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More than a Monster:
Karloff Reveals the Man behind the Icon

November 7th, 2021

Arrayed with costumes and memorabilia, the set of Karloff: The Man and the Monster presents a snapshot of the actor’s career. There’s a sheep’s wool vest from Son of Frankenstein, sarcophagus from The Mummy, gurney from The Bride of Frankenstein, wheelchair from the set of Targets. Behind it all, a projection screen displays the iconic image of a flattened head and scarred brow—instantly recognizable as that of Jack Piece’s design for Universal’s iconic monster.

Enter David Nackman. Slim, grizzled, and sporting the moustache that Karloff often wore when not playing the Frankenstein monster—Nackman effectively projects the image of the man behind the icon.

<<< Actor David Nackman as Boris Karloff, contemplating one of the platform boots that helped transform the 5′ 11″ actor into the towering monster in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931). Photo courtesy of Prime Stage Theatre.

And that’s what the play is about—the man who was more than the Universal icon.

Written by Randy Bowser and Directed by Arthur DeConciliis, Karloff provides a look beneath the cotton, collodion, gum, and greasepaint to tell the story of the actor who struggled for years before his big break … and then struggled even harder thereafter to balance his perceived image with who he really was.

Prime Stage Theatre’s Karloff: The Man and The Monster runs through Sunday, November 14 at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Thereafter, the production will be available via video-on-damand through November 28. More information is available here.

Last night’s premiere also featured a post-show discussion during which I had the pleasure of joining Arthur DeConciliis and Prime Stage’s Producing Artistic Director Wayne Brinda in a conversation about the play, Karloff’s legacy, and next season’s premiere of our new adaptation of Frankenstein. During the Q&A session that followed, someone asked if Karloff was Universal’s first choice to play the monster. Interestingly enough, he wasn’t–as can be seen in this early trade advertisement for the film.>>>

Created before anyone knew how the monster was to be portrayed, the advertisement presents a towering man with rays shooting from his eyes. The promotional text reads: “… with BELA LUGOSI (Dracula himself) … as the leading spine-chiller.” Interestingly, the artwork does a better job of anticipating Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong (1933) than James Whale’s Frankenstein.

A second post-show discussion–this one featuring actor David Nackman and director Arthur DeConciliis as well as virtual appearances by playwright Randy Bowser, Sara Karloff (daughter of Boris Karloff), and Stephen Jackobs (author of Boris Karloff: More than a Monster)–will follow the performance on November 12. Not to be missed!

Until then, I’ll leave you with a trailer and commentary by Joe Dante for the film that established Karloff and his monster as pop-culture icons.