Lewis Casson was born at 18 Alfred Road, Birkenhead, Cheshire. He was the son of a bank manager and amateur organ-builder, Thomas Casson, from Wales, and his wife Laura Ann. When he was young the family moved to Denbigh in Wales and Casson was educated at Ruthin School. In 1891 Casson's father decided to make a business of his hobby of building organs, and the family moved to London. Lewis soon began working in his father's business. When this failed, he began to study chemistry, but then trained as a teacher at St Mark's College, Chelsea, where he gained a teaching certificate. In 1900 Casson's father began another organ making business and Lewis worked in this for the next four years.
Casson had always been interested in acting and had taken part in amateur productions in his youth. He continued to act semi-professionally until 1904, when he left his father's business to work as a professional actor. He joined the Royal Court Theatre under Harley Granville-Barker and remained there until 1908, when he joined a repertory company founded by Annie Horniman at the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester, the first repertory theatre in the country.
On 22 December 1908, in Aylesford, Kent, he married Sybil Thorndike, who was another member of the company. They both joined Charles Frohman's repertory season in London. In 1909 Sybil gave birth to their first son, John, and soon after, they joined Frohman on a tour of the United States. When Casson returned to England he became a theatrical director working with Annie Horniman from 1911-13. He then succeeded Alfred Wareing as the producer of the Scottish Playgoers Company, based in Glasgow, and forerunner of the Citizens' Theatre, in which his elder son John would become an actor-director. In 1912, a second son, Christopher, was born.
First World War
At the out break of the First World War, Casson joined the Royal Army Service Corps. He later joined the Royal Engineers finally reaching the rank of major. He was invalided home in 1917 after being wounded, and was awarded the Military Cross. During the war, Sybil Thorndike gave birth to their final two children: Mary (born 1914) and Ann (born 1915).
Following the war, Casson resumed his career as a theatrical director. At this point, his wife's fame as an actress was becoming widespread, and Casson supported her in her burgeoning career. He directed his wife in Saint Joan. He also directed productions of The Trojan Women and Medea, written by Euripides and translated by Gilbert Murray. He also directed Henry VIII in 1925 and Macbeth in 1926. Lewis and Sybil toured South Africa in 1928 and the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand in 1932. Whereas his wife played the role of Edith Cavell in the 1928 silent movie Dawn, Casson had the role of chaplain in the play Nurse Cavell by C.E. Bechhofer Roberts and C.S. Forester in 1934. In 1938 Casson directed Henry V for Ivor Novello In 1939 he led an Old Vic tour around the Mediterranean, and in 1940 he directed John Gielgud in King Lear at the Old Vic. He played Gonzalo in The Tempest, that tale of a son missing at sea, while his own son was for a time missing off the Norwegian coast.
During the Second World War, Casson organised tours of the Old Vic company to the South Wales valleys. He was president of the British Actors' Equity Association from 1941 to 1945, and was knighted in 1945. As his wife had been created a dame in 1931, they were one of the few couples who both held titles in their own right.
In 1947, Casson was very successful in the leading role in J.B. Priestley's The Linden Tree. In 1959, Casson and Thorndike celebrated the jubilee of their wedding by appearing together in Clemence Dane's play, specially written for them, Eighty in the Shade. That same year they both appeared in the film Shake Hands with the Devil as ill-fated loyalists in Ireland.
He took part in a number of international recital tours with his wife. He continued to work until 1968, his last appearance being in Night Must Fall by Emlyn Williams. He died at Nuffield Nursing Home on 16 May 1969, aged 93. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 20 May 1969. His ashes were placed in St Pauls Church, Covent Garden.
His widow died seven years later, in 1976.
- Escape (1930)
- Crime on the Hill (1933)
- Midshipman Easy (1935)
- Calling the Tune (1936)
- South Riding (1938)
- Shake Hands with the Devil (1959)
- Golders Green Crematorium guide notes
- Details in the Theatre Collection archive, University of Bristol of performances by Lewis Casson
- Details in the Theatre Collection archive, University of Bristol of Lewis Casson as director
- Lewis Casson at the Internet Movie Database
- The Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson Archive is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre and Performance Department.