Colin Clive (20 January 1900, Saint-Malo, Ille-et-Vilaine, France – 25 June 1937) was an English stage and screen actor best remembered for his portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein in James Whale’s two Universal Frankenstein films ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Bride of Frankenstein’.
Clive was born in France, to an English colonel, and he attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where an injured knee disqualified him from military service and contributed to his becoming a stage actor. Clive first worked with James Whale in the Savoy Theatre production of Journey’s End and subsequently joined the British community in Hollywood in the 1930s, repeating his stage role in the 1930 film version of ‘Journey’s End’, which was also directed by Whale.
Although Colin Clive made only three horror films, Whale’s two Frankenstein movies and Mad Love (1935), he is widely regarded as one of the essential stars of the genre by many film buffs. His portrayal of mad Dr. Frankenstein has proved inspiration and a launching pad for scores of other mad scientist performances in films over the years. In the film, the character is renamed Henry Frankenstein (a later film shows his tombstone bearing the name “Heinrich”) and he played opposite British actor Boris Karloff as the Creature. Clive reprised his role in the superior 1935 sequel, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, which reunited Clive, Whale and Karloff, as well as first giving Frankenstein the official title of Baron.
Clive was also an in-demand leading man for a number of major film actresses of the era, including Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Jean Arthur. He also starred as Edward Rochester in a 1934 adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ opposite Virginia Bruce. He was related to Clive of India and appeared in a featured role in a film biography of his relative in 1935.
From June 1929 until his death, Clive was married to actress Jeanne de Casalis. Although she worked in films and on stage, her greatest success was as a comedienne on radio sitcoms in England. De Casalis did not accompany her husband to Hollywood. There has been speculation that de Casalis was a lesbian and Clive either gay or bisexual, and their marriage was one of convenience. David Lewis, the longtime companion of Clive’s frequent director James Whale, flatly states that Clive was not gay.
Colin Clive suffered from severe chronic alcoholism and died from complications of tuberculosis in 1937 at age 37. Clive’s alcoholism was very much apparent to his co-stars, as he was often seen napping on set and sometimes was so intoxicated that he had to be held upright for over-the-shoulder shots. Not only did his ailment contribute to his ultimate demise, it also mentally took its toll. But Clive was also tormented by the medical threat of amputating his long-damaged leg. It was a final demon to taunt this brilliant, sad, young actor before his death.
Forrest J. Ackerman recalls visiting Clive’s body in the funeral parlour. “As I recall, he had a dressing gown on and he was calmly lying there. And he looked very much like that scene in Bride“. Over 300 mourners turned out for the lonely soul that died alone. One of the pallbearers was former co-star Peter Lorre.
His cenotaph is located at Chapel of Pines Crematory, but his ashes were scattered at sea in 1978 after they spent over 40 years unclaimed in the basement of the funeral parlor where his body was brought after his death.