James Hilton (9 September 1900 – 20 December 1954) was an English novelist best remembered for several best-sellers, including Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
Born in Leigh, Lancashire, England, Hilton was the son of John Hilton, the headmaster of Chapel End School in Walthamstow. He was educated at Leys School, Cambridge and then at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he was awarded an honours degree in English literature.
He wrote his two most remembered books, Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips while living in a house on Oak Hill Gardens,Woodford Green. The house still stands, with a blue plaque marking Hilton's residence.
He was married twice, first to Alice Brown and later to Galina Kopineck. Both marriages ended in divorce. He died in Long Beach,California, USA, from liver cancer.
Hilton's first novel, Catherine Herself, was published in 1920, when he was 20. Several of his books were international bestsellers and inspired successful film adaptations, notablyLost Horizon (1933), which won a Hawthornden Prize; Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1934); and Random Harvest (1941).
Lost Horizon, as the first Pocket Books, is sometimes referred to as the book that began the paperback revolution. This novel won him the Hawthornden Prize in 1934. Hilton is said to have been inspired to write Lost Horizon, and to invent "Shangri-La" by reading the National Geographic Magazine articles of Joseph Rock, an Austrian-American botanistand ethnologist exploring the southwestern Chinese provinces and Tibetan borderlands. Still living in Britain at the time, Hilton was perhaps influenced by the Tibetan travel articles of early travellers in Tibet whose writings were found in the British Library. Christian Zeeman, the Danish father of the mathematician Sir Christopher Zeeman, has also been claimed to be the model for the hero of the story. He disappeared while living in Japan (where his son was born in 1925), and was reputed to be living incognito in a Zen Buddhistmonastery.
Some say that the isolated valley town of Weaverville, California, in far northern Trinity County, was a source, but this is the result of a misinterpretation of a comment by Hilton in a 1941 interview, in which he said that Weaverville reminded him of Shangri-La. Coincidentally, Junction City (about 8 miles from Weaverville) now has a Tibetan Buddhist centre with the occasional Tibetan monks in saffron robes. The name "Shangri-La" has become a byword for a mythical utopia, a permanently happy land, isolated from the world. After the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, when the fact that the bombers had flown from an aircraft carrier remained highly classified, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the press facetiously that they had taken off from Shangri-La. The Navy subsequently gave that name to an aircraft carrier, and Roosevelt named his Maryland presidential retreat "Shangri-La". (Later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed the retreat Camp David after his grandson, the name by which it is known today.) Zhongdian, a mountain region ofSouthwest China, has now been renamed Shangri-La (Xianggelila), based on its claim to have inspired Hilton's book
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Hilton's father, headmaster of Chapel End School in Walthamstow, was one of the inspirations for the character of Mr. Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Hilton was born in Wilkinson Street, Leigh, and there is a teacher in Goodbye, Mr. Chips called Mr. Wilkinson. 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 William Henry 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. The book Goodbye, Mr. Chips became a best seller. Hilton first sent the material to The Atlantic and the magazine printed it as an article in April, 1934. It was then proposed to be printed as a book. On June 8 it was published as a book. Four months later it appeared as a book in England.
Hilton, who lived and worked in Hollywood beginning in the mid-1930s, won an Academy Award in 1942 for his work on the screenplay of Mrs. Miniver, based on the novel by Jan Struther. He hosted The Hallmark Playhouse (1948–1953) for CBS Radio. One of his later novels, Morning Journey, was about the movie business.