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Claude Rains
Claude Rains in Now Voyager trailer.jpg
William Claude Rains

(1889-11-10)10 November 1889
Clapham, London, England
Died 30 May 1967(1967-05-30) (aged 77)
Citizenship United Kingdom - United States
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Occupation Actor
Years active 1900–1965
Isabel Jeans
(m. 1913; div. 1915)

Marie Hemingway
(m. 1920; div. 1920)

Beatrix Thomson
(m. 1924; div. 1935)

Frances Propper
(m. 1935; div. 1956)

Agi Jambor
(m. 1959; div. 1960)

Rosemary Clark Schrode
(m. 1960; died 1964)
Children 1
  • Fred Rains (father)

William Claude Rains (10 November 1889 – 30 May 1967) was a British actor whose career spanned almost seven decades. After his American film debut as Dr. Jack Griffin in The Invisible Man (1933), he appeared in such highly regarded films as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Wolf Man (1941), Casablanca and Kings Row (both 1942), Notorious (1946), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

He was a Tony Award-winning actor and was a four-time nominee for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Rains was considered to be "one of the screen's great character stars" who was, according to the All-Movie Guide, "at his best when playing cultured villains". During his lengthy career, he was greatly admired by many of his acting colleagues, such as Bette Davis, Vincent Sherman, Ronald Neame, Albert Dekker, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, Charles Laughton and Richard Chamberlain.

Early life

William Claude Rains was born on 10 November 1889 at 26 Tregothnan Road in Clapham, London. His parents were Emily Eliza (née Cox) and the stage actor Frederick William Rains. He lived in the slums of London, and, in his own words, on "the wrong side of the River Thames". Rains was one of twelve children, all but three dying of malnutrition when still infants. His mother took in boarders in order to support the family. According to his daughter, Jessica Rains, he grew up with "a very serious Cockney accent and a speech impediment" which took the form of a stutter, causing him to call himself "Willie Wains". His accent was so strong that his daughter could not understand a word he said when he used it to sing old Cockney songs to her or purposely used it to playfully annoy her. Rains left school after the third year to sell newspapers so that he could bring the pennies and halfpennies home for his mother. He sang in the Farm Street Church choir, which also brought him a few pence to take home.

Captain Claude Rains
Rains in his captain's uniform during the First World War

Because his father was an actor, the young Rains would spend time in theatres and was surrounded by actors and stagehands. There he observed actors as well as the day-to-day running of a theatre. Rains made his stage debut at age ten in the play Sweet Nell of Old Drury at the Haymarket Theatre, so that he could run around onstage as part of the production. He slowly worked his way up in the theatre, becoming a call boy (telling actors when they were due on stage) at His Majesty's Theatre and later a prompter, stage manager, understudy, and then moving on from smaller parts with good reviews to larger, better parts.

Actor, Claude Rains aged 23
A 23-year-old Rains in one of his early theatre roles, 1912

Early career and military service

Rains moved to America in 1912 owing to the opportunities that were being offered in the New York theatres. However, at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he returned to England to serve in the London Scottish Regiment, alongside fellow actors Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, Herbert Marshall and Cedric Hardwicke. In November 1916, Rains was involved in a gas attack at Vimy, which resulted in his permanently losing 90 percent of the vision in his right eye as well as suffering vocal cord damage. He never returned to combat but continued to serve with the Bedfordshire Regiment. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of captain.

After the war ended, Rains remained in England and continued to develop his acting talents. These talents were recognised by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Tree told Rains that in order to succeed as an actor, he would have to get rid of his Cockney accent and speech impediment. With this in mind, Tree paid for the elocution books and lessons that Rains needed to help him change his voice. Rains eventually shed his accent and speech impediment after practising every day. His daughter Jessica, when describing her father's voice, said, "The interesting thing to me was that he became a different person. He became a very elegant man, with a really extraordinary Mid-Atlantic accent. It was 'his' voice, nobody else spoke like that, half American, half English and a little Cockney thrown in." Soon after changing his accent, he became recognised as one of the leading stage actors in London. At age 29, he played the role of Clarkis in his only silent film, the British film Build Thy House (1920).

During his early years, Rains taught at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). John Gielgud and Charles Laughton were among his students.


In London theatre, he achieved success in the title role of John Drinkwater's play Ulysses S. Grant, the follow-up to the same playwright's Abraham Lincoln. Rains portrayed Faulkland in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals, presented at London's Lyric Theatre in 1925. He returned to New York City in 1927 and appeared in nearly 20 Broadway roles, in plays which included George Bernard Shaw's The Apple Cart and dramatisations of The Constant Nymph and Pearl S. Buck's novel The Good Earth (as a Chinese farmer).

Claude Rains Broadway 1929
Rains with Mary Kennedy in Camel Through the Needle's Eye on Broadway, New York City, 1929

Although he had played the single supporting role in the silent, Build Thy House (1920), Rains came relatively late to film acting. While working for the Theatre Guild, he was offered a screen test with Universal Pictures in 1932. His screen test for A Bill of Divorcement (1932) for a New York representative of RKO was a failure but, according to some accounts, led to his being cast in the title role of James Whale's The Invisible Man (1933) after his screen test and unique voice were inadvertently overheard from the next room. His agent, Harold Freedman, was a family friend of Carl Laemmle, who controlled Universal Pictures at the time, and had been acquainted with Rains in London and was keen to cast him in the role. According to Rains' daughter, this was the only film of his he ever saw. He also did not go to see the rushes of the day's filming "because he told me, every time he went he was horrified by his huge face on the huge screen, that he just never went back again."

Rains signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros. on 27 November 1935 with Warner able to exercise the right to loan him to other studios and Rains having a potential income of up to $750,000 over seven years. He played the villainous role of Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Roddy McDowall once asked Rains if he had intentionally lampooned Bette Davis in his performance as Prince John, and Rains' only smiled "an enigmatic smile." Rains later revealed to his daughter that he'd enjoyed playing the prince as a homosexual, by using subtle mannerisms. Rains later credited the film's co-director Michael Curtiz with teaching him the more understated requirements of film acting, or "what not to do in front of a camera." On loan to Columbia Pictures, he portrayed a corrupt U.S. senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), for which he received his first Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. For Warner Bros., he played Dr. Alexander Tower in Kings Row (1942) and the cynical police chief Captain Renault in Casablanca (also 1942). On loan again, Rains played the title character in Universal's remake of Phantom of the Opera (1943).

In her 1987 memoir, This 'N That, Bette Davis revealed that Rains (with whom she shared the screen four times in Juarez; Now, Voyager; Mr. Skeffington; and Deception) was her favorite co-star. Rains became the first actor to receive a million-dollar salary when he portrayed Julius Caesar in a large-budget but unsuccessful version of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), filmed in Britain. Shaw apparently chose him for the part, although Rains intensely disliked Gabriel Pascal, the film's director and producer. Rains followed it with Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) as a refugee Nazi agent opposite Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Back in Britain, he appeared in David Lean's The Passionate Friends (1949).

Claude Rains in Notorious trailer
Rains in Notorious (1946)

His only singing and dancing role was in a 1957 television musical version of Robert Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamelin, with Van Johnson as the Piper. The NBC colour special, broadcast as a film rather than a live or videotaped programme, was highly successful with the public. Sold into syndication after its first telecast, it was repeated annually by many local US TV stations.

Rains remained active as a character actor in the 1950s and 1960s, appearing in films and as a guest in television series. He ventured into science fiction for Irwin Allen's The Lost World (1960) and Antonio Margheriti's Battle of the Worlds (1961). Two of his late screen roles were as Dryden, a cynical British diplomat in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and King Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), his last film. In CBS's Rawhide, he portrayed Alexander Langford, an attorney in a ghost town, in the episode "Incident of Judgement Day" (1963).

He additionally made several audio recordings, narrating some Bible stories for children on Capitol Records, and reciting Richard Strauss's setting for narrator and piano of Tennyson's poem Enoch Arden, with the piano solos performed by Glenn Gould. He starred in The Jeffersonian Heritage, a 1952 series of 13 half-hour radio programmes recorded by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters and syndicated for commercial broadcast on a sustaining (i.e., commercial-free) basis.

Personal life and death

Rains became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1939. He married six times and was divorced from the first five of his wives: Isabel Jeans (married 1913–1915); Marie Hemingway (to whom Rains was married for less than a year in 1920); Beatrix Thomson (1924–8 April 1935); Frances Propper (9 April 1935 – 1956); and the classical pianist Agi Jambor (4 November 1959 – 1960). In 1960, he married Rosemary Clark Schrode, to whom he was married until her death on 31 December 1964. His only child, Jennifer, was the daughter of Frances Propper. As an actress, she is known as Jessica Rains.

He acquired the 380-acre (1.5 km2) Stock Grange Farm, built in 1747 in West Bradford Township, Pennsylvania (just outside Coatesville), in 1941. The farm became one of the "great prides" of his life. Here, he became a "gentleman farmer" and could relax and enjoy farming life with his then wife (Frances) churning the butter, their daughter collecting the eggs, with Rains himself ploughing the fields and cultivating the vegetable garden. He spent much of his time between film takes reading up on agricultural techniques to try when he got home. He sold the farm when his marriage to Propper ended in 1956; the building now, as then, is still referred to by locals as "Rains' Place". Rains spent his final years in Sandwich, New Hampshire.

In his final years, he decided to write his memoirs and engaged the help of journalist Jonathan Root to assist him. Rains' declining health delayed their completion and with Root's death in March 1967 the project was never completed. Rains died from cirrhosis of the liver, having an abdominal hemorrhage in Laconia on 30 May 1967, aged 77. His daughter said, "And, just like most actors, he died waiting for his agent to call." He was buried at the Red Hill Cemetery in Moultonborough, New Hampshire. He designed his own tombstone which reads "All things once, Are things forever, Soul, once living, lives forever".

In 2010, many of Rains' personal effects were put into an auction at Heritage Auctions, including his 1951 Tony award, rare posters, letters and photographs. Also included in the auction were many volumes of his private leather-bound scrapbooks which contained many of his press cuttings and reviews from the beginning of his career. The majority of the items were used to help David J. Skal write his book on Rains, An Actor's Voice. In 2011, the ivory military uniform (complete with medals) he wore as Captain Renault in Casablanca was put up for auction when noted actress and film historian Debbie Reynolds sold her collection of Hollywood costumes and memorabilia which she had amassed as a result of the 1970 MGM auction.


Year Title Role Director Other cast members Notes
1920 Build Thy House Clarkis Goodwins, FredFred Goodwins Henry Ainley Film debut
1933 The Invisible Man Dr. Jack Griffin/The Invisible Man Whale, JamesJames Whale Gloria Stuart, Henry Travers, Una O'Connor
1934 Crime Without Passion Lee Gentry Hecht, BenBen Hecht, Charles MacArthur Margo, Whitney Bourne
The Man Who Reclaimed His Head Paul Verin Ludwig, EdwardEdward Ludwig Lionel Atwill, Joan Bennett
1935 The Mystery of Edwin Drood John Jasper Walker, StuartStuart Walker Douglass Montgomery, Heather Angel, David Manners
The Clairvoyant Maximus Elvey, MauriceMaurice Elvey Fay Wray
The Last Outpost John Stevenson Gasnier, LouisLouis Gasnier, Charles Barton Cary Grant
Scrooge Jacob Marley Henry Edwards Seymour Hicks, Donald Calthrop, Robert Cochran Uncredited
1936 Hearts Divided Napoleon Bonaparte Borzage, FrankFrank Borzage Marion Davies, Dick Powell, Charlie Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton
Anthony Adverse Marquis Don Luis LeRoy, MervynMervyn LeRoy Fredric March, Olivia de Havilland, Gale Sondergaard
1937 Stolen Holiday Stefan Orloff Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz Kay Francis, Ian Hunter
The Prince and the Pauper Earl of Hertford Keighley, WilliamWilliam Keighley Errol Flynn, Billy and Bobby Mauch
They Won't Forget Dist. Atty. Andrew J. "Andy" Griffin LeRoy, MervynMervyn LeRoy Gloria Dickson, Lana Turner
1938 White Banners Paul Ward Goulding, EdmundEdmund Goulding Fay Bainter, Jackie Cooper, Bonita Granville, Henry O'Neill, Kay Johnson
Gold is Where You Find It Colonel Christopher "Chris" Ferris Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, Tim Holt Technicolor
The Adventures of Robin Hood Prince John Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz, William Keighley Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone Technicolor
Four Daughters Adam Lemp Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz Rosemary, Lola, and Priscilla Lane, Gale Page, John Garfield
1939 They Made Me a Criminal Det. Monty Phelan Berkeley, BusbyBusby Berkeley John Garfield, Gloria Dickson, May Robson
Juarez Emperor Louis Napoleon III Dieterle, WilliamWilliam Dieterle Paul Muni, Bette Davis, Brian Aherne, John Garfield
Sons of Liberty Haym Salomon Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz Gale Sondergaard Technicolor; two-reel short
Daughters Courageous Jim Masters Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz Rosemary, Lola, and Priscilla Lane, Gale Page, John Garfield
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Sen. Joseph Harrison Paine Capra, FrankFrank Capra Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Thomas Mitchell Nomination—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Four Wives Adam Lemp Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz Eddie Albert, Rosemary, Lola, and Priscilla Lane, Gale Page, John Garfield
1940 Saturday's Children Mr. Henry Halevy Sherman, VincentVincent Sherman John Garfield, Anne Shirley
The Sea Hawk Don José Álvarez de Córdoba Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Henry Daniell, Flora Robson, Alan Hale Sepia tone (sequence)
Lady with Red Hair David Belasco Bernhardt, CurtisCurtis Bernhardt Miriam Hopkins, Laura Hope Crews
1941 Four Mothers Adam Lemp Keighley, WilliamWilliam Keighley Rosemary, Lola, and Priscilla Lane, Gale Page
Here Comes Mr. Jordan Mr. Jordan Hall, AlexanderAlexander Hall Robert Montgomery, Evelyn Keyes, Edward Everett Horton
The Wolf Man Sir. John Talbot Waggner, GeorgeGeorge Waggner Lon Chaney, Jr., Evelyn Ankers, Patric Knowles, Ralph Bellamy, Warren William, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya
1942 Kings Row Dr. Alexander Tower Wood, SamSam Wood Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Betty Field, Charles Coburn
Moontide Nutsy Mayo, ArchieArchie Mayo Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell
Now, Voyager Dr. Jaquith Rapper, IrvingIrving Rapper Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Gladys Cooper
Casablanca Capt. Louis Renault Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson Nomination—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1943 Forever and a Day Ambrose Pomfret Wilcox, HerbertHerbert Wilcox
(sequence with Rains)
Anna Neagle, Ray Milland, C. Aubrey Smith
Phantom of the Opera Erique Claudin/The Phantom of the Opera Lubin, ArthurArthur Lubin Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster Technicolor
1944 Passage to Marseille Captain Freycinet Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz Humphrey Bogart, Michèle Morgan, Philip Dorn, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Helmut Dantine
Mr. Skeffington Job Skeffington Sherman, VincentVincent Sherman Bette Davis, Walter Abel, George Coulouris, Richard Waring Nomination—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1945 Strange Holiday John Stevenson Arch Oboler Barbara Bate, Martin Kosieck,
This Love of Ours Joseph Targel Dieterle, WilliamWilliam Dieterle Merle Oberon
Caesar and Cleopatra Julius Caesar Pascal, GabrielGabriel Pascal Vivien Leigh, Stewart Granger, Flora Robson Technicolor
1946 Notorious Alexander Sebastian Hitchcock, AlfredAlfred Hitchcock Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Louis Calhern Nomination—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Angel on My Shoulder Nick Mayo, ArchieArchie Mayo Paul Muni, Anne Baxter
Deception Alexander Hollenius Rapper, IrvingIrving Rapper Bette Davis, Paul Henreid
1947 The Unsuspected Victor Grandison Curtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz Joan Caulfield, Audrey Totter, Constance Bennett, Hurd Hatfield
1949 The Passionate Friends Howard Justin Lean, DavidDavid Lean Ann Todd, Trevor Howard
Rope of Sand Arthur "Fred" Martingale Dieterle, WilliamWilliam Dieterle Burt Lancaster, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre
Song of Surrender Elisha Hunt Leisen, MitchellMitchell Leisen Wanda Hendrix, Macdonald Carey
1950 The White Tower Paul DeLambre Tetzlaff, TedTed Tetzlaff Glenn Ford, Alida Valli, Oskar Homolka, Cedric Hardwicke, Lloyd Bridges Technicolor
Where Danger Lives Frederick Lannington Farrow, JohnJohn Farrow Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, Maureen O'Sullivan
1951 Sealed Cargo Captain Skalder Werker, Alfred L.Alfred L. Werker Dana Andrews, Lloyd Bridges
1952 The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By Kees Popinga French, HaroldHarold French Märta Torén, Marius Goring Technicolor
1956 Lisbon Aristides Mavros Milland, RayRay Milland Ray Milland, Maureen O'Hara Trucolor
1957 The Pied Piper of Hamelin The Mayor of Hamelin Windust, BretaigneBretaigne Windust Van Johnson, Lori Nelson Technicolor
1959 This Earth Is Mine Philippe Rambeau King, HenryHenry King Rock Hudson, Jean Simmons, Dorothy McGuire Technicolor
Judgment at Nuremberg Judge Haywood George Roy Hill Maximillian Schell, Paul Lukas, Melvyn Douglas Playhouse 90
1960 The Lost World Professor George Edward Challenger Allen, IrwinIrwin Allen Michael Rennie, Jill St. John, David Hedison, Fernando Lamas, Richard Haydn Deluxe color
1961 Battle of the Worlds Professor Benson Margheriti, AntonioAntonio Margheriti Bill Carter Colour
1962 Lawrence of Arabia Mr. Dryden Lean, DavidDavid Lean Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy, José Ferrer Technicolor
Super Panavision 70
1963 Twilight of Honor Art Harper Sagal, BorisBoris Sagal Richard Chamberlain, Nick Adams, Joey Heatherton, Linda Evans
1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told Herod the Great Stevens, GeorgeGeorge Stevens Max von Sydow, plus many cameos Final film


Year Title Recording Company
1946 The Christmas Tree Mercury Childcraft Records
1948 Bible Stories for Children Capitol Records
1950 Builders of America Columbia Masterworks
1952 David and Goliath Capitol Records
1960 Remember The Alamo Noble Records
1962 Enoch Arden Columbia Masterworks

Radio appearances

Year Programme Episode/source
1952 Cavalcade of America Three Words
1959 Playhouse 90 Judgement At Nuremberg

Notable theatre performances

Rains starred in multiple plays and productions over the course of his career, playing a variety of leading and supporting parts. As his film career began to flourish, he found less time to perform in the theatre in both England and America.

Year Play title Role Theatre Notes
1900 Sweet Nell of Old Drury Child Haymarket Theatre Stage debut, aged 10 as an "unbilled child extra "running around a fountain."
1901 Herod Child His Majesty's Theatre Unbilled
1904 Last of the Dandies Winkles Rains' debut speaking role in the theatre
1911 The Gods of the Mountain Thahn Haymarket Theatre Shared role with Reginald Owen
1913 The Green Cockatoo Grasset Aldwych Theatre Stage Manager as well
Typhoon Omayi Haymarket Theatre First heavy character role
1919 Reparation Ivan Petrovitch St. James's Theatre Stage Manager as well
Uncle Ned Mears Lyceum Theatre This supporting role marked Rains' return to the stage after being wounded in WWI
1920 Julius Caesar Casca St. James's Theatre Ernest Milton played Brutus
1925 The Rivals Faulkland Lyric Hammersmith According to John Gielgud, Rains' second wife Marie Hemingway joined the cast for a brief period, thereby bringing Rains' first 3 wives together in the same dressing room.
1926 The Government Inspector The Inspector Gaiety Theatre Professional debut of his RADA student, Charles Laughton
1926 Made in Heaven Martin Walmer Everyman Theatre, London This was Rains' last appearance on the London Stage.
1951 Darkness at Noon Rubashov Alvin Theatre/Royale Theatre Won Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
1954 The Confidential Clerk Sir Claude Mulhammer Morosco Theatre Rains' first wife, Isabel Jeans played the role of Lady Elizabeth Mulhammer in the 1953 Edinburgh premiere.
1956 Night of the Auk Doctor Bruner Playhouse Theatre Featuring Christopher Plummer

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards
Year Category Nominated work Result
1939 Best Supporting Actor Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Nominated
1943 Casablanca Nominated
1944 Mr. Skeffington Nominated
1946 Notorious Nominated
Tony Awards
Year Category Nominated work Result
1951 Best Actor in a Play Darkness at Noon Won
Drama League Awards
Year Category Nominated work Result
1951 Distinguished Performance Darkness at Noon Won
Grammy Awards
Year Category Nominated work Result
1963 Best Spoken Word Album Enoch Arden Nominated

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Claude Rains para niños

  • List of actors with Academy Award nominations
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