TERRY Sherwood reviews One Man Crazy: The Life and Death of Colin Clive by Grey W. Mank, this week for his column Sherwood After Dark

Colin Clive had long been an interest of mine so I was happy to see that Gregory Mank had done this volume.  Mr. Mank, along with David J. Skal, Kim Newman, Stephen Jacobs, Jonathan Rigby and Sir Christopher Frayling, write some of the best book length work on classic horror and film in general.

Colin Clive welcomes the Monster into the world in Frankenstein (1931)
Colin Clive welcomes the Monster into the world in Frankenstein (1931)

One Man Crazy; The Life and Death of Colin Clive tells the rollicking, extraordinary life of British actor Colin Clive.  Clive was best known for being ‘madness’ personified as Henry Frankenstein in James Whale’s picture; that, along with Dracula launched the horror cycle at Universal Studios. However, like most actors, Colin Clive was more than the sum of that part.

Journey’s End begins 

Mr. Mank sails us through (with great style and fact dropping) the early life of Colin Clive, from his birth in France as one of the famous ‘Clives of India’.  A military career was cut short by a fall from a horse, causing Colin to turn to acting.  Mr. Mank reveals the early life of a struggling actor both on and off the stage.  Colin Clive had the luck to be selected for the role of Stanhope in the play Journey’s End, directed by James Whale.  The madness of war, the nerves portrayed, the frantic desolation and futility were all part of the role which drove the sensitive Colin Clive to actual fear.  

Colin Clive in Journey's End by R. C. Sherriff

Clive had crippling stage fright and was advised by playwright R. C.  Sherriff to drink “one or two whiskies to steady the nerves”.  Colin Clive made whiskey part of his life, and that would ultimately lead to alcoholic destruction at the age of thirty seven.

“It’s Alive” and fame

​​The books brings to life the filming of Journey’s End in Hollywood and other features.  James Whale’s Frankenstein is given one chapter chronicling stories of the filming of various sequences. Mank reveals that Mae Clarke, who was playing the role of Elizabeth, was completely smitten with Colin Clive.  Clarke found him to have ‘the voice of a pipe organ and the face of Christ.’  Mae was married at the time, and so was Colin, to his second wife, the Vamp Jeanne de Casalis. Months after the filming ended Mae Clarke was committed to a sanitarium due to the intensity of her feelings for Colin. Those feelings never left her. 

“I can’t leave them! I can’t!”

Clive would begin to get a reputation as a ‘lady killer.’  He would attend parties in Hollywood becoming more lubricated through alcohol and other distractions that were part of the life.  His wife Jeanne would have her own pleasures plus her own acting career yet in my opinion they still loved each other in an odd way akin to a human giving a saucer of milk to a cat.

The horror of relatives with debilitating gout were rampant with Clive’s as one of greatest fears was that his leg injury  he sustained early from horse riding would surge up crippling him making him unable to perform making him a failure.  The injury never did heal correctly and medical science is not what it is today so Clive was in pain as was Boris Karloff.  Cruel fate that Karloff’s back troubles originated with James Whale insisting he carry Colin Clive up the mountain many times during the making of  Universal Studios  Bride of Frankenstein.   In later films well after Frankenstein in which could see a  slight shuffle when Clive moves on screen however limp which grew more pronounced  later fueling the actors anxiety.  

Elsa Lanchester and Colin Clive in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

“Just leave it alone.  Leave it alone”

An amazing, sad story punctuated with moments that included working with Katherine Hepburn and many others. Life is shown in front of the camera with stories of filming, and life away from the studio lights to the lights of parties and goings on. Through all, a home sickness for England and English life plus the ghosts of nerves and alcohol rearing their heads. 

If Colin was a flawed work of Art then he was a portrait of a literally tortured artist. Colin Clive’s hyper activity, frantic behaviors and speech on screen were not an act on screen or the stage. The man lived life with his heart on his sleeve and a tortured soul. Costar David Manner mentions that Clive has a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ aspect to him: always mirrored in the eyes.

“Father. Your creature will walk again”

One Man CrazyL The Life and Death of Colin Clive is a worthy addition to any horror fan’s library or those with an interest in Hollywood history.  Mr. Mank’s style, plus personal photos of locations today, add to the book. Colin Clive unwittingly set the pattern for all ‘mad scientists’ in film, added to by the work of Lionel Attwill, Charles Laughton (both went to the same school in England), and the others that followed. Colin Clive’s all too brief life was a terrible downward spiral put into focus by this volume.  

You can buy One Man Crazy: The Life and Death of Colin Clive on Amazon.

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