James Mason

James Mason

Mason in 1971.
Born James Neville Mason
15 May 1909(1909-05-15)
Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, UK
Died 27 July 1984(1984-07-27) (aged 75)
Lausanne, Romandy, Switzerland
Alma mater Cambridge University
Occupation Actor
Years active 1935–84
Spouse Pamela Mason (1941–64)
Clarissa Kaye-Mason (1971–84)

James Neville Mason (15 May 1909 – 27 July 1984) was an English actor who attained stardom in both British and American films. Mason remained a powerful figure in the industry throughout his career and was nominated for three Academy Awards as well as three Golden Globes (winning once).



Early life

Mason was born in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, to John and Mabel Mason; his father was a wealthy merchant. Mason had no formal training as an actor and initially embarked upon it for fun. 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. After Cambridge he joined the Old Vic theatre in London under the guidance of Tyrone Guthrie and Alexander Korda. In 1933 Korda gave Mason a small role in The Private Life of Don Juan but fired him three days into shooting.[1]


From 1935 to 1948 he starred in many British quota quickies. A conscientious objector during World War II[2] (something which caused his family to break with him for many years), he became immensely 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 critically acclaimed and immensely popular The Seventh Veil (1945) that set box office records in postwar Britain and raised him to international stardom. He followed it with a role as a mortally wounded Irish revolutionary in Odd Man Out (1947) and his first Hollywood film, Caught (1949).

Mason's distinctive voice enabled him to play a menacing villain as greatly 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 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), a determined explorer in Journey to the Center of the Earth (also 1959), Humbert Humbert in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962), a hired assassin sent to kill Peter O'Toole's character in Lord Jim (1965), 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.

Mason was once considered to play James Bond in a 1958 TV adaptation of From Russia with Love, which was ultimately never produced. Despite being in his fifties, he was still under consideration to play Bond in Dr. No before Sean Connery was cast. He was also approached to appear as Bond villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker, however, he turned this down despite his renowned tendency to take any job offered him – which led to appearances in films such as The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go, Bloodline and Hunt the Man Down. His final screen-work was playing the lead role in Dr. Fischer of Geneva (adapted from the Graham Greene novella, 1985) as the eccentric wealthy businessman who played games with the Swiss upper class, such as offering gifts to his guests on the proviso they accepted some humiliating ritual activity (such as wearing a child's bib at the dinner table). In 1975 he played Falconhurst plantation owner in the controversial film Mandingo.

In the late 1970s, Mason became a mentor to up-and-coming actor Sam Neill.

Late in life, he served as narrator for a British television series on the films of Charlie Chaplin, Unknown Chaplin, which was aired in the U.S. on PBS and later issued on home video.[3]

As Brutus in Julius Caesar (1953)

Private life

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.

Mason was married twice:

  • First 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 cardiac arrest in 1959 and died as a result of another on 27 July 1984 in Lausanne, Switzerland.[4] He was cremated and (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 in 1994 from cancer.



The stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard often impersonates James Mason's voice saying it is the voice of God; it is a running gag in his shows.[5]


  1. ^ Before I forget: autobiography and drawings by James Mason. page 89. ISBN 9780241106778.
  2. ^ Thomson, David (2009-05-15) Every word a poison dart, The Guardian
  3. ^ amazon.com
  4. ^ Obituary Variety, August 1, 1984.
  5. ^ The Best DVDs You've Never Seen, Just Missed Or Almost Forgotten. page 123. Macmillan, 2005. ISBN 0312343620.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • James Mason — noun English film actor (1909 1984) • Syn: ↑Mason, ↑James Neville Mason • Instance Hypernyms: ↑actor, ↑histrion, ↑player, ↑thespian, ↑role player …   Useful english dictionary

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