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James Mason
Born James Neville Mason
15 May 1909(1909-05-15)
Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, UK
Died 27 July 1984 (aged 75)
Lausanne, Switzerland
Occupation Actor
Years active 1935–1984
Spouse(s) Pamela Mason (1941–1964)
Clarissa Kaye-Mason (1971–1984)

James Neville Mason (15 May 1909–27 July 1984) was a British actor who attained stardom in both British and American films. Throughout his career, Mason remained a powerful figure in the industry and he is now regarded as one of the finest film actors of the 20th century. He was nominated for three Academy Awards and three Golden Globes (he won a Golden Globe 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, who gave Mason a small film role in 1933 but fired him a few days into shooting.


From 1935 to 1948 he starred in many British quota quickies. A conscientious objector during World War II (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). Mason starred 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 mortally wounded Irish revolutionary in Odd Man Out (1947) and Caught (1949), his first Hollywood film.

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), General Erwin Rommel in The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel and The Desert Rats, 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 vampire's servant, Richard Straker, in Salem's Lot, and a surreal pirate captain 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 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.[1]

Private life

Mason was a devoted lover of animals, particularly cats. He and Pamela Kellino 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:

  • Firstly from 1941 to 1964 to British-American 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 former lead singer of The Go-Go's). Portland Mason was named after 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 major heart attack in 1959 and died as a result of another on July 27, 1984 in Lausanne, Switzerland. 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.



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External links

Simple English

James Mason (1909-1984) was an British actor who reached stardom in both British and American films. He was born in England. He died in Switzerland from Myocardial infarction at the age of 75. He played in Lolita (1962).


  • The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951)
  • Julius Caesar (1953)
  • A Star Is Born (1954)
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
  • Lolita (1962)
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
  • The Boys from Brazil (1978)
  • Murder by Decree (1979)


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