Charles Ray (actor)

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Charles Ray
Charles-Ray-Actor.jpg
Born (1891-03-15)March 15, 1891
Jacksonville, Illinois, U.S.
Died November 23, 1943(1943-11-23) (aged 52)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Mouth and throat infection
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Nationality American
Occupation Actor, director, producer, screenwriter
Years active 1911–1943
Spouse(s) Clara Grant (m. 1915; div. 1935)
Yvonne Guerin (m. 1941; died 1942)

Charles Edgar Ray (March 15, 1891 – November 23, 1943) was an American actor, director, producer, screenwriter. Ray rose to fame during the mid-1910s portraying young wholesome hicks in silent comedy films.

Early life[edit]

Ray was born in Jacksonville, Illinois and moved to Springfield as a child where he attended elementary school. He then moved to Arizona for a time before finally relocating to Los Angeles where he finished his education. He initially began his career on the stage before working for director Thomas H. Ince as a film extra in December 1912.[1] He appeared in several bit parts before moving on to supporting roles. Ray's break came in 1915 when he appeared opposite Frank Keenan in the historical war drama The Coward.[2]

Career[edit]

Ray's popularity increased after appearing in a series of films which cast him in juvenile roles, primarily young hicks or "country bumpkins" that foiled the plans of thieves or con men.[3] In March 1917, he signed with Paramount Pictures and resumed working with director Thomas H. Ince.[4] By 1920, he was earning a reported $11,000 a week.[5] Around this time, he left Paramount after studio head Adolph Zukor refused to give him a pay raise. Zukor later wrote in his autobiography The Public Is Never Wrong, that Ray's ego had gotten out of hand and that Ray "...was headed for trouble and [I] did not care to be with him when he found it." After leaving Paramount, Ray formed his own production company, Charles Ray Productions, and also used his fortune to purchase a studio in Los Angeles where he began producing and shooting his own films.[6]

Ray's first independent production, 45 Minutes from Broadway, was released in August 1920 and was fairly successful. In February 1921, he produced and starred in The Old Swimmin' Hole, the only silent full length American feature film that did not have intertitles to further the plot. The film drew critical acclaim for going against convention and for featuring a simple plot that was easy to follow without intertitles. Despite the acclaim, the film was only shown for a short time in theaters in larger cities (where such experimental films would likely be more accepted) because the film featured Ray in a country bumpkin role.[7] In February 1922, he signed a long term contract with United Artists.[8]

By the time Ray signed with United Artists, he had grown tired of playing young country bumpkin characters and decided to go against type by casting himself as a romantic leading man.[3][9] In November 1922, he announced plans to produce an epic historical drama film based on The Courtship of Miles Standish, an 1858 narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.[10] The poem centers around a love triangle between early American settlers John Alden, Miles Standish, and Priscilla Mullens. Ray cast himself as John Alden stating that, "There will be immense satisfaction to me in playing a real character, not the puppet of some author's invention."[11]

In her book Off With Their Heads!: A Serio-Comic Tale Of Hollywood, screenwriter Frances Marion wrote that numerous people attempted to dissuade Ray from making the film because lengthy costume dramas were not box office draws at the time.[12] Ray chose not to listen to the advice and, after failing to secure financial backing from a major studio, he put up $500,000 of his own money to finance the film.[13] Ray began filming The Courtship of Miles Standish in January 1923 at the namesake studio he purchased on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles (now known as the KCET Studios).[14] Production costs quickly rose as Ray spent money with abandon. In addition to the $65,000 (approximately $900,000 today) 180-ton replica of the Mayflower that was set on a mechanism to simulate it being on rough seas, Ray also had full sized log cabins built solely for exterior shots.[11][15][16] By the end of filming, Ray had invested all of his saving, nearly $2,000,000, and borrowed additional funds at a 30% interest rate.[5] The film's final budget was estimated at $3,000,000.[17]

Charles Ray in The Deuce of Spades lobby card, 1922

Released to theaters on December 30, 1923, The Courtship of Miles Standish received some critical acclaim (mainly for its cinematography) but was a box office failure.[18] Ray lost all of the money he invested in the film and his popularity quickly declined. Thomas Ince attempted to help Ray by casting him in Dynamite Smith (directed by Ince's brother Ralph), but Ince died a month after the film's release in November 1924. Ray continued working in films but never regained the popularity he once attained. For the remainder of his career, he was relegated to supporting and uncredited extra work.

Decline and later years[edit]

In December 1925, Ray was forced to file for bankruptcy after being sued by more than a dozen creditors for monies owned and back taxes.[3][19] His production company also declared bankruptcy.[20] According to actress Jane Novak, Ray's wife Clara Grant (whom he married in November 1915) contributed to Ray's out of control ego and both spent money with little regard. The couple lived in a lavish Beverly Hills home equipped with gold doorknobs, several lacquered grand pianos, black marble bathtubs with gold fixtures and a full sized tree made of semi-precious stones that sat in their bathroom. They employed a full staff of servants and owned a fleet of luxury cars. Clara bought expensive dresses that she refused to wear more than once and traveled in a Rolls Royce with an ermine floor rug.[17][21] The day before Ray was to file for bankruptcy, the couple held a dinner party with personal butlers for each of their guests at their home that reportedly cost $30,000.[22] Film executive Pat Powers attended the party and asked Ray, "...how can you do this if you're going bankrupt tomorrow? Who will pay the bills? And he [Ray] said, 'we thought it was the thing to do.'"[6]

In 1928, Ray appeared in his final silent film, The Count of Ten, in which he had a supporting role. From 1929 to 1931, he appeared in stage roles in off-Broadway productions but found little success. He returned to the screen in 1932's The Bride's Bereavement; or, The Snake in the Grass, a comedy short and his first sound film. In July 1934, Ray filed for bankruptcy for a second time.[23] He and wife Clara, whom he had been separated from since 1930, divorced in May 1935.[18][24]

In an attempt to earn money, Ray began writing. In 1935, he released a collection of short stories entitled Hollywood Shorts. In September 1936, he began publishing a magazine called Charles Ray's Hollywood Digest. The magazine featured a mixture of humorous stories, film reviews, jokes, editorials and movie industry news. In the magazine's first issue, Ray wrote a story which poked fun at journalist Walter Winchell.[22]

After the magazine folded due to a lack of interest in 1937, Ray returned to film work again where he earned a reported $11 a day as a featured extra.[17] On June 4, 1941, he married for a second time to French actress Yvonne Guerin.[25] Guerin died the following year.[26] During his final years, Ray struggled with poor health but continued to work in bit roles. He ended his career in uncredited bit roles in Slightly Dangerous (1943) and An American Romance, which was released a year after his death.

Death[edit]

On November 23, 1943, Ray died of a mouth and throat infection at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles for which he had been hospitalized six weeks prior.[27][28]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Charles Ray has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6355 Hollywood Boulevard.[29]

Selected filmography[edit]

Short subjects
Year Title Role Notes
1911 The Fortunes of War Letty Roberts Lost film
1913 The Favorite Son Jim King
1913 The Sharpshooter Jack Krone - a Young Blacksmith
1913 The Barrier Wade - the Young Lieutenant
1913 The Witch of Salem John Hastings
1914 For Her Brother's Sake John Frye - the Brother
1914 Shorty's Sacrifice Tom Simms
1914 The Curse of Humanity Roger
1914 The Fortunes of War Carlos Romez
1915 In the Tennessee Hills Jim Carson
1915 The Wells of Paradise Tom Dolan
1915 The Conversion of Frosty Blake Reverend Horace Brightray
1915 The Ace of Hearts Jean Desmond Credited as Charles E. Ray
1918 A Liberty Bond Plea A farm boy
1932 The Bride's Bereavement; or, The Snake in the Grass
1934 Stolen by Gypsies or Beer and Bicycles Elmer Updike Alternative title: Beer and Bicycles
Features
Year Title Role Notes
1915 The Coward Frank Winslow
1915 City of the Dead Cecil Weatherby Alternative title: The Forbidden Adventure
1915 The Painted Soul Barnard Alternative title: The Straight Road
1916 Peggy Colin Cameron
1916 The Deserter Lieutenant Parker
1916 The Honorable Algy The Honorable Algy Lost film
1917 The Millionaire Vagrant Steven Du Peyster
1917 The Clodhopper Everett Nelson
1917 His Mother's Boy Matthew Denton
1918 The Claws of the Hun John Stanton
1918 The Law of the North Alain de Montcalm
1918 String Beans Toby Watkins
1919 The Busher Ben Harding
1919 Hay Foot, Straw Foot Ulysses S. Grant Briggs
1919 Red Hot Dollars Tod Burke
1920 Alarm Clock Andy Andrew Gray
1920 The Village Sleuth William Wells
1920 An Old Fashioned Boy David Warrington
1921 The Old Swimmin' Hole Ezra Producer
1921 Scrap Iron John Steel Director, writer
1921 R.S.V.P. Richard Morgan Director
1922 Gas, Oil and Water George Oliver Watson Director, producer
1922 Alias Julius Caesar Billy Barnes Director, producer
1922 Robin Hood Extra Uncredited
1923 The Girl I Loved John Middleton Producer
1923 Ponjola
1923 The Courtship of Miles Standish John Alden Producer
Lost film
1924 Dynamite Smith Dynamite Smith
1925 Percy Percival Rogeen
1925 Some Pun'kins Lem Blossom
1925 Bright Lights Tom Corbin
1926 The Auction Block Bob Wharton
1926 Paris Jerry
1926 The Fire Brigade Terry O'Neil
1927 The American Unreleased film
1927 Getting Gertie's Garter Ken Walrick
1927 Vanity Lt. Lloyd Van Courtland
1928 The Garden of Eden Richard Dupont
1928 The Count of Ten Johnny McKinney
1934 School for Girls Duke
1934 Ladies Should Listen Henri, the porter
1934 Ticket to a Crime Courtney Mallory
1935 Welcome Home Andrew Carr
1935 Just My Luck Homer Crow
1936 Hollywood Boulevard Charlie Smith, Assistant Director
1940 A Little Bit of Heaven Uncle Wes
1941 Wild Geese Calling Undetermined Minor Role Uncredited
1941 A Yank in the R.A.F. American business executive Uncredited
1941 Married Bachelor Man in Lounge Room Getting Bagpipes Uncredited
1941 Appointment for Love Butler Uncredited
1941 Harvard, Here I Come! Reporter Uncredited
1942 Rio Rita Hotel Guest Uncredited
1942 Mrs. Miniver Man getting on Bus Uncredited
1942 The Magnificent Dope Uncredited
1942 Tennessee Johnson Senator Uncredited
1943 Slightly Dangerous Opera Patron Uncredited
1944 An American Romance Extra Uncredited
Released posthumously

References[edit]

  1. ^ O'Hara, Kenneth (1915). "Tom Ince's New Wonder-Boy". Photoplay (Photoplay Magazine Publishing Company) 6: 107. 
  2. ^ Soister, John T. (2012). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland. p. 389. ISBN 0-786-48790-9. 
  3. ^ a b c "Charles Ray, Ex-Star, Dies". Youngstown Vindicator. November 23, 1943. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  4. ^ Taves, Brian (2012). Thomas Ince: Hollywood's Independent Pioneer. University Press of Kentucky. p. 266. ISBN 0-813-13422-6. 
  5. ^ a b "Charles Ray, Vet Actor, Succumbs". The Evening Independent. November 20, 1943. p. 1,6. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Slide, Anthony (2002). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 325–326. ISBN 0-813-12249-X. 
  7. ^ Neale, Steve, ed. (2012). Classical Hollywood Reader. Routledge. p. 101. ISBN 1-135-72007-X. 
  8. ^ "Ray Joins "Big Four"". The Atlanta Constitution. February 12, 1922. p. C6. 
  9. ^ Motion Picture, Volume 45. Macfadden-Bartell. 1933. p. 86. 
  10. ^ "Charles Ray To Film Courtship of Miles Standish". The Meriden Daily Journal. November 7, 1922. p. 2. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "Charles Ray Rebuilds 'Mayflower" For his Miles Standish Picture". The Southeast Missourian. January 20, 1923. p. 4. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  12. ^ Marion, Frances (1972). Off With Their Heads!: A Serio-Comic Tale Of Hollywood. Macmillan. p. 107. 
  13. ^ Beauchamp, Cari (1998). Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. University of California Press. p. 159. ISBN 0-520-21492-7. 
  14. ^ Alleman, Richard (2013). Hollywood: The Movie Lover's Guide: The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie L.A. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 169. ISBN 0-804-13777-3. 
  15. ^ Rasmussen, Cecilia (August 1, 1999). "Film Pioneer Griffith Rode History to Fame". latimes.com. Retrieved May 30, 2013. 
  16. ^ Cozad, W. Lee (2002). Those Magnificent Mountain Movies: The Golden Years 1911-1939. p. 95. ISBN 0-972-33721-0. 
  17. ^ a b c Parsons, Louella O. (June 29, 1941). "Comeback Trail Isn't So Rough, Charlie Ray Finds". St. Petersburg Times. p. 15. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b "Mrs. Charles Ray Divorces Old Star". The Pittsburgh Press. May 3, 1935. pp. 1–2. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Charles Ray Now Becomes Bankrupt". Times Daily. December 20, 1925. p. 7. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Charles Ray Film Company Bankrupt". The Atlanta Constitution. September 26, 1925. p. 1. 
  21. ^ "Charles Ray's Gold Doorknobs Set Pace For Hollywood In Old Days". Lewiston Morning Tribune. November 28, 1943. p. 2. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  22. ^ a b Lee, Mary (September 26, 1936). "Hollywood's On the Wire". The Miami News. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Bankruptcy Papers Filed By Actor". Reading Eagle. July 7, 1934. p. 6. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Charles Ray, Wife to Part; Ex-Star Broke". The Milwaukee Sentinel. August 20, 1930. p. 1. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Charles Ray, Ex-Film Star, Weds". The Los Angeles Times. June 5, 1941. p. 1A. 
  26. ^ "Thousands Mourn Death of Actor". Spokane Daily Chronicle. November 24, 1943. p. 8. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Charles Ray Of Films Dies". Berkeley Daily Gazette. November 23, 1943. p. 1. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  28. ^ Textile Industries (W.R.C. Smith Publishing Company) 143: 12. 1979. 
  29. ^ "Hollywood Star Walk: Charles Ray". latimes.com. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 

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