1889 - 1957

After spending the majority of World War I in a POW camp, Whale brought the battlefield drama Journey’s End to London’s West End and New York’s Broadway, and then helmed the Hollywood film version in 1930. He reached the pinnacle of his career at Universal Studios between 1930 and 1937 where he directed the horror classics “Frankenstein” (1931), “The Invisible Man” (1933) and “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935). Critics observed that one key to Whale’s success involved giving his monsters a personality and it is believed his gay identity, affording him insight into being an outsider in society, made that possible. Indeed, Whale wrote to bisexual friend Colin Clive, who portrayed doctor/creator Henry Frankenstein in the films, that “Frankenstein would contain a great deal of us.” In 1936 Whale made what many consider to be the best film version of the musical “Showboat”, where he saw to it the representations of Hattie McDaniel’s and Paul Robeson’s characters were given realism and warmth, a rarity for African Americans in motion pictures of the era. During his first years in Hollywood, Whale began a two-decade-long relationship with assistant story editor David Lewis and they were among the few gay couples in Hollywood who attended industry affairs together. Many historians now believe Whale’s openness about his sexuality caused his career to flounder, then end, in the 1940s. He spent the remainder of his life painting, directing plays and living off his investments. After a nervous breakdown, Whale explained he wanted to forego old age and pain, and died by suicide by throwing himself into his pool in May of 1957.


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United Kingdom United States

Era/Epoch Great Depression (1929-1939) Jazz Age (1910-1940) Roaring Twenties (1920-1929) World War I (1914-1918) World War II (1939-1945)

Field(s) of Contribution





Commemorations & Honors

Memorial Statue Erected at his Hometown Multiplex Cinema in Dudley by Charles Hadcock (2001)

Retrospective of Whale’s Artwork- Horror in Hollywood: The James Whale Story Featured at the Dudley Museum and Art Gallery (Oct. 2012-Jan. 2013)


Related Videos


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell