Oscar Actors: Massey, Raymond, Best Actor Nominee for Abe Lincoln in Illinois

Raymond Hart Massey (August 30, 1896 – July 29, 1983)

Raymond Massey, the accomplished Oscar-nominated actor, was born as Raymond Hart Massey in Toronto, August 20, 1896.

At the outbreak of Wolrd War I, Massey joined the Canadian Army, serving with the artillery on the Western Front.  Drawn to the theatre, he appeared on the London stage in 1922, and made his first movie, High Treason. in 1927.

In 1931, he played Sherlock Holmes in The Speckled Band, the story’s first screen version. In 1934, he starred inThe Scarlet Pimpernel, and in 1936, in Things to Come, an adaptation by H.G. Wells of his novel, The Shape of Things to Come (1933).

In 1944 Massey played the District Attorney in Fritz Lang’s classic film noir, The Woman in the Window, starring Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennet.

Though Canadian, Massey became famous for his American roles such as the abolitionist John Brown in Santa Fe Trail (1940) and played the same role again in the low-budget film Seven Angry Men (1955 ), which offered a more sympathetic portraiture of Brown.

Massey scored big on Broadway in Robert E. Sherwood’s play, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, despite American reservations about Lincoln being portrayed by a Canadian.  He repeated his role in the 1940 screen version, for which he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.

Massey again portrayed Lincoln in The Day Lincoln Was Shot on Ford Star Jubilee (1956), and in How the West Was Won (1962).

In a dramatic stage reading of Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body (1953 ), Massey narrated the saga along with Tyrone Power and Judith Anderson, and also played the roles of John Brown and Abe Lincoln.

Raymond Massey played a Canadian on screen only once, in 49th Parallel (1941).

Massey also starred in Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma, opposite Katharine Cornell.  During the war, he teamed up with Cornell and other leading actors in a revival of Shaw’s Candida to benefit the Army Emergency Fund and the Navy Relief Society.

Massey portrayed the character of Jonathan Brewster in the Capra film, Arsenic and Old Lace, starring Cary Grant. The character had been created on stage by Boris Karloff (used as a gag in play and film).  Though released in 1944, the film was shot in 1941, at which time Karloff could not be released from stage commitments.

Massey and Karloff had appeared together in James Whale’s suspense film, The Old Dark House (1932).

Massey rejoined the Canadian Army for World War II, though he was eventually released from service and returned to acting.

After the War, Massey became an American citizen, and played memorably as Joan Crawford’s husband in her Oscar-nominated role in Possessed (1947) and the doomed publishing tycoon Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead (1949), opposite Gary Copper and Patricia Neal.

In 1955, Massey starred in Kazan’s epic saga, East of Eden as Adam Trask, father of Cal, played by James Dean in a much admired performance

Massey became well-known on TV in the 1950, cast as Sir Oliver Garnett in the episode “Trunk Full of Dreams” of the NBC Western series, Riverboat.

Massey is fondly remembered as Dr. Gillespie in the popular 1961 NBC series, Dr. Kildare, with Ricahrd Chamberlain in the title role. Massey and his son, Daniel, were cast as father and son in The Queen’s Guards (1961).

Massey died on  July 29, 1983, at the age of 86.