July 22, 1889 – May 29, 1957
“A director must be pretty bad if he can’t get a thrill out of war,murder, or robbery.”
Right. So, have you seen the film Godsand Monsters? It was all about the Whale. Interesting flick,starring Sir Ian McKellen (Serena, to friends) and Brendan Fraser. One of the Redgrave creatures was init too. James directed some amazing films, most notably Frankenstein, TheBride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man. Oh,and Showboat.
The love fest at the Oscar ceremony between the McKellan,Fraser and Redgrave waspainful to watch. The fun part of the event was when Goldie Hawn announced that she used tolive in the Pacific Palisades house where Whale lived and died. Probablyheavily renovated.
By the 1950’s, The motion picture industry had pretty well forgot about the British born Whale. He spent a lot of timepainting and reading. He had installed a pool on his property although he didnot swim. Just for parties. Big gay parties, as Whale was gay.
E.J. Fleming adds: Hiscareer actually ended because Louis B. Mayer was pissed that Whale was livingwith David Lewis, who was Irving Thalberg’s assistant. While Thalberg wasalive he protected both men, whom he was very close to. Thalberg had manyhomosexual friends, which really pissed off Mayer. Anyway, after Thalbergdied, over time all of the people that he ‘protected’ ended up getting fired.Lewis was fired right after Thalberg died in 1936. Whale’s final MGM moviewas done soon afterward, and he ended up living in the house with Lewis foranother 20+ years. The manner of his death was subject of much speculationover the years, because Lewis (who survived Whale) kept the suicide note asecret for another decade. Thanks EJ!
In 1956 his health deteriorated after a series of strokes, andhe couldn’t do the simplest of things. On May 29, 1957 he wrote out a suicidenote that said, “Do not grieve for me – my nerves are all shot…the futureis just old age and pain.” He downed a few cocktails then sashayed to theshallow end of his pool, and dove in smacking his head on the bottom becomingunconscious, then drowning. Dead, you know. He was 63 years old officially,though he often hacked 7 years off of his age.
He was cremated and is in the den of luxury at Forest Lawn,Glendale.
Interesting to note that the book left onJames Whale’s night standwas Don’t Go Near the Water.
According to one report, Whale was haunting the house he livedin when he died, but the new owners had him exorcized.
In the film Gods and Monsters, Brendan Fraserplays a pool boy whom Whale (played by McKellan) becomes a little infatuatedwith. I enjoyed the movie. I think the reason the stars were soexcited by the attention at the Oscars was because it probably cost a nickel tomake. A year or so later, when Brendan Fraser was in London doing a play, I wrote him a quicknote and asked him to autograph James Whale’s death certificate for me, butall I received (many months later) was this note. Was it too weird?
Completely unrelated, in 2001 I attended a surprise birthdayparty for Ian McKellan. It wasn’t a very big gathering, but a very starryone. I remember Sting sang Happy Birthday to Serena, and I was sat at atable with Dawn French and Geri Halliwell. This was right after she leftthe Spice Girls and died her hair blonde. It was still a bigscandal. It made me realize that you think you already know famouspeople. I just said, “Oh, I like your hair”. Dawn Frenchshot the shit, I was chatting away with David Furnish and in walked MonicaLewinsky. It was crazy. And fun. But mostly crazy. Especially when Geri Halliwell put her cloth napkin over the candle on the tableand walked away. Yeah, I put out what would have been a very interestingfire.
Oh, and before I forget