Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Claude Rains

Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice

Series: Screen Classics
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Claude Rains
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7218-7
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (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. 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...

  5. 1 Bloody Idiots Who Couldn’t Learn Their Lines
    (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 and dreamy. Something far away from the grim circumstances of their lives in working-class Clapham, south of the Thames. It wasn’t that she expected her child to soar above the ordinary. She just wanted him to live. Of the ten children she had delivered in the...

  6. 2 Marriages and Mustard Gas
    (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. Rains had become an indispensable part of the production company and toured extensively, giving him considerable exposure to the world outside London. “At various times after I was fourteen years old, I visited and lived in...

  7. 3 An Actor Abroad
    (pp. 59-68)

    In Late 1926, Beatrix Thomson was offered the female lead in the New York production ofThe 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 naïve child-woman had been a hit in London, but the original British cast members were unavailable. Beatrix was uncomfortable about traveling alone, and Rains wasn’t enthusiastic about cutting his ties with the London stage and with RADA. After an unpleasant confrontation with Beatrix’s brother, who insisted that Rains accompany his sister to America for what the family perceived...

  8. 4 Invisibility and After
    (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). Once in New York, however, he became acutely aware of the precariousness of theatrical life in the Great Depression and watched as Guild alumni steadily headed for Hollywood. Edward G. Robinson, whom he had replaced in the company, had already had a tremendous success in the title role ofLittle,...

  9. 5 Mr. Rains Goes to Burbank
    (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 under British law, a jealous, vindictive streak soon proved to be her true motivation.

    Beatrix felt that her ex-husband owed his success to her. Rains, after all, would never have gone to America without her. In her mind, he used her celebrity as a...

  10. 6 Now, Contract Player
    (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 ofNow, Voyager, Warners’ latest Bette Davis vehicle. Based on a best-selling novel by Olive Higgins Prouty,Voyagerhad begun production on April 7, with retakes continuing through June. There is no record of Rains having made any request for bereavement leave or, for that matter, his discussing his mother’s death with anyone. Aside from his contractual commitments, the logistics of making an emergency transatlantic crossing during wartime would have been formidable. Years later...

  11. 7 MacGuffins, Deceptions, Domestic Recriminations
    (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 calledNotorious, a tale of postwar intrigue and espionage revolving around an expatriate Nazi cell in Rio de Janeiro, starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. Bergman would play Alicia Huberman, a woman with a checkered background who is conscripted by American intelligence to seduce and marry a mother-dominated Nazi, Alexander Sebastian, who is suspected of trafficking in uranium. A performer of special elegance and cosmopolitan charm was required. Rains was intrigued.

    “Tell me,”...

  12. 8 New Stages and Final Curtains
    (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.

    There seemed no reason that he should have been especially attracted to a pale pink envelope that appeared in the profusion of his mail one morning. But something attracted him to it, and he opened this envelope...

  13. Appendix: The Work of Claude Rains
    (pp. 185-260)
  14. Notes and Sources
    (pp. 261-276)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-280)
  16. Index
    (pp. 281-292)
  17. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)