Friday, May 24, 2013

Claude Rains: a book report

I just read An Actor's Voice: Claude Rains (University Press of Kentucky) by David J. Skal with Jessica Rains.

Claude Rains was destined to rebel and did so, becoming a truant when he was ten or so. He was born in 1898 to a testy, i.e., alcoholic and belt-wielding father who overpowered his mother. And who was a braggart unable to feed the family. They lived in poor, as opposed to gentrified, London.

He quit school, worked here and there, ending up (a story in itself) in theaters where he assisted the great great actors of the day, like Sir Herbert Beerbohn Tree. Long, long days, and most of his pay went to help his family, but eventually, the great, great actors began to mentor Rains, coaching him to lose his stammer, and with diction in general. He was given novels and plays to read and assigned parts to memorize to help as a prompter. This led to that and Rains developed into a great stage actor, who went on tour, and also taught at the Royal Academy. Gielgud was a student, as was Charles Laughton.

Difficult marriages, service in the British military in wartime, this that, and he moved to the U.S. where he also toured and acted on Broadway. Then Hollywood, with The Invisible Man.

Gielgud was always kind, Laughton became a mean prick. G.B. Shaw sly but generous. Bette Davis very dear and warm, but wanted to run the show. And on and on, with the studios being their usual off-again on-again using lying entities, at least some of the time. Rains was not a temperamental actor. So there's that. He was married six times. So there's that. And there's greatness. That.

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