With his film career behind him, Whale found himself at loose ends. He was offered the occasional job, including the opportunity to direct Since You Went Away for David O. Selznick, but turned them down. Lewis, meanwhile, was busier than ever with his production duties and often worked late hours, leaving Whale lonely and bored. Lewis bought him a supply of paint and canvasses and Whale re-discovered his love of painting. Eventually he built a large studio for himself.
With the outbreak of World War II, Whale volunteered his services to make a training film for the United States Army. Whale shot the film, called Personnel Placement in the Army, in February 1942. Later that year, in association with actress Claire DuBrey, Whale created the Brentwood Service Players. The Players took over a 100–seat theatre. Sixty seats were provided free of charge to service personnel; the remaining were sold to the public, with the box office proceeds donated to wartime charities. The group expanded to the Playtime Theatre during the summer, where a series of shows ran through October.
Whale returned to Broadway in 1944 to direct the psychological thriller Hand in Glove. It was his first return to Broadway since his failed One, Two, Three! in 1930. Hand in Glove would fare no better than his earlier play, running the same number of performances, 40.
Whale directed his final film in 1950, a short subject based on the William Saroyan one-act play Hello Out There. The film, financed by supermarket heir Huntington Hartford, was the story of a man in a Texas jail falsely accused of rape and the woman who cleans the jail. Hartford intended for the short to be part of an anthology film along the lines of Quartet. However, attempts to find appropriate short fiction companion pieces to adapt were unsuccessful and Hello Out There was never commercially released.
Whale's last professional engagement was directing Pagan in the Parlour, a farce about two New England spinster sisters who are visited by a Polynesian whom their father, when shipwrecked years earlier, had married. The production was mounted in Pasadena for two weeks in 1951. Plans were made to take it to New York, but Whale suggested taking the play to London first. Before opening the play in England, Whale decided to tour the art museums of Europe. In France he renewed his acquaintanceship with Curtis Harrington, whom Whale had met in 1947. While visiting Harrington in Paris, Whale went to some gay bars. At one he met a 25-year-old bartender named Pierre Foegel, who Harrington believed was nothing but "a hustler out for what he could get". The 62-year-old Whale was smitten with the younger man and hired him as his chauffeur.
A provincial tour of Pagan in the Parlour began in September 1952 and it appeared that the play would be a hit. However, Hermione Baddeley, starring in the play as the cannibal "Noo-ga," was drinking heavily and began engaging in bizarre antics and disrupting performances. Because she had a run of the play contract she could not be replaced and so producers were forced to close the show.
Whale returned to California in November 1952 and advised David Lewis that he planned to bring Foegel over early the following year. Appalled, Lewis moved out of their home. While this ended their 23-year romantic relationship, the two men remained friends. Lewis bought a small house and dug a swimming pool, prompting Whale to have his own pool dug, although he did not himself swim in it. Whale began throwing all-male swim parties and would watch the young men cavort in and around the pool. Foegel moved in with Whale in early 1953 and remained there for several months before returning to France. He returned in 1954 permanently, and Whale installed him as manager of a gas station that he owned.
Whale and Foegel settled into a quiet routine until the spring of 1956, when Whale suffered a small stroke. A few months later he suffered a larger stroke and was hospitalized. While in the hospital he was treated for depression with shock treatments.
Upon his release, Whale hired one of the male nurses from the hospital to be his personal live-in nurse. A jealous Foegel maneuvered the nurse out of the house and hired a female nurse as a non live-in replacement. Whale suffered from mood swings and grew increasingly and frustratingly more dependent on others as his mental faculties were diminishing.
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