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Claude Rains

An Actor's Voice

David Skal

Publication Year: 2008

Late in Claude Rains’s distinguished career, a reverent film journalist wrote that Rains “was as much a cinematic institution as the medium itself.” Given his childhood speech impediments and his origins in a destitute London neighborhood, the ascent of Claude Rains (1889–1967) to the stage and screen is remarkable. Rains’s difficulties in his formative years provided reserves of gravitas and sensitivity, from which he drew inspiration for acclaimed performances in The Invisible Man (1933), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Casablanca (1942), Notorious (1946), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and other classic films. In Claude Rains: An Actor’s Voice, noted Hollywood historian David J. Skal draws on more than thirty hours of newly released Rains interviews to create the first full-length biography of the actor who was nominated multiple times for an Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor. Skal’s portrait of the gifted actor also benefits from the insights of Jessica Rains, who provides firsthand accounts of the enigmatic man behind her father’s refined screen presence and genteel public persona. As Skal shows, numerous contradictions informed the life and career of Claude Rains. He possessed an air of nobility and became an emblem of sophistication, but he never shed the insecurities that traced back to his upbringing in an abusive and poverty-stricken family. Though deeply self-conscious about his short stature, Rains drew notorious ardor from female fans and was married six times. His public displays of dry wit and good humor masked inner demons that drove Rains to alcoholism and its devastating consequences. Skal’s layered depiction of Claude Rains reveals a complex, almost inscrutable man whose nuanced characterizations were, in no small way, based on the more shadowy parts of his psyche. With unprecedented access to episodes from Rains’s private life, Skal tells the full story of the consummate character actor of his generation. Claude Rains: An Actor’s Voice, gives voice to the struggles and innermost concerns that influenced Rains’s performances and helped him become a universally respected Hollywood legend.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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Copyright page

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Dedication

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

Grateful acknowledgment is due to the dozens of institutions and individuals who helped make the idea for this book a reality. Claude Rains: An Actor’s Voice would not exist without the support and assistance of Jessica Rains, who entrusted me with the responsibility of giving narrative shape to her father’s life, in the process making available to me all of Rains’s surviving papers and visual documents and her own extraordinary and vivid memories...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-4

Roddy McDowall was in awe of Claude Rains. Both were English actors transplanted to Hollywood, but somehow they had never met, socially or professionally. McDowall had started his American career as a juvenile performer for MGM, while Rains worked primarily for Warner Bros., and their paths had simply never crossed...

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1. Bloody Idiots Who Couldn't Learn Their Lines

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pp. 5-26

His parents could not agree on what to call him. His father, Frederick, wanted a solid English name—William or Harry. And for that matter, what was wrong with Frederick? His mother, Emily, was entranced by the French name Claude, which she had discovered in a romantic novel. It sounded like “cloud,” something elevated...

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2. Marriages and Mustard Gas

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pp. 27-58

Emily Rains was not a happy woman while her son was growing up, though not because of any failing on his part. On the contrary, he must have been a source of pride for her. After all, in addition to overcoming his speech impediments, his responsibilities at His Majesty’s Theatre had expanded impressively, from those of call boy to prompter to assistant stage manager...

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3. An Actor Abroad

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pp. 59-68

In late 1926, Beatrix Thomson was offered the female lead in the New York production of The Constant Nymph, a play based on the best-selling novel by Margaret Kennedy and adapted by Basil Dean. The story of the romantic downfall of a na

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4. Invisibility and After

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pp. 69-90

Despite his reputation as a versatile and often adventurous performer, Claude Rains was oddly indifferent to the medium of motion pictures. He claimed to have seen only a half-dozen films prior to joining the Theatre Guild (and several, perhaps, were less-than-artistic silent vehicles in which his less-than-beloved father Fred appeared)...

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5. Mr. Rains Goes to Burbank

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pp. 91-112

Rains was shocked to learn that Beatrix, in Britain, was accusing him of bigamy, challenging the legality of his American divorce and remarriage. In London, on July 16, 1935, she filed a countersuit to his New Jersey divorce action, naming Frances as codefendant. Although Beatrix may have had reason to want to clarify her marital status...

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6. Now, Contract Player

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pp. 113-138

A prior engagement with Bette Davis prevented Claude Rains from attending his own mother’s funeral. Eliza Cox Rains died on May 13, 1942, during the production of Now,Voyager, Warners’ latest Bette Davis vehicle. Based on a best-selling novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, Voyager had begun production on April 7, with retakes continuing through June...

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7. MacGuffins, Deceptions, Domestic Recriminations

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pp. 139-160

Mike Levee, Rains’s agent, called his client one day. Alfred Hitchcock had expressed interest in Rains’s services. Could he have a meeting? Hitchcock was casting a film called Notorious, a tale of postwar intrigue and espionage revolving around an expatriate Nazi cell in Rio de Janeiro, starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant...

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8. New Stages and Final Curtains

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pp. 161-184

Rains’s relative isolation in Pennsylvania did nothing to lessen the ceaseless stream of fan mail, from which the actor could have easily inferred that the years had enlarged rather than diminished his professional stature and that women of all ages still thrilled to his polished, rich, and sensual voice and to the memory of all those screen portrayals of urbane wickedness and gallantry...

Appendix: The Work of Claude Rains

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pp. 185-260

Notes and Sources

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pp. 261-276

Bibliography

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pp. 277-280

Index

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pp. 281-290

Photographs

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pp. 293-314


E-ISBN-13: 9780813172187
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813124322

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Screen Classics