James Whale was born on July 22, 189 in Dudley, England. He had six siblings and his father worked at a foundry, while his mother worked as a nurse.
Although most of his brothers went on to work in factories, James was not physically strong enough for that type of work. He eventually started work as a shoe cobbler, repairing and shining leather shoes. His work made him enough money to attend the Dudley School of Arts and Crafts.
When World War 1 started, he decided to join the British Army in October of 1915. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and sent to the front. Unfortunately, he was captured by the enemy in August of 1917 and sent to a POW camp. While there, he helped pass the time by directing plays with the other POWs.
After the war ended, he returned to the city of Birmingham and began pursuing a career on the stage. In late 1928, he was given the opportunity to direct the play "Journey's End", starring notable actor Laurence Olivier. The play proved to be a success both critically and financially and made over 600 performances over England.
That play also jump-started his career in Hollywood when he was hired by movie studios to direct the film version in 1930. In 1931, he was allowed to direct the film adaptation of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". He cast Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster after Bela Lugosi declined and the film was a massive box office hit. It was also one of the first notable horror films produced by Hollywood.
In 1933, Whale directed another landmark film, "The Invisible Man". The film was based on the novel by H.G. Wells and starred Claude Rains as the lead character. The film was a huge success and featured some of the most amazing special effects ever used in film.
In 1935, he followed up Frankenstein with "Bride of Frankenstein". The story follows Frankenstein's Monster as he seeks an undead bride. Boris Karloff reprised the leading role and Elsa Lachester was cast as the intended bride of the monster. The film was an instant classic and spawned numerous sequels by other directors.
Whale directed his final film in 1941, entitled "They Dare Not Love". He decided to retire from motion pictures to live a rather isolated life. He suffered a bad stroke and became depressed and very lonely at his mansion. On May 29, 1957, he committed suicide by drowning himself in his pool.
Over his lifetime, Whale directed 19 motion pictures, most of which were successful. He has been credited as a major influence on the industry, particularly the horror genre. Many other directors have cited his films as inspiration for their own works.
It later became public information that Whale was a closet homosexual. The film "Gods and Monsters" in 1998 focused on this part of his personality, starring Ian McKellen as Whale.