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Daughter of Frankenstein

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FRANKENSTEIN


Boris Karloff's only daughter doesn't like frightening movies.

"The Wizard of Oz scared me when I was seven. Now I leave the room during Murder, She Wrote," said Sara Karloff, an elegant woman of a certain age who was born when her father was 51.

The dark-skinned beauty's coal-black hair sports an amazing white streak, reminiscent of Bride of You-Know-Who.

Chit-chatting easily during an intimate gathering/book signing at Hollywood Boulevard's Larry Edmunds Bookshop celebrating the release of a new Karloff bio, Boris Karloff, More Than a Monster, Ms. Karloff admitted she was already 19-years-old when she first saw her father's iconic performance in the Universal horror classic, Frankenstein. "I was out of sync [with the culture]."

"I was sitting in my stepfather's living room and it came on TV one afternoon. I watched it closely, alone, thinking, hmnnn...."

Since then, she's seen the film innumerable times. (Her words, "I've had to see it many times.") Careful to defend her father's full range of work in film, television, radio, spoken word, and theater throughout his career, she shared a daughter's view of the Big Flat-Headed One.

What she loves most in the performance, she said, is "the pathos in his hand movements. He had beautiful hands. And the angle of his body as he walks. And the angle of his arms, pulled slightly back, his fingers splayed..." She added with a murmur, "pure genius."

"The film was James Whale the director, Jack Pierce, the make-up artist, and the manner my father portrayed the monster. It was a marriage of all those things."

Sara, who lives in Rancho Mirage, tends to her father's legacy, a pretty frothy practice given the cult status of several of his films. She was the actor's only child (and his heir) from his five marriages, and the two share the same birthday, November 23. Evidence of a deep father-daughter bond was on view in rare family Kodachrome home-movie footage, real treasures, the most touching sequences shot the day of Sara's own christening. In them, the clearly overjoyed Karloff canoodles with his dark-haired newborn baby girl.

In a video of Karloff's appearance on Ralph Edwards' This is Your Life television broadcast in 1957, Karloff re-encounters a series of acquaintances from his humble climb to becoming an internationally known movie star; among them, 2011-04-28-thisisyourlife.jpg.230.jpgJack Pierce, who transformed the lanky and strong-featured actor into a formidable, giant golem. Karloff comments in the video, "Best make-up man in the world, I owe him a lot."

[Sara Karloff and her dad on "This is Your Life," at right.]

A self-made man, Karloff essentially dropped out of school in the U.K., stowed away on a steamer to Canada, and, by sheer will, became an actor, learning on the job. He acted up till his death in 1969.

The man who starred in three Frankenstein franchises [Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein] plus House of Frankenstein, in which he played a mad scientist, was, "modest, self-effacing. He never talked about his career. He didn't talk about other actors. He was the kindest, most warm-hearted man," said Sara Karloff.

Frankenstein's daughter admitted "my father was a very handsome man, too."

The video clip demonstrates Karloff's robust portrayal, starting from James Whale's terrifying first view of the monster. That sequence must have scared the bejesus out of matinee ladies in 1931, because it freaks me out today.

Los Angeles-based arts journalist Debra Levine blogs about dance, film, music and urban culture on arts•meme.

photo credits: boris karloff likeness use granted by karloff enterprises/sara karloff, howard lavick, draculand, bison archives