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Ray Milland

Best remembered for Dial M for Murder (1954), and his Academy Award-winning portrayal in The Lost Weekend (1945).

Ray Milland

Filmography

1928

Moulin Rouge

 

1929

Piccadilly
The Lady from the Sea
The Flying Scotsman
The Plaything
The Informer

 

1930

Way for a Sailor
Passion Flower

 

1931

The Bachelor Father
Strangers May Kiss
Just a Gigolo
Bought!
Ambassador Bill
Blonde Crazy

 

1932

The Man Who Played God
Polly of the Circus
But the Flesh Is Weak
Payment Deferred

 

1933

This Is the Life

 

1934

Bolero
We’re Not Dressing
Orders Is Orders
Many Happy Returns
Charlie Chan in London
Menace
One Hour Late

 

1935

The Gilded Lily
Four Hours to Kill!
Alias Mary Dow
The Glass Key

 

1936

Next Time We Love
The Return of Sophie Lang
The Big Broadcast of 1937
Three Smart Girls
The Jungle Princess

 

1937

Bulldog Drummond Escapes
Wings Over Honolulu
Easy Living
Ebb Tide
Wise Girl

 

1938

Her Jungle Love
Tropic Holiday
Men with Wings
Say It in French

 

1939

Hotel Imperial
Beau Geste
Everything Happens at Night

 

1940

French Without Tears
Irene
The Doctor Takes a Wife
Untamed
Arise, My Love

 

1941

I Wanted Wings
Skylark
Sullivan’s Travels

 

1942

The Lady Has Plans
Star Spangled Rhythm
Reap the Wild Wind
Are Husbands Necessary?
The Major and the Minor

 

1943

Forever and a Day
The Crystal Ball

 

1944

Lady in the Dark
The Uninvited
Till We Meet Again
Ministry of Fear

 

1945

Kitty
The Lost Weekend

 

1946

The Well-Groomed Bride

 

1947

California
The Imperfect Lady
The Trouble with Women
Golden Earrings
Variety Girl

 

1948

So Evil My Love
The Big Clock
Sealed Verdict
Miss Tatlock’s Millions

 

1949

Alias Nick Beal
It Happens Every Spring

 

1950

A Woman of Distinction
A Life of Her Own
Copper Canyon

 

1951

Circle of Danger
Night Into Morning
Rhubarb
Close to My Heart

 

1952

Bugles in the Afternoon
Something to Live For
The Thief

 

1953

Jamaica Run
Let’s Do It Again

 

1954

Dial M for Murder

 

1955

The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing
A Man Alone

 

1956

Lisbon
Three Brave Men

 

1957

The River’s Edge
High Flight

 

1958

The Safecracker

 

1962

The Premature Burial
Panic in Year Zero!

 

1963

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

 

1964

The Confession

 

1968

Hostile Witness

 

1970

Love Story
Company of Killers

 

1972

Embassy
Frogs
The Thing with Two Heads

 

1973

The House in Nightmare Park
The Big Game
Terror in the Wax Museum

 

1974

The Student Connection
Gold

 

1975

Escape to Witch Mountain

 

1976

The Swiss Conspiracy
Aces High
The Last Tycoon

 

1977

Oil!
The Uncanny
The Girl in Yellow Pajamas

 

1978

Slavers
Blackout
Oliver’s Story

 

1979

Survival Run
Game for Vultures

 

1980

The Attic

 

1984

The Sea Serpent

 

1985

The Gold Key

Awards

He was nominated for one Academy Award Best Actor in a Leading Role, which he won, for
The Lost Weekend (1945)

[when asked why he had appeared in so many bad films late in his career] For the money, old chap, for the money! ~ Ray Milland

Milland was born on January 3, 1907 in Neath, Wales, the son of Elizabeth Annie (née Truscott) and Alfred Jones, a steel mill superintendent. The young Milland was schooled independently before attending the private King’s College School in Cardiff. He also worked at his uncle’s horse-breeding farm before leaving home at the age of 21.

Prior to becoming an actor, Milland served in the Household Cavalry. An expert shot, he became a member of his company’s rifle team, winning many prestigious competitions, including the Bisley Match in England. While stationed in London, Milland met dancer Margot St. Leger, and through her was introduced to American actress Estelle Brody.[9] Brody queried Milland’s commitment to an army career, which led to Milland buying himself out of the forces in 1928 in the hope of becoming an actor.

His first appearance on film was as an uncredited extra on the E.A. Dupont film Piccadilly (1929). After some unproductive extra work, which never reached the screen, he signed with a talent agent named Frank Zeitlin on the recommendation of fellow actor Jack Raine. His prowess as a marksman earned him work as an extra at the British International Pictures studio on Arthur Robison’s production of The Informer (1929), the first screen version of the Liam O’Flaherty novel. While he was working on The Informer, he was asked to test for a production being shot on a neighboring stage. Milland made a favorable impression with director Castleton Knight, and was hired for his first acting role as Jim Edwards in The Flying Scotsman (also 1929). In his autobiography, Milland recalls that on this film set, he was suggested to adopt a stage name, and he chose Milland from the “mill lands” area of his Welsh home town of Neath.

His work on The Flying Scotsman resulted in him being granted a six-month contract, in which Milland starred in two more Knight-directed films, The Lady from the Sea and The Plaything (both 1929). Believing that his acting was poor, and that he had won his film roles through his looks alone, Milland decided to gain some stage work to improve his art. After hearing that club owner Bobby Page was financing a touring company, Milland approached him in hope of work. He was given the role of second lead, in a production of Sam Shipman and Max Marcin’s The Woman in Room 13. Despite being released from the play after five weeks, Milland felt that he had gained valuable acting experience.

Ray Milland, Charles Bickford, and Kay Francis in Passion Flower (1930)

Ray Milland, Charles Bickford, and Kay Francis in Passion Flower (1930)

In between stage work, Milland was approached by MGM vice-president Robert Rubin, who had seen the film The Flying Scotsman. MGM offered Milland a nine-month contract, based in Hollywood, and he accepted, leaving the United Kingdom in August 1930. MGM started Milland out as a ‘stock’ player, selecting him for small speaking parts in mainstream productions. Milland’s first introduction to a Hollywood film resulted in a humiliating scene on the set of Son of India (1931), when the film’s director Jacques Feyder berated Milland’s acting in front of the entire crew. Despite this setback, the studio executives talked Milland into staying in Hollywood, and in 1930, he appeared in his first US film Passion Flower. Over the next two years, Milland appeared in minor parts for MGM, as well as a few films lent to Warner Bros., often uncredited. His largest role during this period was as Charles Laughton’s nephew in Payment Deferred (1932). While in this first period working in the United States, Milland met Muriel Frances Weber, whom he always called “Mal”, a student at the University of Southern California. Within eight months of first meeting, the two were married on September 30, 1932 at the Riverside Mission Inn. The couple had a son, Daniel, and a daughter, Victoria (adopted). Shortly after Payment Deferred, Milland found himself out of work when MGM failed to renew his contract. He spent five months in the US attempting to find further acting work, but after little success, and a strained relationship with his father-in-law, he decided to head back to Britain hoping that two years spent in Hollywood would lead to roles in British films. Milland cashed in his contracted first-class return ticket to Britain and found an alternative cheaper way back home. Muriel remained in the States to finish her studies, and Milland found temporary accommodation in Earl’s Court in London.

Milland found life in Britain difficult with little regular work, though he finally found parts in two British films, This is the Life and Orders is Orders (both 1933). Neither was a breakthrough role. Then, in 1933, Roosevelt’s reforms to the American banking sector led to a temporary weakness in the dollar, allowing Milland to afford a return to the United States. He returned to California, and found a small flat on Sunset Boulevard, promising Muriel that he would buy a home once he was financially stable. With little prospect of finding acting work, Milland took on menial jobs, including working for a bookie. He decided to find regular employment and through connections made in his time in the UK, he was offered the job of an assistant manager of a Shell gas station on Sunset and Clark. On his return from his successful Shell interview, he passed by the gates of Paramount Pictures, where he was approached by casting director Joe Egli. Paramount was filming the George Raft picture Bolero (released in February 1934), but an injury to another British actor had left the studio looking for an urgent replacement. Egli offered Milland a two-week contract, at ten times the salary the assistant job would pay. Milland took the acting role.

After completing Bolero, Milland was offered a five-week guarantee by Benjamin Glazer to work on an upcoming screwball comedy starring Bing Crosby and Carole Lombard entitled We’re Not Dressing (also 1934). During filming, he appeared in a scene with George Burns and Gracie Allen, which Milland recalls as falling into an “ad-libbed shambles”, which he felt was better than the original script. The film’s director Norman Taurog was so impressed, he rang the chief production executive and suggested that Milland be placed on a long-term contact. After a short meeting, Milland was offered a seven-year deal with Paramount. The contract gave Milland a secure income, and Muriel and he moved into an apartment on Fountain Avenue.

Ray Milland and Barbara Read in Three Smart Girls (1936)

Ray Milland and Barbara Read in Three Smart Girls (1936)

During his first contract with Paramount, Milland was used as part of the speaking cast, but never as a top-of-the-bill actor. He was contacted by Joe Pasternak, who was looking for an ‘English’ actor for the lead in his new picture, Three Smart Girls (1936). Although Pasternak worked for Universal Studios, Paramount had agreed to lend Milland out for the film. Milland was lent to Universal for Next Time We Love (also 1936), with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. On returning to Paramount after Three Smart Girls was wrapped, Milland was again cast in bit-part roles. He was then used as a test actor to find a new starlet for The Jungle Princess (also 1936). When the studio chose Dorothy Lamour for the lead, Milland wrote in his autobiography that Lamour was confused to find that he was not to be her male lead and she requested Milland to be her co-star. Paramount was not keen, but when Three Smart Girls was released to rave reviews, they gave Milland the role.[28] By the end of 1936, Milland was being considered for leading roles, and Paramount rewrote his contract, resulting in the tripling of his salary.

The highly successful The Jungle Princess launched Lamour’s career and was followed by two further films in the same genre, Her Jungle Love and Tropic Holiday (both 1938), which also feature Milland.

Ray Milland in Bulldog Drummond Escapes

Ray Milland in Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937)

After returning from a break in Europe, Milland was cast as Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond in Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937). This was followed by another lead role in The Gilded Lily, directed by Wesley Ruggles, who had started Milland out in Bolero. A heavy workload followed with Milland completing Ebb Tide (1937) for Paramount and a couple of loan-outs to Universal and Columbia Pictures. These were followed by Hotel Imperial (1939) in which Milland suffered a near-fatal accident on the set. One scene called for him to lead a cavalry charge through a small village. An accomplished horseman, Milland insisted upon doing this scene himself. As he was making a scripted jump on the horse, his saddle came loose, sending him flying straight into a pile of broken masonry. Milland awoke in hospital, where he remained for a week with a badly damaged left hand, a three-inch gash to his head, and a concussion. In the same period, Milland appeared as John Geste in Beau Geste alongside Gary Cooper and Robert Preston and Everything Happens at Night (both 1939) with Sonja Henie for 20th Century Fox.

According to Milland, a second injury to his left hand occurred in 1939. As well as horse-riding, Milland enjoyed piloting aircraft and in his early career would lend out single-seater planes. As a contracted starring actor, Paramount had insisted he give up this hobby. Instead, Milland took up woodworking and outfitted a machine shop at the back of his newly built house. While operating a circular blade, he slipped, catching one of his hands on the saw. The injury resulted in Milland losing a part of his thumb and severely damaging his tendons. Milland believed that the injury left him with only 50% usage of his hand, but within weeks of the incident, he flew to Britain to star in French Without Tears. By the time he returned to America, war was declared in Europe. The year finished with the news that Muriel was pregnant with their son Daniel.

Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland in Arise, My Love (1940)

Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland in Arise, My Love (1940)

Milland appeared in a selection of romantic comedies and dramas alongside some of the leading ladies of the time in films released in 1940, including Irene opposite Anna Neagle, Arise, My Love with Claudette Colbert, and Untamed with Patricia Morison. When the United States entered the Second World War, Milland tried to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Forces, but was rejected because of his impaired left hand. He worked as a civilian flight instructor for the Army, and toured with a United Service Organization South Pacific troupe in 1944.

As the Second World War continued, Milland found himself appearing in more action-orientated pictures. He starred as a wannabe pilot in I Wanted Wings (1941) with Brian Donlevy and William Holden. This was followed by Cecil B. DeMille’s Reap the Wild Wind (1942) alongside John Wayne.

Milland appeared in the all-star musical Star Spangled Rhythm (1943), in which he appeared as himself singing “If Men Played Cards as Women Do” alongside Fred MacMurray, Franchot Tone, and Lynne Overman. He also made an appearance in the collaborative drama Forever and a Day. He appeared in the supernatural film The Uninvited, and the Fritz Lang film noir production Ministry of Fear (both 1944).

Ray Milland starred in the 1945 drama "The Lost Weekend."  Milland's portrayal of alcoholic Don Birnam won him the Oscar® for Lead Actor at the 18th Academy Awards®.  The film also won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Ray Milland starred in the 1945 drama “The Lost Weekend.” Milland’s portrayal of alcoholic Don Birnam won him the Oscar® for Lead Actor at the 18th Academy Awards®. The film also won the Oscar for Best Picture.

The pinnacle of Milland’s career and acknowledgment of his serious dramatic abilities came when he starred in The Lost Weekend (1945). Milland recalled how after returning from an emcee engagement in Peru, he found a book delivered to his home, with a note from Paramount’s head of production Buddy DeSylva, which read “Read it. Study it. You’re going to play it.” Milland found the book unsettling and felt that its subject matter, that of an alcoholic writer, challenging and alien to him. He was also concerned that it would require ‘serious acting’, something that he believed he had not undertaken to that point in his career. The film was to be produced by Charles Brackett and directed by Billy Wilder, the two men also collaborating to write the screenplay. Milland had already worked with both men, having starred in the comedy The Major and the Minor (1942), and he was excited by their involvement.

Milland was lauded  for his performance and he not only won that year’s Academy Award for Best Actor, but also the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor, the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor. He was the first Welsh actor to win an Oscar, and when he collected the award from Ingrid Bergman he gave one of the shortest acceptance speeches of any Oscar winner. His performance was so convincing, Milland was beleaguered for years by rumors that he actually was an alcoholic. The actor claimed he was not.

Milland’s success in The Lost Weekend resulted in his contract being rewritten, and he became Paramount’s highest-salaried actor. When the film was premiered across Europe, Milland was sent to attend each opening. When he appeared in Cardiff, the largest city in Wales, he was given the key to the city.

Ray Milland in Alias Nick Beal

Ray Milland in Alias Nick Beal

Milland continued in his role as lead man after his Oscar win, and stayed contracted to Paramount until the early 1950s. In the late 1940s, he appeared opposite Marlene Dietrich in Golden Earrings and Teresa Wright in The Trouble with Women (both 1947). During the same period, he starred in four John Farrow pictures, California (also 1947), The Big Clock (1948), Alias Nick Beal (1949), and Copper Canyon. He also worked with George Cukor, who directed him in A Life of Her Own (1950) alongside Lana Turner.

Milland gave a strong performance in Close to My Heart (1951), in which he and Gene Tierney starred as a couple trying to adopt a child. Around this time he was directed by Jacques Tourneur in Circle of Danger (also 1951), set in the United Kingdom; it was the only time he filmed in his home country of Wales. For The Thief (1952) his role was without dialogue, and he was nominated for a Golden Globe. He starred opposite Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings in Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954), originally shot in three dimensions. Although never admitted by either, rumors were rife at the time that Kelly and Milland were engaged in an affair, fueled by notorious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

After leaving Paramount, Milland concentrated on directing. His first, a Western entitled A Man Alone (1955) centers around the aftermath of a stagecoach robbery. This was followed by Lisbon; a crime drama starring Maureen O’Hara and Claude Rains. Both films were distributed by Republic Pictures. Due to his experience as a film director, he achieved much success directing for television. He also made many television appearances. He starred from 1953 to 1955 with Phyllis Avery and Lloyd Corrigan in the CBS sitcom Meet Mr. McNutley in the role of a college English and later drama professor at fictitious Lynnhaven College. The program was renamed in its second season as The Ray Milland Show. From 1959 to 1960 Milland starred in the CBS detective series Markham, but the program failed to capture an audience even though it followed the western Gunsmoke.

Milland died at the age of 79 of lung cancer  in Torrance, California, on March 10, 1986. He was survived by his wife, the former Muriel Weber, and his daughter. In line with his instructions there was no funeral. His body was cremated, and the ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Redondo Beach, in California.

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