Colin Clive

 

Colin Clive

 

Born:      20 January 1900    Saint-Malo, France

Died:       25 June 1937          Los Angeles, California, USA

Biography

Colin Glenn Clive-Grieg was born in Saint-Malo and was the son of a British army colonel on assignment in France at the time of Colin’s birth. He started out to follow in the family tradition, his ancestor was Baron Robert Clive, of Clive of India fame, but an injury prevented him from doing this. He attended Stonyhurst College and then the renown military academy at Sandhurst where the injured knee disqualified him from military service. He became interested in theatre instead.

He appeared as Steve Baker in the first production of Showboat in London, where he played alongside icons Cedric Hardwicke and Paul Robeson. His acting talents progressed through the 1920s to a sufficient degree to replace Laurence Olivier who was starring in the R. C Sherriff play “Journey’s End” in London. Careers are very often about being in the right place at the right time and the director was the up-and-coming James Whale, who had also been working his way up in London stage and film work as a budding scene designer and director. This was at London’s Savoy Theatre. Among his stage and entertainment acquaintances in London was Elsa Lanchester – the future bride of Frankenstein.

Whale was waiting for the opportunity to move onto Broadway and Hollywood films. The success of “Journey’s End” gave Whale his break. Broadway called for the play with him as both director and scene designer. It opened in March of 1929 but with Colin Keith-Johnston in the lead. Nevertheless, Clive went to New York as well to await developments. Halfway through 1930, the play had ended, and Whale was contracted by Paramount as a dialog director. Things continued to unfold quickly. Whale was very soon called on to direct what would be the first British/American co-produced sound film, a movie version of the popular Journey’s End (1930). Whale got Clive back as the lead, the laconic, alcoholic Captain Stanhope. Ironically you could say it was a mirror image of his off screen/stage life. As is so very often the case his stage experience was invaluable to him and along with the appearance in his performances of appearing to be highly irritable, nervy and about to snap, he became very much in demand. Things moved on for our rising star and he was cast alongside Lanchester in The Stronger Sex (1931)

As you very often see in even modern day performers, they tend to move around together and it is not uncommon to see the same actors appearing together. This is also common in TV. Whale was also making great strides in his career and had been contracted by Universal where Dracula (1931) had just been a huge hit and the studio was looking for a quick follow up. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a natural classical choice for a horror movie with Whale directing. Whale wanted Clive as Doctor Henry Frankenstein, and the rest is history. Clive was ideal to play the obsessive doctor driven to macabre surgery and he fitted the part well to portray someone on the edge of insanity. He was dare I say it, typecast. Over the next few years he played both B leading and A supporting roles. Two good examples were playing brooding, but romantic Edward Rochester in an early Jane Eyre (1934) and playing a British officer in Clive of India (1935). Ironically Ronald Colman, a box office great at the time, played his illustrious ancestor. Clive returned to Broadway for two plays in 1933 and 1934 and one more in the 1935-36 season.

Then Universal made the “Bride” sequel in 1935 and Clive was back in his role as the creator. He was more subdued in this film, as from recollection he was recovering from a riding accident. The film was however very good and many view it as an example where the sequel was better that the original. The cast was good and the interaction between them made the film. The scenes where the bride was born and her subsequent rejection of her intended mate are classic. You could almost feel sorry for the monster, but I was a little disappointed with the role performed by Clive.

All is not lost though and you cannot end without a mention of Mad Love (1935). Clive was back as an edgy concert pianist who due to a train accident was given the hands of a convicted murderer. His performance was spent very much on the edge, ably supported by the legendary Peter Lorre, who was trying to steal Clive’s wife. A great film by any standards. His final two films were in early 1937 with the better known History Is Made at Night (1937)

From June 1929 until his death, Clive was married to actress Jeanne de Casalis. As mentioned, Clive was an alcoholic and complications resulting from his reliance on drink was the result of his death in 1937 at the very young age of 37. Had he not succumbed in this way it would be interesting to try and imagine where his career may have led?

Peter Lorre was a pallbearer at the funeral, although neither his wife nor James Whale attended. The end of a short life for a man who on screen spent so much time trying to create it.

Filmography 

Journey’s End (1930)

The Stronger Sex (1931)

Frankenstein (1931)

Lily Christine (1932)

Christopher Strong (1933)

Looking Forward (1933)

The Key (1934)

One More River (1934)

Jane Eyre (1934) (as Mr. Rochester)

Clive of India (1935)

The Right to Live (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935)

Mad Love (1935)

The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo (1935)

The Widow from Monte Carlo (1935)

History Is Made at Night (1937)

The Woman I Love (1937)