John L. Balderston

John L. Balderston (October 22, 1889, in Philadelphia – March 8, 1954, in Los Angeles) was an American playwright and screenwriter best known for his horror and fantasy scripts. He wrote the plays Berkley Square and Dracula.



Balderston began his career as a journalist in 1912 while still a student at Columbia University; he worked as the New York correspondent for the Philadelphia Record. He worked as European war correspondent during World War I for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, then was director of information in England and Ireland for the US Committee on Public Information. In 1916 he wrote The Brooke Kerith, about the life of Jesus, with George More. In 1919 he wrote the play The Genius of the Marne. Balderston co-authored "Cross-Styx, A Morality Playlet for the Leisure Class," a part of the Dutch Treat Club's 1920 annual dinner extravaganza written by him, Fred Dayton, Rae Irvin, Berton Braley, James Montgomery Flagg with music by Arthur Samuels. Deems Taylor and Arthur Samuels were at the Steinways; From 1920 to 1923, he was the editor of The Outlook magazine in London and then head of the London bureau for the New York World from 1923 to 1931.[1][2] Balderston left journalism in 1931 when the New York World went out of business.


Balderson wrote a play about Bacon and Shakespeare, Clown of Stratford in the mid 1920s. He achieved success as a playwright in 1926 with the London production of his play Berkeley Square which he had written with Jack Squire, the editor of the London Mercury. It was adapted from Henry James' The Sense of the Past.

In 1927, he was retained by Horace Liveright to revise Hamilton Deane's stage adaptation of Dracula for its American production. Balderston did some significant work on the adaptation, which was an enormous success when it debuted in October, running for 261 performances and making a star of Bela Lugosi. Deane then hired Balderston to adapt Peggy Webling's 1927 play version of Frankenstein for American audiences. However this did not make it to Broadway.[3]

Berkley Square was produced on Broadway from 1929–30, starring Leslie Howard. It ran for 229 performances.


Balderston's play of Dracula formed the basis of the 1931 film version starring Lugosi, made by Universal Pictures. Universal then bought his American adaptation of Peggy Webling's 1927 play Frankenstein, and used it as the basis for the 1931 film Frankenstein. Universal hired him to adapt a story on Cagliostro in The Mummy (1932). He wrote a version of The Invisible Man for James Whale which was not used.[4]

Balderston returned to Broadway in 1932, working with J.E. Hore on Red Planet.[5] It only ran seven performances. For MGM he did an unused treatment of She: A Story of Adventure in 1932 and did some uncredited work on Smilin' Through (1932). He is credited as screenwriter on the adaptation of Berkeley Square (1933).

Balderston was one of several writers on The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), which earned him an Oscar nomination. He worked on The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and was the last writer on Mad Love (1935). He was an uncredited contributor to the script of Mark of the Vampire (1935) and wrote a version of Dracula's Daughter (1936) for David O. Selznick which was sold to Universal.

Balderston worked on Peter Ibbetson (1935) for Henry Hathaway. He was one of several writers on The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss (1936) and did The Last of the Mohicans (1936) with Philip Dunne.

He adapted a Hungarian play into Farewell Performance for the English stage in 1936.[6]

In Hollywood, Balderston specialised in British themed subjects: The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936); Beloved Enemy (1936) for Sam Goldwyn; The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) for Selznick. He wrote an unused script, Murder in Church in 1938 and was one of the team of writers who collaborated on the 1939 film adaptation of Gone with the Wind for Selznick. He wrote a musical for Fox, Little Old New York (1940) then adapted Victory (1940) for Paramount.

At MGM he worked on Smilin' Through (1941), Stand By for Action (1942), and Tennessee Johnson (1942). He was also one of the writers on 1944's Gaslight, which earned him his second Academy Award nomination. He also wrote a book Chicago Blueprint, which was published in 1943.[7]

Later Years

In 1948 he co-wrote a novel about Caesar and Cleopatra, A Goddess to a God.[8]

Balderston did a treatment of Red Planet which became Red Planet Mars (1952). In 1952 he was appointed lecturer in drama at the University of Southern California.[9]

In 1953 it was announced Balderston and the heirs of Peggy Webling had settled a lawsuit with Universal over Frankenstein Under their original contract they were to be paid $20,000 plus 1% gross of any films that resulted from their work, including any sequel - and there were several Frankenstein films.[10]

He died of a heart attack in Beverly Hills in 1954.[11][12]

Select writing credits


  1. "Inventory of the John L. Balderston Papers, 1915-1950", *T-Mss-1954-002 Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts accessed December 11, 2012
  2. "Obituaries". Variety. March 10, 1954. p. 71. Retrieved April 21, 2018.
  3. "The World of Pictures". The Brisbane Courier (22, 947). Queensland, Australia. August 15, 1931. p. 19. Retrieved October 4, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  4. ""THE INVISIBLE MAN"". The Daily News. LI (18, 023). Western Australia. December 16, 1932. p. 10 (HOME EDITION). Retrieved October 4, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  5. Atkinson, Brooks (December 19, 1932). "Mars as the Source of a New Civilization in a Drama Entitled Red Planet". The New York Times. p. 19.
  6. "Mary Ellis Receives Plaudits in London: She is Praised for Varied Role in Farewell Performance". The New York Times. September 11, 1936. p. 28.
  7. Storck, John (September 26, 1943). "Some 'Hitlerian' Memos". The New York Times. p. BR26.
  8. Morris, Alice S. (November 14, 1948). "Cleopatra's Advice to Caesar". The New York Times. p. BR11.
  9. "John L. Balderston Named Lecturer in Drama at SC". Los Angeles Times. August 28, 1952. p. 4.
  10. Pryor, Thomas M. (May 24, 1953). "Hollywood Report: A Wider, Higher, Stereophonic 'Melba' Emerges -- Call of the Wild -- Addenda". The New York Times. p. X5.
  11. "Personal". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. March 11, 1954. p. 3. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  12. "Mr John Balderston: An Appreciation". The Manchester Guardian. March 13, 1954. p. 10.
  13. Genius of the Marne at
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