Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, & Paula's Cinema Club. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at any of the host sites.
Earlier this year, I watched the film A Matter of Life and Death and for the first time, I really noticed actor Raymond Massey. A supernatural drama in which the life of a British WW2 pilot is judged by an afterlife court, Massey plays the prosecutor, an American colonial. His character added a unique perspective to the story, and I found him quite convincing. Like all of the actors in this blogathon, he’s one of those people you saw a lot of in old movies and always liked, even if you never quite knew who they were.
The Toronto native was lured to acting after serving in the family tractor business in his youth and spent almost a decade on the British stage. In 1931 he came to Broadway in a production of Hamlet that didn’t go over well. Fortunately, though, by that time the movies had already came calling.
In 1938 he starred in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Two years later, he made the film adaptation with director John Cromwell, and from that point on Massey’s career became intertwined with the iconic US president. He played Lincoln four more times, both in film and television. His great height (six foot three) and his chiseled features made him a natural for the part. Abe was his one Oscar-nominated role.
I watched clips of Abe for this post. Massey certainly comes across as theatrical; the camera lingers on him for long stretches without cutting while he delivers a speech, so he really knew the role by this point. It’s been awhile since I saw Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, but from what I remember, I think he tried to humanize Lincoln a little more, whereas Massey’s version perhaps speaks more to the historical Lincoln we as Americans grew up with... but the role suited him well.
Massey also played the abolitionist John Brown twice—and despite being Canadian, his family’s roots could be traced to before the American Revolution. Eventually he became an American citizen.
|with Chamberlain in Dr. Kildare
Massey was married three times; his second wife was stage actress Adrienne Allen, and they were together for ten years. When they divorced, their lawyers were the husband and wife team of William Whitney (representing Allen) and Dorothy Whitney (representing Massey).
After the Masseys split up, the Whitneys did the same, and in an unusual twist, the former Masseys married their lawyers, the former Whitneys. And as if that wasn’t enough, this turn of events went on to inspire yet another married couple, Ruth Gordon & Garson Kanin, to pen the battle-of-the-sexes comedy Adam’s Rib.
There’s even a cocktail named for Massey.
Films with Raymond Massey: