Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Born Today August 30: Raymond Massey (Not So Silent Edition)


Actor of great talent and repute, Raymond Hart Massey, was born on this day in Toronto, Canada into a very wealthy established manufacturing family.  As a young man, he attended Upper Canada College and later matriculated to Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario, while there, he attended classes at the University of Toronto and later graduated from Balliol College Oxford (one of the oldest at the university).  He served in the Canadian Army during World War I; he returned with "shell shock" during the war.  This, ironically, would lead to his first acting experiences.  He was then made an instructor to American officers at Yale University, then later (1918) sent to serve in Siberia.  This is where he had his first encounter with the stage.  After the war (and recovering from injuries incurred during), he returned to Canada to work in the family business selling farm equipment and implements.  His experience in Siberia however had left him with a taste for the stage.  He managed to get work in that field and, in 1922, he appeared on the stage in London for the first time.  Before long, he had gained the interest of the film industry.  He made his first appearance in the film in a production in 1928 (premiering in 1929) in the UK war intrigue High Treason, the film was released in both sound and silent formats, with the sound version featuring the not so reliable British Acoustic system.  He had just a small part, but it was enough to send him on his way to wildly successful film career playing all types, with a bent toward character acting.  Massey next appeared in bit part in the UK partial silent The Crooked Billet (1929).  By this time in his career, he was directing stage productions in London, so it is no surprise that his next film role--solidly in the sound era--was one in which he had the starring role.  He was Sherlock Holmes in the 1931 The Speckled Band.  His next two films are personal favorites of mine, with the second marking his entry into the American film industry.  The Face At The Window (1932) was a British crime drama based on a Brooke Warren play.  And, The Old Dark House is the 1932 James Whale film that doesn't get a much attention as his other films do--it had an all star cast including Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton and Melvyn Douglas to name but a few (the film was lost for decades until 1968).  After this, Massey would return to making film appearances in the UK.  He would not return to the US film industry until 1937 with The Prisoner Of Zenda.  He returned again the UK and made a very, very early appearance in a British television program in 1938 in Picture Page, in that show's 12th episode.  Massey had continued to work on the stage all through out this time and had a surprise hit when assaying the historical role of Abe Lincoln.  He played Lincoln for the first of several times on film in 1940 with Abe Lincoln in Illinois (a filmed production of the play in which he starred).  It was a role that garnered his only Oscar nomination.  He would go on to have a distinguished career as both a leading actor and a supporting actor in several very well known films.  He also became a frequent actor on television as well.  He had recurring roles in both I, Spy and Dr. Kildare.  Massey continued to work up until about 10 years before his death.  His last filmed appearance came in My Darling Daughter's Anniversary (his second turn as Matthew Cunningham in a "Darling" film) in 1973, which was made for television.  Massey died of pneumonia in Los Angeles on the 29th of July, just before his 87th birthday.  He died the same day as David Niven, a sometime co-star of his.  He is buried in Beaverdale Memorial Park in New Haven, Connecticut. 

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