James Neville Mason (//; 15 May 1909 – 27 July 1984) was an English actor. Mason achieved considerable success in British cinema before becoming one of Hollywood's biggest stars. He was the top box office attraction in the UK in 1944 and 1945, with notable films including 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.
Mason in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
James Neville Mason
15 May 1909
|Died||27 July 1984 75) (aged|
|Alma mater||Peterhouse, Cambridge|
(m. 1941; div. 1964)
Clarissa Kaye (m. 1971)
|Family||Belinda Carlisle (daughter-in-law)|
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, The Prisoner of Zenda, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, A Touch of Larceny, Bigger Than Life, Julius Caesar, Georgy Girl, The Deadly Affair, Age of Consent, Heaven Can Wait, The Boys from Brazil, The Verdict, Mandingo, Murder by Decree and Salem's Lot.
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.
Early life, family and education
Mason was born, the youngest of three boys, in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, to Mabel Hattersley (Gaunt) and John Mason where they 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 called James Mason Court.
His father was a wealthy textile merchant. He 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. Mason had no formal training in acting and initially embarked upon it for fun.
Early stage appearances
After Cambridge, Mason made his stage debut in Aldershot in The Rascal in 1931.
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.
Mason went on to appear in Twice Branded (1936); Troubled Waters (1936), also directed by Parker; Prison Breaker (1936); Blind Man's Bluff (1936), for Parker' 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 used him again 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).
World War Two
He registered as a conscientious objector during the Second World War (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 by including him 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.
Gainsborough melodramas and stardom
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 Gainbsorough melodrama with Fanny By Gaslight (1944) with Granger and Calvert; it was another big hit.
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 (1946) 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 a noted success. 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.
The Desert Fox and 20th Century Fox
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 Paramont 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 did another film written by his wife and directed by his father in law, Charade (1954).
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).
Mason began appearing regularly on television in shows such as Panic!, General Electric Theater, Schlitz Playhouse, Goodyear Theatre and Playhouse 90 (several episodes including John Brown's Raid). In the 1950s, Mason was host of Lux Video Theatre on CBS television.
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.
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, which Mason also produced. He also had the star role in Spring and Port Wine (1970).
Mason supported Charles Bronson in Cold Sweat (1970), Alain Delon in Crepa padrone, crepa tranquillo (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 1979 he did Faith Healer on Broadway but it only had a short run.
One of his last roles, that of the corrupt lawyer Ed Concannon in The Verdict (1982), earned him his third and final Oscar nomination.
In 1967 Mason narrated the documentary The London Nobody Knows. An ardent cinephile on top of his career interests, Mason then went on to narrate 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 several nitrate film reels of films thought to have been lost, stored in the house and produced by the comedian, such as The Boat. Mason arranged to have the decomposing films transferred to safety stock and thus saved them from oblivion.
Mason was married twice:
- From 1941 to 1964 to British actress Pamela Mason (née Ostrer) (1916–1996); one daughter, Portland Mason Schuyler (1948–2004), and one son, Morgan (who is married to Belinda Carlisle, the lead singer of the Go-Go's). Pamela Mason was widely reported to be a devotee of the Hollywood social scene and was frequently unfaithful to her husband. Nevertheless, she initiated divorce proceedings against him in 1962, claiming adultery on his part. This led to a $1m divorce settlement, and made a star of her attorney Marvin Mitchelson.
- Australian actress Clarissa Kaye (1971–his death). Tobe Hooper's DVD commentary for Salem's Lot reveals that Mason regularly worked contractual clauses into his later work guaranteeing Kaye bit parts in his film appearances.
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.
|1952||Odd Man Out|
|December 28, 1953||The Queen's Ring|
- "No Buyer for Mason Poster". The Free Library. 2 December 2010. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
- Russell, William (28 July 1984). "James Mason: Star of Magnetism and Menace". The Glasgow Herald. p. 8 – via Google News.
- Sweeney, Kevin (30 January 1999). James Mason: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-313-28496-0.
- Brian McFarlane "Mason, James (1909-1984)", BFI screenonline; McFarlane (ed) The Encyclopedia of British Film, London: Methuen/BFI, 2003, p.438
- Mason, James (7 September 1981). Before I forget: autobiography and drawings. London: Hamish Hamilton. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-241-10677-8.
- Thomson, David (15 May 2009) Every word a poison dart, The Guardian
- Eric Ambler, Mason, James Neville (1909–1984), rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011, accessed 23 March 2013.
- Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48, p 207
- Gaumont-British Picture: Increased Net Profit, The Observer, 4 November 1945
- "James Mason named again as Britain's brightest star". The Mercury. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 2 March 1946. p. 3 Supplement: The Mercury Magazine. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- "FILM WORLD". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 28 February 1947. p. 20 Edition: SECOND EDITION. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "FILM NEWS". The Mercury. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 11 June 1949. p. 14. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
- "JAMES MASON TOP OF BRITISH BOX OFFICE". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 20 December 1946. p. 4. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- JAMES MASON 1947 FILM FAVOURITE The Irish Times (1921-Current File) [Dublin, Ireland] 02 Jan 1948: 7.
- English Stars Thrive Happily in Unusual Marital Melange Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 6 May 1951: E1.
- Becker, Christine (1 October 2005). "Televising Film Stardom in the 1950s". Framework. Retrieved 21 January 2015 – via Questia Online Library.
- Kevin Sweeney. James Mason: A Bio-Bibliography, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999, p.47
- Iley, Chrissy (23 July 2006). "Put it away, Sam ..." The Guardian. Manchester. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
- "Obituary: Paul Scofield". BBC News. 20 March 2008.
- Bailey, Steve. "The Boat". The Love Nest. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- Edge, Simon (24 April 2009). "James Mason: The sad cad". Sunday Express. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
- "James Mason: Obituary". Archived from the original on 9 January 2014. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
- James Mason Obituary, Variety, 1 August 1984.
- Davies, Caroline (25 November 2000). "James Mason's ashes finally laid to rest". The Daily Telegraph.
- Glaister, Dan (10 March 1999). "15 years after his death, film star finds rest". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
- Kirby, Walter (10 February 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 38. Retrieved 2 June 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
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