James Whale

From Academic Kids

This is a page about the film director James Whale. There is a British radio presenter, also called James Whale.

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James Whale.

James Whale (July 22, 1889 - May 29, 1957) was a Hollywood film director, best known for his work in the horror genre, making such momentous and iconic pictures as Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man.

Despite being forced into maintaining certain levels of secrecy during his own lifetime, Whale's homosexuality is now synonymous with his name. Many suggest that there are homosexual themes in his motion pictures and as a result his biographies are considered noteworthy in gay and lesbian studies.


Early life

Born in Dudley, England, the sixth of the seven children of a blast furnaceman and a nurse. He was thought not strong enough to follow his brothers into the local heavy industries and started work as a cobbler. He realised some talent for signwriting and used his additional income to pay for evening classes at the Dudley School of Arts and Crafts.

In October 1915, World War I underway, he enlisted for the Army and was commissioned second lieutenant. He was taken a prisoner of war in August 1917 and, while imprisoned, discovered a talent to staging theatrical productions.

Beginnings in the theatre

After the armistice he returned to Birmingham and embarked on a professional stage career. In 1928 he was offered the opportunity to direct two fringe performances of R. C. Sherriff's, then unknown, play Journey's End starring the young, and hardly better known, Laurence Olivier. The play was a remarkable success and transferred to the West End where it played for 600 performances. Whale was invited to direct the transfer to Broadway and a Hollywood film version.

Hollywood career

Whale was best known for his work in the horror genre, making such momentous and iconic pictures as Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man. Universal Pictures owed its stellar success in the 30s much in part to the huge box-office reciepts of these three blockbusters. Further, these pictures established the screen careers of Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester, Boris Karloff, Una Merkel, and Claude Rains to name a few; most of whom Whale had known previously in England and had personally selected for their roles in his films. Whale was also responsible for such major films as Waterloo Bridge, Show Boat, and The Man in the Iron Mask. Whale directed The Road Back in 1937, starring Richard Cromwell and Noah Beery, Jr. It was the ill-fated remake to All Quiet on the Western Front. Much to Whale's protest, The Road Back was re-cut and shortened to the studio's liking before it was released, and then when it (not surprisingly) fared poorly at the box-office, Universal declined to renew Whale's contract.

Whale is the subject of the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram, which was the basis for the 1998 film Gods and Monsters. The film, which won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, starred Ian McKellen as Whale. A biography of Whale has been written by Mark Gatiss and titled 'James Whale: A Biography' (or 'James Whale: the would-be gentleman').

In his later days, Whale experienced difficulty with his memory due to a debilitating stroke. He became lonely and suffered from depression and had difficulty putting the war behind him. He committed suicide by drowning himself in his swimming pool on May 29, 1957. As his suicide note was originally withheld (and first published in James Curtis's biography of the director), circumstances of his death were not known until years later.

A memorial statue was erected for Whale in 2002 in the grounds of a new multiplex cinema of his home town, Dudley. The statue depicts a roll of film with the face of Frankenstein's monster engraved into the cells and the names of his most famous films etched into the film-tin shaped base-stone.

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James Whale memorial statue in Dudley, England.


  • Journey's End (1930)
  • Waterloo Bridge (1931)
  • Frankenstein (1931)
  • The Impatient Maiden (1932)
  • The Old Dark House (1932)
  • The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933)
  • The Invisible Man (1933)
  • By Candlelight (1933)
  • One More River (1934)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  • Show Boat (1936)
  • The Road Back (1937)
  • The Great Garrick (1937)
  • Sinners in Paradise (1938)
  • Wives Under Suspicion (1938)
  • Port of Seven Seas (1938)
  • The Man in the Iron Mask (1939)
  • Green Hell (1940)
  • They Dare Not Love (1941)fi:James Whale

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