Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Claude Rains is the gravel-voiced film and stage actor who’s raised-eyebrow stare would incinerate even the most formidable adversary. He was born November 10, 1889 in Camerwell, London. Rains was born into an acting family – both his parents were regular faces on the London stage. He made his first stage debut at the age of 11 in “Nell of Old Drury.”

Despite his early successes on stage, Rains fought a crippling speech impediment and lost many roles due to his thick cockney accent. However, his talents caught the attention of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, founder of the iconic Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Tree enrolled Rains in elocution classes to modify his speech and, shortly after, hired Rains as a professor at the school.

During the First World War, Rains was drafted and served in the British army. A surprise gas raid left him partially blind until his death, but despite the handicap he rose the ranks and left the army a Private Captain. Upon his return to England, Rains decided to start a career in film. He moved to the United States in the early 1930s to the dismay of his RADA colleagues.

Rains started his film career unusually late, but was immediately recognized, ironically, for his voice. Universal Studios tried to peg his as a horror actor, due to the honey-and-gravel tone of his voice. His film debut was in The Invisible Man (1933). He became a citizen of the United States in 1939.

Rains fought his typecast and succeeded, having a successful career in film in a diverse breadth of roles. Although he was most commonly cast the villain and stood a mere 5’6’’ tall, his amicable demeanor and undeniable talent made him a favorite to work with. In 1939 he received his first Academy Award nomination for his role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Rains was the first actor to receive a million dollar salary. He did so for his role as Julius Caesar in the film Caesar and Cleopatra. He won a second Academy Award nomination for Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1954).

Rains was married a total of 6 times; to Isabel Jeans (1913-1915), Marie Hemmingway (1920), Beatrix Thomson (1924-1935), Frances Proper – with whom he had his only daughter, Jessica – (1935-1956), Agi Jambor (1959-1960), and Rosemary Clark Schrode (1960-her death in 1964). Rains resided on a large rural property in Pennsylvania and died of an abdominal hemorrhage in New Hampshire, May 30th, 1967.

Although less recognizable than some of his contemporaries, Rains will remain one of the most accomplished and successful actors of the 20th century.  

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