In 1935, James Mason's good looks led to a starring role in his first film, when he was spotted at a backstage cocktail party by a Director named Al Parker. A screen-test duly landed him the lead in a British "Quota" quickie called ‘Late Extra' - and by 1943, when The Man in Grey established him as a major star, he had already made nineteen films.
The public response to Gainsborough's The Man in Grey was unprecedented and the film broke box office records all over the country; while Mason, having unwittingly inaugurated a new screen phenomenon - the sexy bad guy - was deluged with 5,000 fan letters a week. Women swooned over his handsome features and beautiful voice (they still do), while his brooding screen-presence was stamped indelibly on the national psyche.
Through the remainder of the 1940s, Mason was Britain's most popular Male Actor, receiving an average of 5,000 fan letters a week - but, of all the films he made, there was only one that he regarded as truly great, and that was the 1946 Carol Reed film ‘Odd Man Out'. This film proved to any doubters that he had acting talent as well as good looks, and Hollywood started to take an interest in him.
There, he made a number of films that have become ‘Classics' of their kind - there was ‘The Desert Fox', his first Oscar-nominated performance in ‘A Star in Born' , ‘20,000 Leagues under the Sea', Hitchcock's ‘North by Northwest', and ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth, among others. But he was never comfortable there - his unhappy first marriage didn't help - and in the early 1960s, he came back to live in Europe, where he starred in a very controversial film: ‘Lolita'. Everyone seems to have forgotten that this film stirred up just as much debate back then as the remake caused in 1998. During the Sixties James completed the difficult transition from leading man to an established and highly-regarded Character actor, and in 1965 he was Oscar-nominated again, this time as Best Supporting Actor, in ‘Georgy Girl'.
In 1969, he went to Australia to co-produce and star in a Michael Powell film called ‘Age of Consent', and there he met an actress named Clarissa Kaye. Having got their relationship off on the right track on the film set (their only scene together was spent in bed) they married two years later and were very happy together for the rest of James' life.
In 1981, he received his third and final Oscar nomination (for The Verdict), and in 1984 he attracted some of the best reviews of his career for The Shooting Party. Sadly, he did not live to see them, having died of a heart attack in July 1984, just prior to the film's release.
See also the James Mason Appreciation Society website at