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
|Alma mater||University of Cambridge|
(m.1971–1984; his death)
James Neville Mason (15 May 1909 – 27 July 1984) was an English actor. After achieving stardom in his native Great Britain (he was the top box office attraction there in 1944 and 1945), he made the transition to the United States and became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, starring in iconic films such as The Desert Fox, A Star Is Born, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lolita, North by Northwest, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Bigger Than Life, Julius Caesar, Georgy Girl, The Deadly Affair, The Boys from Brazil, The Verdict, Murder By Decree, and Salem's Lot. He was nominated for three Academy Awards and three Golden Globes (winning the Golden Globe in 1955 for A Star is Born).
Mason was born in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, to John and Mabel Mason; his father was a wealthy 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 as an actor and initially embarked upon it for fun. After Cambridge 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 World War II (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 postwar Britain and raised him to international stardom. He followed it with a role as a mortally wounded Irish bank robber in 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), and a determined explorer in Journey to the Centre of the Earth (also 1959).
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), Bradley Morahan in Norman Lindsay's 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.
Late in his life, Mason narrated 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 Charlie Chaplin.
Having completed playing the lead role in Dr. Fischer of Geneva (1985), adapted from the Graham Greene's eponymous novella for the BBC, he stepped into the role originally meant for Paul Schofield in The Shooting Party, who was unable to continue due to several of the actors being seriously injured in an accident on the first day of shooting. This was to be his final screen performance. In the late 1970s, Mason became a mentor to up-and-coming actor Sam Neill.
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 and discovered several nitrate film reels stored in the house of previously thought lost films produced by the comedian such as The Boat. Mason immediately arranged to have the decomposing films transferred to safety stock and thus saved them from being lost permanently.
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. Their son, James Duke Mason, is also an actor). 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 severe heart attack in 1959. He died as result of another heart attack on 27 July 1984 in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was cremated and (in 2000, 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 on 21 July 1994 from cancer.
|1935||Late Extra||Jim Martin|
|1936||Troubled Waters||John Merriman|
|Secret of Stamboul||Larry|
|Prison Breaker||'Bunny' Barnes|
|Blind Man's Bluff||Stephen Neville|
|1937||The Mill on the Floss||Tom Tulliver|
|Catch As Catch Can||Robert Leyland|
|Fire Over England||Hillary Vane|
|Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel||Jean Tallien|
|1938||The High Command||Capt. Heverell|
|1939||I Met a Murderer||Mark Warrow|
|1941||This Man Is Dangerous||Mick Cardby||(released in the U.S. as The Patient Vanishes)|
|1942||Hatter's Castle||Dr. Renwick|
|The Night Has Eyes||Stephen Deremid||(released in the U.S. as Terror House)|
|Secret Mission||Raoul de Carnot|
|1943||The Bells Go Down||Ted Robbins|
|The Man in Grey||Lord Rohan|
|They Met in the Dark||Richard Francis Heritage|
|1944||Hotel Reserve||Peter Vadassy|
|Fanny by Gaslight||Lord Manderstoke||(released in the U.S. as Man of Evil)|
|Candlelight in Algeria||Alan Thurston|
|1945||A Place of One's Own||Smedhurst|
|They Were Sisters||Geoffrey Lee|
|The Wicked Lady||Capt. Jerry Jackson|
|The Seventh Veil||Nicholas|
|1947||Odd Man Out||Johnny McQueen|
|The Upturned Glass||Michael Joyce|
|Madame Bovary||Gustave Flaubert|
|The Reckless Moment||Martin Donnelly|
|East Side, West Side||Brandon Bourne|
|1950||One Way Street||Dr. Frank Matson|
|1951||Pandora and the Flying Dutchman||Hendrik van der Zee|
|The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel||Field Marshal Erwin Johannes Rommel|
|1952||Lady Possessed||Jimmy del Palma||(also producer and writer)|
|5 Fingers||Ulysses Diello|
|The Prisoner of Zenda||Rupert of Hentzau|
|Face to Face||The Captain ('The Secret Sharer')||National Board of Review Award for Best Actor (also for The Desert Rats, Julius Caesar, and The Man Between)|
|(also producer and writer)|
|The Story of Three Loves||Charles Coutray||segment: The Jealous Lover|
|Botany Bay||Capt. Paul Gilbert|
|The Desert Rats||Field Marshal Erwin von Rommel||National Board of Review Award for Best Actor (also for Face to Face, Julius Caesar, and The Man Between)|
|Julius Caesar||Brutus||National Board of Review Award for Best Actor (also for The Desert Rats, Face to Face, and The Man Between)|
|The Man Between||Ivo Kern||National Board of Review Award for Best Actor (also for The Desert Rats, Julius Caesar, and Face to Face)|
|The Tell-Tale Heart||Narrator||(animated short subject, voice only)|
|1954||Prince Valiant||Sir Black|
|A Star Is Born||Norman Maine||Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor (2nd place)
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actor
|20,000 Leagues Under the Sea||Captain Nemo|
|1956||Forever, Darling||The Guardian Angel||(with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz)|
|Bigger Than Life||Ed Avery||(also producer and writer)|
|1957||Island in the Sun||Maxwell Fleury|
|1958||Cry Terror!||Jim Molner|
|The Decks Ran Red||Capt. Edwin Rummill|
|1959||A Touch of Larceny||Cmdr. Max Easton|
|North by Northwest||Phillip Vandamm|
|Journey to the Center of the Earth||Sir. Oliver S. Lindenbrook|
|1960||The Trials of Oscar Wilde||Sir Edward Carson|
|1961||The Marriage-Go-Round||Paul Delville|
|1962||Escape from Zahrain||Johnson||(uncredited)|
|Lolita||Prof. Humbert Humbert||Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
|Hero's Island||Jacob Weber|
|Tiara Tahiti||Capt. Brett Aimsley|
|1963||Torpedo Bay||Captain Blayne|
|1964||The Fall of the Roman Empire||Timonides|
|The Pumpkin Eater||Bob Conway|
|1965||Lord Jim||Gentleman Brown|
|Genghis Khan||Kam Ling|
|The Uninhibited||Pascal Regnier|
|1966||The Blue Max||General Count von Klugermann|
|Georgy Girl||James Leamington||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|The Deadly Affair||Charles Dobbs||Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role|
|Dare I Weep, Dare I Mourn||Otto Hoffman|
|1967||The London Nobody Knows||Narrator||(documentary)|
|Stranger in the House||John Sawyer||(also known as Cop Out)|
|The Sea Gull||Trigorin, a writer|
|1969||Age of Consent||Bradley Morahan|
|1970||The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go||Y.Y. Go|
|Spring and Port Wine||Rafe Crompton|
|Cold Sweat||Captain Ross|
|1971||Bad Man's River||Francisco Paco Montero|
|Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!||Alan Hamilton|
|1972||Child's Play||Jerome Mailey||New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor (3rd place)|
|1973||Frankenstein: The True Story||Dr. John Polidori||(TV mini-series)|
|The Last of Sheila||Phillip|
|The Mackintosh Man||Sir George Wheeler|
|1974||The Marseille Contract||Jacques Brizard||(released as The Destructors)|
|11 Harrowhouse||Charles D. Watts|
|1975||The Year of the Wildebeest||Narrator||(documentary)|
|The Left Hand of the Law||Senator Leandri|
|The Flower in His Mouth||Avv. Antonio Bellocampo|
|Autobiography of a Princess||Cyril Sahib|
|Inside Out||Ernst Furben|
|People of the Wind||Narrator||(documentary)|
|Voyage of the Damned||Dr. Juan Ramos|
|1977||Jesus of Nazareth||Joseph of Arimathea|
|Cross of Iron (1977)||Oberst Brandt|
|Homage to Chagall: The Colours of Love||Narrator||(documentary)|
|1978||The Water Babies||Mr. Grimes
Voice of Killer Shark
|Heaven Can Wait||Mr. Jordan||Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|The Boys from Brazil||Eduard Seibert|
|1979||Murder by Decree||Dr. John H. Watson|
|The Passage||Prof. John Bergson|
|Bloodline||Sir Alec Nichols|
|Salem's Lot||Richard K. Straker|
|1981||A Dangerous Summer||George Engels|
|Ivanhoe||Isaac of York|
|Evil Under the Sun||Odell Gardener|
|The Verdict||Ed Concannon||Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor (2nd place)
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
|Don't Eat the Pictures||Demon|
|1985||The Assisi Underground||Bishop Nicolini|
|Dr. Fischer of Geneva||Dr. Fischer|
|The Shooting Party||Sir Randolph Nettleby||London Film Critics Circle Award for Actor of the Year (tied with Richard Farnsworth for The Grey Fox)
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor (3rd place)
- Brian McFarlane "Mason, James (1909-1984)", BFI screenonlione; McFarlane (ed) The Encyclopedia of British Film, London: Methuen/BFI, 2003, p.438
- James Mason Before I forget: autobiography and drawings, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1981, 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.
- "JAMES MASON NAMED AGAIN AS BRITAIN'S BRIGHTEST STAR.". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) (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, WA : 1879–1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 28 February 1947. p. 20 Edition: SECOND EDITION. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "FILM NEWS.". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) (Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 11 June 1949. p. 14. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
- Kevin Sweeney. James Mason: A Bio-Bibliography, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999, p.47
- "Obituary: Paul Scofield". BBC News. 20 March 2008.
- Iley, Chrissy (23 July 2006). "Put it away, Sam ...". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
- Bailey, Steve. "The Boat". The Love Nest. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- Obituary Variety, 1 August 1984.
- Caroline Davies "James Mason's ashes finally laid to rest", telegraph.co.uk, 25 November 2000
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to James Mason.|
- James Mason at the Internet Movie Database
- James Mason at the TCM Movie Database
- Performances listed in Theatre Archive University of Bristol
- James Mason at the Internet Broadway Database
- Literature on James Mason