James Hilton, Shangri-la, and Hollywood

james hilton autog

James Hilton is one of my personal writing heroes and yet his name may be unfamiliar to many of you reading this blog. He was a journalist and an author and made the trip from his home in Leigh, Lancashire, in the UK to the Hollywood hills in the United States to become a screen writer. He is probably more well known for his book ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ which was made into a film with Robert Donat (actually another northerner from Didsbury in Manchester) but my favourite of his books and quite possibly my all-time favourite book is ‘Lost Horizon’.

Lost Horizon is a book I found in a second hand shop many years ago. A battered 1940s paperback I paid twenty five pence for and yet that small investment has paid me back many times over for sheer reading pleasure as Lost Horizon is a book I re read every year or so and I often pull it down from my bookshelf when a current read fails to entertain me. Lost Horizon is a completely original idea and is about British consul Robert Conway in the dark days prior to World War II. Conway is helping his fellow British citizens escape from civil war in China and he and his small party escape in the last plane only to be kidnapped and taken to a distant Tibetan monastery. Conway meets the High lama and after a time it is revealed that the Tibetans  want to preserve the best of world culture and art and make it safe from the coming war.

Hilton is one of those few people who have invented a word or coined a phrase that has become part of the English language. In this case it was the name of the Tibetan monastery, Shangri-la which has since become a byword for a peaceful paradise, a distant haven. Camp David, the US President’s retreat was originally called Shangi-la until renamed by Eisenhower for his son, David.

Hilton’s journey from Leigh to Hollywood must have been a magical one and one I envy, especially as his time in Hollywood was a golden age for movie making. Lost Horizon was made into a movie by Hollywood director Frank Capra and starred Ronald Colman as the urbane British diplomat of the novel. It’s a movie that was recently restored and is a great DVD if you happen to see it. Colman also starred in another movie authored by Hilton :‘Random Harvest ‘.

Hilton settled in Hollywood and wrote a number of screenplays for classic Hollywood movies such as ‘Mrs Miniver ‘. Sadly he died from cancer in 1954.

WordPress of course is an American site and I wonder sometimes if a bored Hollywood production executive may decide to sit down one day with his i-pad and search idly across the site in search of movie ideas. My own book; Floating In space’ could easily be relocated from Manchester to Los Angeles and I am available for writing the screenplay. Well, may keep my flight bag packed, just in case . . .


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my novel, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

5 responses to “James Hilton, Shangri-la, and Hollywood

  1. Pingback: Lost Horizon, Samsara, and a Visit to the Doctor | An Author's Blog: Taking A sideways glance at the world!

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  4. Pingback: The Joy of a Second Hand Bookshop (and two particular gems) | Steve's Blog: A sideways glance at the world!

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