Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice

Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice

Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice

Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice


Late in Claude Rains's distinguished career, a reverent film journalist wrote that Rains "was as much a cinematic institution as the medium itself." 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 nominated multiple times for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. This portrait of a universally respected Hollywood legend also benefits from the insights of his daughter, Jessica Rains, who provides firsthand accounts of the enigmatic man behind her father's refined screen presence and genteel public persona. With unprecedented access to episodes from Rains's private life, Skal tells the full story of the consummate character actor of his generation.


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. McDowall was one of thousands of British children evacuated to America in 1940 during the Blitz. Rains had already been in the States for more than a decade, but at the height of World War II he had returned to London via military transport to give one of his signature screen roles in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra. Their lives, careers, and screen personae couldn’t have been more different, though they did have a few things in common. One was an elegant former juvenile star; the other, an elegant and mature character actor, one of the most celebrated in the world, who had begun his own career as a juvenile stage manager and performer. One was gay, the other straight—having lived through six marriages by the early 1960s when they finally met.

Offscreen, McDowall had become a noted photographer of Hollywood personalities, and he was especially eager for a portrait sitting with the man who had first electrified the world over thirty years earlier with his appearance (or disappearance) as The Invisible Man and who had gone on to act with distinction in a constellation of major films, including Anthony Adverse, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Now, Voyager, Mr. Skeffington, Notorious, Lawrence of Arabia, and dozens of others.

If it was a classic film, there was a good chance Claude Rains had something to do with it.

“He was perfect,” said McDowall. “There’s this very small group of actors who seemingly never made a mistake: Walter Huston, Spencer . . .

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