Donald Bradman & Boris Karloff
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
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In the northern summer of 1932, Donald and Jessie Bradman spent their honeymoon crossing North America on a cricket tour sponsored by the Australian Dried Fruit Board. The Don's fame preceded him, the New York Times lauding the batsman as "the ring-tailed wallaby of the cricket crease".
It was a long and leisurely trip, and by the time the team reached California the Australians had seen the sights and played friendly games from Staten Island to Moose Jaw. In Burbank, in the last match of the tour, they met the Hollywood Cricket Club. Founded by Prisoner of Zenda star and former English Test captain Aubrey Smith, the HCC fielded a team that included such screen luminaries as Leslie Howard, Ronald Colman and Clive Brook, the original Phantom of the Opera. Its top-order batsman and wicketkeeper was Boris Karloff, who had shot to fame the previous year as the monster in Frankenstein, and was currently starring in The Mummy and shooting The Mask of Fu Manchu.
Despite his Slavic screen name, Karloff was very much an Englishman. Born in East Dulwich into a family of distinguished imperial administrators, William Pratt was educated in the manner befitting a chap of his breeding and era. He would, it was assumed, start a career in the mould of his father and brothers. But young Bill wanted to be an actor, and to spare his family's feelings he took his ambition abroad - first to Canada, where he changed his name, then to Los Angeles. For more than ten years he eked out a hardscrabble existence playing bit parts, and was into his forties by the time success arrived.
The Australians met the Hollywood team four times, punctuating the play with a whirl of social activity. None of the screen stars really shone on the field and it was a doddle for the Australians, who invariably won on the first innings. Karloff went in to bat after lunch on the first day, making seven of the HCC's 122 runs. On the second day, Bradman's twenty-fourth birthday, Karloff was bowled for 12. Two days later, The Don sailed for Australia and the Bodyline series.
The aloof, private batsman and the kindly one-man house of horror never met again. But in addition to a love of cricket, the two eventually had something else in common. In 1997 and 1998, each was commemorated on a special-issue postage stamp.