Thursday, November 10, 2011

claude rains, rabble rouser

We tend to think that our celebrities are more outrageous these days, but they are mere children compared to the hellions of yesteryear. Consider Claude Rains, who was married six times, and with a love life even more exciting than some of his movie adventures.
From imdb
Isabel Jeans (1913 - 1918) (divorced) He separated from wife Isabel Jeans three times, reuniting two of those times. He finally filed for divorce on grounds of adultery when she miscarried Gilbert Wakefield's baby. She admitted the adultery during the divorce and later married "Gilly" Wakefield. 
Marie Hemingway (1920 - 1920) (divorced) His marriage to Marie Hemingway only lasted months. Rains and Hemingway did not know each other well before marrying, and it was not until after they were married that he found out she was an alcoholic. 
Beatrix Thomson (November 1924 - 8 April 1935) (divorced) He starred in Richard B. Sheridan's "The Rivals" on stage in 1925. His then wife, Beatrix Thomson as well as his two former wives were also in the cast. He and wife Beatrix Thomson separated in 1928. It took almost seven years to finalize. 
Frances Propper (8 April 1935 - 1956) (divorced, 1 child) When his daughter Jennifer was 17, her mother, Frances Proppper, woke her up in the middle of the night, said she was leaving her father, and wanted to know if Jennifer wanted to come with her. Jennifer declined. On the day his divorce from Frances Propper was final, he drank and drove his Bentley into a ditch, totaling it. When they found him he was passed out drunk on the ground and the car was upside down and on fire. 
Agi Jambor (4 November 1959 - 29 July 1960) (divorced) His fifth wife, Agi, was a Hungarian Jew who had escaped the holocaust. She later composed the piano solo "Sonata for the Victims of Auschwitz." When he had had enough of his fifth marriage to wife Agi, he had the locks changed on their house while she was out shopping. 
Rosemary McGroarty Clark (August 1960 - 31 December 1964) (her death) His wife Rosemary died from pancreatic cancer. Rains and his doctor kept the diagnosis from Rosemary until one day she said, "Please don't do that to me any longer. I know what I've got."
Rains could play any kind of part. Leading man, comic sidekick, dastardly villain. No matter what the role he always projected an inner calm, and most importantly, humor.
"Often we'd secretly like to do the very things we discipline ourselves against. Isn't that true? Well, here in the movies I can be as mean, as wicked as I want to - and all without hurting anybody. Look at that lovely girl I've just shot!"
Some of my favorites of his roles include:

Casablanca (1942) - As Captain Louis Renault he practically steals the movie, has an effortless rapport with Bogie, and goes from being a corrupt petty official ["Ricky, I'm going to miss you. Apparently you're the only one in Casablanca with less scruples than I"], to a patriotic hero walking off into the sunset with his new partner in crime.

Notorious (1946) - In an incredible performance, Rains plays Alexander Sebastian, an (almost) sympathetic Nazi. As much as the audience roots for Cary Grant to come and rescue Ingrid Bergman from Rains and his evil mother, director Hitchcock's last shot of Rains is heartbreaking, as the two lovers leave him to his Nazi cohorts, knowing that he will be killed for letting them go.

The Lost World (1960) - Rains is almost unrecognizable under his wig and beard as Professor Challenger in The Lost World - until he starts speaking with his wonderfully mellifluous voice. It's a fun over-the-top performance in a movie with dinosaurs (!)

The Invisible Man (1933) - Again, the voice runs the show, and Rains has one heck of a voice. His performance as a scientist who we watch go mad is amazing. He once again manages to win an audience's sympathy for a crazy, even at times evil, man.

Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) Rains and Vivien Leigh in the title roles are adorable together. They also do great justice to George Bernard Shaw's wonderful play.

The Wolf Man (1941) Rains plays Sir John Talbot, the father of Lon Chaney, who has been bitten by a werewolf. Their last encounter on the misty moors is quite dramatic and exciting, and Rains lends a touch of class to the horror classic.

Mr. Skeffington (1944) Rains made quite a few movies with Bette Davis, but this one, where he plays the title role of a man in love with a self-centered woman who doesn't love him, is one of the best.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) It's Jimmy Stewart's picture, but as crooked politician Senator Joseph Paine, Rains has a blast.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Rains plays naughty Prince John, after the throne of his brother King Richard the Lionheart, and has a wonderful time being tyrannical, while still remaining untouchable. Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne has to be the villain in the piece that Errol Flynn can vanquish, while Rains gets to exit stage left at the curtain, to live another day.

The always likable Rains was born in England, but became an American citizen in 1939. He was also an acting teacher, with students including Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud.
"He was a great influence on me. I don't know what happened to him. I think he failed and went to America." [Gielgud] 
I can't think of an actor who I have had more fun watching be very, very bad. What a life and what an actor.

Happy birthday, Claude Rains!

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