Sunday, October 23, 2016

Starring Boris Karloff

It is quite possible that Boris Karloff is the most famous horror film actor of all time. What is more, it seems likely he will always be identified with the role of Frankenstein's Creature more than any other actor who played the role. Of course, Mr. Karloff had a long career playing many other roles besides Frankenstein's Creature (which he only played three times). With the advent of television he frequently guest starred on various shows, and he was even the host of the suspense/horror anthology series Thriller in the Sixties. What many don't realise is that even before Thriller Boris Karloff was the host of his own suspense/horror anthology show very early in the history of 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 career 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 that 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 episode, "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. Regardless, Starring Boris Karloff was among the earliest suspense/horror anthology shows. Short lived though it may have been, it would have an impact on such later shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller.

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