From 1931 to 1934, Boris and Dorothy Karloff lived in a Spanish bungalow on Toluca Lake Avenue, not far from the Universal lot where he would make his most famous films. Frankenstein was released shortly after they moved in, catapulting Karloff to stardom. Over the next few years he appeared in more than a dozen movies, including The Mask of Fu Manchu, The Mummy, The Black Cat and Scarface.
Karloff’s lakeside home was a quiet refuge where he could relax after a long day on set, reading, gardening, playing with his dogs and feeding the swans that had been introduced to the lake several years earlier by matinee idol Charles Farrell when he built a home on the shore. The swan that Karloff named “Edgar,” an aggressive male with a 7-foot wingspan, was best known for terrorizing neighbor W.C. Fields. In contrast with Karloff, a gentle soul who loved animals, the hot-tempered Fields fought an ongoing war with them. (They had good reason to dislike him: According to neighbors, he would strike an occasional bird while chipping golf balls into the lake from his backyard.) Tales of Fields attacking the swans with golf clubs and baseball bats, and nearly being drowned by Edgar while canoeing in the lake, became local legend — so that, even a decade after he moved away, neighbors would joke that swans venturing into their yards must be “looking for old Bill Fields.”
In 1933, Karloff’s Toluca Lake house was also the site of one of the first meetings leading to the creation of the Screen Actors Guild, of which he was a founding board member. His concern for protecting his fellow actors from exploitation and unsafe working conditions was shaped by his hellish experience behind the scenes of Frankenstein, where he endured gruelingly long days (including one session in which he was required to work 25 hours straight) and laborious stunt work that left him with a permanent back injury.
Coincidentally, Karloff’s frequent horror costar and rival Bela Lugosi also spent some happy years in the area; his 1941–1952 home at 10841 Whipple Street is sadly no longer standing, but was reportedly Lugosi’s favorite among the many places he lived. “It was a great house, with high walls around it, so it was like a whole little island in the middle of the North Hollywood neighborhood,” his son, Bela Jr., remembered. “Everything was custom-built; every window in the house had colored lead glass. Inside were a Steinway concert piano, and a great circular staircase; outside were stork nests on the roof and there was a pond on the grounds.”