William Claude Rains (10 November –30 May ) was an English award-winning actor and film star whose career spanned 47 years. He later held American citizenship and was best known for his many roles in Hollywood films.
His acting talents were recognised by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, founder of The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Tree paid for the elocution lessons that Rains would need to succeed as an actor. Later, Rains taught at the institution, working with John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier, among others.
Rains served in the First World War with the London Scottish Regiment, alongside fellow actors Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman and Herbert Marshall. Rains was involved in a gas attack that left him almost blind in one eye for the rest of his life. However, the war did aid his social advancement, and by its end, he had risen from the rank of Private to Captain.
Following The Invisible Man, Universal Studios tried to typecast him in horror films, but he broke free, starting with the role of Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood then with his Academy Award-nominated role as the conflicted corrupt senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and followed with probably his most famous role, the suave French police Captain Renault in Casablanca (). In , Rains played the disfigured composer, Erik (Erique Claudin in the film) for Universal's full-color version of Phantom of the Opera. In , Rains became the first actor to receive a million dollar salary for his role as Julius Caesar in Caesar and Cleopatra, and in he appeared in David Lean's The Passionate Friends.
He appeared in his only singing and dancing role, as the Mayor in a television musical version of Robert Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamelin, opposite Van Johnson as the Piper. This NBC colour special, shown 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 TV stations.
Rains remained a popular character actor in the 1950s and 1960s, appearing in many films. Two of his well-known later screen roles were as Dryden, a cynical British diplomat in Lawrence of Arabia and King Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told (). The latter was his final film role.
He acquired the 380-acre Stock Grange Farm in West Bradford Township, Pennsylvania just outside West Chester in 1941, and spent much of his time between takes reading up on agricultural techniques. He eventually sold the farm when his marriage to Propper ended in 1956.