Born on the 15th May 1909 in Huddersfield, James
began as a stage actor after reading architecture at Cambridge. He made
his professional debut with a rep company in Croydon before being taken
on by the Old Vic in 1933 to play a diverse range of roles. He entered
films with 1935's newspaper thriller 'Late Extra' and, once his film
career gathered momentum, he rarely appeared on the stage again. In
the 30s he made about a dozen of mostly unmemorable films, though given
a chance to glower handsomely in 'The Mill on the Floss' (1937) - an
adaptation of the book by George Eliot.
it was to be Mason's talent for playing protagonists with a hard-bitten
or melancholy stripe that brought him from these minor films to a position
as one of Britain's major stars of the 1940's.
rubicon was to be when he took a riding crop to Margaret Lockwood in
The Man in Grey (1943) that he became everywoman's favourite brute.
As Lord Rohan he converted the traditional villain of stage melodrama
- dark, menacing, deep-voiced - into a Byronic figure, often cruel and
vindictive but also thrilling, fascinating and highly erotic. An article
in Picturegoer reviewing the movie was entitled `How does this man make
villainy too attractive?'
Marquis of Rohan could not be played by the average British screen hero.
It is a part needing more strength than a typical hero's role.... He
has the strength; and his mobile face needs no make-up to transform
it from its habitual pleasing good looks to a mask of ferocity and evil
which suits the part.'
the war Mason was a conscientious objector. His family found his stance
very difficult to understand, and broke off all contact with him for
several years. It is then interesting to note that Noel Coward refused
to cast James Mason in his wartime film 'In Which We Serve' because
of this. Coward's reasoning was that he felt it was not appropriate
for a man who had refused to wear a military uniform in real life to
wear one in a film.
and towards the end of the war, he then played in a number of famous
classic pictures such as, 'Fanny by Gaslight' (1944), 'They Were Sisters'
(1945), 'The Seventh Veil' (1945) and, back with Margaret Lockwood
in the 'The Wicked Lady' (1945). One of his subtlest works to date was
post war when he gave an outstanding performance in 'Odd Man Out' (1947),
as Irish IRA leader Johnny McQueen who masterminds the payroll robbery
of a mill in Carol Reed's suspense thriller the film that established
him as one of Britain's biggest stars.