James Mason

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James Mason
James Mason - still.JPG
in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
BornJames Neville Mason
(1909-05-15)15 May 1909
Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Died27 July 1984(1984-07-27) (aged 75)
Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Years active1931–1984
Spouse(s)Pamela Mason
(m.1941–1964; divorced)
Clarissa Kaye
(m.1971–1984; his death)
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For other people named James Mason, see James Mason (disambiguation).
James Mason
James Mason - still.JPG
in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
BornJames Neville Mason
(1909-05-15)15 May 1909
Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Died27 July 1984(1984-07-27) (aged 75)
Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Years active1931–1984
Spouse(s)Pamela Mason
(m.1941–1964; divorced)
Clarissa Kaye
(m.1971–1984; his death)

James Neville Mason (15 May 1909 – 27 July 1984) was an English actor.

After achieving much success in the United Kingdom (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 Center 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).


Early life[edit]

Mason was born in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, to Mabel Hattersley (Gaunt) and John Mason.[1] 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 as an actor and initially embarked upon it for fun. After Cambridge he made his stage debut in Aldershot in The Rascal in 1931.[2][3] He joined The Old Vic theatre in London under the guidance of Tyrone Guthrie.[4] In 1933 Alexander Korda gave Mason a small role in The Private Life of Don Juan but sacked him three days into shooting.[5]


From 1935-38 he starred in many British quota quickies. He registered as a conscientious objector during World War II[6] (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.[7]

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 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.[8][9] He was the most popular male star in Canada in 1948.[10]

Mason in North by Northwest (1959)

Mason's "languid but impassioned"[6] 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.[11]

In 1963 he settled in Switzerland,[12] 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. 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 the Graham Greene's eponymous novella for the BBC, he stepped into the role originally meant for Paul Scofield 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.[13] In the late 1970s, Mason became a mentor to up-and-coming actor Sam Neill.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Mason and his family in 1957 in the television program Panic!. From left, son Morgan with wife Pamela, daughter Portland, and Mason.

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 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.[15]

Mason was married twice:

Mason's autobiography, Before I Forget, was published in 1981.


Mason survived a severe heart attack in 1959.[16] He died as result of another heart attack on 27 July 1984 in Lausanne, Switzerland,[17] where he was cremated (in the year 2000, after a delay of 16 years, his ashes were buried in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Vaud, Switzerland).[18] The remains of Mason's old friend Charlie Chaplin are in a tomb a few steps away.[18]

Mason's widow, Clarissa Kaye, also known as Kaye-Mason, died on 21 July 1994 from cancer.


1935Late ExtraJim Martin
1936Troubled WatersJohn Merriman
Secret of StamboulLarry
Prison Breaker'Bunny' Barnes
Blind Man's BluffStephen Neville
1937The Mill on the FlossTom Tulliver
Catch As Catch CanRobert Leyland
Fire Over EnglandHillary Vane
Return of the Scarlet PimpernelJean Tallien
1938The High CommandCapt. Heverell
1939I Met a MurdererMark Warrow
1941This Man Is DangerousMick Cardby(released in the U.S. as The Patient Vanishes)
1942Hatter's CastleDr. Renwick
The Night Has EyesStephen Deremid(released in the U.S. as Terror House)
AlibiAndre Laurent
Secret MissionRaoul de Carnot
Thunder RockStreeter
1943The Bells Go DownTed Robbins
The Man in GreyLord Rohan
They Met in the DarkRichard Francis Heritage
1944Hotel ReservePeter Vadassy
Fanny by GaslightLord Manderstoke(released in the U.S. as Man of Evil)
Candlelight in AlgeriaAlan Thurston
1945A Place of One's OwnSmedhurst
They Were SistersGeoffrey Lee
The Wicked LadyCapt. Jerry Jackson
The Seventh VeilNicholas
1947Odd Man OutJohnny McQueen
The Upturned GlassMichael Joyce
1949CaughtLarry Quinada
Madame BovaryGustave Flaubert
The Reckless MomentMartin Donnelly
East Side, West SideBrandon Bourne
1950One Way StreetDr. Frank Matson
1951Pandora and the Flying DutchmanHendrik van der Zee
The Desert Fox: The Story of RommelField Marshal Erwin Johannes Rommel
1952Lady PossessedJimmy del Palma(also producer and writer)
5 FingersUlysses Diello
The Prisoner of ZendaRupert of Hentzau
Face to FaceThe Captain ('The Secret Sharer')National Board of Review Award for Best Actor
1953CharadeThe Murderer
Maj. Linden
Jonah Watson
(also producer and writer)
The Story of Three LovesCharles Coutraysegment: The Jealous Lover
Botany BayCapt. Paul Gilbert
The Desert RatsField Marshal Erwin von RommelNational Board of Review Award for Best Actor
Julius CaesarBrutus
The Man BetweenIvo Kern
The Tell-Tale HeartNarrator(animated short subject, voice only)
1954Prince ValiantSir Black
A Star Is BornNorman MaineGolden 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 SeaCaptain Nemo
1956Forever, DarlingThe Guardian Angel(with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz)
Bigger Than LifeEd Avery(also producer and writer)
1957Island in the SunMaxwell Fleury
1958Cry Terror!Jim Molner
The Decks Ran RedCapt. Edwin Rummill
1959A Touch of LarcenyCmdr. Max Easton
North by NorthwestPhillip Vandamm
Journey to the Center of the EarthSir. Oliver S. Lindenbrook
1960The Trials of Oscar WildeSir Edward Carson
1961The Marriage-Go-RoundPaul Delville
1962Escape from ZahrainJohnson(uncredited)
LolitaProf. Humbert HumbertNominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
Hero's IslandJacob Weber
Tiara TahitiCapt. Brett Aimsley
1963Torpedo BayCaptain Blayne
1964The Fall of the Roman EmpireTimonides
The Pumpkin EaterBob Conway
1965Lord JimGentleman Brown
Genghis KhanKam Ling
The UninhibitedPascal Regnier
1966The Blue MaxGeneral Count von Klugermann
Georgy GirlJames LeamingtonNominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
The Deadly AffairCharles DobbsNominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Dare I Weep, Dare I MournOtto Hoffman
1967The London Nobody KnowsNarrator(documentary)
Stranger in the HouseJohn Sawyer(also known as Cop Out)
1968DuffyCharles Calvert
MayerlingEmperor Franz-Joseph
The Sea GullTrigorin, a writer
1969Age of ConsentBradley Morahan
1970The Yin and the Yang of Mr. GoY.Y. Go
Spring and Port WineRafe Crompton
Cold SweatCaptain Ross
1971Bad Man's RiverFrancisco Paco Montero
Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!Alan Hamilton
1972Child's PlayJerome MaileyNew York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor (3rd place)
1973Frankenstein: The True StoryDr. John Polidori(TV mini-series)
The Last of SheilaPhillip
The Mackintosh ManSir George Wheeler
1974The Marseille ContractJacques Brizard(released as The Destructors)
11 HarrowhouseCharles D. Watts
1975The Year of the WildebeestNarrator(documentary)
The Left Hand of the LawSenator Leandri
The Flower in His MouthAvv. Antonio Bellocampo
MandingoWarren Maxwell
Kidnap SyndicateFillippini
Autobiography of a PrincessCyril Sahib
Inside OutErnst Furben
1976Hot StuffProsecutor
People of the WindNarrator(documentary)
Voyage of the DamnedDr. Juan Ramos
1977Jesus of NazarethJoseph of Arimathea
Cross of IronOberst Brandt
Homage to Chagall: The Colours of LoveNarrator(documentary)
1978The Water BabiesMr. Grimes
Voice of Killer Shark
Heaven Can WaitMr. JordanNominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
The Boys from BrazilEduard Seibert
1979Murder by DecreeDr. John H. Watson
The PassageProf. John Bergson
BloodlineSir Alec Nichols
Salem's Lot (TV)Richard K. Straker
1982A Dangerous SummerGeorge Engels
IvanhoeIsaac of York
Evil Under the SunOdell Gardener
The VerdictEd ConcannonLos 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
1983AlexandreThe Father
YellowbeardCaptain Hughes
Don't Eat the PicturesDemon
1985The Assisi UndergroundBishop Nicolini
Dr. Fischer of GenevaDr. Fischer
The Shooting PartySir Randolph NettlebyLondon 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)


  2. ^ James Mason Obituary – The Glasgow Herald – 28 July 1984 pg 8 – Google News
  3. ^ Sweeney, Kevin. James Mason: A Bio-bibliography – Greenwood Press (1999) pg 5 Google Books
  4. ^ Brian McFarlane "Mason, James (1909-1984)", BFI screenonlione; McFarlane (ed) The Encyclopedia of British Film, London: Methuen/BFI, 2003, p.438
  5. ^ James Mason Before I forget: autobiography and drawings, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1981, p.89. ISBN 978-0-241-10677-8
  6. ^ a b Thomson, David (15 May 2009) Every word a poison dart, The Guardian
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "James Mason named again as Britain's brightest star". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 2 March 1946. p. 3 Supplement: The Mercury Magazine. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  9. ^ "FILM WORLD.". The West Australian (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 28 February 1947. p. 20 Edition: SECOND EDITION. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  10. ^ "FILM NEWS.". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 11 June 1949. p. 14. Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  11. ^ Becker, Christine (October 1, 2005). "Televising Film Stardom in the 1950s". Framework. Retrieved 21 January 2015 – via HighBeam Research. (subscription required (help)). 
  12. ^ Kevin Sweeney. James Mason: A Bio-Bibliography, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999, p.47
  13. ^ "Obituary: Paul Scofield". BBC News. 20 March 2008. 
  14. ^ Iley, Chrissy (23 July 2006). "Put it away, Sam ...". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2013. 
  15. ^ Bailey, Steve. "The Boat". The Love Nest. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  16. ^ http://www.thisisannouncements.co.uk/5848658
  17. ^ Obituary Variety, 1 August 1984
  18. ^ a b Caroline Davies "James Mason's ashes finally laid to rest", telegraph.co.uk, 25 November 2000

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