James Hilton

James Hilton books and biography

James Hilton

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Born: September 9, 1900
Flag of United Kingdom Leigh, Lancashire, England, UK
Died: December 20, 1954 (aged54)
Flag of United States Long Beach, California, USA
Occupation: Novelist
Genres: Fantasy, Science fiction

James Hilton (September 9, 1900 – December 20, 1954) was a Oscar-winning novelist, author several best-sellers including Lost Horizon (which popularised the mythical Shangri La) and Goodbye Mr Chips.



Born in Leigh, in Lancashire, England on 9 September 1900, he was the son of John Hilton, the headmaster of Chapel End School in Walthamstow. His father was one of the inspirations for the character of Mr Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. (Hilton was born on Wilkinson Street in Leigh - there is a teacher in Goodbye, Mr Chips called Mr Wilkinson, which seems too deliberate to be a coincidence.) The setting for Goodbye, Mr Chips is believed to have been based on the Leys School, Cambridge, where James Hilton was a pupil. Chipping is also likely to have been based on W. H. Balgarnie, one of the masters of the school who was in charge of the Leys Fortnightly, where Hilton's first short stories and essays were published.


Hilton found literary success at an early age. His first novel, Catherine Herself, was published in 1920, at the tender age of 20. Several of his books were international bestsellers and inspired successful film adaptations, notably Lost Horizon (1933), which won a Hawthornden Prize; Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1934); and Random Harvest (1941). Lost Horizon, which sold briskly in the 1930s as one of the first Pocket Books, is sometimes referred to as the book that began the paperback revolution.

Winning Oscar

Hilton, who lived and worked in Hollywood beginning in the mid-1930s, won an Oscar in 1942 for his work on the screenplay of Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther. He hosted The Hallmark Playhouse (1948-1953) for CBS Radio.

He popularised the term "Shangri-La" in his novel Lost Horizon, which may have been inspired by the Tibetan travel articles of explorer Joseph Rock. It is also believed that the isolated valley town of Weaverville, California, in far northern Trinity County, was an inspiration.[citation needed] Coincidentally, Junction City (about 8 miles from Weaverville) now has a Tibetan Buddhist center with the occasional Tibetan monks in saffron robes. US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt named his Maryland presidential retreat "Shangri-La" after it, and the name has become a byword for a mythical utopia - a permanently happy land, isolated from the world. (Later, President Dwight David Eisenhower renamed the retreat Camp David after his grandson, the name by which it is known today.) Zhongdian, a mountain region of southwest China, has now been renamed Shangri-La (Xianggelila), based on its claim to have inspired Hilton's book.

Hilton's Books

Hilton's books are sometimes dismissed as sentimental celebrations of English virtues. This is true of Mr. Chips, but some of his novels had a darker side. Flaws in the English society of his time -- particularly narrow-mindedness and class-consciousness -- were frequently his targets. His novel We Are Not Alone, despite its inspirational-sounding title, is a grim story of legally approved lynching brought on by wartime hysteria in Britain.

He was married and divorced twice, first to Alice Brown and later to Galina Kopineck. He died in Long Beach, California from liver cancer on December 20, 1954, aged 54.


  • Following the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in 1942, when a force of normally land-based bombers were successfully embarked on and flown off an aircraft carrier, the Japanese were baffled as to how such aircraft were able to reach and bomb Japan, given that there were no American land bases within range at that time. President Roosevelt claimed that the aircraft had flown from Shangri-La. Later, an Essex class aircraft carrier was named 'Shangri-La', commemorating both the raid and the witticism.
  • Hilton's novel So Well Remembered was filmed in 1947 with John Mills in the lead role of George Boswell. Hilton himself narrates the film.
  • Hilton co-wrote the book and lyrics for Shangri-La, a disastrous 1956 Broadway musical adaptation of Lost Horizon.
  • A furor was caused in the late 1990s, when the Wigan Council (the Metropolitan Borough responsible for Leigh) announced that a blue plaque in honour of Hilton would be placed not on his house in Wilkinson Street, but on the town hall. This caused great debate amongst the populace of Leigh, which considered it more appropriate to have it on the house itself, which is only a few hundred yards from the town hall.
  • There are two sequels to Lost Horizon, Messenger by Frank DeMarco, and Shangri-La by Eleanor Cooney and Daniel Altieri.
  • James Hilton was for some time the Chairman of Leigh Rugby League Football Club, now Leigh Centurions. During the War, the club was forced to leave its ground as the adjacent cable factory extended onto the land. The townsfolk of Leigh, under Hilton's inspiration, cleared some fields on the edge of the town, and built a new stadium, including moving and rebuilding the old grandstand from the original ground. In 1947, the ground was renamed 'Hilton Park'.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Good-Bye, Mr. Chips

Morning Journey

Random Harvest

So Well Remembered

Structure Of Physical Chemistry

Time And Time Again

Was It Murder?

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