Mason in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
|Born||James Neville Mason
15 May 1909
Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
|Died||27 July 1984
Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Alma mater||Peterhouse, Cambridge|
(m. 1941; div. 1964)
|Family||Belinda Carlisle (daughter-in-law)|
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.
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 in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, to Mabel Hattersley (Gaunt) and John Mason. 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.
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. In 1933 Alexander Korda gave Mason a small role in The Private Life of Don Juan but sacked him three days into shooting.
From 1935 to 1938, he starred in many British quota quickies. 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.
Mason became hugely popular for his brooding anti-heroes in the Gainsborough series of melodramas of the 1940s, including The Man in Grey (1943) and The Wicked Lady (1945). He also starred with Deborah Kerr and Robert Newton in Hatter's Castle (1942). He then took the lead role in the popular The Seventh Veil (1945), which set box office records in post-war Britain and raised him to international stardom. He followed it with a role as a mortally wounded IRA bank robber on the run in Carol Reed's Odd Man Out (1947) and his first Hollywood film, Caught (1949). 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's "languid but impassioned" vocal talent enabled him to play a menacing villain as easily as his good looks assisted him as a leading man. His roles include Brutus in Julius Caesar (1953), Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel and The Desert Rats, the amoral valet turned spy in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 5 Fingers, the declining actor in the first remake of A Star Is Born (1954), Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (also 1954), a small town school teacher driven insane by the effects of cortisone in Bigger Than Life (1956), a suave master spy in North by Northwest (1959), a former World War II hero and Admiralty commander A Touch of Larceny (1959), and a determined scientist and explorer in Journey to the Centre of the Earth (also 1959). In the 1950s, Mason was host of Lux Video Theatre on CBS television.
In 1963 he settled in Switzerland, and embarked on a transatlantic career. He played Humbert Humbert in Stanley Kubrick's version of Lolita (1962), a river pirate who betrays Peter O'Toole's character in Lord Jim (1965), James Leamington in the Swinging London set Georgy Girl (1966), a role that earned him a second Academy Award nomination, Bradley Morahan in Age of Consent (1969), the evil Doctor Polidori in Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), the vampire's servant, Richard Straker, in Salem's Lot, and surreal Royal Navy Captain Hughes in Yellowbeard (1983). One of his last roles, that of 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. He 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.
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 previously-thought-lost films 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 being permanently lost.
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 old 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 Morgan Mason by US Senator Ted Kennedy after the actor's death.
|1952||Suspense||Odd Man Out|
|December 28, 1953||Suspense||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 (January 30, 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 (September 7, 1981). Before I forget: autobiography and drawings. London: Hamish Hamilton. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-241-10677-8. (Subscription required (. ))
- 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.
- "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.
- Becker, Christine (1 October 2005). "Televising Film Stardom in the 1950s". Framework. Retrieved 21 January 2015 – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (. ))
- 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.
- 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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