Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ray Milland (1905-1986)

The Wales born actor got his start as an extra in the late 1920s in the UK then relocated to the U.S. in 1930 after being discovered on stage in London by a Hollywood talent scout.  His first film credit was in "The Bachelor Father" 1931 starring Marion Davies and C. Aubrey Smith.  Then he  was given a bit part in "Just a Gigolo" that same year starring William Haines.  (William Haines was quite the looker and openly gay which wasn't the norm in the early days of Hollywood, and it stirred up a huge scandal when "straight" actors feared he would start giving names of his male conquests potentially ruining their careers.  He later went on to become a well known decorator to the stars who took advantage of his great taste.  One of his top clients and closest friends was Joan Crawford).

But back to the dashing and talented Ray Milland.  Throughout the early 1930's he stayed busy with bit parts in movies like "Blonde Crazy" 1931 starring James Cagney and Joan Blondell and then in "Payment Deferred" 1932 starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Sullivan among other small roles before getting his break in 1936 when he landed a co-starring role with Dorothy Lamour in "The Jungle Princess".  He kept busy during the mid to late 30's with lead parts in "Wings Over Broadway" 1936 starring Wendy Barrie and in "Ebb Tibe" 1937 with Frances Farmer.  (Frances was so beautiful and talented but sadly her free spirit and unwillingness to play to the Hollywood hierarchy left her broken after several court ordered trips to a mental institution.  If you get the chance to see "Frances" about her life and career please watch it.  Jessica Lange does an amazing job depicting Frances Farmer. It really will open your eyes to how tragic the early days of Hollywood could be for troubled young stars).   Ray starred in "Her Jungle Love" in 1938 again with Dorothy Lamour.  Another film about castaways and a gorgeous island girl who captures the mans heart.  A part that Dorothy did very convincingly but more on Dorothy in a later post.

with Dorothy Lamour in "Her Jungle Love" 1938

Ray Milland when he was just getting his start in Hollywood.

By the end of the 1930s Ray had been married to his wife Muriel for 6 yrs with their first child on the way when he was cast in his most well received film to date, the blockbuster "Beau Geste" 1939 co-starring Gary Cooper.  Now being offered plum roles he went on to star in "Everything Happens at Night" that same year and co-starring the Olympic skater turned actress Sonja Henie.  His romantic lead status provided steady work throughout the early 1940's with films like "The Lady Has Plans" 1942 co-starring Paulette Goddard then in "Reap the Wild Wind" that same year with top billing over John Wayne and Paulette Goddard.  

with Gary Cooper and Robert Preston in "Beau Geste" 1939

click on autograph to enlarge

Every actor hopes for the time in his career when he's offered that role that will take his star status to the next level and the accolades will come in via award nominations.  Ray Milland was offered that part in 1945 when he was cast for the lead in "The Lost Weekend".  Of course in recent years theres been many movie characters who take on alcoholism or drug abuse but "The Lost Weekend" is the first I recall seeing that had me immersed in his struggle and rooting for Don Burnam to get help and  have a happy ending with the character played by Jane Wyman.  It is one of Billy Wilder's finest works and Ray was worthy of the Oscar that he won for his role.

in "Easy Living" 1937

with Jane Wyman in "The Lost Weekend" 1945

Ray in the performance of his career "The Lost Weekend"

Steady work continued and Ray made a few not so memorable movies throughout the end of the 1940s into the 1950s when he starred with Grace Kelly in "Dial M for Murder" in 1954.  After the movies success Ray's star status wained and he took parts in B rated films throughout the 1950s .  When good roles weren't being offered any longer Ray turned to directing into the 1960s then he made his film comeback in "Love Story" 1970 then "Escape To Witch Mountain" in 1975.  

being served in his dressing room during his early days at Paramount

Mr. Milland passed away from lung cancer at the age of 79.  He was survived by his wife Muriel Weber and their son Daniel and daughter Victoria.  He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea near Redondo Beach California.  The versatile actor appeared in over 100 films during his career and he starred in over 20 television shows including his own show during the late 1950's.

with Ellen Drew in "French Without Tears" 1942

with Marjorie Reynolds in "Ministry of Fear" 1944

with Grace Kelly "Dial M For Murder" 1945

Ray Milland Facts:

Before becoming an actor he served in the UK's Household Calvary where he became an expert marksman.  While on the rifle team he won many prestigious awards including the Bisley match in England.  It was after his four years of service was over that he turned to acting.

When the second World War began he tried to enlist in the US Army Aired Forces but was rejected due to an impaired left hand.  He worked as a civilian flight instructor for the Army and toured with the USO South Pacific Troupe in 1944.  

During the filming of "Reap The Wind" in 1942 his character was to have curly hair so the studio curled his straight hair with hot curling irons every day during filming.  He blamed this on his premature balding and the reason he couldn't get leading  roles later in his career.

He was the first Welsh actor to win an Oscar and gave the shortest acceptance speech in Oscar history.

He had a tattoo of a skull with a snake curled up through it on his upper right arm that can be seen for a brief moment in the film "Her Jungle Love".

He had a near fatal accident on the set of "Hotel Imperial" in 1939.  A scene called for him to lead a calvary charge through a small village and with Ray being an accomplished horseman he insisted on doing the stunts himself.  As he made a jump on a horse the saddle came loose sending him flying into a pile of broken masonry.  He was laid up in the hospital for weeks with multiple fractures and deep lacerations.

He wrote a biography in 1974 titled Wide Eyed In Babylon.

He was the first choice for the Don Ameche role in the movie "Trading Places" 1983.

He got the part in "The Lost Weekend" by default when actors Jose Ferrer and Cary Grant both turned director Billy Wilder down.

Once, while on a visit to Tijuana he was mistakingly accused of meeting with a Nazi agent by the FBI.

I would love to hear from you about any one Ray Milland film that stands out to you.  Thanks for returning and stay tuned for more posts on celebrities I have in my autograph collection. 


Please enjoy a scene from "The Lost Weekend" which won Ray his Oscar


  1. I love The Lost Weekend the best. I didn't know Cary Grant was considered. I don't think he would have been as good in the part.

  2. The Lost Weekend is a very powerful movie and Ray Milland's performance was outstanding in his real depiction of alcoholism. This movie was ahead of its time in depicting the alcoholic as a sick, addicted human being rather than as a person who lacks character and self-control ..which was the mindset of that generation. Oscar for Milland was well deserved.

  3. You have some misinformation here. Ray was 81 when he passed away and his son, Daniel, had already died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head at age 41. You can double check information at imdb.com and wikipedia. Great photos here at your website!

  4. I remember watching "The Uninvited"(1944) so scary, kept me awake for weeks. Came on TV about 15 years ago, as soon as I heard the name "Meredith" I switched off and went to bed. The only horror movie that ever got to me.

  5. Hi -- found your website after watching The Uninvited. Can't find a single biography of Milland, which I find shocking. Anyway, thanks for your post.

  6. Found your blog on a whim while searching Ray Milland, one of my favorite actors. I saw him in 'The Major and The Minor' and fell in love. It's actually one of my all-time favorite movies. Have you seen it?

  7. I thought Ray Milland did a superb job in "The Major and the Minor." It also is one of my favorites. Given the plot, I think it must have been a difficult movie to sell, but he and Ginger Rogers did it. It illustrates the incredible diversity of this actor that is more known for his dramatic roles.

  8. I was playing at the Arlington Towers Hotel just outside of Chicago. I was a drummer performing in the lounge and Ray was performing in the "in-the round" theater. Remembering Ray from his role in, "Dial M for Murder", was in awe when I met him.