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James Whale: A New World Of Gods And Monsters Paperback – October 10, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 472 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (October 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816643865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816643868
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #500,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

You may not recognize James Whale, but you surely recognize his most prominent contribution to American popular culture: Frankenstein's monster, as portrayed by Boris Karloff. Whale, a British expatriate who made his way to Hollywood just as films were making the transition to the talkies, directed both the original Frankenstein (1931) and its sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein (1936), for Universal Pictures. Afraid of being pigeonholed as a horror director (he also made The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House), he eventually insisted on more mainstream projects, including the musical Show Boat and The Road Back, a sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front that flopped at the box office. Today, The Bride of Frankenstein is considered to be his best film, a work that combines moments of genuine suspense with a thoroughly macabre sense of humor.

In 1982, film historian James Curtis wrote his first biography of Whale. James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters is not a revision of that book, however, but a substantial reworking involving much in the way of new research. Whale's life story is emblematic of an entire generation of European émigrés who made critical artistic contributions to American film only to find themselves in ultimate obscurity. Although recent fictional and truthful accounts of Whale's life have emphasized his homosexuality--even the jacket cover of this book cites it as the reason for Hollywood's eventual rejection of Whale--Curtis himself tells a more nuanced tale. Certainly, Whale made no attempts to hide his preference for men; at the same time, he made his sexual orientation neither a prominent feature of his personal life nor his movies. While it's possible that he was fired from Columbia Pictures in 1941 because of homophobia on the part of studio owner Harry Cohn, it should also be noted that it didn't take much to get on the bad side of Harry Cohn and that, perhaps more to the point, Whale hadn't had a significant commercial hit in five years.

Curtis's biography is filled with fascinating anecdotes from David Lewis, Whale's longtime companion, and several of the actors who worked with Whale, including Peter Cushing and Gloria (Titanic) Stuart. It also has a rich appreciation of the artistic qualities of Whale's work. It is, in short, the sort of critical biography that any film director would hope to have. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Shortly before his death, film director James Whale admitted that he'd looked in the mirror and realized that he'd launched "this horror" into the world that he couldn't stop. Was he referring to his creation of the classic film Frankenstein (1931) or its inferior off-shoots? Was he alluding to his inability (despite succeeding in mainstream genres) to transcend his reputation as a specialist in monster movies? Curtis (Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges) narrates in seamless detail how this innovative son of a West Midlands coal man rose from obscurity to acclaim as a British theater and Hollywood director. Trained as a West End actor and stage manager, Whale gained recognition for his rendition of the WWI war drama Journey's End. He traveled to Broadway and finally Hollywood to adapt Journey's End (1930) to the movies. Curtis charts Whale's triumphs as well as his failures, lending insight into the convoluted collaborative world of moviemaking in the days of Hays Office censorship. Many of Whale's mainstream films (Waterloo Bridge; One More River; etc.) disappeared while Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein never went out of circulation. Showboat (1956) marked the pinnacle of Whale's career and was followed by a gradual decline and slide into suicide. One comes away from this quixotic and compelling biography with the feeling that Whale, who was homosexual, not only reinvented the monster movie but also himself, and that his particular genius was often ill appreciated except in the one genre he disdained. 60 b&w photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

James Curtis is the author of "W.C. Fields: A Biography", which was awarded the Special Jury Prize by the Theatre Library Association and named one of the Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times. He is also the author of "Spencer Tracy: A Biography," "James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters," and "Between Flops," an acclaimed biography of writer-director Preston Sturges. He is married and lives in Brea, California.

Customer Reviews

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It's a must read for any fan of classic films of Hollywood!
John L. Lyons
Mr. Curtis gives us a lot of detail about James Whale's life and I sometimes found myself skimming a bit, particularly in the beginning of his career as an actor.
David A. Wend
James Whale made one great film, "The Bride Of Frankenstein", and a number of other very good ones, like "The Invisible Man".
Mr. Nowhere

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Rory Coker on January 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
I can't think of any other film director who approached James Whale's incredible sense of design, other than perhaps William Cameron Menzes. If Whale is remembered at all today it is for his two Universal Frankenstein films, and THE INVISIBLE MAN. I can still recall the first time I saw BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, with my brother, on the late-night SHOCK THEATRE program, in the late 1950s. Nothing had prepared us for the incredible, almost abstract stylization, the sly wit and the indelible performances that go to make this one of the greatest films ever made. We were blown out of our seats.
This biography by James Curtis is probably the best look at Whale the person we are going to get; Curtis seems to have interviewed literally everyone who knew Whale and would talk to him about Whale. We learn very little about Whale as a child, perhaps because there was no one alive to remember when Curtis came by interviewing, but otherwise we get a detailed look at Whale's show biz career before and after BRIDE. Whale had difficulty finding worthy projects after the collapse of the Lammele-era Universal, and his final years exhibit increasing severe depression and strange "post-menopausal" behavior.
A recent film, GODS AND MONSTERS, loosely based on events of Whale's later years, I haven't seen but perhaps it will awaken some additional interest in Whale and his films among the younger generation. It is a sad fact that, apart from his Universal horror work, virtually nothing directed by Whale is available on video tape, not even (as far as I know) his famous film version of the musical SHOWBOAT.
If you're curious about Whale, this book is the place to start.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David A. Wend TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 17, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After seeing the film "Gods and Monsters" I was anxious to read a biography of James Whale. This book by James Curtis certainly fits the bill of a complete biography of its subject. Mr. Curtis was a close friend of David Lewis, who lived with James Whale for several years and saw to it after the director's death that his memory lived on.
Mr. Curtis gives us a lot of detail about James Whale's life and I sometimes found myself skimming a bit, particularly in the beginning of his career as an actor. We get a lot of information about the films Mr. Whale directed, including the story behind the fascinating effects in The Invisible Man. The book is illustrated with numerous photographs spread through the book and is well written, particularly when Mr. Curtis speaks of James Whale in his years of retirement. The book is a must for fans of the Frankenstein movies and people interested in Universal Pictures but for the person who knows James Whale only thought his horror films, this book with bring a much needed perspective on his life. I found myself wanting to see the James Whale films as I was reading, including Show Boat and his lesser known films. In sum, this is an interesting portrait of who James Whale was and what Hollywood was like in the 1930s.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mou on June 25, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I just finished this book this morning, and I really enjoyed it. Having watched "Gods and Monsters" and read Father of Frankenstein last year, I was eager to learn more about James Whale and his films. This detailed biography offers more than the facts of Whale's life and works: it provides insight into the machinations of the Hollywood of the 1920's and 1930's. Highly recommended by this reader.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a good biography and is very well written, a good read all around. James Whale is an interesting and worthy subject for a film biography, and here's hoping he finally starts getting the respect he deserves. My only problem with the book is that it often reads too much like a resume. It focuses almost entirely on how he directed his movies, but to make this a 5 star biography we need more information on what he did outside of directing (ie: his childhood and what it he did for those years when he found it hard to work). I suspect we don't get this kind of information because its almost impossible to research at this late stage, and not because the authour didn't try. Still, well worth the time of anyone interested in the era or the subject.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
James Curtis's biography of James(Jimmy) Whale is completely satisfying as both biography and cinema history. Whale was one of the greatest-and most underrated-directors of all time. Many filmmakers who are widely considered the greatest do not have as many classic films to their credit as Whale. His ouevre is a testament to artistry that seldom exists today. His work, especially "Bride of Frankenstein" and "Showboat", deserve much greater recognition and should be theatrically restored and reissued. Curtis's book is thoroughly rewarding, and would be a good place for a major rediscovery of Whale to begin.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John L. Lyons on February 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
I grew up enjoying Whale's great films, "Frankenstein," "Invisible Man," & "Bride of Frankenstein." I didn't really know about him until the film "Gods and Monsters."
James Curtis' book "Gods and Monsters" is a hard book to put down. It starts with Whale's rough childhood, interest in theater, and break into films. There is a chapter devoted to each of his major films with behind the scene insight. The book gives an honest account of Whale's triumphs and disappointments.
It's a must read for any fan of classic films of Hollywood!
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