Hollywood Flashback: Boris Karloff Played His Final Creature in 1966's 'Grinch'

CBS/Photofest
'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' narrator Boris Karloff in a promotional photo for the 1966 CBS special.

The Hollywood Reporter said  Chuck Jones' animated short "captured both the spirit and personality of Ted Geisel's whimsical Dr. Seuss fable" — a big-screen version starring Benedict Cumberbatch hits theaters Friday — and predicted the CBS special would "find a perennial berth on the holiday schedule."

The Hollywood Reporter was not a grouch when it came to 1966's How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

THR said Chuck Jones' animated short "captured both the spirit and per­sonality of Ted Geisel's whimsical Dr. Seuss fable" and predicted the 26-minute special would "find a perennial berth on the holiday schedule."

That turned out to be true. While it began life on CBS, this year it airs Nov. 23 and Dec. 25 on NBC. The project had its roots in World War II, with Jones and Geisel serving together in the Army's motion picture unit commanded by Frank Capra. In his autobiography, Jones says Geisel's book was perfect for animation because "you can say a Grinch wants to steal Christmas and you don't need to know anything more about him — he is just a villainous Grinch who hates Christmas."

While Universal opted for Benedict Cumberbatch as the sinister voice in its animated Grinch movie, opening Nov. 9, Jones chose Boris Karloff to play the wannabe Christmas thief and narrate the tale.

It was a difficult time for Karloff — the horror star was 79 and wracked by emphysema. He would die three years later. However, Grinch earned him a children's recording Grammy, his only major award.

The film didn't win Jones any awards, but it did change his life. TV Guide sent Marian Dern to interview him about the Grinch. In the mid-70s, she worked on some of his films. After his first wife died in 1978, Jones married Dern in 1981.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.