On this day in history : 15th May 1909 – The birth of British actor James Mason – who was to appear in more than 80 films, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Julius Caesar….

James Mason – Public domain

James was born in Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire…. He was the youngest of the three sons of Mabel Hattersley and John Mason, a wealthy textile merchant…. After attending Marlborough College James was to go on to graduate from Cambridge with a degree in architecture…. It was whilst at university that he got involved with the theatre, purely for enjoyment, he never trained as an actor….

He was to make his stage debut in 1931, in a production of The Rascal in Aldershot…. He went on to join the Old Vic theatre in London, appearing in stage productions such as Henry VIII, The Importance of Being Earnest, Measure for Measure, The Tempest and Twelfth Night among others…. He became a prominent stage actor….

James Mason – Image credit : John Irving via Flickr

James made his film debut in 1935 in Late Extra…. He was to make a lot of minor ‘quota quickie’ films – as at the time in an attempt to counter American dominance a certain percentage of films shown in cinemas in the UK had to be British made…. As a result James was to become one of Britain’s major film stars of the 1940s….It was also in the late 1930s that he appeared in early television productions of plays….

Being a strong pacifist meant James was to become a conscientious objector during WW2 – which caused a long-lasting rift between him and his family…. He married his first wife, Pamela, in February 1941 and they were to have two children, a daughter, Portland, in 1948 and a son, Morgan in 1955…. Morgan is incidentally married to singer Belinda Carlisle….

James Mason and his family from the 1957 TV program Panic!

James was very much an animal lover and in 1949 he and Pamela published a book ‘The Cats in our Lives’…. Mostly written and illustrated by James he tells the mostly humorous but sometimes sad tales of the cats he had known – and the occasional dog….

His first Hollywood film, Caught, came in 1949…. However, it wasn’t until 1951, when he was cast as General Rommel in The Desert Fox, that his Hollywood career was to really take off…. His contract with 20th Century Fox was for 7 years with the stipulation of making one film per year….

In 1952 he bought the Hollywood mansion that had once belonged to Buster Keaton….. Whilst carrying out renovation work he was to discover reels of Keaton’s films that had previously been thought lost…. Realising their historical importance James had them transferred on to cellulose acetate film, thus saving them….

James Mason in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, 1959 – Public domain

Not everything was rosy in life for James…. In 1959 he suffered a major heart attack and continuing troubles in his personal life were a persistent blight on his happiness…. His wife was particularly fond of the Hollywood social scene and was reputedly frequently unfaithful…. However, it was eventually she who sued for divorce in 1962 accusing him of unfaithfulness…. It led to her receiving a $1 million divorce settlement….

In 1963 James made his home in Switzerland, commuting transatlantic to continue his career…. He married Australian actress Clarissa Kaye in 1971 and they were on occasion to work together…. James was to suffer a further heart attack, which proved to be fatal on the 27th of July 1984, whilst in Lausanne, Switzerland….

James Mason in The Fall of the Roman Empire, 1964 – Public domain

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