Almanac Cricket – The Monster Wore Pads: Boris Karloff, Cricketer

 

The 1931 cinema poster for Frankenstein, directed by James Whale. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

 

The Monster Wore Pads – Boris Karloff, Cricketer

Cinema lovers, particularly of a certain vintage, would know about the acting career of Boris Karloff, the all-time King of Hollywood horror films. He had his first great cinematic success playing the monster in Frankenstein (1931), directed by James Whale. A common misconception was/is that the monster was called Frankenstein; in fact, the monster was nameless and the doctor who created him had that surname. For the origin of the scientist-who-created-the-monster story, one can consult its original source, Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 Gothic novel, Frankenstein. (Though most students of literature would know that Shelley’s novel was itself based on the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, and possessed the full title Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.)

But I digress …

Boris Karloff’s film career began in the silent days, then went on to include many performances in the sound era, in films such as the aforementioned Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Mummy (1932), The Ghoul, (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and The Body Snatcher (1945). He even appeared with a young Jack Nicholson in the The Terror in 1963. A late-in-life Karloff performance was central to Targets (1968) directed by Peter Bogdanovich, of The Last Picture Show (1969) and What’s Up, Doc? (1972) fame.

Promotional photo of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster in The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

But where does Karloff the cricketer come into his story? An important element is that he was a Britisher by birth (original name William Henry Pratt), like so many Hollywood actors of the so-called golden era, so it’s great no surprise he was keen on the English national pastime, like many of them. He was also a key member of the iconic Hollywood Cricket Club, formed in 1932 by another actor (of stage and film fame), C. Aubrey Smith, who had previously played one Test for England and 143 first-class matches. Many British-born actors who became stars in Hollywood were members of the Hollywood Cricket Club, including Ronald Colman, Cary Grant (a bowler, incidentally), David Niven and Laurence Olivier. Australians such as Errol Flynn and actresses with British ties such as Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Elsa Lanchester and Elizabeth Taylor were also connected to the club and attended their matches.

Boris Karloff in cricket gear. (Source: Backstory Classic – online.)

Karloff was a wicketkeeper and opening batsmen for the Hollywood Cricket Club and even played a number of games against an Australian side touring America in 1932, which included Don Bradman and others such as Stan McCabe and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith. In two of these games (the Australians easily won them all, as might be expected), Karloff is recorded as making scores of 12 and 7. Apparently, he was susceptible to being dismissed leg before wicket!

Evelyn Waugh’s classic satirical novel The Loved One used material based on the quintessentially British milieu of the Hollywood Cricket Club. The HCC still exists today.

The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh, first edition, UK, 1948. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

 

References

 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4V6bR2X86Z077q2JBVHZcp/the-story-behind-the-glamorous-hollywood-cricket-club

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Karloff

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bride_of_Frankenstein

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._Aubrey_Smith

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankenstein_(1931_film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targets

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Loved_One

https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/caught-niven-bowled-flynn-210840

https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/wisden-almanack-review-a-win-and-a-prayer-963187

https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2006/december/1295849108/shane-maloney/donald-bradman-boris-karloff#mtr

https://therake.com/stories/icons/no-rest-wicket-hollywood-cricket-club/

 

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose.

Comments

  1. Warren Tapner says

    Fascinating, Kevin.
    Something else learned today!

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Warren!

    Thanks for your comments.

    Apparently, the Hollywood Cricket Club slips cordon at one point consisted of The Scarlet Pimpernel (David Niven), The Prisoner of Zenda (Ronald Colman) and Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone)!.

  3. Ta Kevin.

    That 1932 Australian tour of North America ended in Burbank California with an easy victory for the visitors over the Hollywood Cricket Club. Kevin you just mentioned the slips cordon: Boris Karloff was the wicket keeper. Quite impressive bunch behind the wicket.

    I wonder what exchanges there were, if any, between Bradman & Karloff? Has any body seen the score card from the match?

    Interesting that Bradman took his wife on the tour: it was their honeymoon. The presence of wives, girlfriends, children, on tours has long been a vexed issue. No right or wrong there.

    Whilst I’m on the keyboard it’s worth mentioning the Australian tour of North America was sponsored by the Australian Dried Fruit Company. Business & sport are long time bedfellows. Sport is a very profitable commodity.

    Glen!

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks, Glen, for adding some more material of relevance. I am aware of the details you mentioned, but, like you, would like to know even more, such as detailed scorecards from the tour.

    Quite possibly, the TROVE online archive of Australian newspapers would be useful in the above context, as would online archives of American and British newspapers.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    This is fantastic Kevin, such an interesting history must surround the HCC, fascinating that they are still going, would love to read a full roll call of their players over the years!

  6. Daryl Schramm says

    Wow. A Hollywood history lesson, and a cricket lesson in one go. Well done Kevin.

  7. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Luke – so may Hollywood stars played, or followed the Hollywood Cricket Club.

    Just a further note: in the series of games in 1932 mentioned in my article, the Australian eleven played a Hollywood eighteen, to even things up just a little, though the Australians, especially Bradman, McCabe and Fleetwood-Smith, still seemed to be in cruise mode. I did read, in a contemporary newspaper account, that (to be expected) Karloff was all at sea against Fleetwood-Smith’s googlies!

  8. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Daryl – it’s amazing what sporting history can turn up!

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    I reckon Fleetwood-Smith would have performed well both on and off the field in Hollywood!

  10. matt watson says

    We all have our pastimes…
    But to say I was Frankenstein and a wicketkeeper against Australia, well, that’s something else.
    Amazing to read.

  11. Kevin Densley says

    Luke – I think you’re right!

    And what an interesting tour that must have been for the Australians in general – they did get to meet so many interesting people on and off the field, visit Hollywood stars at work on set etc

    And thanks, Matt, for your response – yes, being a horror movie star and wicketkeeper against Australia was a pretty amazing combination – a humble correction there: Karloff actually played the unnamed monster in the classic 1930s Frankenstein movies. Frankenstein was the surname of the doctor who created him.

  12. A very interesting read, Kevin.

  13. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Smokie. Thanks for your comment.

    I think this falls into the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ category.

  14. Daryl Schramm says

    I forwarded this link to journalist, author and mate Andrew Faulkner who recommended looking up the story of C Aubrey Smith. It was time well spent and I suggest others might like to do the same. Great stories from another era all round.

  15. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Daryl. Good one!

    C. Aubrey Smith, one-time first-class cricketer then notable Hollywood actor, apparently told Laurence Olivier the day he arrived in Hollywood in 1932 to attend a net session at 9 am the next morning!

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