James Mason was a great English actor of British and American films. He was born in Yorkshire, and attended Marlborough and Cambridge, where he discovered acting on a lark, and abandoned a planned career as an architect. Following work in stock companies, he joined the Old Vic under the guidance of Sir Tyrone Guthrie and of Alexander Korda, who gave Mason at least one small film role in 1933, but fired him a few days into shooting. Mason remained in the theatre becoming a prominent stage actor, meanwhile getting first small, then rapidly larger roles in “quota quickies”, minor films made to accommodate laws mandating a certain percentage of films shown in Britain to be British-made. Mason’s talent for playing protagonists of a decidedly hard-bitten or melancholy stripe brought him from these minor films to a position as one of Britain’s major film stars of the 1940s. When, late in that decade, he came to America, he played somewhat more glamorous or heroic roles than he had been accustomed to in Britain, but he remained a dynamic and intelligent force on the screen. His tendency to take any job offered led him to have many unworthy credits on his resume but, throughout his career, he remained a respected and powerful figure in the industry. His mellifluous voice and an uncanny ability to suggest rampant emotion beneath a face of absolute calm made him a fascinating performer to watch. He died of a heart attack in 1984 at his home in Switzerland.
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