Thursday, July 10, 2014

Claude Rains (1889-1967)

Birth name: William Claude Rains
Birthdate: Sunday, November 10th, 1889
Location: Camberwell, London, UK

Died: Tuesday, May 30th, 1967
Location: Laconia, New Hampshire, USA
Cause of death: Abdominal haemmorhage

Best known for: His best remembered role was as the title character in the 1933 adaptation of H G Wells' The Invisible Man; other well-known screen appearances include The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Wolf Man (1941), Casablanca (1942), The Phantom of the Opera (1943) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He was four times nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award (for Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Mr Skeffington and Notorious) but never won one - he lost out to Thomas Mitchell, Charles Coburn, Barry Fitzgerald and Harold Russell respectively. He was also the first actor in Hollywood to command a million-dollar paycheck.

With the success of his film career in the 1930s, Claude became a naturalised American citizen in 1939, buying and moving into the 380-acre Stock Grange Farm in West Bradford Township in Pennsylvania in 1941, where he became a student of agriculture. However, his time here came to an end when, in 1956, he divorced his fourth wife (of six!) Frances Propper. Claude then moved to an 1850s Greek Revival house on the corner of Route 109 North and Little Pond Road in Sandwich, New Hampshire for the final 11 years of his life, where he kept a low profile within the community.

Claude's final TV appearance was broadcast on February 19th, 1965, in an installment of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater called Cops and Robbers. Claude, who by this point had over 40 years of acting under his belt, played Valentin, and shared the bill with the likes of Bert Lahr (The Wizard of Oz) and Billy De Wolfe (Good Morning, World). I can't find any footage or even a photo from this TV appearance, or indeed any of his latter day TV appearances, such as in The Reporter in 1964, or an earlier Bob Hope Presents in 1963.

Claude in his final film role
as King Herod in The
Greatest Story Ever Told,
when he was aged 74.
Although his part was recorded well before Cops and Robbers - in 1963, in fact - Claude's latest movie appearance was as King Herod in George Stevens' Biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, released in April 1965 to a mixed critical response. It cost $21m to make, but only recouped $15.5m at the Box Office.

Claude suffered from ill-health in his latter years (hence the fading out of acting roles), until he was rushed to Lakes Region Hospital in New Hampshire in May, 1967, where he died of an abdominal haemmorhage, aged 77. He was buried at nearby Red Hill Cemetery in Moultonborough, New Hampshire, alongside his sixth wife Rosemary Clark Schrode, who had died in 1964. In 2008, Claude's only child Jessica (then aged 80) co-wrote a book about her father entitled Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice.

Here's Jessica talking about her father and his iconic turn as the Invisible Man at an Academy screening of the film in 2012:


Random trivia: Ever wanted to see Bette Davis talk about acting against Claude? Well, here she is on The Dick Cavett Show in November 1970 doing just that. And here's a link to a cutting from the Weirs Times in 1998 in which a former Sandwich shopkeeper touchingly recalls the time he went to Claude's house and what he was like as a man.

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