Lending his mellifluous voice and regal mien to more than 100 films, British actor James Mason built a long career playing assorted villains, military men, and rather dubious romantic leads.
Born the son of a wool merchant in the British mill town of Huddersfield, Mason excelled in school and earned a degree in architecture from Cambridge in 1931. Having acted in several school plays, however, he thought he had a better shot at earning a living as an actor rather than an architect during the Great Depression. Mason won his first professional role in The Rascal and made his debut in London's West End theater world in 1933 with Gallows Glorious. A year after he joined London's Old Vic theater, he made his screen debut in Late Extra in 1935. Mason became a regular British screen presence in late '30s "quota quickies," including The High Command (1937). The actor made a career and personal breakthrough, however, with I Met a Murderer (1939). Along with co-writing, co-producing, and starring in the film, he also wound up marrying his leading lady, Pamela Kellino, in 1940. Mason became Britain's biggest screen star a few years later with his performance as the sadistic title character in the Gainsborough Studios melodrama The Man in Grey (1943). He cemented his fame as the cruel romantic leads women loved in the critically weak, but highly popular, Gainsborough costume dramas Fanny by Gaslight (1944) and The Wicked Lady (1945), finally achieving international stardom for his charismatic performance as Ann Todd's cane-wielding mentor in the well-received The Seventh Veil (1946). Rather than immediately going to Hollywood, however, Mason remained in England. Revealing that he could be more than just brutal leading men in weepy potboilers, he added an artistic as well as popular triumph to his credits with Carol Reed's Odd Man Out (1947). Starring Mason as a doomed IRA leader hunted by the police, Odd Man Out garnered international raves, and he often cited it as his favorite among his many films.