Death of a Dandy

Do not grieve for me--my nerves are all shot and for the last year I have been in agony day and night--except when I sleep with sleeping pills . . .

So began the note written on May 29, 1957, by film director James Whale. After placing it on a blotter in his Pacific Palisades studio, Whale, 61, walked out to his swimming pool and dove into the shallow end, hitting his head on the pool's concrete floor.

A floating corpse was all that remained of Whale, the eccentric British expatriate who directed twenty films but is best remembered as the architect of the horror classics Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

A fastidious dandy who wore tweeds in the sweltering California sun, Whale was perhaps the most versatile auteur in movie history. After defining the horror genre, he turned his talents to films as diverse as Showboat (1936), Remember Last Night? (1936), and The Man in the Iron Mask (1939).

I have had a wonderful life but it is over and my nerves get worse and I am afraid they will have to take me away . . .

All but forgotten by Hollywood after leaving filmmaking in 1942, Whale whiled away his sunset years smoking his prized Havanas and copying Rembrandts. Whale's decade of obscurity is the inspiration for Bill Condon's film Gods and Monsters, starring Ian McKellen as Whale and Brendan Fraser as Clayton Boone, a young drifter hired by Whale's housekeeper (Lynn Redgrave) to tend the garden. The film--which takes its title from Ernest Thesiger's waspish toast in Bride--"To a new world of gods and monsters!"--opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

Condon's screenplay envisions an unlikely friendship between the young rube and the aging gentleman. Over lunch, Boone remarks, "You're a homosexual," as though he has never encountered such a creature. Whale reminisces about his experiences as a World War I prisoner, filmmaker, and unabashedly lecherous host of homoerotic Hollywood parties.

After suffering several strokes in the mid-'50s, Whale was subjected to shock treatments that left him unable to paint or even read. For years, an aura of mystery surrounded his death, because Whale's former companion, producer David Lewis, concealed the suicide note.

My last wish is to be cremated so nobody will grieve over my grave--no one is to blame.

--Pamela Zoslov

Gods and Monsters opens Friday, December 25, at the Cedar Lee Theatre, 2163 Lee Road, 216-321-8232. See Showtimes on page 27 for times.

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