Boris Karloff

Biography

Date of Birth 23 November 1887, Camberwell, London, England, UK Date of Death 2 February 1969, Midhurst, Sussex, England, UK (emphysema) Birth Name William Henry Pratt Height 5' 11" (1.80 m) Mini Biography Along with fellow actors Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price, Boris Karloff is recognized as one of the true icons of horror cinema, and the actor most closely identified with the general public's perception of the "monster" from the classic Mary Shelley book, "Frankenstein". William Henry Pratt was born on November 23, 1887, in Camberwell, London, England, the son of Edward John Pratt Jr., the Deputy Commissioner of Customs Salt and Opium, Northern Division, Indian Salt Revenue Service, and his third wife, Eliza Sarah Millard. He was educated at London University in anticipation that he would pursue a diplomatic career; however, he emigrated to Canada in 1909 and joined a touring company based out of Ontario and adopted the stage name of "Boris Karloff." He toured back and forth across the USA for over ten years in a variety of low-budget theater shows and eventually ended up in Hollywood with very little money to his name. Needing cash to support himself, Karloff secured occasional acting work in the fledgling silent film industry in such pictures as The Deadlier Sex (1920), Omar the Tentmaker (1922), Dynamite Dan (1924) and Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927), in addition to a handful of serials (the majority of which sadly haven't survived). Karloff supplemented his meager film income by working as a truck driver in Los Angeles, which allowed him enough time off to continue to pursue acting roles. His big break came in 1931 when he was cast as "the monster" in the Universal production of Frankenstein (1931), directed by James Whale, one of the studio's few remaining auteur directors. The aura of mystery surrounding Karloff was highlighted in the opening credits, as he was listed as simply "?." The film was a commercial and critical success for Universal, and Karloff was instantly established as a hot property in Hollywood. He quickly appeared in several other sinister roles, including Scarface (1932) (filmed before Frankenstein (1931)), the black-humored The Old Dark House (1932), as the namesake Oriental villain of the Sax Rohmer novels in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), as undead Im-Ho-Tep in The Mummy (1932) and the misguided Prof. Morlant in The Ghoul (1933). He thoroughly enjoyed his role as a religious fanatic in John Ford's The Lost Patrol (1934), although contemporary critics described it as a textbook example of overacting. He donned the signature make-up, neck bolts and asphalt spreader's boots again to play Frankenstein's monster in the sensational Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the less thrilling Son of Frankenstein (1939). Karloff, on loan to Fox, appeared in one of the best of the Warner Oland Chan entries, Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936), before beginning his own short-lived Mr. Wong detective series. He was a wrongly condemned doctor in Devil's Island (1939), shaven-headed executioner "Mord the Merciless" in Tower of London (1939), another misguided scientist in The Ape (1940), a crazed scientist surrounded by monsters, vampires and werewolves in House of Frankenstein (1944), a murderous cabman in The Body Snatcher (1945) and a Greek general fighting vampirism in the superb atmospheric Val Lewton thriller Isle of the Dead (1945). While Karloff continued appearing in a plethora of films, many of them were not up to the standards of his previous efforts, including appearances in two of the hokey Bud Abbott and Lou Costello monster movies (he had appeared with them in an earlier superior effort, Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949), which theater owners often added his name to the marquee), the low point of the Universal-International horror movie cycle. During the 1950s he was a regular guest on many high-profile TV shows including "The Milton Berle Show" (1948), "Tales of Tomorrow" (1951), "The Veil" (1958), "The Donald O'Connor Show" (1954), "The Red Skelton Show" (1951) and "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" (1956), to name but a few, and he appeared in a mixed bag of films including Sabaka (1954) and Voodoo Island (1957). On Broadway he appeared as the murderous Brewster brother in the hit, "Arsenic and Old Lace" (his role, or the absence of him in it, was amusingly parodied in the film version) and a decade later he enjoyed a long run in "Peter Pan," perfectly cast as "Captain Hook." His career experienced something of a revival in the 1960s thanks to hosting the TV anthology series "Thriller" (1960) and indie director Roger Corman, with Karloff contributing wonderful performances in The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), the ultra-eerie Tre volti della paura, I (1963) and the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Die, Monster, Die! (1965). Karloff's last great role was as an aging horror movie star confronting a modern-day sniper in the Peter Bogdanovich film Targets (1968). His TV career was capped off by achieving Christmas immortality as the narrator of Chuck Jones's perennial animated favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) (TV). Three low-budget Mexican-produced horror films starring an ailing Karloff were released in the two years after his death; however, they do no justice to this great actor. In retrospect, he never took himself too seriously as an actor and had a tendency to downplay his acting accomplishments. Renowned as a refined, kind and warm-hearted gentleman, with a sincere affection for children and their welfare, Karloff passed away on February 2, 1969 from emphysema. He was cremated at Guildford Crematorium, Godalming, Surrey, England, where he is commemorated by a plaque in Plot 2 of the Garden of Remembrance.

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Known For
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Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Narrator / The Grinch (voice)

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The Bride of Frankenstein

The Monster (as Karloff)

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The Mummy

Imhotep

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The Terror

Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe / Eric

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The Raven

Dr. Scarabus

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The Body Snatcher

Cabman John Gray

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The Old Dark House

Morgan

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Doomed to Die

James Lee Wong

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Die, Monster, Die!

Nahum Witley

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The Black Cat

Hjalmar Poelzig (as Karloff)

Starring In
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Boris Karloff: The Rest of the Story

Self - Interviewee (archive sound)

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Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster

Self - Interviewee (archive sound)

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A Good Game--Karloff & Lugosi at Universal--Part Three--The Invisible Ray

Dr. Janos Rukh (archive footage)

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A Good Game--Karloff & Lugosi at Universal -- Part One -- The Black Cat

Hjalmar Poelzig (archive footage)

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A Good Game--Karloff & Lugosi at Universal--Part Two--The Raven

Edmond Bateman (archive footage)

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A Good Game--Karloff & Lugosi at Universal--Part Four--Black Friday

Dr. Ernest Sovac (archive footage)

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Dreams Within a Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe

(archive footage)

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78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene

The Monster (archive footage)

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100 Years of Universal - The Lot

The Monster (archive footage) (uncredited)

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Corman's World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel

Dr. Scarabus (archive footage) (uncredited)

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Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy

Self (archive footage) (uncredited)

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He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce

Self (archive footage)

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Der gefallene Vampir

Himself (archive footage)

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The Vanishing Legion - 12 Chapter Movie Serial

The Voice (voice) (uncredited)

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Lugosi, the Dark Prince

Self (archive footage)

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Edgar G Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen

(archive footage)

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The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster

The Monster / Mad Scientist (archive footage) (uncredited)

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Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies

Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (archive footage)

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Monster by Moonlight! The Immortal Saga of 'The Wolf Man'

(archive footage)

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Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed

Im-Ho-Tep (archive footage)

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Bride of Chucky

Clips from 'Bride of Frankenstein' (archive footage) (uncredited)

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Universal Horror

Self (archive footage)

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100 Years of Horror

Himself (archive footage)

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Natural Born Killers

The Monster (archive footage) (uncredited)

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Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld

(archive footage)

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Terror in the Aisles

The Monster (in 'Bride of Frankenstein') (archive footage) (uncredited)

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Madhouse

Clip from 'The Raven' (archive footage)

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The Snake People

Carl van Molder / Damballah

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Invasion der Aliens

Prof. John Mayer

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The Crimson Cult

Professor John Marsh

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Mad Monster Party

Baron Boris von Frankenstein (voice)

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House of Evil

Matthias Morteval

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The Fear Chamber

Dr. Karl Mantell

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Targets

Byron Orlok

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The Sorcerers

Prof. Marcus Monserrat

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Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Narrator / The Grinch (voice)

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Way... Way Out

Frankenstein Monster - Film clip on television screen (uncredited) (archive footage)

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The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini

The Corpse

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Intriga en Venecia

Dr. Pierre Vaugiroud

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Doom of Dracula

The Madman (archive footage)

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Die, Monster, Die!

Nahum Witley

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Ensign Pulver

film clip from 'The Walking Dead' (archive footage) (uncredited)

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A Fool's World

Himself - Narrator

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Bikini Beach

The Art Dealer

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The Comedy of Terrors

Amos Hinchley

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The Terror

Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe / Eric

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The Raven

Dr. Scarabus

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Black Sabbath

Gorca (segment "I Wurdalak")

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Arsenic & Old Lace

Jonathan Brewster

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The Haunted Strangler

James Rankin

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Frankenstein 1970

Baron Victor von Frankenstein

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Corridors of Blood

Dr. Bolton

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Destination Nightmare

Host / Ira Perry / Pete Wade Sr. / Professor Charles Goncourt / Morgan Debs (archive footage)

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Jack the Ripper

Capt. John Elwood / Jonas Atterbury / Dr. Francis Mason (archive footage)

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The Island Monster

Don Gaetano

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Voodoo Island/The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (Midnite Movies Double Feature)

Phillip Knight

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

King Arthur

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Sabaka

Gen. Pollegar

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Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Hyde

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Colonel March Investigates

Colonel March (archive footage)

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The Black Castle

Dr. Meissen

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Tales of Tomorrow, Collection 3

Dr. Henry Marco (2 episodes, 1952-1953)

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The Strange Door

Voltan

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Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff

Swami Talpur

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Tap Roots

Tishomingo

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Unconquered

Chief Guyasuta

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The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

Dr. Hollingshead

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Lured

Charles van Druten

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Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome

Gruesome

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Isle of the Dead

Gen. Nikolas Pherides

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Bedlam

Master George Sims

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The Body Snatcher

Cabman John Gray

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House of Dracula

Frankenstein Monster in Dream Sequence (archive footage) (uncredited)

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The Mummy's Curse

Kharis in Flashback, Bandaging Sequence (archive footage) (uncredited)

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House of Frankenstein

Doctor Niemann

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The Climax

Dr. Friedrich Hohner

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The Boogie Man Will Get You

Prof. Nathaniel Billings

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The Devil Commands

Dr. Julian Blair

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The Ape

Dr. Bernard Adrian

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The Mummy's Hand

Kharis (uncredited) (archive footage)

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Doomed to Die

James Lee Wong

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The Man With Nine Lives

Dr. Leon Kravaal

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British Intelligence

Valdar

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Mr. Wong at Headquarters

James Lee Wong

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Black Friday

Dr. Ernest Sovac

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You'll Find Out

Judge Spencer Mainwaring

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Before I Hang

Dr. John Garth

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Son of Frankenstein

The Monster

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The Man They Could Not Hang

Dr. Henryk Savaard

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Devil's Island

Dr. Charles Gaudet

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Mr. Wong in Chinatown

Mr. James Lee Wong

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Tower Of London

Mord

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Vendetta

Mr. James Lee Wong

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The Invisible Menace

Jevries

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Mr. Wong, Detective

Mr. James Lee Wong

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West of Shanghai

Wu Yen Fang

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Night Key

David Mallory

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Breakdowns of 1937

Self

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The Man Who Changed His Mind

Dr. Laurience

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The Invisible Ray

Dr. Janos Rukh (as Karloff)

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Charlie Chan at the Opera

Gravelle

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Juggernaut

Doctor Sartorius

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The Walking Dead

John Ellman

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The Bride of Frankenstein

The Monster (as Karloff)

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The Black Room

Baron / Anton

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The Raven

Edmond Bateman (as Karloff)

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The Black Cat

Hjalmar Poelzig (as Karloff)

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The Lost Patrol

Sanders

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The House of Rothschild

Count Ledrantz

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The Ghoul

Prof. Henry Morlant

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The Mummy

Imhotep

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Boo!

Archive Footage

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The Mask of Fu Manchu

Dr. Fu Manchu

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Scarface

Gaffney

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The Old Dark House

Morgan

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Skyscraper Souls

Man Approaching Ticket Counter (uncredited)

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Behind the Mask

Jim Henderson

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Frankenstein

The Monster (as ?)

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Cracked Nuts

Boris - First Revolutionary

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Tonight or Never

Waiter

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Smart Money

Sport Williams (uncredited)

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Five Star Final

T. Vernon Isopod

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El Defensor Público

The Professor

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The Sea Bat

Corsican

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The Criminal Code

Galloway

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Behind That Curtain

Beetham's Manservant

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Two Arabian Knights

The Purser

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The General

Union General (uncredited) (unconfirmed)

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The Bells

The Mesmerist

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Dynamite Dan

Tony Garcia

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The Last of the Mohicans

Indian (uncredited)

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Kochendes Blut

Franz Badulescu

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