After completing his studies Mason gave acting a shot. It was primarily for fun and he did not intend to take it up professionally. He made his stage debut in Aldershot for ‘The Rascal’ in 1931.
Following his fun tryst, Mason took a step ahead in acting and got himself enrolled at the Old Vic theatre in London, under the guidance of Tyrone Guthrie. In 1933, he secured a small role in Alexandra Korda’s film ‘The Private Life of Don Juan’ but was sacked after three days.
Mason continued with theatre and firmed his position as a theatre actor. He became popular as a stage actor, and starred in a number of theatre shows. Starting from minor roles, he soon found himself large roles in British quota quickies or B-pictures. These were mostly minor films that accommodated law mandating a certain percentage of films shows in Britain to be British made.
During the Second World War, he registered himself as a conscientious objector. However, his tribunal exempted him only on the requirement to do non-combatant military service.
Throughout the 1940s, Mason developed his reputation as an actor. Though he played the role of protagonist in minor films, he had refined his acting talent and developed his position as one of Britain’s major film stars of the 1940s.
During the first half of the 1940s, Mason featured in a couple of melodramatic flicks as an anti-hero, including, ‘The Man in Grey’ and ‘The Wicked Lady’. Apart from that, he starred alongside Deborah Kerr and Robert Newton in ‘Hatter’s Castle’.
In 1945, Mason took up a lead role in the film, ‘The Seventh Veil’. The film became hugely popular and garnered him worldwide recognition and fame. He followed it up with the 1947 film, ‘Odd Man Out’ wherein he played the character of a mortally wounded IRA bank robber.
The year 1949 was a big one for Mason as he made his Hollywood debut with the movie, ‘Caught’. For the next four decades, he successfully acted in Hollywood films as well as TV.
The decade of 1950 saw Mason come up with his finest performances. He played Brutus in ‘Julius Caesar’ in 1953, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in ‘The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel’ and a valet turned spy in ‘5 Fingers’.
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In 1954, Mason starred as a declining actor in the first remake of ‘A Star is Born’. The film won him his first Golden Globe award and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. The same year, he portrayed the role of Captain Nemo for ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’.
Towards the end of the 1950s, film like ‘Bigger Than Life’, ‘North by Northest’ and ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ saw him play a varied variety of roles. Interestingly, artistically skilled as he was, Mason played them all with perfection.
In 1963, he moved to Switzerland. Following his residential change, Mason gave his vocation a twist as he embarked on a transatlantic career. He essayed the role of Humbert in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Lolita’. Following this, he played a river pirate in ‘Lord Jim’, Bradley Morahan in ‘Age of Consent’, Doctor Polidori in ‘Frankenstein: The True Story’, Richard Staker in ‘Salem’s Lot’ and Captain Hughes in ‘Yellowbeard’
In 1975, Mason starred in ‘Mandingo’ that bombed badly at the box office. However, he soon made up for it with a powerful performance in ‘Heaven Can Wait’ and ‘Murder by Decree’.
In the 1980s, Mason brought to life the role of a corrupt lawyer, Ed Concannon in ‘The Verdict’. His brilliant portrayal of the character won him his third Oscar nomination.
The 1985 film ‘The Shooting Party’ was Mason’s last film as an actor. Interestingly, the film wasn’t offered to him in the first place. It was a mishap caused on the sets that replaced original choice Paul Scofieldwith Mason. The film turned out to be his final outing at the big screen.
Other than films, Mason narrated two British documentary series‘Hollywood’ and ‘Unknown Chaplin’. He even mentored upcoming actor Sam Neill
Awards & Achievements
Mason was thrice nominated for Academy Awards (two as supporting actor and one as Lead Actor) and thrice for Golden Globe awards (twice as Lead Actor and once as supporting actor). He won the Golden Globe for Best Actor for his 1954 film ‘A Star is Born’.
Other awards won by him include National Board of Review Award for Best Actor for ‘Face to Face’, New York Film Critics Award for Best Actor for ‘A Star is Born’, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor for ‘The Verdict’, London Film Critics Circle Award for Actor of the Year for ‘The Shooting Party’.
He even received two BAFTA nominations in Best Actor category for ‘Lolita’ and ‘The Deadly Affair’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Mason married twice in his life. His first marriage was to British actress Pamela Mason. The couple was blessed with a daughter, Portland Mason Schuyler and a son, Morgan. The couple separated after 23 years of marriage.
In 1971, he married Australian actress Clarissa Kaye. She remained with him until his death.
Mason suffered from ill health towards the beginning of the 1960s. He survived a severe heart attack in 1959. However, in 1984, he succumbed to it on July 27, 1984. He was cremated and his ashes were buried in Corsier-sur-Vevey.