Happy birthday, Claude Rains!
Talented, suave, and distinguished, the great Claude Rains was born 122 years ago, on November 10, 1889. He was seen in a wide variety of classic films, from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Now Voyager, to The Sea Hawk and Lawrence of Arabia. Rains also starred in two films noirs – the best of these was The Unsuspected (which I covered here). In this feature, Rains portrays the cultured, intelligent (and deadly) host of a popular radio show on which he retells gruesome real-life stories of murder. (If you haven’t seen it, be sure to check it out when you can!) Here, in celebration of the birth of Claude Rains, I offer up a few tidbits of trivia about his life and career . . .
Rains was born William Claude Rains in Camberwell, London, the son of English stage actor Frederick William Rains.
He made his stage debut at the age of 11 in Nell of Old Drury.
The budding actor’s talents caught the eye of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, who paid for Rains to have elocution lessons. Years later, Rains taught at the Academy – his students included Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud.
Along with fellow thespians Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman and Herbert Marshall, Rains served in World War I in the London Scottish Regiment. During the war, he was in a gas attack that left him nearly blind in one eye.
Rains began his career in the London theater, but his first screen test in Hollywood was a flop. Still, fortune intervened when someone overheard his screen test – his distinctive voice won him the title role in 1933’s The Invisible Man.
Bette Davis once labeled Rains her favorite co-star – the duo starred in four films together: Juarez (1939), Mr. Skeffington (1942), Now, Voyager (1944), and Deception (1946). After Rains’s death, Davis said the actor was “witty, amusing, and beautiful, really beautiful. And thoroughly enchanting to be with. And brilliant.”
Reportedly, Rains not only memorized his own lines in the movies he was in, but the entire script.
Rains won a Tony Award in 1951 for Best Dramatic Actor in Darkness at Noon. He was also nominated four times for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Casablanca (1942), Mr. Skeffington (1944), and Notorious (1946).
Rains was married six times – with some pretty interesting stories involved. His first wife was British character actress Isabel Jeans – after three separations, Rains filed for divorce when Isabel miscarried the baby of writer Gilbert Wakefield, with whom she’d been having an affair. (Jeans later married Wakefield). Then there was marriage number two, to actress Marie Hemingway, which lasted only a few months. Rains was married to his third wife, another actress, Beatrix Thomson, for 11 years – during their marriage, Rains starred with Thomson in The Rivals in London – the cast also included Rains’s two former wives! Rains married his fourth wife, Frances Propper, the same day that his divorce was final from Beatrix. After the divorce, Beatrix charged him with bigamy, claiming that their divorce was not legal. With Frances, Rains had his only child, a daughter, Jennifer. Rains and Frances divorced after Frances had an affair with the owner of a women’s dress shop, whom she later married. Reportedly, when Jennifer was 17 years old, her mother woke her up in the middle of the night, told her she was leaving her father, and asked her if she wanted to come with her. (Jennifer turned her down.) On the day his divorce from Frances was final, Rains got drunk and drove his Bentley into a ditch – he was found passed out on the ground and the car was on fire. He was married to his fifth wife, pianist-composer Agi Jambor, for less than a year – when he decided he’d had enough of the marriage, Rains had the locks changed on their house while Agi was out shopping. Rains married his last wife, Rosemary McGroarty Clark, in 1960 – the two were married until Rosemary’s death from cancer in 1964. A Catholic, Rosemary was not in good standing with the church because she had divorced and remarried – Rains pressed the church to reinstate her, which they did at her funeral.
Some say that Elizabeth Taylor was the first performer to receive a million dollar salary for a film, for Cleopatra (1963), while others say it was William Holden in 1957 for Bridge on the River Kwai. But there are still others that claim it was none other than Claude Rains, who was paid a cool mil way back in 1945 for his performance as Julius Caesar in Caesar and Cleopatra.
Rains died at age 77 on May 30, 1967, of liver failure, followed by an intestinal hemorrhage. He designed his own tombstone: ”All things once/Are things forever/Soul, once living/lives forever.”