James Neville Mason (15 May 1909 – 27 July 1984) was an English actor.
After achieving much success in the United Kingdom, where he was the top box office attraction in 1944 and 1945, he made the transition to the United States and became one of Hollywood's biggest stars. His iconic films included Odd Man Out, The Desert Fox, A Star Is Born, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lolita, North by Northwest, Prisoner of Zenda, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Bigger Than Life, Julius Caesar, Georgy Girl, The Deadly Affair, Age of Consent, Heaven Can Wait, The Boys from Brazil, The Verdict, Mandingo, 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 Mabel Hattersley (Gaunt) and John Mason. His father was a wealthy textile 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 in acting and initially embarked upon it for fun. After Cambridge he made his stage debut in Aldershot in The Rascal in 1931. 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 1935-38, he starred in many British quota quickies. He registered as a conscientious objector during the Second World War (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 post-war Britain and raised him to international stardom. He followed it with a role as a mortally wounded IRA bank robber on the run 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 the 1950s, Mason was host of Lux Video Theatre on CBS television.
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 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. Mason had been a long-time neighbour and friend of the comedian.
Having completed playing the lead role in Dr. Fischer of Geneva (1985), adapted from Graham Greene's eponymous novella for the BBC, he stepped into the role in The Shooting Party originally meant for Paul Scofield, who was unable to continue after being seriously injured in an accident on the first day of shooting. This was to be Mason's 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. He discovered several nitrate film reels of previously-thought-lost films stored in the house and produced by the comedian, such as The Boat. Mason arranged to have the decomposing films transferred to safety stock and thus saved them from being permanently lost.
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; they have a son, James Duke Mason). Portland Mason was named after Portland Hoffa, the wife of the American radio comedian Fred Allen; the Allens and the Masons were friends. The Masons were unusually indulgent parents, allowing their daughter to take up cigarette smoking at age three and their son to begin drinking beer at age five. Pamela Mason was widely reported to be a devotee of the Hollywood social scene and was frequently unfaithful to her husband. Nevertheless, she initiated divorce proceedings against him in 1962, claiming adultery on his part. This led to a $1M divorce settlement, and made a star of her attorney Marvin Mitchelson.
- 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, where he was cremated.
Mason left his entire estate to his second wife, Clarissa Kaye, but his will was challenged by his two children and the lawsuit had not been settled when she died on 21 July 1994 from cancer. Clarissa Kaye Mason left her holdings to the religious guru Sathya Sai Baba, including the actor's ashes which she had retained in their shared home. Mason's children sued Sai Baba burying them 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 children specified that his headstone read: "Never say in grief you are sorry he's gone. Rather, say in thankfulness you are grateful he was here," words that were spoken to Morgan Mason by Teddy Kennedy after the actor's death.
|1935||Late Extra||Jim Martin|
|1936||Twice Branded||Henry Hamilton|
|Prison Breaker||'Bunny' Barnes|
|Troubled Waters||John Merriman|
|Blind Man's Bluff||Stephen Neville|
|Secret of Stamboul||Larry|
|The Mill on the Floss||Tom Tulliver|
|1937||Fire Over England||Hillary Vane|
|The High Command||Capt. Heverell|
|Catch As Catch Can||Robert Leyland|
|Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel||Jean Tallien|
|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||Candlelight in Algeria||Alan Thurston|
|Fanny by Gaslight||Lord Manderstoke||(released in the U.S. as Man of Evil)|
|Hotel Reserve||Peter Vadassy|
|1945||A Place of One's Own||Smedhurst|
|They Were Sisters||Geoffrey Lee|
|The Seventh Veil||Nicholas|
|The Wicked Lady||Capt. Jerry Jackson|
|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|
|Face to Face||The Captain ('The Secret Sharer')||National Board of Review Award for Best Actor|
|The Prisoner of Zenda||Rupert of Hentzau|
|Botany Bay||Capt. Paul Gilbert|
|1953||The Story of Three Loves||Charles Coutray||segment: The Jealous Lover|
|The Desert Rats||Field Marshal Erwin von Rommel||National Board of Review Award for Best Actor|
|The Man Between||Ivo Kern|
|The Tell-Tale Heart||Narrator||(animated short subject, voice only)|
|1954||Prince Valiant||Sir Brack|
|Charade||The Murderer |
|(also producer and writer)|
|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||North by Northwest||Phillip Vandamm|
|A Touch of Larceny||Cmdr. Max Easton|
|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
|Tiara Tahiti||Capt. Brett Aimsley|
|Hero's Island||Jacob Weber|
|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 Deadly Affair||Charles Dobbs||Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role|
|Georgy Girl||James Leamington||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|The Blue Max||General Count von Klugermann|
|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 |
" The Die Hard" documentary Venture Films Australia.
|1970||Spring and Port Wine||Rafe Crompton|
|Cold Sweat||Captain Ross|
|The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go||Y.Y. Go|
|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||John Keats: His Life and Death||Narrator||(voice)|
|The Last of Sheila||Phillip|
|The Mackintosh Man||Sir George Wheeler|
|Frankenstein: The True Story||Dr. John Polidori||(TV mini-series)|
|1974||11 Harrowhouse||Charles D. Watts|
|The Marseille Contract||Jacques Brizard||(released as The Destructors)|
|1975||The Year of the Wildebeest||Narrator||(documentary)|
|The Left Hand of the Law||Senator Leandri|
|Autobiography of a Princess||Cyril Sahib|
|Inside Out||Ernst Furben|
|The Flower in His Mouth||Avv. Antonio Bellocampo|
|1976||People of the Wind||Narrator||(documentary)|
|Voyage of the Damned||Dr. Juan Ramos|
|Fear in the City||Prosecutor|
|1977||Jesus of Nazareth||Joseph of Arimathea||(TV mini-series)|
|Cross of Iron||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||North Sea Hijack||Admiral Brinsden|
|Murder by Decree||Dr. John H. Watson|
|The Passage||Prof. John Bergson|
|Bloodline||Sir Alec Nichols|
|Salem's Lot||Richard K. Straker||(TV mini-series)|
|1982||Evil Under the Sun||Odell Gardener|
|Ivanhoe||Isaac of York|
|A Dangerous Summer||George Engels|
|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||(TV)|
|1984||George Washington||Edward Braddock||(TV mini-series)|
|Dr. Fischer of Geneva||Dr. Fischer|
|1985||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)
|The Assisi Underground||Bishop Nicolini||(final film role)|
|1952||Suspense||Odd Man Out|