Sunday, October 24, 2010

Starring Boris Karloff and The Veil

Given his status as the best known actor in horror movies in the mid-20th Century, it was inevitable that Boris Karloff would host a horror anthology series on television. Most people know that he hosted Thriller, the legendary horror anthology show which ran from 1960 to 1962 on NBC, but Boris Karloff would host two other horror series before Thriller. Indeed, one of them may was the second horror series to ever air on American network television.

In the late Forties Boris Karloff was represented by David Susskind at the powerful talent agency MCA.Mr. Susskind put together a deal for Mr. Karloff, whose movie theatre was in the doldrums at that point, hosting a radio show and television series. Starring Boris Karloff, also known as The Boris Karloff Mystery Theatre and Boris Karloff Presents, was a half hour anthology series which debuted on September 22, 1949 on the American Broadcast Company (ABC). Starring Boris Karloff aired on radio on Wednesday, followed by the television broadcast on Thursday. From reports the series was very similar to Mr. Karloff's later show Thriller. Its debut episodes, "Five Golden Guineas" dealt with a hangman who unknowingly executes his own son. It very closely resembles the later Thriller episode "Guillotine."Another episode, "The Shop at Sly Corner," was an adaptation of the Edward Percy play of the same name, in which a Devil's Island convict operates a suspicious antique shop.

Boris Karloff put in a good deal of work on the show, so much so that MCA wanted to credit him as a producer. Ever the professional, Mr. Karloff objected most strenuously.  He maintained he handled none of the production duties and should not be credited as such, and that the credit should go to actual producer and director Alex Segal. The next payday Mr. Segal noticed his pay cheque had increased from $75 a week to $125 a week. While Mr. Segal was not given a producer credit, Mr. Karloff's anger had convinced MCA to give him a pay raise!

Sadly, Starring Boris Karloff would only last thirteen weeks. Even more sadly, not one episode survives. This is particularly sad given the fact that it may be the second horror anthology series on American television, pre-dating Inner Sanctum (Suspense, the adaptation of the famous radio show, only occasionally adapted horror stories, more often concentrating on the traditional mystery) and debuting only a few months after Lights Out (which premiered in July of 1949).

It would be almost ten years later before Boris Karloff would host another anthology series. Produced in 1958, The Veil sprang from the mind of Frank P Bibas, and produced by Hal Roach Studios. Although also a horror anthology series, The Veil was very different from Starring Boris Karloff and Thriller. It was supposedly based on real life accounts of supernatural occurrences, making it in some ways similar to Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond. Episodes dealt with such events as a teenager possessed by the ghost of a dead girl, an Indian woman who claims to have been reincarnated and knows minutiae from her past life, and a ghost who tries to make a pilot crash a plane.

Sadly, The Veil would never air. Its production would prove to be a troubled one. An co-production agreement that Hal Roach Studios had made with syndicator fell apart early in the show's history. Worse yet, in 1958 Hal Roach Studios was in dire financial straits. After only ten episodes, the studio ran out of financing for the show. Ten episodes were considered too few even for a syndication run, so the show remained unaired. Four episodes would be edited into the movie Destination Nightmare (1958), and the entire run of the series would be released on DVD in  2001 (a full nine years before Thriller).

Boris Karloff would go onto host the legendary series Thriller. He would also appear frequently on television, guest starring in such shows as Lights Out, Suspense, Climax, Studio One, Playhouse 90, Route 66 (as himself, alongside Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr.), The Wild Wild West, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., and The Name of the Game.He also starred in the series Colonel March of Scotland Yard, which featured more than its fair share of supernatural plots. When it comes to television, however, he is perhaps best known as the host of Thriller. Despite this, it was actually the third show he hosted, after Starring Boris Karloff and The Veil.

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