Lost Horizon : Biography
James Hilton was born at Leigh, Lancashire, England, on September 9, 1900. In 1902 the family moved to London where his father John Hilton became headmaster of an elementary school. After grammar school, James Hilton entered Leys School, a public school in Cambridge. At Leys he was editor of the school magazine and wrote pacifist poetry. He continued at Christ's College, Cambridge.
At seventeen, he published an article in the Manchester Guardian, and his first novel, Catherine Herself, was published in 1920. He graduated in 1921 with a B.A. in history and English. He spent eleven years as an instructor at Cambridge, writing a column for Dublin's Irish Independent. He was also a fiction reviewer for the London Daily Telegraph. None of his novels published in the 1920s, such as Storm Passage (1922) and The Passionate Year (1923) received much attention.
With And Now Goodbye (1931), the story of an English minister’s breakdown, he began to make a little money. Critics began to note his delicate writing style. Also in 1931, under the name of "Glen Trevor," he wrote a mystery story, called Murder at School. Reprinted in the United States as Was It Murder? it received good reviews.
Contango (1932), Rage in Heaven (1932), and Knight Without Armour (1933) were moderately successful. Lost Horizon (1933) won the Hawthornden Prize, awarded annually to the most imaginative work by a young British author.
In 1933 Hilton hurriedly wrote a short story for the British Weekly's special Christmas issue, about his reminiscences of school days at Leys, called “Good-bye, Mr. Chips.” The story was well received in England, but its great popularity came from America. It was printed in the April 1934 in the Atlantic Monthly.
Good-bye, Mr. Chips became a best-seller and was made into a film (1939). Hilton wrote six more short stories about Mr. Chips, collected in To You, Mr. Chips (1938). The figure of the old schoolmaster Chipping was modeled partly on his father.
This success revived interest in the earlier Hilton novels. Lost Horizon then became even more popular than Good-bye, Mr. Chips. It placed eighth on the 1935 best-seller list: Frank Capra made it a lavish 1937 Hollywood production starring Ronald Colman as Conway, the contemplative diplomat. Hilton and his wife, Alice Brown, came to the United States in 1935 to aid in the filming of Lost Horizon and Knight Without Armour. Hilton became an American citizen in 1948. He divorced and married actress Galina Kopineck. Hilton became a well-known and highly paid screenwriter, including work on Camille (1936) and Mrs. Miniver (1942), for which he won an Academy Award. Eight of his own novels were made into motion pictures. Hilton's last big success was Random Harvest, the best-selling novel of 1941 about a man in shellshock amnesia.
James Hilton died of cancer of the liver on December 20, 1954. He was rich from his writing and according to critics of the time was viewed as popular and sentimental rather than as a literary writer.