One such movie star was Ray Milland.
A Welshman, born in Neath, Wales on January 3rd, 1905, Reginald Alfred John Truscott-Jones had no aspirations to become an actor in his younger years. He was notably agile in his youth and spent his time becoming an expert Equestrian on his uncle’s horse breading estate. While serving a 19-month term in the Household Calvary for the British Royal Family in 1926, he would become an expert marksman, winning the Bisley Match. However, having been cut off financially from his family, he was forced to seek other forms of income. Thus, he would begin acting on the London stage.
The name ‘Ray Milland,’ was a stage name; ‘Milland’ being a reference to the place where Milland had grown-up. At lunch with then-popular actress Estelle Brody in 1929, the producer of her latest film convinced Milland that he needed to be in pictures. In 1932, he was briefly signed with MGM and moved to Hollywood to play in supporting roles opposite actors such as James Cagney in Blonde Crazy and Charles Laughton in Payment Deferred. However, this was short lived, and Milland would return to London after only one year. As fate would have it, Milland was signed by Paramount in 1934 and would remain there for many years to build an illustrious career. He appeared in a number of films, most notably in classics such as William A. Wellman’s Beau Geste, Cecil B. Demille’s Reap the Wild Wind, and Billy Wilder’s The Major and the Minor. In 1946, Milland would achieve the type of success that every actor dreams of; he won the Best Actor Prize at the Cannes Film Festival as well as the Oscar® for his portrayal of the heavy alcoholic in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, a performance considered by many to be one of the best ever put to celluloid.
In the subsequent years, after the studios had disbanded, Milland would go on to play in a number of memorable TV shows, such as Markham, and films such as Love Story and Elia Kazan’s The Last Tycoon. In 1963, Milland was cast by Roger Corman as an obsessive doctor and scientist in X: Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Milland himself often said that the favorite and the best of his performances on screen, seconded only to his performance in the Lost Weekend, was as Dr. James Xavier in X, a compliment that Roger still takes to heart. Milland continued to make films until his death in 1986, and his legacy still remains in that rarified air of Hollywood iconoclasts.
Milland is currently the ‘Star of the Month’ on TCM (Turner Classic Movies); check the site’s schedule to catch him in one of his great roles.