James Whale

Active - 1930 - 2005  |   Born - Jul 22, 1893   |   Died - May 29, 1957   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Science Fiction, War, Horror

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Biography by Bruce Eder

British-born director James Whale started his professional life as a newspaper cartoonist before turning to acting during his time as a prisoner in World War I. From acting, he turned to set design and then to directing, and went to Hollywood in 1930 for the screen version of his stage hit Journey's End. He served as an uncredited dialogue director on the World War I aerial drama Hell's Angels, but it was as a director of horror movies at Universal that Whale made his mark, with Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Apart from Frankenstein, which was a wholly serious horror film, these movies freely mixed chills and black comedy, and caused nearly as much laughter as shock to audiences, who devoured the potent mixture of horror and humor. His graceful adaptation of Show Boat (1936) was one of the finest screen musicals of the 1930s, but a change in management at the studio, coupled with Whale's unhappiness at the recutting of his drama The Road Back (1937), led to his exit from Universal. He directed other films after leaving Universal, including The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), but nothing that he did after Show Boat had any of the flair of his earlier movies, and Whale's career declined during the early 1940s. He died in a drowning accident in his pool, under what are widely regarded as mysterious circumstances. The latter part of his life served as the inspiration for the 1998 film Gods and Monsters.

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