Boris Karloff Wasn't Invited To The Premiere Of "Frankenstein," And 21 Other Fascinating Facts About This Iconic Horror Film

·7 min read

If you're a fan of classic films and/or horror films, you're probably familiar with the iconic Frankenstein.

Boris Karloff in full makeup for his role as The Monster
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Starring Boris Karloff, this 1931 sci-fi horror film was directed by James Whale, produced by Carl Laemmle Jr., and adapted from a 1927 play by Peggy Webling (which, of course, was based on Mary Shelley's equally iconic novel of the same name).

The movie poster for Frankenstein, which referred to the film as "the original horror show!"
Courtesy Everett Collection

Frankenstein was such a huge success for Universal Pictures back in the day that it spawned a number of sequels and spinoffs. And this classic film continues to be popular today, inspiring countless others in various forms of media.

The still above is from the equally popular Bride of Frankenstein from 1935.

The still above is from the equally popular Bride of Frankenstein from 1935.

Courtesy Everett Collection

One of the newest additions to the Frankenstein fandom is a new novel called It's Alive! by Julian David Stone. Based on the real events and people involved in the making of the film, It's Alive! is a historical fiction filled with family drama, Hollywood politics, and big-screen rivalries.

  Greenleaf Book Group
Greenleaf Book Group

While doing research for It's Alive, Stone actually discovered a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes facts that helped him create a vibrant portrait of all the drama that went into the making of Frankenstein. And here are some facts that might actually surprise you...

1.Bela Lugosi was actually the filmmakers' original choice to play Frankenstein's monster.

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in the 1931 horror classic Dracula
Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Having become a huge star just months earlier from playing the title role in Universal’s Dracula, Lugosi was the original choice to play the role of the Monster in Frankenstein, but he turned down the role because of the lack of dialogue.

2.Speaking of Bela Lugosi, that was not actually his real name.

  John Springer Collection / Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection / Corbis via Getty Images

Bela was actually born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó in 1882 in Hungary. Bela took the last name of Lugosi as a tribute to his hometown of Lugos in Hungary.

3.Oh, and Boris Karloff was not his real name either.

  Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

He was born William Henry Pratt in the United Kingdom in 1887.

4.Karloff was actually discovered at the Universal commissary.

  United Archives / FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images
United Archives / FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

James Whale, after taking over as director, saw Boris in the commissary and approached him, asking him if he’d like to audition for the role of the Monster in Frankenstein. Boris agreed but was slightly hurt because he was dressed quite dapper that day. He was at Universal filming another film that required him to dress nicely.

5.In spite of James Whale discovering Boris, the studio still went back and forth about whether he should be the Monster right up until the start of filming. Bela Lugosi returned to the mix near the end.

  Bettmann / Bettmann Archive
Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

6.Funnily enough, when the decision was finally made and Boris was officially chosen to play the role of the Monster in Frankenstein, he was under contract to work on another film at another studio.

  Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

But that film’s director, Rowland V. Lee, actually amended the film’s schedule to help Boris finish shooting his scenes so he could take the role in Frankenstein.

7.In a wonderful twist of fate, eight years later, the very same Rowland V. Lee would direct Boris in the second Frankenstein sequel, Son of Frankenstein.

  Courtesy of Everett Collection
Courtesy of Everett Collection

8.Boris was considered such an unknown at the time of the filming of Frankenstein that he wasn’t even invited to the premiere!

Boris Karloff on the set of Frankenstein with a member of the film crew
Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

9.However, after the release of Frankenstein, Boris instantly became a huge star and remained one for the rest of his life.

A movie poster for Frankenstein that in large text says "Boris Karloff as The Monster"
Courtesy Everett Collection

10.James Whale was not the first director of Frankenstein.

In this still above, you can see Boris with a cigarette being

In this still above, you can see Boris with a cigarette being "dirtied" by director James Whale between scenes.

Archive Photos / Getty Images

After directing the well-regarded film Waterloo Bridge for Universal, the studio allowed Whale to choose his next film. He chose Frankenstein, forcing out the film’s original director, Robert Florey.

11.By the way, this 1931 Frankenstein we all know and love was not the first film version of the story that was made.

A still from the restored 1910 version of Frankenstein, which features much worse costumes and makeup
Edison Films / Via youtube.com

Thomas Edison made a 16-minute version in 1910 that was thought to have been lost, but was recently rediscovered and restored.

12.The person running Universal Studios at the time Frankenstein was made was a young man named Carl Laemmle Jr.

  University Of Southern Californi / Corbis via Getty Images
University Of Southern Californi / Corbis via Getty Images

He was only 23 years old, having been put in charge of the studio two years earlier as a birthday present from his father, Carl Laemmle Sr.

13.And Carl Laemmle Jr., or "Junior Laemmle" as he was known, was the only one who wanted to make the film.

  University Of Southern Californi / Corbis via Getty Images
University Of Southern Californi / Corbis via Getty Images

Everyone else at the studio at the time was against it, including his own father. Junior ignored all of them and forged ahead on his own.

14.Carl Laemmle Sr. founded Universal Studios in 1915 in the valley just north of Hollywood.

A view over the back lot at Universal City Studios in 1921, which shows the lot to be huge with several buildings
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

That same year, he also launched the Universal Studios tour that continues to this day, over 100 years later!

15.Boris Karloff and Jack Pierce, head of makeup for Universal Studios, worked after hours for weeks to get the look of the makeup for the Monster just right.

Boris sitting in a makeup chair as his wig and makeup are applied
Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images

16.Colin Clive was not the first choice for the role of Dr. Frankenstein, the Monster’s creator.

Dr. Frankenstein pulling back a sheet to look at the monster
© Abramorama /Courtesy Everett Collection

Universal originally wanted English actor Leslie Howard, who at the time was one of the biggest box-office draws, but he was under contract to MGM, who refused to do a loan out.

17.Contrary to what many people think, in the 1931 film, the Monster is NOT named Frankenstein. It's simply called the Monster.

  Courtesy Everett Collection
Courtesy Everett Collection

Frankenstein is actually the name of the Doctor who created him — Dr. Frankenstein. However, the film was such a big hit and the name Frankenstein became so synonymous with the Monster itself, the issue was actually mentioned and dealt with in a later film in the Universal Monster Cycle. From then on, the Monster WAS called Frankenstein.

18.Years later, in 1943, Bela Lugosi finally did play the role of the Monster in Frankenstein meets the Wolfman.

  Courtesy Everett Collection
Courtesy Everett Collection

Initially, in Frankenstein meets the Wolfman, Lugosi’s portrayal of the Monster had the Monster speaking. However, all of his dialogue was cut after the film was finished due to Lugosi’s thick Hungarian accent, which producers felt made his scenes "unintentionally funny."

19.Also, In the original script for Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, the Monster was blind, which is why when you watch the movie, the Monster always walks with his arms outstretched in front of him.

  Universal Pictures / Getty Images
Universal Pictures / Getty Images

But when Lugosi’s dialogue was removed, the fact that he is blind was lost on audiences and resulted in him looking "silly," walking around with his arms stretched in front of him. However, in a great ironic twist, this look — arms outstretched, stumbling along — has become the most common and most often repeated impersonation of Frankenstein’s Monster.

20.Even though there was rumored to be bad blood between Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, Universal Studios paired their two horror stars together in eight different films over 14 years.

  John Kobal Foundation / Getty Images
John Kobal Foundation / Getty Images

All of them did quite well at the box office!

21.And finally, Bela Lugosi had a torrid affair with silent film star Clara Bow. And even after the affair ended, he had a nude painting of her proudly on display in his home.

  Donaldson Collection / Getty Images
Donaldson Collection / Getty Images

It's Alive! is available now at book retailers everywhere, and you can find links here to purchase it on IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Books-A-Million.