Interview with James Whale

Interview with James Whale

“It's alive, it's alive, 
it's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE!!!” 
—Colin Clive 

James Whale: I started having these nightmares—the worst kind.

Ed Wood Jr: What kind of nightmares?

James Whale: I’d be standing in front of the mirror—then suddenly I’d see the Frankenstein monster there ogling and staring at me. It was like having a nightmare—I couldn’t run away. I felt nervous all over. I couldn’t wake up!!! At first just—half-realizing the awful truth. Then one morning—suddenly knowing… The Monster in the Mirror—it was me. I was the Frankenstein monster!!!

Ed Wood Jr: You’d created this horrible monster—and the monster was you!!!. Not just one Frankenstein monster tho—you’d spawned a whole Hollywood cottage industry of them. A vast long tiresome line of Frankenstein monsters—going around the block!!! Across all of America—all the local RKO theaters!!! All the local Bijou, Granada, Strands—all the Lyric, Varsity and Neptune Movie Theaters!!! All those ‘30s Movie Palaces…

[Whale sips his martini—smirking at him. If Ed Wood Jr. only knew—what the studios could do to a man.]

James Whale: Ah yes, Eddie. Palaces of exquisite shame and wonder… Palaces of Hollywood Babylon!!! Tod Browning loved it—gutter roses and jewels. He’d do anything to ogle at some leg—nice ankles were his fetish.

Ed Wood Jr: Even with midgets and pinheads?

James Whale: The vaudeville carnie lust—him and Lon Chaney. It was just Awful, my dear!!! Dracula was just another roadside attraction—compared with Zip and Pip. One loathsome Creature of the Night after the other—getting worse and worse…

Ed Wood Jr: Naturally The Bride of Frankenstein didn’t care—all she wanted to do was spawn more horrible monsters!!! Anything was better than Boris Karloff or Charles Laughton!!! Elsa was making up for lost time!!! Fast!!! It was simply Shocking!!!

James Whale: Yes, Eddie—so very true. Endless mobs of young pimply-faced teenage Sons of Frankensteins!!! Vast progenies of tall gaunt gangly Frankenstein creatures!!! Gangs of gawking gangly grotesque killer Karloffs!!!

Ed Wood Jr: And all of those tacky Bela Lugosi sycophants!!! The same hoity-toity Miss Thesiger types!!!

James Whale: Mad jealous Scientist queens—all of them plotting murder, mayhem & Hollywood mischief!!!

Ed Wood Jr: Tell me, James. What were some of the worse ones?

James Whale: Well, my dear, they go on and on.

Ed Wood Jr: Baclanova could channel the future?

James Whale: Well, of course. How I hated them all. Let me count the ways:

Andy Warhol’s Flesh of Frankenstein!!!
Frankenstein Reborn!!!
Frankenstein: The Real Story!!!
The Curse of Frankenstein!!!
Frankenstein Unbound!!!
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman!!!
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed!!!
The Ghost of Frankenstein!!!
House of Frankenstein!!!
Frankenstein Created Woman!!!
The Revenge of Frankenstein!!!
The Evil of Frankenstein!!!
Dracula vs. Frankenstein!!!
Frankenstein and Me!!!
The Horror of Frankenstein!!!
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein!!!
Rock ‘n’ Roll Frankenstein!!!
Frankenstein Punk!!!
Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster!!!
Blackenstein Frankenstein Island!!!
I Was a Teenage Frankenstein!!!
Lust for Frankenstein!!!
The Daughter of Frankenstein!!!

Ed Wood Jr: My dear!!! The Daughter of Frankenstein!!! [James Whale nods knowingly. Then, taking off his robe, he throws it in the air and starts doing a simply insanely intoxicated and obscene hoochey-koochey act for all the boyz in the pool, singing:

She's the Daughter of Frankenstein!!!
And she's everybody's dream!!!
She's the Daughter of Frankenstein!!!

She ain't got stitches, she's got seams!!!
She's the Daughter of Frankenstein!!!
And she's the real thing!!!

[Loud music in the background—young male laughter]

She's the Daughter of Frankenstein!!!
She's got all the right parts in all the right places!!!
She's good at filling up those naughty spaces.
She puts all those smiles on all those faces—all right.
Try not to love her: I bet you can't!!!
Try not to love her: I bet you can't!!!
She's a wonder to behold: she can charm and enchant.
She's a wonder to behold: she can charm and enchant.
All the way down—to the Laboratory and back!!!

She's the Daughter of Frankenstein!!!

[James gets the cross-eyed dizzy look of Una O’Connor on his face, counting his fingers for each new crummy Frankenstein flick to ooze out of Beverly Hills…]

Frankenstein Reborn!!!
Frankenstein: The College Years!!!
Billy Frankenstein!!!
Frankenstein on Campus!!!
Frankenstein & the Werewolf Reborn!!!
Boy Frankenstein!!!
Frankenstein vs. the Wolfman!!!
Frankenstein: Un histoire d’amour!!!
Kiss of Frankenstein!!!
Barbara Frankenstein!!!
Camilla Frankenstein!!!
Lenore Frankenstein!!!
Casanova Frankenstein!!!
Baroness Frankenstein!!!
Baron Wolf von Frankenstein!!!
Marilyn Monroe Frankenstein!!!

[Finally Whale stops counting, simply exhausted with the nightmarish progeny of his tortured mind and unrelenting campy horror at what his innocent pusillanimous Pacific Palisades peccadilloes had created. As Karloff said: Better dead!!!]

Ed Wood Jr: But it wasn’t your fault, Clive. I mean—James. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. It was a freakish accident. Like Browning’s Freaks. Just another carnival sideshow for the rubes. Step Right Up!!! See the Bearded Lady!!! See the Penguin Boy!!! See Zip and Pip—the Pinhead Twins. Pass the Popcorn!!! Gimme an Orange Crush!!! Gimme…”

James Whale: That’s right… It wasn’t my fault. It was all those Proposition Hate Queens—down there in La La Land!!! It wasn’t my fault. It was an act of god—praise the Mormons!!! Elsa Lanchester as Mary Shelley and the Bride. Colin Clive as the Baron and Basil Rathbone as Henry Frankenstein. Valerie Hobson as Elizabeth. Charming Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius. Lovely Una O’Connor as Minnie.

Ed Wood Jr: Certainly not nelly Gavin Gordon as Lord Byron. How could anyone blame Lord Byron? And I’m sure Douglas Walton’s not to blame either—that dark and stormy night with Percy Bysshe Shelley!!!

James Whale: Nor E. E. Clive as the Burgomaster. Nor Tricky Dick Nixon as the Hermit. Not Dwight Frye as Karl What’s His Name. Surely not John Carradine as the Hunter. Surely not River Phoenix as the Gypsy Boy!!!

Ed Wood Jr: Surely not Joan Crawford as the Forest Nymph. Not Norman Mailer as the Archbishop. Not Charles Laughton as the Barmaid. Not Eva Braun as the Berlin Ballerina.

James Whale: Surely not Zsa Zsa Gabor as the Queen of Outer Space burgomaster’s whore!! For gawd’s sake—surely not Universal Pictures!!!

Ed Wood Jr: Yes, Baron—excuse me, I mean James. You’re indubitably correct. It boggles the mind—by the way can you loan me $1,000,000? Bela has upped his salary—because Tor Johnson and Vampira never know their lines.

James Whale: What lines?

Ed Wood Jr: Well, actually my dear, I’m off to San Bernardino for the weekend. A minor cash flow problem—you know how it is? We’re filming this lovely scene on the train with Yeats and Gloria Swanson—as they consummate their wedding night with Gloria doing automatic writing on the ceiling of their compartment…

James Whale: Yes, Yeats has real class. Too bad he’s dead you know. But then that probably makes it even better though, my dear. It’s orange blossom season, you know.

Ed Wood Jr: Well, as a matter of fact—I just happened to be over there last week. Talking to a meatpacker plant owner—who wants his son in The Bride and the Monster…

[Whale nods knowingly—gets out his checkbook.]

Ed Wood Jr: BTW James, the Tinsel Town gossip is you’re ditching that handsome young Pierre Foegel your French chauffeur & kept man?

James Whale: I suppose Foegel is getting tiresome, Eddie—not because I’m tired with him but rather he’s tired of me. After all, I’m just an old Hollywood queen—they got rid of as soon as they could.

Ed Wood Jr: Oh well, what does one expect though—from low-life Parisian bartenders though…

James Whale: Ah, yes—kept boyz get that way. Spoiled—simply spoiled-rotten and ever so demanding. Especially down here in sunny CA.

Ed Wood Jr: Then there’s that young man—the young muscular handsome male nurse who’s taking care of you.

James Whale: Yes, his real name is Ripley—as in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” I met him at Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica.

Ed Wood Jr: I thought it was Pasadena?

James Whale: You’re right Eddie. First it was Las Encinas sanitarium in Pasadena—that’s where they store all the tragic “Whatever Happened to What’s His Name” types and all the Who’s Who of Hollywood Has-Been’s and Old Wrinklies. Former great stars—like Mae Clarke, John Barrymore and me left to play Bridge and chat about the past…

Ed Wood Jr: I guess they really tried to scramble your brains down there in Pasadena—with all those primitive horrendous shock treatments. The huge zapping zig-zagging special effects—did it remind you of being down there in Baron Frankenstein’s laboratory?

James Whale: Ah, Baron Frankenstein’s laboratory. How innocent and naive. Compared with the greenish hellish basement of the Las Encinas sanitarium. No wonder I was having Evil Science nightmares—you could smell all those burning electrodes glued to those poor hapless blue-rinse temples at night. Poor Evita Peron…

Ed Wood Jr: It’s just shameless isn’t it?

James Whale: The Frankenstein Nightmare—I created it. The world became my Nightmare. I launched this horror into the world—and nobody could stop it. I look back on it now—and I wish I’d never met Karloff or Universal. I look at my watch—it’s always 13 o’clock. I look at myself in the mirror—realizing what I’d done….

Ed Wood Jr: Do you feel yourself typecast?

James Whale: Duh!!!—do they waltz in Vienna? Does the sun come up in the East?

[Whale pauses—nervously exhaling his cigarette in Ed Wood’s face. Shrugging, he continues…]

James Whale: I realized that Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) had laid a curse on me. That and The Invisible Man (1933)—their success had a way of starting to depress me. Even Show Boat (1936) didn’t really make me feel liberated—from the typecast horror movie inertia that I found taking control of me. It was like an undertow on the beach—it kept reaching up and pulling me under.

Ed Wood Jr: Charles Laughton tried to cheer you up?

Whale: Yes, he and Elsa got me to design the sets for a couple of “minuscule musicals” to stage in NYC. The first was The Duke and the Dairymaid—based on a story by Max Beerbohm with lyrics by Sam Rosen and music by Ray Henderson.

[A cute UCLA twink strolls by, holding a towel around his neck and that’s about it. Except his flip-flop sandals—smoking a Camel. Whale smiles, winks.]

James Whale: The second play was a nightmare—“Happy Anniversary 2116.” It was a “science fiction” opera of all things. I designed two or three miniature sets for visualizing this marionette-robot factory of the future—populated by these strange little Ray Harryhausen animated things. You know, like he did with King Kong and all that dinosaur crap. I ditched it because of the simply amateur first drafts by Ray Henderson. The only set design still interesting to me—was the pool and being retired here on Amalfi Drive. Hollywood bores me—it always did.

Ed Wood Jr: Hmmmm.

James Whale: Unfortunately, the space opera thing reminded me of all those depressing moody gothic German Expressionist sets—you know the weird slanted windows, the bizarre staircases and all that. That and all the sickening sequels like Son of Frankenstein with Basil Rathbone.

Ed Wood Jr: Hmmmm.

James Whale: It was so embarrassing—Bela Lugosi going queer for the Monster. Pawing and prodding him—hiding him away down in the crypt. Poor Basil just a bundle of nerves. It was rather incestuous—after all, Basil and Karloff were both Baron Frankenstein’s sons, right? Basil couldn’t wait to get the big hunk upstairs into his compy bedroom!!!

Ed Wood Jr: Talk about an odd couple, my dear. Sort of like, well, “Glen and Glenda” don’t you think? You know what I mean, James? Now there’s an idea for a schlock masterpiece: Rathbone and Karloff!!!

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