John Lloyd BALDERSTON SR
October 22, 1889-March 8, 1954
Father: "Doctor" Lloyd BALDERSTON (July 3, 1863-June 2, 1933)
- BIRTH: October 22, 1889, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mother: Mary Foster ALSOP (August 9, 1864-April 19, 1954)
Marian Alberta RUBICAM (July 29, 1891-1976)
- MARRIAGE: March 6, 1921, London, England
- FACTS: Hollywood screenplay writer *SEE BELOW
- DEATH: March 8, 1954, Los Angeles, California
John Lloyd BALDERSTON JR (January 12, 1923-?)
Lloyd BALDERSTON SR
|"Doctor" Lloyd BALDERSTON |
| |Catharine CANBY
|--John Lloyd BALDERSTON SR
|Mary Foster ALSOP |
John L. Balderston was born in Philadelphia and began his newspaper career in 1912 while still a student at Columbia University as the New York correspondent for The Philadelphia Record. He was a war correspondent for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate during World War I and then director of information in England and Ireland for the U.S. Committee on Public Information. In the early 1920s he was editor of Outlook Magazine in London and then head of the London bureau for the New York World. Balderston retired from the newspaper field when The World went out of business in 1931.
Balderston had had his first success as a playwright with the 1926 London production of Berkeley Square that he wrote with Jack Squire, the editor of The London Mercury. The play was not produced in the U.S. until 1929 with Leslie Howard in the lead. He also wrote books and screenplays. Balderston often worked in collaboration and specialized in horror, fantasy and romantic adventure scripts. Scripts he worked on include Dracula, Frankenstein, Red Planet, Gone with the Wind and Gaslight.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
Mad Love (1935)
The Mummy (1932)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)
Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
Red Planet Mars (1952)
John L. Balderston (October 22, 1889 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - March 8, 1954 Los Angeles, California) was an American playwright and screenwriter best known for his horror and fantasy scripts.
Balderston began his career as a journalist. He worked as European war correspondent during World War I. He was the editor of Outlook magazine and a correspondent for the New York World.
In 1927, he was retained by Horace Liveright to revise Hamilton Deane's stage adaptation of Dracula for its American production. The play subsequently formed the basis of the 1931 film version, leading Balderston into a screenwriting career, initially for Universal Pictures horror films: in addition to Dracula, he contributed to Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, and Dracula's Daughter. He spent much of his career adapting novels for the screen, including The Prisoner of Zenda in 1937 and 1944's Gaslight, which earned him his second Academy Award nomination (the first was for 1935's The Lives of a Bengal Lancer). He was also one of the team of writers who collaborated on the 1939 film adaptation of Gone with the Wind.
The Man Behind the Monsters
By Bob Bankard
PhillyBurbs Special Sections
I think it would only be fitting to take a moment to recognize one of the most important individuals in Golden-Age American horror cinema: John L. Balderston.
Philadelphia native Balderston was responsible for the conception of not only Universal's Dracula and Frankenstein, but also for screenplays for horror classics like The Mummy, The Bride of Frankenstein, Mad Love and Berekely Square. Beyond his work with the horror genre, Balderston was also responsible for the scripts for Randolf Scott's The Last of the Mohicans, Douglas Fairbanks' The Prisoner of Zenda, and was awarded for an Oscar for his treatment of George Cukor's Gaslight.
As an adventurous journalist in his early twenties, Balderston was on hand for the opening of King Tut's tomb in 1925.
Balderston was living in England, when he was contacted by entrepreneur Horace Liveright to adapt the popular "Dracula" stage play for American audiences. His contribution was mainly a massive rewrite of Hamilton Deane's florid and over-theatrical dialogue into more believable and conversational speech. The structure of the play remained as originally penned.
After the film rights were purchased by Universal, Balderson's stage adaptation was also purchased and made the basis of the scaled back production. Final screenplay credit, however, went to Garrett Fort, with three additional (and uncredited) Universal contract writers.
Immediately following the unexpected success of "Dracula", Universal cast an eye towards its next possible horror production. They naturally fell upon "Frankenstein; or "The Modern Prometheus", by Mary Shelly (1818), and an English stage play written only years previously, in 1927, by Peggy Webling - "Frankenstein: An Adventure in the Macabre". Universal purchased the rights, and hired Robert Florey to direct. Florey, in turn, hired Balderston to assist in the adaptation to screenplay. After the work was finished, Florey was fired, and James Whale was given the director's chair. Garrett Fort was once again credited with the final screenplay.
"The Mummy" was a product due nearly solely to Balderston. He was hired by Universal to adapt "Cagliostro", a story about an immortal Svengali-like alchemist based slightly on the 18th Century Italian Count. He took the romantic element of the story and superimposed it on a subject he knew far better. The count was changed to a living Egyptian Mummy, unearthed during an archeological expedition, who searches for and finds his lost love's reincarnated spirit. In this case, Balderston was given full screenplay credit.
Next came "Berkeley Square", a strange story of a man transported back in time, where he meets and falls in love with one of his ancestors. Highly reccomended, this film won fame and an Oscar nomination for a young Leslie Howard, who played the time-jumping Peter Standish. Based on a Balderston play, he shared final screenwriting credit with Sonya Levien.
1936 brought Balderston's first Oscar nomination as part of the writing team of "Lives of a Bengal Lancer", one of seven nominations for this sweeping British India epic starring Gary Cooper.
James Whale called on Balderston to assist in the adaptation of his reluctant sequel to his hit monster epic, "Frankenstein". Although he recieved partial screen credit, his own treatment was mostly rejected, with James Hurlbut and Whale contributing the lion's share of story eventually filmed.
Karl Freund, the cameraman (and nigh-director) of "Dracula", and the director of "The Mummy" called Balderston in to help adapt his second and last horror film, "Mad Love". The film is a little weird; Peter Lorre plays the creepy neurosurgeon Dr. Gogol, who falls in love with a petite stage actress; the actress, however, is happily married to a concert pianist and is creeped out by being wooed by Lorre. (Who wouldn't be?) When, however, her husband's hands are crushed in an accident, she goes to beg Gogol to assist him. He replaces his hands with the hands of a murderer, and they get a mind of their own. Pretty standard stuff, plotwise, but nicely played. Balderston was part of a three part writing team which include PJ Wolfson and Guy Endore.
Closing the circle, Balderston was asked to pen a sequel to "Dracula"; the result, "Dracula's Daughter", picks up only hours after the first film ended. After additional scene work was added by three more Universal staffers, the ultimate screenplay was produced once again by Garrett Fort.
After his turn in horror cinema, Balderston went on to write several of the forties greatest mainstream classics. He helped to adapt Fennimore Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans" for Randolph Scott (Oscar nomination - best director); he wrote the final screenplay for Ronald Colman/Douglas Fairbanks "Prisoner of Zenda" (Two Oscar nomination, 1991 film registry preservation inductee); and was part of the final writing team for George Cukor's thriller, "Gaslight" (7 Oscar nominations; 4 won, including best screenplay for Balderston and crew).
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