Colin Clive: “It’s Alive!”

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The great Colin Clive (1900-1937) is nowadays known for just one thing, but we’ll get to that! A direct descendant of Clive of India, he was born into a straight-up military family, and was preparing for such a career himself, but a horseback riding accident ruined one his legs. The result was that he became both of those too-commonly paired disappointments, an actor and an alcoholic. Initially a West End stage actor, it was said that Clive was hired by James Whale as Laurence Olivier’s replacement in Journey’s End in 1928 because he was interested in having a real alcoholic in the role. In 1930, Whale was able to cast Clive in the same role again in the Hollywood film version, and his short career was made.

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His most famous role, the titular doctor in Whale’s Frankenstein arrived the following year (1931). For better or worse, one never thinks of Clive without picturing him in a lab coat, running around pulling levers during an electrical storm and screaming “It’s alive!” Two other horror classics, Bride of Frankenstein and Mad Love came along in 1935. Other notable pictures included an early version of the Gothic drama Jane Eyre (1934) in which he played the moody, distant Rochester, and Clive of India (1935), in which, ironically, he didn’t play his own ancestor. Weakened by alcohol abuse, he died of TB in 1937, or we undoubtedly would have seen him in many more films. Colin Clive virtually invented Hollywood’s approved characterization of the Mad Scientist.

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