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Massey, Raymond (1896-1983)


Main image of Massey, Raymond (1896-1983)

Tall, gaunt, Toronto-born, Oxford-educated Raymond Massey turned his back on the family firm (Massey/Harris Agricultural Implements) and became a major actor on both sides of the Atlantic, on stage and screen, for 50 years.

Now best known for his US career, which included the title role in Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), the mad and murderous Jonathan in Arsenic and Old Lace (US, d. Frank Capra, 1944) and James Dean's father in East of Eden (US, d. Elia Kazan, 1955), he was also a significant presence in 30s British cinema, primarily in his work for Alexander Korda, in such roles as the idealist hero of Things to Come (d. William Cameron Menzies, 1936) and the wicked Prince Ghul in The Drum (d. Zoltan Korda, 1938).

He also participated in four films for his friend Michael Powell: as the deserter Brock in 49th Parallel (1941); the narrator in the US version of A Canterbury Tale (1944); the anti-British celestial in A Matter of Life and Death (1946); and the Captain in The Queen's Guards (1961), playing father to his son, Daniel Massey.

On stage, he played Abraham Lincoln so often it was said he wouldn't be satisfied until he was assassinated; on TV he was Dr Gillespie in the series, Dr Kildare (US, 1961-66). His second wife (of three) was Adrianne Allen; Anna Massey is their daughter.

Autobiographies: When I Was Young (1976), A Hundred Lives (1979).

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of 49th Parallel (1941)49th Parallel (1941)

Wartime drama: a Nazi U-boat crew is stranded in Canada

Thumbnail image of Drum, The (1938)Drum, The (1938)

London Films' first Technicolor feature, a stirring Empire epic

Thumbnail image of Matter of Life and Death, A (1946)Matter of Life and Death, A (1946)

Romance fantasy bridging the gap between two worlds

Thumbnail image of Scarlet Pimpernel, The (1935)Scarlet Pimpernel, The (1935)

Most successful version of the French revolutionary romance

Thumbnail image of Things to Come (1936)Things to Come (1936)

Britain's biggest sci-fi film of the 1930s, adapted from H.G.Wells

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Thumbnail image of Massey, Anna (1937-2011)Massey, Anna (1937-2011)


Thumbnail image of Powell, Michael (1905-1990)Powell, Michael (1905-1990)

Director, Writer, Producer