James Whale

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James Whale (born July 22, 1889 in Dudley , Worcestershire , England , † May 29, 1957 in Hollywood , California ) was a British director . Although he has made films for other genres as well, he is best known for his horror films Frankenstein , The House of Horror , The Invisible Man and Frankenstein's Bride . He is considered the father of the classic Hollywood horror film.


Training and directorial debut

James Whale was born in 1889 in Dudley, England, the sixth of seven children of blast furnace worker William Whale and his wife Sarah, a nurse. While his childhood in the West Midlands was marked by family poverty, he chose not to gain a foothold in the local heavy industry like his brothers did. Whale found a job as a cartoonist with The Bystander magazine . During the First World War , Whale fell into German captivity as a non-commissioned officer in 1917, during which time he discovered his passion for the theater. After a few attempts as an actor, he finally started working as a director.

In 1928, James Whale unexpectedly had his first major success as a theater director. His production, for which he also designed the stage set, of RC Sherriff's anti-war drama Journey's End, starring the then unknown Laurence Olivier, saw six hundred performances at London's West End Theater . In the same year Whale directed and designed the sets for the plays Fortunato and the Lady from Alfaqueque and The Dreamers, starring John Gielgud , before he was invited to direct Journey's End on Broadway in 1929. The play was also successful in the USA and Whale made the leap to film as a dialogue director on Melville W. Brown's The Love Doctor with Richard Dix in the lead role. This was followed by the direction of the stage productions of RC Sherriff's Badger's Green and the two one-act plays The Violet and One Two Three by Ferenc Molnár .

Hollywood career

In early 1930, James Whale signed a contract to direct Universal . He directed his first film with the adaptation of the play Journey's End . Also in 1930, Whale was the dialogue director responsible for some interior shots of Howard Hughes ' sound film Hell's Angels, which at the time cost 3.95 million US dollars . Waterloo Bridge followed in 1931 , the film adaptation of the play of the same name by Robert E. Sherwood . The film tells the tragic romance between a Canadian soldier who falls in love with an English woman during his stay in London without realizing that she is a prostitute.

The breakthrough came in the same year when the French director Robert Florey was deprived of the direction of Frankenstein , the film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley , and Universal signed James Whale as his successor. Whale insisted on giving Colin Clive the part of Dr. To leave Frankenstein. The role of the monster, for which the Dracula actor Bela Lugosi was originally discussed, was played by the 42-year-old British theater and film actor William Henry Pratt, alias Boris Karloff . The production, estimated at 291,000 US dollars, made a high profit and is still considered one of the most important horror films to this day. Frankenstein , who gave his scary leading actor an additional mysterious aura, not least by omitting the name in the opening credits, made Boris Karloff a star overnight and James Whale one of the leading directors at Universal Studios.

After the great success of Frankenstein , the film studio Universal insisted on entrusting Whale with more material for horror films. After the drama Impatient Maiden , Whale complied with the wishes of his employer and directed the horror film The House of Horror in 1932 based on a novel by John Boynton Priestley . Here again Boris Karloff acted in the lead role as a bestial servant who terrified a group of travelers in a Welsh country house. After the mystery film The Kiss Before the Mirror with Nancy Carroll , Frank Morgan , Paul Lukas and Gloria Stuart in the leading roles, the Invisible Man was another great success in 1933 , which is now also considered a classic of the horror genre. In the film adaptation of a novel by HG Wells , Claude Rains plays a scientist in his US film debut who, through a developed formula, mutates into an invisible, insane murderer. With Frankenstein's bride , created in 1935 , in which Elsa Lanchester plays the title role alongside Boris Karloff, Whale has been able to maintain his reputation as one of the most important directors of the horror genre to this day, even if he no longer remembered previous successes after the continuation of Frankenstein could tie in.

End of career and later years

After the production of the film Show Boat , which was personally favored by James Whale , the adaptation of Oscar Hammerstein 's musical of the same name with Irene Dunne and Allan Jones in the lead roles, the leadership at Universal Pictures changed due to financial problems. The film studio managed to avert bankruptcy, but the director and founder of Universal, Carl Laemmle , who had always given Whale a free hand in his films, had to vacate his position and the Standard Capital Company took over the company. In 1937 Whale turned the war drama The Road Back , a sequel to the successful predecessor Im Westen Nothing New , which is based on Erich Maria Remarque's follow-up novel The Way Back . The film had already been severely criticized by the German consul Georg Gyssling during production for anti-German tendencies . In fact, Whale had adopted the strong anti-Nazi tone of the novel for the adaptation, whereupon the new boss of Universal Pictures, Charles R. Rogers , drew the consequences. Fearing that the film would not bring much profit in Europe, the director was released from shooting. Twenty-one scenes were also subsequently cut out. For James Whale, The Road Back was the last major production he directed, and it was loaned to rival film studios Warner Bros. and MGM in 1937 and 1938 , for which he wrote the romantic comedy The Great Garrick starring Olivia de Havilland and Brian Aherne and directed the drama Port of Seven Seas with Wallace Beery and Frank Morgan . Whale's last film for Universal was Green Hell, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Bennett . Whale never finished his twentieth and final feature film They Dare Not Love about an Austrian prince who fled into exile from the National Socialists and decided to fight the regime there. The film studio Columbia Pictures replaced him with Charles Vidor and only contractual clauses kept the filmmaker's name in the credits.

After the end of his film career, James Whale returned to Broadway in 1944, where he directed the play Hand in Glove for the Playhouse Theater . In 1949 he took one last seat in the director's chair and shot the 41-minute short film Hello Out There , which was produced by the American Huntington Hartford to make his then-wife, the actress Marjorie Steele , better known. Hartford was dissatisfied with the result, however, and Hello Out There , created for $ 41,000 on a single set at KTTV Studios in Los Angeles, did not appear in an anthology film by the RKO film studio as planned . Whale's last work as a theater director was the production of Pagan in the Parlor at the Pasadena Playhouse . The piece was briefly performed in England.

In the last few years of his life, James Whale had increasing problems with his memory after a stroke. The formerly celebrated film director had always been accompanied by rumors of homosexuality . He actually lived openly with his partner David Lewis (1903-1987), an American film producer. Whale suffered from loneliness and depression and drowned in his swimming pool in Santa Monica on May 29, 1957, at the age of 67 . The circumstances of his death remained mysterious until years later his significant other, David Lewis, confirmed the suicide rumors. Lewis found Whale dead and found a parting note that was first reprinted in James Curtis' biography in 1982. It read "The future is just old age and illness and pain .... I must have peace and this is the only way." .

Memorial statue for James Whale in his hometown of Dudley

In 1997 the last phase of James Whale's life was filmed by Christopher Bram based on the novel Father of Frankenstein . In the lead role of Bill Condon's drama Gods and Monsters , film and stage actor Ian McKellen acted as Whale and was nominated for Best Actor in 1999 for an Oscar and a Golden Globe . In 2002 a memorial statue in the form of a film roll was erected in front of a new multiplex cinema in James Whale's birthplace.



Venice Film Festival

  • 1934: Special recommendation for The Invisible One
  • 1936: nominated for the Mussolini Cup for Show Boat


  • James Whale: Arriving in Hollywood. Letters 1929. Santa Teresa Press, Santa Barbara CA 1989, ISBN 0-944166-03-2 .
  • Christopher Bram: Father of Frankenstein. Plume, New York NY 1996, ISBN 0-525-93913-X .
  • James Curtis: James Whale (= Filmmakers 1). Scarecrow Press, Metuchen NJ 1982, ISBN 0-8108-1561-3 .
  • James Curtis: James Whale. A New World of Gods and Monsters. Faber and Faber, Boston MA et al. 1998, ISBN 0-571-19285-8 .
  • Clive Denton: James Whale, ace director. A career study (= Ontario Film Institute. Monograph 1). Ontario Film Institute, Don Mills 1979.
  • Reed Ellis: A Journey Into Darkness. The Art of James Whale's Horror Films. Arno Press, New York NY 1980, ISBN 0-405-12908-4 .
  • Mark Gatiss : James Whale. A biography, or, The would-be gentleman. Cassell, London / New York NY 1995, ISBN 0-304-32861-8 .
  • Jensen, Paul: The Men Who Made the Monsters. Twayne et al., New York NY 1996, ISBN 0-8057-9338-0 , pp. 1-57.
  • Don Whittemore, Philip Alan Cecchettini (Eds.): Passport to Hollywood. Film immigrants. Anthology. McGraw Hill, New York NY 1976, ISBN 0-07-070052-4 , pp. 271-325.

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