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 Gods
and 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 in
it too. James directed some amazing films, most notably Frankenstein, The
Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man. Oh,
The love fest at the Oscar ceremony between the McKellan,
Fraser and Redgrave was
painful to watch. The fun part of the event was when Goldie Hawn announced that she used to
live in the Pacific Palisades house where Whale lived and died. Probably
By the 1950's, The motion picture industry had pretty well forgot about the British born Whale. He spent a lot of time
painting and reading. He had installed a pool on his property although he did
not swim. Just for parties. Big gay parties, as Whale was gay.
E.J. Fleming adds: His
career actually ended because Louis B. Mayer was pissed that Whale was living
with David Lewis, who was Irving Thalberg's assistant. While Thalberg was
alive he protected both men, whom he was very close to. Thalberg had many
homosexual friends, which really pissed off Mayer. Anyway, after Thalberg
died, 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 movie
was done soon afterward, and he ended up living in the house with Lewis for
another 20+ years. The manner of his death was subject of much speculation
over the years, because Lewis (who survived Whale) kept the suicide note a
secret for another decade. Thanks EJ!
In 1956 his health deteriorated after a series of strokes, and
he couldn't do the simplest of things. On May 29, 1957 he wrote out a suicide
note that said, "Do not grieve for me - my nerves are all shot...the future
is just old age and pain." He downed a few cocktails then sashayed to the
shallow end of his pool, and dove in smacking his head on the bottom becoming
unconscious, 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,
Interesting to note that the book left on
James Whale's night stand
was Don't Go Near the Water.
According to one report, Whale was haunting the house he lived
in when he died, but the new owners had him exorcized.
In the film Gods and Monsters, Brendan Fraser
plays a pool boy whom Whale (played by McKellan) becomes a little infatuated
with. I enjoyed the movie. I think the reason the stars were so
excited by the attention at the Oscars was because it probably cost a nickel to
make. A year or so later, when Brendan Fraser was in London doing a play, I wrote him a quick
note and asked him to autograph James Whale's death certificate for me, but
all I received (many months later) was this note. Was it too weird?
Completely unrelated, in 2001 I attended a surprise birthday
party for Ian McKellan. It wasn't a very big gathering, but a very starry
one. I remember Sting sang Happy Birthday to Serena, and I was sat at a
table with Dawn French and Geri Halliwell. This was right after she left
the Spice Girls and died her hair blonde. It was still a big
scandal. It made me realize that you think you already know famous
people. I just said, "Oh, I like your hair". Dawn French
shot the shit, I was chatting away with David Furnish and in walked Monica
Lewinsky. It was crazy. And fun. But mostly crazy.
Especially when Geri Halliwell put her cloth napkin over the candle on the table
and walked away. Yeah, I put out what would have been a very interesting
Oh, and before I forget