James Neville Mason
15 May 1909
|Died||27 July 1984 (aged 75)|
|Alma mater||Peterhouse, Cambridge|
(m. 1941; div. 1964)
James Neville Mason (; 15 May 1909 – 27 July 1984) was an English actor. He achieved considerable success in British cinema before becoming a star in Hollywood. He was the top box-office attraction in the UK in 1944 and 1945; his British films included The Seventh Veil (1945) and The Wicked Lady (1945). He starred in Odd Man Out (1947), the first recipient of the BAFTA Award for Best British Film.
He starred in a number of successful British and American films from the 1950s to the early 1980s, including The Desert Fox, A Star Is Born, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lolita, North by Northwest, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Bigger Than Life, Julius Caesar, Georgy Girl, Heaven Can Wait, The Boys from Brazil and The Verdict.
Mason was nominated for three Academy Awards, three Golden Globes (winning the Golden Globe in 1955 for A Star is Born) and two BAFTA Awards throughout his career. Following his death in 1984, his ashes were interred near the tomb of his close friend, fellow English actor Sir Charlie Chaplin.
Mason was born on 15 May 1909, in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the youngest of three sons of John Mason and Mabel Hattersley, daughter of J. Shaw Gaunt. A wealthy wool merchant like his own father before him, John Mason travelled a good deal on business, mainly in France and Belgium; Mabel - who was "uncommonly well-educated" and had lived in London to study and begin work as an artist before returning to Yorkshire to care for her father - was "attentive and loving" in raising her sons. The Masons lived in a house in its own grounds on Croft House Lane in Marsh, which was replaced in the mid 1970s by flats called Arncliffe Court. A small residential development opposite where the house once stood is now called James Mason Court.
Mason was educated at Marlborough College, and earned a first in Architecture at Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he became involved in stock theatre companies in his spare time. He had no formal training in acting and initially embarked upon it for fun.
He joined the Old Vic theatre in London under the guidance of Tyrone Guthrie. While there he appeared in productions of The Cherry Orchard, Henry VIII, Measure for Measure, The Importance of Being Earnest, Love for Love, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and MacBeth. Featuring in many of these were Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester. In the mid-1930s he also appeared at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, notably in Pride and Prejudice with Betty Chancellor.
From 1935 to 1938, he starred in many British quota quickies, starting with his first film Late Extra (1935), in which he played the lead. Albert Parker directed. Mason appeared in Twice Branded (1936); Troubled Waters (1936), also directed by Parker; Prison Breaker (1936); Blind Man's Bluff (1936), for Parker's The Secret of Stamboul (1936), and The Mill on the Floss (1936), an "A" movie.
Mason had a key support role in Korda's Fire Over England (1937) with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. He was in another "A", The High Command (1937) directed by Thorold Dickinson then went back to quickies, starring in Catch As Catch Can (1937), directed by Roy Kellino. Korda cast him as the villain in The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1937)
Mason began appearing in some televised productions of plays, made in the very early days of television: Cyrano de Bergerac (1938), The Moon in the Yellow River (1938), Bees on the Boat-Deck (1939), Square Pegs (1939), L'Avare (1939), and The Circle (1939).
He registered as a conscientious objector during World War II (causing his family to break with him for many years), but his tribunal exempted him only on the requirement to do non-combatant military service, which he refused; his appeal against this became irrelevant once he was included in a general exemption for film work.
In 1941-42 he returned to the stage to appear in Jupiter Laughs by A. J. Cronin.
He established himself as a leading man in Britain in a series of films: The Patient Vanishes (1941); Hatter's Castle (1941) with Robert Newton and Deborah Kerr; The Night Has Eyes (1941); Alibi (1942) with Margaret Lockwood; Secret Mission (1942); Thunder Rock (1942) with Michael Redgrave; and The Bells Go Down (1943) with Tommy Trinder.
Mason became hugely popular for his brooding anti-heroes in the Gainsborough series of melodramas of the 1940s, starting with The Man in Grey (1943). The film was a huge hit and launched him and co-stars Lockwood, Stewart Granger and Phyllis Calvert, to top level stars.
Mason starred in two war time dramas, They Met in the Dark (1943) and Candlelight in Algeria (1944), then returned to Gainsborough melodrama with Fanny By Gaslight (1944) with Granger and Calvert; it was another big hit.
Mason starred in Hotel Reserve (1944), a thriller, then did a ghost story for Gainsborough with Lockwood, A Place of One's Own (1945). Far more popular was a melodrama, They Were Sisters (1945).
Sydney Box cast Mason in the lead of a musical melodrama, The Seventh Veil (1945) alongside Ann Todd. It was a huge success in Britain and the US and demand for Mason was at a fever pitch. Exhibitors voted him the most popular star in Britain in each year between 1944 and 1947. They also thought he was the most popular international star in 1946; he dropped to second place the following year. He was the most popular male star in Canada in 1948.
Mason had a relatively minor role in The Wicked Lady (1945) with Lockwood, a big hit. Mason then received his best reviews to date playing a mortally wounded IRA bank robber on the run in Carol Reed's Odd Man Out (1947).
Mason was able to turn producer on a film with Box, written by his wife and starring Mason, The Upturned Glass (1947). It was not particularly successful. Neither was Bathsheba, a play he and his wife did on Broadway.
Mason did another with Ophuls, The Reckless Moment (1949), then did East Side, West Side (1949) with Barbara Stanwyck at MGM and One Way Street (1950) at Universal. He made Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) with Ava Gardner. None of these films was particularly successful.
Mason's Hollywood career was revived when cast as General Rommel in The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951), directed by Henry Hathaway. To do the film he agreed to sign a contract with 20th Century Fox for seven years at one film a year.
MGM hired him to play Rupert of Hentzau in The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) opposite Granger. He was in the lower budgeted Face to Face (1952) then went to Paramount to play a villainous sea captain opposite Alan Ladd in Botany Bay (1953).
Mason was one of many stars in MGM's The Story of Three Loves (1953). At Fox he reprised his role as Rommel in The Desert Rats (1953), then he was reunited with Mankiewicz at MGM, playing Brutus in Julius Caesar (1953), opposite Marlon Brando. The film was very successful.
Mason worked with Carol Reed in The Man Between (1953), then Fox used him as a villain again in Prince Valiant (1954). Mason did another film with a screenplay by his wife and directed by Roy Kellino, Charade (1954).
Warner Bros., hired him to play Judy Garland's leading man in A Star Is Born (1954). He went over to Disney to play Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), a huge hit. During 1954 and 1955, Mason was the host of some episodes of Lux Video Theatre on CBS television.
Mason appeared with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in Forever, Darling (1956) then starred in and produced a film at Fox, Bigger Than Life (1956), directed by Nicholas Ray. Mason played a small-town school teacher driven insane by the effects of cortisone. He did another for Fox, the hugely popular melodrama, Island in the Sun (1957).
At Fox he had a huge hit playing a determined scientist and explorer in Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959), taking over a role meant for Clifton Webb. He did a comedy A Touch of Larceny (1960) and was Sir Edward Carson in The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960).
In 1963 Mason settled in Switzerland, and embarked on a transatlantic career. He began to drift into support roles, or second leads: the epic The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964); The Pumpkin Eater (1964), with Anne Bancroft; a river pirate who betrays Peter O'Toole's character in Lord Jim (1965); a Chinese noble in Genghis Khan (1965); The Uninhibited (1965); a guest role on Dr Kildare; James Leamington in the Swinging London-set Georgy Girl (1966), a role that earned him a second Academy Award nomination, for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
He provided a supporting role in Duffy (1968) and Mayerling (1968) but was top billed in The Sea Gull (1968) for Sidney Lumet and starred as Bradley Morahan in Age of Consent (1969) for Michael Powell, a film which Mason also produced. He also had the star role in Spring and Port Wine (1970).
Mason supported Charles Bronson in Cold Sweat (1970) and Lee Van Cleef in Bad Man's River (1971). He was a support in Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! (1971) and top billed in Child's Play (1972) for Lumet, replacing Marlon Brando.
He was one of many stars in The Last of Sheila (1973) and played the evil Doctor Polidori in Frankenstein: The True Story (1973). He had support roles in The MacKintosh Man (1973), 11 Harrowhouse (1974), The Marseille Contract (1974), and Great Expectations (1974) and was top billed in Mandingo (1975).
Mason's later 70s performances included Kidnap Syndicate (1975), The Left Hand of the Law (1975), Autobiography of a Princess (1975), Inside Out (1975), The Flower in His Mouth (1975), Voyage of the Damned (1976), Hot Stuff (1977), Cross of Iron (1977), Jesus of Nazareth (1977), The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go (1978), The Water Babies (1978), Heaven Can Wait (1978), The Boys from Brazil (1978), Murder by Decree (1979) (as Watson), The Passage (1979), Bloodline (1979) and as the vampire's servant, Richard Straker, in Salem's Lot (1979).
In 1967, Mason narrated the documentary The London Nobody Knows. An ardent cinephile on top of his career interests, Mason narrated two British documentary series supervised by Kevin Brownlow: Hollywood (1980), on the silent cinema and Unknown Chaplin (1983), devoted to out-take material from the films of Sir Charlie Chaplin. Mason had been a long-time neighbour and friend of the comedian. In the late 1970s, Mason became a mentor to up-and-coming actor Sam Neill.
Having completed playing the lead role in Dr. Fischer of Geneva (1985), adapted from Graham Greene's eponymous novella for the BBC, he stepped into the role in The Shooting Party originally meant for Paul Scofield, who was unable to continue after being seriously injured in an accident on the first day of shooting. This was to be Mason's final screen performance in a feature film.
Mason was a devoted lover of animals, particularly cats. He and his wife, Pamela Mason, co-authored the book The Cats in Our Lives, which was published in 1949. James Mason wrote most of the book and also illustrated it. In The Cats in Our Lives, he recounted humorous and sometimes touching tales of the cats (as well as a few dogs) he had known and loved.
In 1952, Mason purchased a house previously owned by Buster Keaton. He discovered reels of nitrate film thought to have been lost, stored in the house and produced by the comedian, such as The Boat (1921). Mason arranged to have the decomposing films transferred to safety stock and thus saved them from oblivion.
Mason was married twice:
Mason's autobiography, Before I Forget, was published in 1981.
Mason left his entire estate to his second wife, Clarissa Kaye, but his will was challenged by his two children. The lawsuit had not been settled when she died on 21 July 1994 from cancer. Clarissa Kaye Mason left her holdings to the religious guru Sathya Sai Baba, including the actor's ashes which she had retained in their shared home. Mason's children sued Sai Baba and subsequently had Mason's ashes interred in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Vaud, Switzerland. The remains of Mason's friend Charlie Chaplin are in a tomb a few steps away. Mason's children specified that his headstone read: "Never say in grief you are sorry he's gone. Rather, say in thankfulness you are grateful he was here", words that were spoken to Portland Mason by U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy after the actor's death.
|1935||Late Extra||Jim Martin|
|1936||Twice Branded||Henry Hamilton|
|Prison Breaker||'Bunny' Barnes|
|Troubled Waters||John Merriman|
|Blind Man's Bluff||Stephen Neville|
|Secret of Stamboul||Larry|
|The Mill on the Floss||Tom Tulliver|
|1937||Fire Over England||Hillary Vane|
|The High Command||Capt. Heverell|
|Catch As Catch Can||Robert Leyland|
|The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel||Jean Tallien|
|1939||I Met a Murderer||Mark Warrow|
|1941||This Man Is Dangerous||Mick Cardby||Released in the U.S. as The Patient Vanishes|
|1942||Hatter's Castle||Dr. Renwick|
|The Night Has Eyes||Stephen Deremid||Released in the U.S. as Terror House|
|Secret Mission||Raoul de Carnot|
|1943||The Bells Go Down||Ted Robbins|
|The Man in Grey||Lord Rohan|
|They Met in the Dark||Richard Francis Heritage|
|1944||Candlelight in Algeria||Alan Thurston|
|Fanny by Gaslight||Lord Manderstoke||Released in the U.S. as Man of Evil|
|Hotel Reserve||Peter Vadassy|
|1945||A Place of One's Own||Smedhurst|
|They Were Sisters||Geoffrey Lee|
|The Seventh Veil||Nicholas|
|The Wicked Lady||Capt. Jerry Jackson|
|1947||Odd Man Out||Johnny McQueen|
|The Upturned Glass||Michael Joyce|
|Madame Bovary||Gustave Flaubert|
|The Reckless Moment||Martin Donnelly|
|East Side, West Side||Brandon Bourne|
|1950||One Way Street||Dr. Frank Matson|
|1951||Pandora and the Flying Dutchman||Hendrik van der Zee|
|The Desert Fox||Field Marshal Erwin Rommel|
|1952||Lady Possessed||Jimmy del Palma||Also producer and writer|
|5 Fingers||Ulysses Diello|
|Face to Face||The Captain ('The Secret Sharer')||National Board of Review Award for Best Actor|
|The Prisoner of Zenda||Rupert of Hentzau|
|Botany Bay||Capt. Paul Gilbert|
|1953||The Story of Three Loves||Charles Coutray||Segment "The Jealous Lover"|
|The Desert Rats||Field Marshal Erwin Rommel||National Board of Review Award for Best Actor|
|The Man Between||Ivo Kern|
|The Tell-Tale Heart||Narrator (voice)||Animated short subject|
|1954||Prince Valiant||Sir Brack|
|Charade||The Murderer / Maj. Linden / Jonah Watson||Also producer and writer|
|A Star Is Born||Norman Maine||Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy|
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor (2nd place)
Nominated--Academy Award for Best Actor
|20,000 Leagues Under the Sea||Captain Nemo|
|1956||Forever, Darling||The Guardian Angel||With Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz|
|Bigger Than Life||Ed Avery||Also producer and writer|
|1957||Island in the Sun||Maxwell Fleury|
|1958||Cry Terror!||Jim Molner|
|The Decks Ran Red||Capt. Edwin Rummill|
|1959||North by Northwest||Phillip Vandamm|
|A Touch of Larceny||Cmdr. Max Easton|
|Journey to the Center of the Earth||Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook|
|1960||The Trials of Oscar Wilde||Sir Edward Carson|
|1961||The Marriage-Go-Round||Paul Delville|
|1962||Escape from Zahrain||Johnson||Uncredited|
|Lolita||Prof. Humbert Humbert||Nominated--BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role|
Nominated--Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
|Tiara Tahiti||Capt. Brett Aimsley|
|Hero's Island||Jacob Weber|
|1963||Torpedo Bay||Captain Blayne|
|1964||The Fall of the Roman Empire||Timonides|
|The Pumpkin Eater||Bob Conway|
|1965||Lord Jim||Gentleman Brown|
|Genghis Khan||Kam Ling|
|The Uninhibited||Pascal Regnier|
|1966||Georgy Girl||James Leamington||Nominated--Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|The Blue Max||General Count von Klugermann|
|Dare I Weep, Dare I Mourn||Otto Hoffman|
|1967||The Deadly Affair||Charles Dobbs||Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role|
|The London Nobody Knows||Narrator||Documentary|
|Stranger in the House||John Sawyer||(also known as Cop Out)|
|The Sea Gull||Trigorin, a writer|
|1969||Age of Consent||Bradley Morahan|
|1970||Spring and Port Wine||Rafe Crompton|
|Cold Sweat||Captain Ross|
|The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go||Y.Y. Go|
|1971||Bad Man's River||Francisco Paco Montero|
|Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!||Alan Hamilton|
|1972||Child's Play||Jerome Mailey||New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor (3rd place)|
|1973||John Keats: His Life and Death||Narrator (voice)|
|The Last of Sheila||Phillip|
|The Mackintosh Man||Sir George Wheeler|
|Frankenstein: The True Story||Dr. John Polidori||TV miniseries|
|1974||11 Harrowhouse||Charles D. Watts|
|The Marseille Contract||Jacques Brizard||Released as The Destructors|
|1975||The Year of the Wildebeest||Narrator||Documentary|
|The Left Hand of the Law||Senator Leandri|
|Autobiography of a Princess||Cyril Sahib|
|Inside Out||Ernst Furben|
|The Flower in His Mouth||Bellocampo|
|1976||People of the Wind||Narrator||Documentary|
|Voyage of the Damned||Dr. Juan Ramos|
|Fear in the City||Prosecutor|
|1977||Jesus of Nazareth||Joseph of Arimathea||TV miniseries|
|Cross of Iron||Oberst Brandt|
|Homage to Chagall: The Colours of Love||Narrator||Documentary|
|1978||The Water Babies||Mr. Grimes
Voice of Killer Shark
|Heaven Can Wait||Mr. Jordan||Nominated--Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|The Boys from Brazil||Eduard Seibert|
|1979||North Sea Hijack||Admiral Brinsden||Released as ffolkes outside the UK and as Assault Force on US TV|
|Murder by Decree||Dr. John H. Watson|
|The Passage||Prof. John Bergson|
|Bloodline||Sir Alec Nichols|
|Salem's Lot||Richard K. Straker||TV miniseries|
|1982||Evil Under the Sun||Odell Gardener|
|Ivanhoe||Isaac of York|
|A Dangerous Summer||George Engels|
|The Verdict||Ed Concannon||Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor (2nd place)|
Nominated--Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated--Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
|Don't Eat the Pictures||Demon||TV|
|1984||George Washington||Edward Braddock||TV miniseries|
|Dr. Fischer of Geneva||Dr. Fischer|
|1985||The Shooting Party||Sir Randolph Nettleby||London Film Critics' Circle Award for Actor of the Year (tied with Richard Farnsworth for The Grey Fox)|
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor (3rd place)
|The Assisi Underground||Bishop Nicolini||Final film role|
|1952||Odd Man Out|
|28 December 1953||The Queen's Ring|