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"Claude Rains must be reckoned among the finest actors who ever played in films."
Claude Rains was a brilliant character actor, known for his versatility and suave aristocratic charm. Although he played a diverse range of roles, Rains was best known for his villainous portrayals. He earned a reputation for his inability to do a bad performance, and for the rich, deep voice that was his trademark. The son of British actor Frederick William Rains, Claude began his dramatic career at the age of eleven, working as a call-boy at the Duke of York's Theatre in London. During the next several years, he worked as a prompter and then as a stage director, before earning acclaim as an actor on the British, and, subsequently, the American stage. Turning to Hollywood in 1933, Rains made his film debut in The Invisible Man. He acted in many classic movies, earning Academy Award nominations for his performances in Casablanca, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Skeffington, and Notorious. He also worked extensively in radio and television. Although Rains was initially a British citizen, having been born in London and wounded while serving in the British army during World War I, he obtained American citizenship in 1938. He often did patriotic readings and performances to benefit American causes. When Rains wasn't acting, he was farming. He raised pigs and cattle, and grew grain, initially in Lambertville, New Jersey and subsequently in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Portrait of Claude Rains by Ben Solowey. Image courtesy of the Studio of Ben Solowey, Bedminster, Pennsylvania.
Education and Training
Duke of York's Theatre, Call Boy, London, England, 1901
His Majesty's and The Haymarket Theatres, Call Boy, Prompter and Assistant Stage Manager, London, England,1902-1908
General Manager, Granville Baker, United States
Military Service, British Army, London Scots, Captain, 1915-1919
Teachers and Influences
His father, Frederick William Rains, was an actor who, in the early days of cinema, had played in, directed, and produced motion pictures.
Connection to Bucks County
In 1932, when his career as an actor appeared to be over, Claude Rains purchased a farm in the Lambertville area of West Amwell township in New Jersey. He lived on Rocktown-Lambertville Road until the farmhouse burned down on a Christmas Eve, date unknown. A dedicated farmer who earned a profit raising cattle, pigs and grain, Rains purchased other farms in the Delaware Valley, first in Delaware County and then in Chester County while maintaining a prolific career as one of Hollywood's most sought after mature actors.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Claude Rains brought writer John Wexley to Bucks County in the early 1930s. They were among the first writers and theatrical personalities to settle in the Bucks County area. Rains was involved in the Bucks County theatrical community, coming out of retirement in 1965 to play Giovanni in So Much of Earth, So Much of Heaven, with actress Leueen MacGrath at the Bucks County Playhouse. This was his final performance before his death in 1967.
Major Theatre Performances
The Constant Nymph, Selwyn, New York, 1926
Volpone, Guild, New York, 1928
Marco Millions, Touring, 1928-1929
The Apple Cart, Martin Beck Theater, New York, 1930
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, Guild, 1932
They Shall Not Die by John Wexley, Royale, 1934
Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler, Alvin, 1951
The Invisible Man, 1933
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, starring role, 1939
Casablanca, starring role, with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, 1942
Now Voyager, starring role, 1942
Mr. Skeffington, 1944
Dramatization of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth, NBC, 1932
Presenting Claude Rains, Claude Rains and His Stories, NBC, 1950s
Teaching and Professional Appointments
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, England, 1926
Tony Award, Best Dramatic Actor, Darkness at Noon, 1951
Donaldson Award, 1951
Gold Medal, Academy of Arts and Letters, 1951
Delia Austrian Medal, Drama League of New York, 1951
Medal, Comedia Matinee Club, 1951
Gold Medal for Good Speech On The American Stage, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1951
Claude Rains was nominated for an Academy Award four times.
"I can play the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker."
In a career spanning over sixty years, Claude Rains earned acclaim as a brilliant character actor, known for the versatility and power of his performances. His uniquely supple voice, deep, rich, and faintly British in its accent, helped him to master most any part. This voice secured Rains his first role in a film, as the mad scientist in The Invisible Man. For all but the final seconds of the film he appears either heavily bandaged or as a disembodied voice, only to be seen in the closing seconds of the drama. Rains also achieved his versatility through intense study. Neighbors recall that he spent several weeks in his library learning his parts.
Many of Rains's diverse roles were suave, sinister, and refined, even aristocratic. Among these characters, the most memorable were Renault, the rakish and corrupt but lovable French police chief in Casablanca, the kindly, wise government minister in Lawrence of Arabia, and the cruelly manipulative King John in the classic Robin Hood. Relatively late in his career, Rains began playing the romantic lead, most notably in George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, in which he starred opposite Vivien Leigh. His was a debonair and intelligent charm which enabled him to bring any character to life.
Portrait of Claude Rains
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