Claude Rains

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.


Early life

Rains was born in Camberwell, London on November 10, . He grew up with, according to his daughter, "a very serious cockney accent and a speech impediment".

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.


Rains began his career in the theatre in London, having a success in the title role of John Drinkwater's play Ulysses S. Grant, the follow-up to the playwright's major hit Abraham Lincoln, and traveled to Broadway in the late 1920s to act in leading roles in such plays as The Constant Nymph, The Apple Cart, and (somewhat improbably) as a Chinese farmer in the dramatization of Pearl S. Buck's novel The Good Earth. Rains came relatively late to film acting and his first screen test was a failure, but his voice won him the title role in James Whale's The Invisible Man when someone accidentally overheard his screen test being played in the next room. Rains later credited director Michael Curtiz with teaching him the more understated requirements of film acting, or, "what not to do in front of a camera".

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.


Rains made several audio recordings during his lifetime, narrating a few Bible stories for children on Capitol Records, and reciting Richard Strauss's setting for narrator and piano accompaniment of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem Enoch Arden, with the piano solos played by Glenn Gould. This recording was made by Columbia Masterworks Records.

Personal life

Rains became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1939. He married six times, the first five of which ended in divorce: Isabel Jeans (1913-1915); Marie Hemingway (1920-1920); Beatriz Thomas (1924 –April 8, 1935); Frances Propper (April 9, 1935–1956); and Agi Jambor (November 4, 1959–1960). He married Rosemary Clark Schrode in 1960, and stayed with her until her death on December 31, 1964.

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.

Rains died from an internal haemorrhage, in Laconia, New Hampshire at the age of 77. He is interred in the Red Hill Cemetery, Moultonborough, New Hampshire.

Awards and nominations

In 1951, Rains won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for Darkness at Noon. He was also nominated four times for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Casablanca Mr. Skeffington and Notorious (). He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6400 Hollywood Boulevard.





  • Harmetz, Aljean. Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of "Casablanca". Orion Publishing Co, 1993.

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