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James Clavell

  (Redirected from Michaela Clavell)

James Clavell (10 October 1921[1] – 6 September 1994), born Charles Edmund Dumaresq Clavell, was a British (and later naturalized American) novelist, screenwriter, director, and World War II veteran and prisoner of war. Clavell is best known as a writer for his The Asian Saga series of novels, a number of which have had television adaptations. Clavell also authored screenplays, such as The Great Escape (1963) and To Sir, with Love (1967). Clavell wrote science fiction as well, including "First Woman on the Moon" a 1959 episode of theTV series Men into Space in 1959 and the screenplay (based on the original short story by George Langelaan) for the 1958 science fiction horror The Fly.

James Clavell
James Clavell.jpg
Born(1921-10-10)10 October 1921
Sydney, Australia
Died7 September 1994(1994-09-07) (aged 72)
Vevey, Switzerland
OccupationNovelist, screenwriter, director



Early lifeEdit

Born in Australia, Clavell was the son of Commander Richard Charles Clavell, a British Royal Navy officer who was stationed in Australia on secondment to the Royal Australian Navy from 1920 to 1922. Clavell was educated at Portsmouth Grammar School.

World War TwoEdit

During 1940, aged 19, Clavell joined the Royal Artillery, and was sent to Malaya to fight the Japanese. Wounded by machine gun fire, he was eventually captured and sent to a Japanese prisoner of war camp on Java. Later he was transferred to Changi Prison in Singapore.

Clavell suffered greatly at the hands of his Japanese captors. According to the introduction to Clavell's novel King Rat (1962), over 90% of the prisoners who entered Changi never walked out.[2] Clavell was reportedly saved, along with an entire battalion, by an American prisoner of war who later became the model for "The King" in King Rat.

Post War CareerEdit

By 1946, Clavell became a captain, but a motorcycle accident ended his military career. He enrolled with the University of Birmingham, where he met April Stride, an actress, whom he married in 1949 (date of marriage sometimes given as 1951).[3] He would visit her on set while making films and began to be interested in becoming a film director.[4]

Early FilmsEdit

Clavell entered the film industry via distribution, and worked at that in England for a number of years. He tried to get into producing but had no luck so started writing screenplays. In 1954 he moved to New York, then to Hollywood. While trying to break into screenwriting he paid the bills working as a carpenter.[4]

In 1956 he sold a script about pilots to RKO, Far Alert.[5] The same year Michael Pate bought a story of his Forbidden Territory for filming.[6]

Neither was filmed but Far Alert kept being sold and re-sold. "In 18 months it brought in $87,000," he later said. "We kept getting paid for writing it and rewriting it as it went from one studio to another. It was wonderful."[4] It was later sold to Fox where it attracted the attention of Robert L. Lippert who hired Clavell to write the science-fiction horror movie The Fly (1958). This became a hit and launched Clavell as a screenwriter.

He wrote Watusi (1959) for director Kurt Neumann, who had also made The Fly.

Clavell wrote Five Gates to Hell (1959) for Lippert, and when they could not find a suitable diector, Clavell was given the job.[7]

Paramount hired Clavell to write a film about the Bounty mutineers.[8] It ended up not being made. Neither was a proposed movie about Francis Powers.[9] Clavell did write produced and directed a Western at Paramount, Walk Like a Dragon (1960).

In 1960 he had written a Broadway show with John Sturgis, White Alice, a thriller set in the Arctic.[10] It was never produced.

Early NovelsEdit

In 1960 the Writers Guild went on strike, meaning Clavell was unable to work. He decided to write a novel, King Rat, based on his time at Changi. It took him three months and several more months after that to rework it. The book was published in 1962 and sold well. It was turned into a film in 1965.[4]

Clavell kept working in films. In 1961 he announced he had formed his own company, Cee Productions, who would make the films King Rat, White Alice and No Hands on the Clock.[11]

In 1962 he signed a multi picture contract with a Canadian company to produce and direct two films there, Circle of Greed and The Sweet and the Bitter.[12] Only the second was made and it was not released until 1967.

He wrote scripts for the war films The Great Escape (1963) and 633 Squadron (1964).[13]

He wrote a short story, The Children's Story (1964) and did the script for The Satan Bug (1965), directed by John Sturges who had made The Great Escape. He also wrote Richard Sahib for Sturges which was never made.[14]

Clavell wanted to write a second novel because "that separates the men from the boys".[15] The money from King Rat enabled him to spend two years researching and then writing what became Tai-Pan (1966). It was a huge best seller, and Clavell sold the film rights for a sizeable amount (although the movie would not be made until 1986).[16]

Leading Film DirectorEdit

Clavell returned to filmmaking. He wrote, produced and directed To Sir, With Love (1967), featuring Sidney Poitier and based on E. R. Braithwaite's semiautobiographical 1959 book. It was a huge critical and commercial success.[17]

Clavell was now in much demand as a filmmaker. He produced and directed Where's Jack? (1969), a highwayman film which was a commercial failure.[18] So too was an epic film about the Thirty Year War, The Last Valley (1971).[19]

Career as novelistEdit

Clavell returned to novel writing, which was the focus of the remainder of his career. He spent three years researching and writing Shōgun (1975), about an Englishman who becomes a samurai in feudal Japan. It was another massive best seller. Clavell was heavily involved in the 1980 mini-series which starred Richard Chamberlain and achieved huge ratings.

In the late 1970s he spent three years researching and writing his fourth novel, Noble House (1981), set in Hong Kong in 1963. It was another best seller and was turned into a miniseries in 1986.[20]

Clavell briefly returned to filmmaking and directed a thirty-minute adaptation of his novelette The Children's Story. He was meant to do a sequel to Shogun but instead found himself writing a novel about the 1979 revolution in Iran, Whirlwind (1986).[21]

Clavell eventually returned to the Shogun sequel, writing Gai-Jin (1993). This was his last completed novel at the time of his death.



The New York Times said that "Clavell has a gift. It may be something that cannot be taught or earned. He breathes narrative ... He writes in the oldest and grandest tradition that fiction knows".[22] His first novel, King Rat (1962), was a semifictional account of his prison experiences at Changi. When the book was published it became an immediate best-seller, and three years later it was adapted as a movie. His next novel, Tai-Pan (1966), was a fictional account of Jardine Matheson's successful career in Hong Kong, as told via the character who was to become Clavell's heroic archetype, Dirk Struan. Struan's descendants were characters in almost all of his following books. Tai-Pan was adapted as a movie during 1986.

Clavell's third novel, Shōgun (1975), is set during 17th century Japan, and it tells the story of a shipwrecked English navigator in Japan, based on that of William Adams. When the story was made into a TV miniseries during 1980, produced by Clavell, it became the second highest rated miniseries in history with an audience of more than 120 million, after Roots.[citation needed]

Clavell's fourth novel, Noble House (1981), became a bestseller that year and was adapted into a TV miniseries in 1988.

Following the success of Noble House, Clavell wrote Thrump-o-moto (1985), Whirlwind (1986), and Gai-Jin (1993).

Peter MarloweEdit

Peter Marlowe is Clavell's author surrogate,[23] and a character of the novels King Rat and Noble House (1981); he is also mentioned once (as a friend of Andrew Gavallan's) in Whirlwind (1986). Featured most prominently in King Rat, Marlowe is an English prisoner of war in Changi prison during World War II. In Noble House, set two decades later, he is a novelist researching a book about Hong Kong. Marlowe's ancestors are also mentioned in other Clavell novels.

In Noble House Marlowe is mentioned as having written a novel about Changi which, although fictionalized, is based on real events (like those in King Rat). When asked which character was based on him, Marlowe answers, "Perhaps I'm not there at all", although in a later scene, he admits he was "the hero, of course".[24]


The Asian Saga consists of seven novels:[25]

  1. King Rat (1962), set in a Japanese POW camp in Singapore in 1945.
  2. Tai-Pan (1966), set in Hong Kong in 1841
  3. Shōgun (1975), set Japan from 1600 onwards
  4. Noble House (1981), set in Hong Kong in 1963
  5. Whirlwind (1986), set in Iran in 1979.
  6. Gai-Jin (1993), set in Japan in 1862
  7. Escape: The Love Story from Whirlwind (1994), a novella adapted from Whirlwind (1986)

Children's storiesEdit


Interactive fictionEdit

  • Shōgun (1988 adaptation by Infocom, Inc., for Amiga, Apple II, DOS, Macintosh), interactive fiction with graphics and puzzle-solving; the user plays John Blackthorne, the first Englishman to set foot on Japanese soil[27]
  • Shōgun (1986 adaptation by Virgin Games, Ltd., for Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, DOS), interactive fiction with a third-person perspective; the user wanders around as one of a number of characters trying to improve his/her rapport with other people, battling and working to becoming a Shōgun[28]

Politics and later lifeEdit

In 1963 Clavell became a naturalized citizen of the United States.[23] Politically, he was said to have been an ardent individualist and proponent of laissez-faire capitalism, as many of his books' heroes exemplify. Clavell admired Ayn Rand, founder of the Objectivist school of philosophy, and sent her a copy of Noble House during 1981 inscribed: "This is for Ayn Rand—one of the real, true talents on this earth for which many, many thanks. James C, New York, 2 September 81."[29]


During 1994, Clavell died in Switzerland, from a stroke while suffering from cancer. He died one month before his 73rd birthday. After sponsorship by his widow, the library and archive of the Royal Artillery Museum at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, in southeast London, was renamed the James Clavell Library in his honour.[30] The library was later closed pending the opening of a new facility in Salisbury, Wiltshire;[31] however, James Clavell Square on the Woolwich riverside remains.


  1. ^ "James Du Maresq or Charles Edmund Clavell, California, Southern District Court (Central) Naturalization Index, 1915-1976". FamilySearch. Retrieved 26 January 2014. Date of birth often given as 10 October 1924.
  2. ^ 850 out of a total of 87,000 prisoners are known to have died at Changi, although many more died after being transferred out to other sites like the Burma Railway. Cf.
  3. ^ "FreeBMD Entry Info". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d An author at home in Hollywood and Hong Kong. Dudar, Helen. Chicago Tribune 12 Apr 1981: e1.
  5. ^ Drama: Marine Rescue Story to Star Arness; Stage, Screen Blend Efforts Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 19 June 1956: 19.
  6. ^ Bon Voyage' Announced as Major Buy; 'Holiday in Monaco' Wald Film, Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 9 Oct 1956: C11.
  7. ^ Weaver, Tom (19 February 2003). Double Feature Creature Attack: A Monster Merger of Two More Volumes of Classic Interviews. McFarland. p. 320.
  8. ^ SCHARY SUPPORTS WRITERS' STRIKE: Independent Film Producer Not Affected by Walkout Defends Pay in TV Sales New York Times 27 Oct 1959: 42.
  9. ^ U-2 Incident Causes Movie Repercussions Vernon, Scott. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]28 May 1960: A7.
  10. ^ ELLIS LISTS STARS OF 'HAPPY ENDING': Ruth Chatterton, Pert Kelton and Conrad Nagel to Head Cast at New Hope, Pa. By SAM ZOLOTOW. New York Times 5 Aug 1960: 13.
  11. ^ Irwin Allen Signs Multiple Film Deal Los Angeles Times 28 June 1961: C11.
  12. ^ FILMLAND EVENTS: Curtis' 'Playboy' Goes to Columbia Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]11 Jan 1962: B9.
  13. ^ "Writers Guild Foundation Library Database". Writers Guild Foundation. Archived from the original on 9 September 2015. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  14. ^ BY WAY OF REPORT: John Sturges' 'Sahib' -- Together Again By A.H. WEILER. New York Times 3 May 1964: X9.
  15. ^ Rosenfield, Paul (19 April 1981). "AUTHOR JAMES CLAVELL: A LEGEND IN HIS OWN TIME". Los Angeles Times. p. L5.
  16. ^ 'Tai-Pan' Means Big Novel, Big Money, Big Movie: More on Movies By A.H. WEILER. New York Times 3 July 1966: 45.
  17. ^ A Blue-Ribbon Packager of Movie Deals Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times 20 Apr 1969: w1.
  18. ^ Michael Deeley, Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies, Pegasus Books, 2009 p 43-44
  19. ^ "ABC's 5 Years of Film Production Profits & Losses", Variety, 31 May 1973 p 3
  20. ^ Dudar, Helen (12 April 1981). "An author at home in Hollywood and Hong Kong". Chicago Tribune. p. E1.
  21. ^ Clavell bullies the bullies now that he's No. 1 Allemang, John. The Globe and Mail [Toronto, Ont] 29 Nov 1986: E.3.
  22. ^ Schott, Webster (1975-06-22). "Shogun". The New York Times. p. 236. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  23. ^ a b Bernstein, Paul (1981-09-13). "Making of a Literary Shogun". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  24. ^ Clavell, James (1981). Noble House (Chapter 65).
  25. ^ Clavell, James (1986). Escape: The Love Story from Whirlwind (Asian Saga side story).
  26. ^ Clavell, James & Sharp, George (Illustrator) (1986). Thrump-O-Moto (Hardcover ed.). Delacorte Press. ISBN 9780385295048.
  27. ^ Infocom, Inc. (1988). "James Clavell's Shogun". Moby Games.
  28. ^ Virgin Games, Ltd. (1986). "James Clavell's Shogun". Moby Games.
  29. ^ Enright, Marsha Familaro (May 2007), "James Clavell's Asian Adventures", Fountainhead Institute
  30. ^ "James Clavell Library - Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, London, UK". Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  31. ^ "Firepower - The Royal Artillery Museum". The National Archives. Retrieved 27 February 2017.

External linksEdit