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Karloff on THRILLER: An Exclusive HTF Interview With Sara Karloff

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#1 of 28 OFFLINE   Timothy E

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Posted August 16 2010 - 06:10 AM

On August 31, 2010, Image Entertainment will be releasing a complete DVD series set of Thriller, the acclaimed horror anthology series hosted by Boris Karloff that aired on the NBC network from 1960 until 1962.  I have the entire set on hand now and am in the process of screening the episodes for my review to be posted in the next week or so, prior to its release date on August 31.  I will post a link in this thread to my review after it is posted on the forum.

 

Boris Karloff''s daughter, Sara Karloff, was gracious enough to talk to the Home Theater Forum regarding her father's career on stage, television, and film, and the building anticipation for the release of Thriller on DVD.

 

HTF: I understand that you were actually born on your father’s 51st birthday.

 

SARA KARLOFF: I was. You have done your homework.

 

HTF: Well, I try to. According to reports I read, your father was in costume, as the Frankenstein monster actually, when he received news that your mother was in labor and he went to the hospital in full costume.

 

SARA KARLOFF: Well actually I was born when he was making The Son of Frankenstein, and I really think that is an urban legend that he did go in full costume.

 

HTF: Well it would be a great story if it were true.

 

SARA KARLOFF: It would be a wonderful story but no, he didn’t go in costume, they wouldn’t let him off the set in that.

 

HTF: I imagine. What was it like being the daughter of such a famous actor?

 

SARA KARLOFF: Well you know my father didn’t bring his work home. He was the antithesis of the roles that he played so at home he was a very modest, quiet, gentle, funny, articulate, well-read, well educated man and just a lovely human being. His name, of course, in certain places stood out like a sore thumb but at home he was certainly different than the roles he played.

 

HTF: I have heard that he had a much sweeter disposition than you might expect from an actor who played such "monstrous" roles.

 

SARA KARLOFF: Oh, he did indeed. He was lovely, he was a very gentle typical English gentleman.

 

HTF: Do you have a favorite memory of your father?

 

SARA KARLOFF: Not really, just that he was very self-effacing, a very good listener, he was the consummate professional, he was respected by everyone who knew him professionally and adored by everyone who knew him personally. As far as a father, he set high goals for himself and he expected that I do the best I could at everything that I endeavored.

 

HTF: Among all of the roles he played, do you know if he had a favorite role?

 

SARA KARLOFF: I think he had favorite roles at different times for different reasons in his career. Certainly, Frankenstein, the three times he played that role, it made such a pivotal difference in his life, both personally and professionally, because Frankenstein was his eighty-first film and hardly anybody had seen the first eighty so for that reason alone that was a personal favorite of his during that part of his career, he was an overnight success after 20 years in the business. I think that the 3 films he made with Val Lewton, Bedlam and Body Snatchers and Isle of the Dead.  He enjoyed working with Val Lewton, he liked him immensely, they respected each other, they were both well-read well-educated men and those films have wonderful scripts, wonderful direction, they were very atmospheric, they came along at a time in my father’s career in the 40s when the horror films were fading out and my father enjoyed doing those really good fine films at that point in his career. I think later on when he had an opportunity to work with Peter Lorre and Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone doing The Raven and A Comedy of Terrors. Those old men had such a good time on the set spoofing their own boogeyman images and playing practical jokes on one another, driving Roger Corman crazy on the set, I think they enjoyed that time in their career when they reached a point that they could turn their iconic images back around on themselves, spoof their own boogeyman images, that was great fun for them at that stage. Those were favorite times. I know that he loved working with Peter Bogdanovich, on Targets, that was one of my father’s literally one of his last films, and it was a first for Peter, first in direction and writing and acting. Corman had 10 minutes of Karloff time left and gave Peter Bogdanovich the assignment of using that time as some form of vehicle, and Peter wrote Targets and directed it and actually created it and then performed in it with my father and I know my father said "Do I really have to say all of those terrible things about myself?" but it was great casting in casting my father as a fading horror screen star at that point in his life and my father really enjoyed doing that film with Peter. He had a soliloquy towards the end of the film and he did it, a rather long one, he did it in one take and the entire crew stood up and applauded and that brought tears to my father’s eyes. That was a lovely exit line for my father personally and that was a favorite of his and it is one of my favorite films of my father’s. It had a very short shelf life, or screen life rather, because it was shown during the assassination time of Bobby Kennedy and it was taken off the market but now it is back out and its on DVD and it is really a very fine film so I think that was one of my father’s favorite films too so as I say I think he had various favorites at various times for various reasons.

 

HTF: Do you have a personal favorite of your own that may not have been mentioned by you that may not have been of your father’s favorite roles necessarily?

 

SARA KARLOFF: No, I like Comedy of Terrors, I love to watch him play a dirty old man as he did in that film and I know that he was having such a good time and I got to visit that set, and I adored watching him in Targets because he was not just playing himself, I could just see him in that. I loved his Broadway work. I got to see him in The Lark with Julie Harris and he adored working with her and adored her as a person and recognized what a magnificent actor she was although she was very young at the time. I got to watch him in Peter Pan and he loved working with children. Unfortunately, I never got to see him in Arsenic and Old Lace. I loved his doing the Grinch, that is a family treasure, he won a Grammy for that and that’s just such a Christmas classic every year and our family just treasures that. There are all sorts of parts in my father’s career that as a family we adore. I loved the children’s albums that he recorded for Caedmon, now owned by Harper Collins, Rudyard Kipling, just those stories, and Thumbelina and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. He could do anything with his voice so those are family treasures too and or course the TV work he did. In 1949 he moved back to New York from LA and embraced the medium of television and he starred on all of the television shows of the day and again had an opportunity to spoof his boogeyman image on shows like Carol Burnett and Rosemary Clooney and then he had 3 television series of his own, Thriller being certainly the most well known and I think the best and I think the fans are just going to be thrilled when this new set of 14 DVDs comes out. It is sort of a holy grail of my father’s television work. The scripts were so good, some of which were made into television series of their own, individual episodes, some of them were made into films, the writing was so good, Robert Bloch wrote some of them, the direction was good, Ida Lupino, even Ray Milland directed one, and then they had such a wonderful variety of actors, Cloris Leachman, Robert Vaughn, Mary Tyler Moore, George Kennedy, and Mort Sahl, and the scripts were wonderful, they were terrifically not just entertaining but engrossing and intriguing and Thriller was just a gem and it is a shame it only ran 2 years and I think the fans have been waiting and waiting. I know I have letters and e-mails and phone calls with queries from fans through the years wondering why it has not been released before. Image Entertainment has just done a beautiful job of restoring it and adding extras to the discs. I think it’s just going to be a treasure trove of Karloff work for the fans who have waited so long for it.

 

HTF: Do you remember which episodes or stories may have been spun off into other things?

 

SARA KARLOFF: Only a couple of them do I remember but I know one that Robert Bloch wrote was called The Darkroom, I think, and it was spun off in 1981 into an NBC TV series. There is another one that Peter Cushing turned into a horror anthology called Asylum, and Christopher Lee turned one into a horror anthology called The House That Dripped Blood, and I think there is one more that I can’t remember. These anthologies and this TV series just came out of a single TV episode so that’s amazing for a TV series to have such good writing in a single episode that a whole series spins off of it or a whole anthology spins off of it.

 

HTF: I think it is telling for a series that ran for only 2 seasons that it is so fondly remembered so many years later.

 

SARA KARLOFF: Oh, I do too, it’s remarkable. I mean it’s 50 years.

 

HTF: Even though it’s a little before my time, I have always been a fan of TV shows from that era like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and I had never seen an episode of Thriller until the other night. I was sent a screener copy of a couple of episodes and I was very impressed with it. I understand that your father not only narrated all of the episodes and appeared in them but also played roles in a number of episodes as well.

 

SARA KARLOFF: That’s true, he did. He narrated them and introduced them but he tailored his introductions and narrations for each particular episode, he didn’t just do a taped interview that was stamped on or glued to each episode of the series. He did a particular interview and narration for each and every episode and he knew the material backwards and forwards, and he enjoyed doing it. His introductions finished with the same line and he enjoyed teasing the audience with what was in store for them, and then he enjoyed acting in those scenes that he did. It was his favorite, he really enjoyed doing it, and it ran at the same time, not the same time zone, but at the same time as Hitchcock did, and unfortunately studio politics caused it to be taken off the air after 2 years because it was immensely popular when it came to its conclusion.

 

HTF: Now that I have seen a little bit of Thriller, I am looking forward very much to seeing the entire series and I agree, I think Image has done a terrific job on restoring the video and audio elements, so I think fans are in for a real treat. Is there anything else you would like to comment on in closing?

 

SARA KARLOFF: I am delighted that the fans have given my father’s legacy the long life that they have and I appreciate their interest and I know they will be impressed with the DVD box set that Image has done for them with Thriller. It is going to be beautiful for them.



#2 of 28 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 16 2010 - 06:47 AM

Excellent interview!


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#3 of 28 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted August 16 2010 - 07:57 AM

Timothy,

 

Not just a wonderful interview, but also very interesting to me, because it confirms some of the things I always expected about Boris Karloff (her name cannot really be Karloff, is it?) and his and Vincent Price's performance in The Raven.

 

Boris Karloff has always been one of my favourite actors, ever since I (first) saw The Raven in the cinema, back in 1963, and (then, only later) Frankenstein. Most people don't realize that a very young Jack Nicholson is close to being the protagonist in The Raven.

 

I never doubted the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the performances I was so delighted about back then and still hold dearly. Boris Karloff was Dr. Scarabus, an evil magician, while Vincent Price was dr. Craven, a gentle soft-hearted magician (well... sort of). His wife was called Lenore (of course, if you know the poem by Edgar Allen Poe: "quote the Raven, never more"). Peter Lorre is.. the raven.

 

While I do hope we will see an HD version of The Raven one day, I will now be absolutely delighted to get Thriller.

 

Thanks for this very nice interview, love it and very nice to read such a tribute to Boris Karloff!

 

 

Cees

 

 

 

"Once upon a midnight dreary..."



#4 of 28 OFFLINE   dana martin

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Posted August 16 2010 - 12:35 PM

great interview, and so much better than all the stuff that is normaly done by the studios, as filler, Ms. Karloff, always seems so happy to speak of her fathers work, and all the kind words, i wish most family members were such good stewards of their family's legacy's


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#5 of 28 OFFLINE   Joe Lugoff

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Posted August 16 2010 - 03:34 PM

Well, I truly hate to be negative ... but ...

 

In interviews given a very long time ago -- more than forty years ago -- Sara Karloff sang a different tune.  She originally said that she saw her father very little growing up -- that she was raised by her mother and stepfather -- that she considered her stepfather to be more her father than Boris Karloff was -- that Karloff had been married something like seven or eight times -- that she didn't think he was a particularly good actor -- etc. etc.

 

Somewhere within the past 20 years or so, she and Bela Lugosi's son and Lon Chaney Jr.'s grandson (making him also Lon Chaney Sr.'s greatgrandson, of course) began to "cash in" on their famous ancestors, and Sara, knowing the fans loved Boris and only wanted to hear good things about him, began saying the kinds of nice things she says in this interview.

 

She might have resented him for leaving her mother for another woman, and maybe now she has mellowed.  But the cynical side of me says since there's money to be made by being the daughter of Boris Karloff, she says what she has to say.  Luckily, none of it really matters.



#6 of 28 OFFLINE   Hollywoodaholic

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Posted August 17 2010 - 02:03 AM

People grow up, get over their anger issues and forgive, too. It would be tough growing up having all your resentments and evolving moods broadcast simply because you had a famous parent. And I think the boat has passed for really "cashing in" on the Karloff name. Besides us boomers who grew up with those original Universal films, the name is a non-starter with younger generations today. We're the only ones excited about this set, and it's not going to set the world on fire with sales.

 

I would like to know what the 'political' situation was she referred to that lead to the premature cancellation of "Thriller." Maybe another member knows the story. I thought it was low ratings, because it was a 10 p.m. show, and the kids who were really into Karloff, like me, couldn't stay up to watch it back then.

 

The Raven was also a particular favorite of mine, so much so, that I rented a 16mm print of it from the distributor and organized a high school fundraiser my senior year based on a showing of it. I even put a major display case together in the hallways featuring skulls and posters and photos of Karloff, Price and Lorre. How could anyone resist the three superstars of horror movies we all grew up with basically having the time of their lives on screen? It was a grim reality check when only THREE people showed up. That's probably the moment I realized not everyone was a horror or film geek.

 

But I still am, so bring on Thriller. (I just won't expect my 13 year-old to watch along).



#7 of 28 OFFLINE   chas speed

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Posted August 17 2010 - 08:53 AM



 

Originally Posted by Hollywoodaholic 

People grow up, get over their anger issues and forgive, too. It would be tough growing up having all your resentments and evolving moods broadcast simply because you had a famous parent. And I think the boat has passed for really "cashing in" on the Karloff name. Besides us boomers who grew up with those original Universal films, the name is a non-starter with younger generations today. We're the only ones excited about this set, and it's not going to set the world on fire with sales.

 

I would like to know what the 'political' situation was she referred to that lead to the premature cancellation of "Thriller." Maybe another member knows the story. I thought it was low ratings, because it was a 10 p.m. show, and the kids who were really into Karloff, like me, couldn't stay up to watch it back then.

 

The Raven was also a particular favorite of mine, so much so, that I rented a 16mm print of it from the distributor and organized a high school fundraiser my senior year based on a showing of it. I even put a major display case together in the hallways featuring skulls and posters and photos of Karloff, Price and Lorre. How could anyone resist the three superstars of horror movies we all grew up with basically having the time of their lives on screen? It was a grim reality check when only THREE people showed up. That's probably the moment I realized not everyone was a horror or film geek.

 

But I still am, so bring on Thriller. (I just won't expect my 13 year-old to watch along).

People rarely talk about the fact that the last batch of Thriller episodes went back to the kind of boring stories that the series opened with and went away from the horror genre episodes that made the show popular to begin with.
 



#8 of 28 OFFLINE   Joe Lugoff

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Posted August 17 2010 - 12:01 PM

About Sara's quote:  " ... studio politics caused it to be taken off the air after 2 years because it was immensely popular when it came to its conclusion."

 

It's highly debatable that it was "immensely popular"; "immensely" would imply Top Ten-type ratings, which it certainly never achieved.

 

But I have heard about the "studio politics," and this is what I heard, which doesn't mean it's true, of course:

 

"Alfred Hitchcock Presents" moved from CBS to NBC for the 1960-61 season.  NBC scheduled it for Tuesdays at 8:30, and put "Thriller" directly after it at 9:00.

 

The story goes that Alfred Hitchcock got quite upset over this because the show was too similar to his own, up to and including an iconic Hollywood figure, of British origin, associated with "thrillers," with a distinctive way of talking doing the introductions.

 

For the second season, NBC moved "Thriller" to Mondays at 10:00, where the ratings were mediocre and it almost certainly would have been cancelled anyway, so it might be a "conspiracy theory" that Hitchcock was the one responsible for it being taken off the air.

 

But Hitchcock was inspired by it enough to expand his show to an hour for the 1962-63 season, and irritated at NBC enough to go back to CBS.

 

If I still have you reading, I'd like to add this -- not that it means anything, of course -- but the opening episode of "Thriller," "The Twisted Image," got a really bad review in the New York Times the next day.  I mean, really bad.  In fact, the critic used it to say that he feared for the future of television if things had reached a point as low as this.



#9 of 28 OFFLINE   dana martin

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Posted August 17 2010 - 02:11 PM

in the days of only 3 networks fighting for avertising dollars, i am sure there was some kind of politics going on, see how well RCA pushed to get Bonanza it slot to help sell more color TV's


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#10 of 28 OFFLINE   Hollywoodaholic

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Posted August 18 2010 - 01:16 AM

Thanks for the background info, Joe, I enjoyed it. And I must have just remembered the second season 10 p.m. airing, because that was obviously forbidden territory for this elementary school kid at the time (except for summer reruns).

 

I watched some 'unofficial' early episodes of Thriller a couple years ago and was really disappointed at how dull they were, and the casting was mostly C-list actors. But from accounts on this thread, things did improve, and I distinctly remember a few excellent episodes ("Guillotine") and tales by some of my favorite authors at the time (Robert Bloch, etc.).


#11 of 28 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted August 23 2010 - 07:07 PM

Home Media Magazine just published their interview: http://www.homemedia...r-karloff-20386



#12 of 28 OFFLINE   WadeM

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Posted August 26 2010 - 12:51 PM


I'm a Karloff fan.  I've never seen this series.  If the first batch of episodes and the last batch of episodes are boring, and it only ran for 2 seasons, what percentage of this series would people say is worthwhile?  I mean are we talking about maybe a season's worth, or just a little more, or less?

Also, what do people think of the $100 ($150 srp) retail price tag?  Is it really that good?
 

Originally Posted by chas speed 



 

People rarely talk about the fact that the last batch of Thriller episodes went back to the kind of boring stories that the series opened with and went away from the horror genre episodes that made the show popular to begin with.
 





#13 of 28 OFFLINE   younger1968

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Posted August 26 2010 - 01:00 PM

I was too young to see this show when it ran back in the 1960s. However, i am huge fan of shows like thriller, tales from the darkside, night gallery, outerlimits, etc. I dont find today's acting the same as it was back in the 1960s/1970s/1980s, etc.



#14 of 28 OFFLINE   Joe Lugoff

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Posted August 26 2010 - 02:01 PM

I like to watch shows from this era due to nostalgic reasons, mostly.  I also prefer the old-style of film making to the modern style.

 

However, taken on its own terms, "Thriller" was a disappointing show.  I'd say for every worthwhile episode, there were five clunkers.  I wouldn't recommend this as a blind buy, especially at the price they're asking.



#15 of 28 OFFLINE   Hollywoodaholic

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Posted August 27 2010 - 01:27 AM


If you're a Karloff fan, it's definitely worth having for his intros and the 5 or so episodes he appears in alone. I'm buying the set more for nostalgia and to see episodes I missed or don't remember. What I DO remember, though, is, for the most part, the stories, quality, acting and look don't hold up to either The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But IMO are better than One Step Beyond, Tales for the Darkside, and several other anthololgy shows. Course, TZ had Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont writing. Alfred Hitchcock had Hitch, of course, but also was based on tried and true crime and suspense short stories from literature. The Outer Limits had Conrad Hall as director of photography (gave it a look that was perfect gothic horror film noir), Dominic Frontiere for music, and Joseph Stefano, Harlan Ellison, and other great writers. But Thriller had Karloff, and you can't dismiss that. To me, that's worth $100.
 

Originally Posted by WadeM 


I'm a Karloff fan.  I've never seen this series.  If the first batch of episodes and the last batch of episodes are boring, and it only ran for 2 seasons, what percentage of this series would people say is worthwhile?  I mean are we talking about maybe a season's worth, or just a little more, or less?

Also, what do people think of the $100 ($150 srp) retail price tag?  Is it really that good?
 


 





#16 of 28 OFFLINE   chas speed

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Posted August 27 2010 - 06:24 AM

Even though the first few and last few episodes of the series weren't my cup of tea, I still liked around 30 episodes of the series and that's a better average then I have with Twilight Zone.  I only ended up paying 88 dollars for my set at DVD Empire and MCA Universal was selling 6 episodes for more then that on laserdisc with no bonus extras.  It's a great price in my book, but clearly if you don't like the show it's not worth getting, but if you love the series like I do it's a bargain.



#17 of 28 OFFLINE   WadeM

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Posted August 27 2010 - 01:06 PM

Thanks for the input everyone!

 

I think Joe makes a good point--especially at the price they're asking.  Maybe I'll see if it becomes available for rent first.  I mean, I am a Karloff fan, and as Wayne said, you can't dismiss Karloff, but that $100 is making my conscience not feel so good.  /img/vbsmilies/htf/smile.gif

 

Paul, you're absolutely right about today's acting, especially on TV.  They all apparently went to the same school, had the same teacher, and even came from the same class.  I mean, certainly the creative arts wouldn't be so lacking in creativity, right?  Why else would they all hem and haw around so much on screen trying to act "realistic" (and all in the same manner), yet like no one I've ever met.  I'm relatively young, but can do without today's acting methods.  Even the directors largely seem unoriginal... oh well.



#18 of 28 OFFLINE   Timothy E

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Posted August 31 2010 - 06:36 AM

The HTF review of THRILLER has been posted:  http://www.hometheat...-series-dvd-set .



#19 of 28 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted September 17 2010 - 03:22 AM

If the opportunity ever presents itself, I would ask Sarah Karloff if she knows anything about her father's work as a drama coach within the biz. I'm told he taught workshops and tutored a number of luminaries, including Frank Sinatra. Perhaps one of the many books about Boris Karloff talk about this coaching, but I haven't seen it mentioned.

 



#20 of 28 OFFLINE   Shatner's Grim Reaper

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Posted January 26 2013 - 05:20 AM

I know Karloff opposed the monster speaking...but thank goodness he was outvoted. The Bride of Frankenstein will always be my favorite film of the genre. I marvel every time I watch it. Thank you James Whale....thank you Boris Karloff for giving us three Frankenstein classics...b4 LC Jr killed the monster with his stiff lumbering attempt at acting (funny how Lugosi and Strange followed suit)....really shows what a truly great actor Karloff was.





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