Monday, May 30, 2011
On May 30, 1967, actor Claude Rains died. He stage and film career spanned 47 years. He was known for many roles in Hollywood films, among them the title role in The Invisible Man (1933), a corrupt senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Mr. Dryden in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and, perhaps his most notable performance, as Captain Renault in Casablanca (1942). He was born William Claude Rains in Camberwell, London and his father was English stage actor Frederick Rains. The young Rains made his stage debut at 11 in Nell of Old Drury. Rains served in the First World War in the London Scottish Regiment, with fellow actors Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman and Herbert Marshall. He was involved in a gas attack that left him nearly blind in one eye for the rest of his life. However, the war did aid his social advancement and, by its end, he had risen from the rank of Private to Captain.
Rains began his career in the London theatre, having a success in the title role of John Drinkwater's play Ulysses S. Grant, the follow-up to the playwright's major hit Abraham Lincoln, and traveled to Broadway in the late 1920’s to act in leading roles in such plays as Shaw's The Apple Cart and in the dramatizations of The Constant Nymph, and Pearl S. Buck's novel The Good Earth, as a Chinese farmer. Rains came relatively late to film acting and his first screen test was a failure, but his distinctive voice won him the title role in James Whale's The Invisible Man (1933) when someone accidentally overheard his screen test being played in the next room.
Following The Invisible Man, Universal Studios tried to typecast him in horror films, but he broke free, starting with the gleefully evil role of Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), then with his Academy Award-nominated performance as the conflicted corrupt senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and followed with probably his most famous role, the flexible French police Captain Renault in Casablanca (1942). In 1943, Rains played the title character in Universal's full-color remake of Phantom of the Opera. Bette Davis named him her favorite co-star, and they made four films together, including Mr. Skeffington and Now, Voyager. Rains became the first actor to receive a million dollar salary, playing Julius Caesar in Gabriel Pascal's lavish and unsuccessful version of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), made in Britain. In 1946, he played a refugee Nazi agent opposite Cary Grant and Casablanca co-star Ingrid Bergman in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious. In 1949, he appeared in David Lean's The Passionate Friends.
Rains remained a popular character actor in the 1950’s and 1960’s, appearing in many films. Two of his well-known later screen roles were as Dryden, a cynical British diplomat in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and King Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). The latter was his final film role. Rains made several audio recordings, narrating a few Bible stories for children on Capitol Records, and reciting Richard Strauss's setting for narrator and piano of Tennyson's poem Enoch Arden, with the piano solos played by Glenn Gould. This recording was made by Columbia Masterworks Records. Rains became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1939. He married six times, the first five of which ended in divorce: Isabel Jeans (1913–1915); Marie Hemingway (1920, for less than a year); Beatrix Thomson (1924 – April 8, 1935); Frances Proper (April 9, 1935–1956); and to classic pianist Agi Jambor (November 4, 1959–1960). He married Rosemary Clark Schrode in 1960, and stayed with her until her death on December 31, 1964. Claude Rains died from an abdominal hemorrhage in Laconia, New Hampshire on May 30, 1967 at the age of 77. He is buried at the Red Hill Cemetery, Moultonborough, New Hampshire.
http://www.michaelthomasbarry.com/, author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"