 thoughts on “48. William Henry Pratt AKA Boris Karloff

  1. There were a number of fine prints of your Terrytoons up on YouTube for a time, including Juggler of Our Lady, but I think they’ve disappeared. Boris Karloff had the perfect voice for a story like that – patrician yet earnest.

    • A lingering problem with getting a good video of JUGGLER is that it was produced in the Cinemascope format. All of the videos I’ve seen were chopped to the classic Academy format, thus losing the whole point of what we tried to accomplish in our admittedly risky production! The only thing actually accomplished by this film was that it gave Bill Weiss the weapon he needed in order to fire me from Terrytoons.

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