Nationality: American. Born: Raymond Hart Massey in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 30 August 1896; became U.S. citizen, 1944. Education: Attended Appleby School, Oakville, Ontario; Canadian Officers' Training Corps, University of Toronto, 1915; Balliol College, Oxford. Military Service: Canadian Field Artillery, 1915–19; wounded at Ypres, 1916; Canadian Army, 1942: major. Family: Married 1) the stage designer Peggy Fremantle (divorced), son: Geoffrey; 2) the actress Adrianne Allen, 1929 (divorced 1939), children: Daniel and Anna; 3) Dorothy Ludington Whitney, 1939. Career: About 1920—worked in family business, Massey-Harris Agricultural Implement Company, Toronto; 1922—moved to London to pursue stage career: debut in Eugene O'Neill's In the Zone ; 1926—with Allan Wade and George Carr, began managing Everyman Theatre, Hampstead; 1931—New York debut in title role of Norman Bel Geddes's production of Hamlet ; talking film debut as Sherlock Holmes in The Speckled Band (may have appeared in English silents as early as 1923); 1934—returned to New York in his own production of The Shining Hour ; continued alternating between London and New York theaters; worked in both British and American films; 1939—created title role in Robert Sherwood's play Abe Lincoln in Illinois , and in film version, 1942; long-term contract with Warners; 1952—his play The Hanging Judge presented in London; 1961–66—played Dr. Gillespie in TV series Dr. Kildare . Died: In Los Angeles, 29 July 1983.
The Speckled Band (Raymond) (as Sherlock Holmes)
The Old Dark House (Whale) (as Philip Waverton); The Face at the Window (Hiscott) (as Paul le Gros)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Korda) (as Chauvelin)
Things to Come (Menzies) (as John and Oswald Cabal); Fire over England (William K. Howard) (as Philip of Spain)
Under the Red Robe (Seastrom) (as Cardinal Richelieu); Dreaming Lips (Czinner) (as Miguel del Vayo); The Prisoner of Zenda (Cromwell) (as Black Michael); The Hurricane (Ford) (as Gov. Eugene De Laage)
The Drum ( Drums ) (Zoltan Korda) (as Prince Ghul)
Black Limelight (Stein) (as Peter Charrington)
Abe Lincoln in Illinois ( Spirit of the People ) (Cromwell) (title role); Santa Fe Trail (Curtiz) (as John Brown)
Dangerously They Live (Florey) (as Dr. Ingersoll); 49th Parallel ( The Invaders ) (Powell) (as Andy Brock)
Desperate Journey (Walsh) (as Maj. Otto Baumeister); Reap the Wild Wind (Cecil B. DeMille) (as King Cutler)
Action in the North Atlantic (Lloyd Bacon) (as Capt. Steve Jarvis)
Arsenic and Old Lace (Capra) (as Jonathan Brewster); The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang) (as Frank Lalor)
God Is My Co-Pilot (Florey) (as General Chennault); Hotel Berlin (Godfrey) (as Arnim Von Dahnwitz)
A Matter of Life and Death ( Stairway to Heaven ) (Powell and Pressburger) (as Abraham Farlan)
Mourning Becomes Electra (Dudley Nichols) (as Brig. Gen. Ezra Mannon); Possessed (Bernhardt)
The Fountainhead (King Vidor) (as Gail Wynand); Roseanna McCoy (Reis) (as Old Randall McCoy)
Barricade (Godfrey) (as Boss Kruger); Challenge—Science against Cancer (Parker—doc) (as narrator); Dallas (Heisler); Chain Lightning (Heisler) (as Leland Willis)
Sugarfoot (Marin) (as Jacob Stint); Come Fill the Cup (Gordon Douglas) (as John Ives); David and Bathsheba (Henry King) (as Nathan the Prophet)
Carson City (De Toth) (as "Big Jack" Davis)
The Desert Song (Humberstone) (as Yousseff)
Battle Cry (Walsh) (as Gen. Snipes); Seven Angry Men (Warren) (as John Brown); Prince of Players (Dunne) (as Junius Brutus Booth); East of Eden (Kazan) (as Adam Trask)
The True Story of the Civil War (Stoumen) (as narrator)
Omar Khayyam ( The Life, Loves and Adventures of Omar Khayyam ) (Freeman) (as the Shah); The Naked Eye (Stoumen) (as narrator); rerelease of 1927 Uncle Tom's Cabin (as narrator); Mayerling (Litvak—for TV) (as prime minister)
The Naked and the Dead (Walsh) (as General Cummings)
The Great Imposter (Mulligan) (as Abbott Donner) (as Abbott Donner)
The Fiercest Heart (Sherman) (as Willem); The Queen's Guards (Powell) (as Capt. Fellowes)
Jacqueline Kennedy's Asian Journey (Seltzer) (as narrator)
How the West Was Won (Ford) (as Abraham Lincoln); Report on China (as narrator)
Mackenna's Gold (J. Lee Thompson) (as the Preacher)
The President's Plane Is Missing (Duke—for TV)
All My Darling Daughters (Rich—for TV) (as Matthew Cunningham)
My Darling Daughters' Anniversary (Pevney—for TV) (as Matthew Cunningham)
When I Was Young , Boston, 1976.
A Hundred Different Lives: An Autobiography , London, 1979.
Richards, Jeffrey, Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York , London, 1977.
Current Biography 1946 , New York, 1946.
Stein, Jeanne, "Raymond Massey," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1963.
Obituary in New York Times , 31 July 1983.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 3 August 1983.
O'Toole, Lawrence, "A Gentleman of Character," obituary in Maclean's (Toronto), 8 August 1983.
Film Dope (Nottingham), January 1989.
Stars (Mariembourg), June 1989.
* * *
The thunder and the lightning became Raymond Massey more than any other screen actor of his day. His booming, authoritative voice, grand manner, and tall, broad-shouldered body were made for command, and Massey exploited them with skill and intelligence.
Prophets and driven men were his meat. He hunted the Scarlet Pimpernel with the full messianic fury of the Terror, and as Black Michael intrigued so ruthlessly for the throne of Zenda that his hatchet man Rupert of Hentzau said admirably, "There are times in the presence of your majesty when I feel myself an amateur." His monocled arrogance as Black Michael made him a natural to play villainous Nazi generals during World War II, which he did, most memorably, in Raoul Walsh's Desperate Journey . His capacity for personal menace was also used by Frank Capra in Arsenic and Old Lace , a lumbering Massey replacing Boris Karloff, who created the role on stage of the murderous Brewster brother who is constantly mistaken for Karloff himself.
Massey's definitive Abraham Lincoln, and his preaching abolitionist John Brown capture the charismatic personalities of men who know they are born to change history. He played both roles twice on film, Lincoln in Abe Lincoln in Illinois and How the West Was Won and Brown in Santa Fe Trail and Seven Angry Men . He was no less convincing in Things to Come as John and Oswald Cabal, members of a dynasty committed to a new order of scientific government. The last shot in the Korda fantasy, with Massey intoning a technocratic prayer over scenes of the first moon voyage—"All the universe or nothingness. . . . Which shall it be?"—makes him seem a kind of god.
Michael Powell liked Massey's radical Canadian belligerence, and used the actor three times: as the hero of the War of Independence who prosecutes David Niven in the heavenly court of A Matter of Life and Death ; more briefly, but to good effect, as a Canadian soldier in 49th Parallel , stuck in a railroad truck with fleeing Nazi Eric Portman, whom he gleefully demolishes; and last in The Queen's Guards , Powell's ill-fated attempt at a comeback following the critical disaster of Peeping Tom , which almost wrecked the director's career.
Massey rose to the demands of even the fruitiest melodrama. His newspaper magnate in The Fountainhead , as pathologically pigheaded as the Gary Cooper with whom he competes for Patricia Neal; the patriarch of the acting Booth clan in Prince of Players , and the father of James Dean in East of Eden ; even his roles as routine heavy in a dozen 1950s Westerns and period films never lost the sense that, as he spoke, thunder rumbled somewhere beyond the horizon. That thunder was relatively muted, however, in his final screen appearances in the sitcomlike made-for-television movies All My Darling Daughters and My Darling Daughters' Anniversary , where he played second fiddle to star Robert Young's harried judge whose four vivacious daughters get married, and subsequently celebrate their first wedding anniversaries, on the same day.
—John Baxter, updated by John McCarty