About James Neville Mason
<The Times, July 28, 1984>
Mr James Mason
Versatile cinema talent
Mr James Mason, who died yesterday in Lausanne, Switzerland, at the age of 75, was a highly intelligent and creative cinema performer who appeared in more than 100 films. And although many of them were unworthy of his talent he could lift the poorest material just as he could enrich the best. He made a reputation in parts calling for moody and tyrannical introspection, notably as Ann Todd's sadistic guardian in "The Seventh Veil", before maturing into a versatile and dependable character player.
One of his best performances came under Sir Carol Reed's direction in 1947, when he played a dying gunman on the run in Belfast in "Odd Man Out". Soon afterwards, expressing his disenchantment with the British cinema, he left for Hollywood where, after a difficult start, he successfully built a new career.
James Mason was born in Huddersfield on May 15, 1909, the son of a textile merchant. He was educated at Marlborough and Peterhouse College, Cambridge where he took a first in architecture and got a taste for acting.
His professional debut was at the Theatre Royal, Aldershot, in 1931 and two years later he made his first London appearance in "Gallows Glorious" at the Arts Theatre.
He joined the Old Vic company and then the Gate Theatre in Dublin, where he played between 1934 and 1937. He entered films in 1935, playing a reporter in "Late Extra", but for several years most of his parts were in low budget "quota quickies".
In 1939 with two friends, Roy and Pamela Kellino, he set up his own film, "I Met a Murderer", a crime story in which he was the killer of the title. He and Pamela Kellino were married two years later. During the Second World War he worked with ENSA and his film career finally took off through a series of costume melodramas which gave him the opportunity to create a memorable gallery of suave and vicious villains.
The film that made him a star was "The Man in Grey", in which he took a whip to Margaret Lockwood; "Fanny by Gaslight", "They Were Sisters", and "The Wicked Lady", also with Margaret Lockwood, followed in similar vein. "The Seventh Veil" proved to be the most successful of all and from 1944 to 1947 Mason was voted Britain's top box-office star. Anong thosew who admired his performance in "The Seventh Veil" was the veteran American director, D.W. Griffith. But Mason had become increasingly unhappy with the films he was being offered, and with what he saw as a monopolistic stangle-hold on the industry by J. Arthur Rank; and at the peak of his popularity he departed for Hollywood.
It was to be some time before the move paid off. Mason's outspokenness did not endear him to Hollywood and his choice of parts was not always happy. He appeared in two films for the emigre director, Max Ophuls, "Caught" and "The Reckless Moment", and made a splendid Rommel in "The Desert Fox"; while his Brutus in the 1953 production of "Julius Caesar" helped to make it one of the best screen versions of Shakespeare.
But it was not until 1954 when he played opposite Judy Garland in George Cukor's remake of "A Star is Born" that he managed a major performance, a harrowing study of a man's tragic decline, for which he gained an Oscar nomination. He brought the same nervous intensity to the part of a drug addict in "Bigger than Life" (1956), a film which he also produced. The best of his later roles was Humbert Humbert in Stanley Kubrick's film of the Nabokov novel, "Lolita", which appeared in 1962. To his portrayal of a middle-aged man's infatuation with a 12-year-old girl, Mason brought a degree of sympathy, combined with wry humour, that few other actors could have managed. With "Odd Man Out", it ranks as his outstanding screen achievment. Three years earlier he had been a memorable villain in Alfred Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" and had given an engagingly tongue in cheek performance in an adaptation of the Jules Verne story "Journey to the Centre of the Earth".
He maintained a prolific output throughout the 1960s and 1970s, making two and three films a year, though many were routine assignments easily, and perhaps best forgotten. There was still, however, much to rellish. His Timonides in "The Fall of the Roman Empire" was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary epic and he had good supporting parts in "The Pumpkin Eater" and as Gentleman Brown in Conrad's "Lord Jim". He added to his stock of German officers in "The Blue Max" (1966) and the same year he was in "Georgy Girl", a story of the "swinging sixties", and a John Le Carre thriller, "The Deadly Affair." In 1969 he turned producer again for "Age of Consent", directed in Australia by Michael Powell; but a long-cherished Powell project, "The Tempest", with Mason as Prospero, proved abortive. The martinet Yorkshire father in "Spring and Port Wine" was a tailor-made part, there were more Germans in "Cross of Iron" and "The Boys from Brazil" and a well judged Mr Jordan in the fantasy, "Heaven Can Wait". He was superb as the old tutor recalling his days in India in James Ivory's "Autobiography of a Princess".
Once he became established in films, Mason returned only occasionally to the stage. He was in an unsuccessful Broadway play, "Bathsheba", in 1947, and during the 1950s played Angelo in "Measure for Measure" and Oedipus in "Oedipus Rex" at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.
His marriage to Pamela Kellino, which produced a daughter, Portland, and a son, Morgan, was dissolved in 1964. His second wife was Australian actress, Clarissa Kaye, whom he married in 1971. His autobiography "Before I Forget", appeared in 1981.
END -------------------- He was an English actor who attained stardom in both British and American films. Widely regarded as one of the finest film actors of the 20th century, Mason remained a powerful figure in the industry throughout his career and was nominated for three Academy Awards as well as three Golden Globes (winning once).
Mason was born in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, to John and Mabel Mason; his father was a wealthy merchant. Mason had no formal training as an actor and initially embarked upon it for fun. 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. After Cambridge he joined the Old Vic theatre in London under the guidance of Tyrone Guthrie and Alexander Korda, who gave Mason a small film role in 1933 but fired him a few days into shooting.
Mason was married twice:
* First from 1941 to 1964 to British-American 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 former lead singer of The Go-Go's). Portland Mason was named for Portland Hoffa, the wife of the American radio comedian Fred Allen; the Allens and the Masons were friends.
* 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 survived a major heart attack in 1959 and died as a result of another on 27 July 1984 in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was cremated and (after a delay of 16 years) his ashes were buried 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 widow, Clarissa Kaye, also known as Kaye-Mason, died in 1994 from cancer.
* Late Extra (1935)
* Twice Branded (1936)
* Troubled Waters (1936)
* Secret of Stamboul (1936)
* Prison Breaker (1936)
* The High Command (1936)
* Blind Man's Bluff (1936)
* The Mill on the Floss (1937)
* Catch As Catch Can (1937)
* Fire Over England (1937)
* Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1937)
* I Met a Murderer (1939)
* The Patient Vanishes (1941)
* Hatter's Castle (1941)
* The Night Has Eyes (1942)
* Alibi (1942)
* Secret Mission (1942)
* Thunder Rock (1943)
* The Bells Go Down (1943)
* The Man in Grey (1943)
* They Met in the Dark (1943)
* Hotel Reserve (1944)
* Fanny by Gaslight (1944)
* Candlelight in Algeria (1944)
* A Place of One's Own (1945)
* They Were Sisters (1945)
* The Wicked Lady (1945)
* The Seventh Veil (1945)
* Odd Man Out (1947)
* The Upturned Glass (1947)
* Caught (1949, by Max Ophüls)
* Madame Bovary (1949)
* The Reckless Moment (1949, by Max Ophüls)
* East Side, West Side (1949)
* One Way Street (1950)
* Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)
* The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951)
* Lady Possessed (1952) (also producer and writer)
* 5 Fingers (1952)
* The Prisoner of Zenda (1952)
* Face to Face (1952)
* Charade (1953 film) (1953) (also producer and writer)
* The Story of Three Loves (1953)
* Botany Bay (1953)
* The Desert Rats (1953)
* Julius Caesar (1953, by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
* The Man Between (1953)
* The Tell-Tale Heart (1953) (animated short subject) (voice)
* Prince Valiant (1954)
* A Star Is Born (1954, by George Cukor)
* 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
* Forever, Darling (with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) (1956)
* Bigger Than Life (1956, by Nicholas Ray) (also producer and writer)
* Island in the Sun (1957)
* Cry Terror! (1958)
* The Decks Ran Red (1958)
* A Touch of Larceny (1959)
* North by Northwest (1959)
* Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
* The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960)
* The Marriage-Go-Round (1961)
* Escape from Zahrain (1962)
* Lolita (1962)
* Hero's Island (1962)
* Tiara Tahiti (1962)
* Torpedo Bay (1963)
* The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
* The Pumpkin Eater (1964)
* Lord Jim (1965)
* Genghis Khan (1965)
* The Uninhibited (1965)
* The Blue Max (1966)
* Georgy Girl (1966)
* The Deadly Affair (1966)
* The London Nobody Knows (1967) (documentary) (narrator)
* Stranger in the House (1967)
* The Legend of Silent Night (1967) (For ABC Television Network)
* Vienna: The Years Remembered (1968) (short subject)
* Duffy (1968)
* Mayerling (1968)
* The Sea Gull (1968, by Sidney Lumet)
* Age of Consent (1969)
* The Yin and Yang of Mr. Go (1970)
* Spring and Port Wine (1970)
* Cold Sweat (1970)
* Bad Man's River (1971)
* Kill! (1971)
* Child's Play (1972)
* Frankenstein: The True Story (1973 TV mini-series)
* The Last of Sheila (1973)
* The Mackintosh Man (1973)
* The Marseille Contract (1974)
* 11 Harrowhouse (1974)
* The Year of the Wildebeest (1975) (documentary) (narrator)
* The Left Hand of the Law (1975)
* The Flower in His Mouth (1975)
* Mandingo (1975)
* Kidnap Syndicate (1975)
* Autobiography of a Princess (1975, by James Ivory)
* Inside Out (1975)
* Hot Stuff (1976)
* People of the Wind (1976) (documentary) (narrator)
* Voyage of the Damned (1976)
* Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
* Cross of Iron (1977)
* Homage to Chagall: The Colours of Love (1977) (documentary) (narrator in English version)
* The Water Babies (1978) (voice)
* Heaven Can Wait (1978)
* The Boys from Brazil (1978)
* Murder by Decree (1979)
* The Passage (1979)
* Bloodline (1979)
* Salem's Lot (1979) (for American TV)
* North Sea Hijack (1980)
* A Dangerous Summer (1981)
* Ivanhoe (1982)
* Evil Under the Sun (1982)
* The Verdict (1982)
* Group Madness (1983) (documentary)
* Alexandre (1983)
* Yellowbeard (1983)
* Don't Eat the Pictures (1983)
* The Shooting Party (1984, by Alan Bridges)
* The Assisi Underground (1984)
* A.D. (1985) (TV mini-series)
* Dr. Fischer of Geneva (1985) (TV film)
James Mason's Timeline
May 15, 1909
England, Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, UK
November 26, 1948
Los Angeles, CA, USA
August 8, 1971
July 27, 1984
Lausanne, Romandy, Switzerland