“Mr. Temperament” by Hilary Lynn in the magazine Screenland (Oct 1935):
Claude Rains proves that an actor can be as “mad” as he likes, so long as his acting makes sense.
Small men are pugnacious. And most often tenacious. That’s why they make excellent fighters and fanatics. Napoleon was a small man, and Claude Rains is a moderately small man. Small enough, at any rate, to have played with staggering success the role of that stocky manipulator of empires in the Theatre Guild production of “The Man of Destiny.” And like enough to have other characteristics in common with Napoleon and the rest of that breed of short-statured, long-willed men.
Like them he makes up in intensity what he lacks in extensity. He’s a volcano of tireless energy, slightly on the eruptive side. His voice over the telephone blasts one’s ear-drums; he explodes with laughter or wrath at the slightest provocation and at most unexpected times and places.
This sudden explosiveness caused a near-riot in a London theatre in pre-war days. At the time Claude, playing the role of a romantic lover, looked even frailer than he does now all wirey nerves and brittle bones. The heroine was a sturdy English lass who tipped the scales at something over 150. In a moment of passion whether of love or hate has not been set down in the annals the stage directions indicated that Claude lift the buxom girl and carry her to a couch.
Claude essayed the task with the dogged determination characteristic of him and Napoleon. He staggered under her weight. A wiseacre in the gallery groaned audibly. Claude’s nostrils dilated, his upper lip stiffened. He tried again. There was a concerted Umm-mmm-ing from the gallery; then the balcony and stalls took up the refrain. Veins stood out on Claude’s neck, his forehead was moist.
“That’s the boy lift ‘er up, yelled the original disturber. And then the storm broke.
The stage lover or villain dropped that portion of his precious burden which he had managed to hoist from the ground and, turning fearful eyes on the offender, he roared “Come on down and lift her up yourself!” in a voice that had in it something of the darker forces of nature. Then he proceeded to roll up his sleeves. His facial expression was so violent that the taunting crowd was frightened into silence. And he would have retired from the stage a victor had not his lifeless burden become animated at that very moment. But she, now an outraged woman, stood up on her feet and for her rights, smacked our hero across the face, and flounced off the stage. History does not state whether the play went on.
Contrary to the belief that small men are aggressive, Claude’s explosiveness is the direct outgrowth of just the opposite characteristic. He’s abnormally shy. Which is probably the way he masks his self-consciousness as severe at times, though better disguised, than that of playwright Eugene O’Neill. The latter, they say, never went to parties because he couldn’t accept an introduction without breaking out in a bath of perspiration, and stammering so hopelessly that it was painful to watch.
Claude Rains never goes to parties either. To Hollywood, despite his three excellent, if slightly over-dramatic performances, in “Crime Without Passion,” “The Man Who Reclaimed His Head,” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” he still remains “the invisible man.”
He was born in London, November 10, 1889. This frank announcement of his age in the standard studio biography is Claude’s admission that he does not intend, like most of our male screen stars, to become permanently rooted in the thirties.
No one could call Claude Rains even ordinarily good-looking. He is, thank Providence, one more proof that the commercial value of purely physical beauty is on the wane in Hollywood these days. His face is almost as extraordinary as his behavior. The eyes are agonized; at times they have a look of madness in their fixed intensity. The mouth is slightly distorted. Black, straight hair grows in an uneven thatch which swoops down over disheveled brows. And though that famously eloquent mouth closes over a set of uneven teeth which could never be used as a toothpaste advertisement, it encloses a voice with as much power to enthrall as Clark Gable’s dimples or Gary Cooper’s gaunt and melancholy beauty.
The same standard biography goes on to mention that he was “raised and educated in the British capital, and made his first stage appearance at the Haymarket Theatre as a small child of eleven years in ‘Sweet Nell of Old Drury'” No mention of parents or schooling. No mention of athletic honors at college.
His childhood was one of poverty, privation, and fierce discipline. He drove himself then and he drives himself now. And he makes the same superhuman demands of others that he does of himself. Until the war, there was no life for Claude Rains outside his dogged ambition, and two-a-day performances in provincial stock companies first in dingy English industrial towns, later in Australia. The war called him back to England, and with his characteristic singleness of purpose, he threw himself into soldiering with such fervor and tenacity that the war office promoted him, stage by stage, from private to the rank of Captain, and decorated him with honors which, if you ask him about them, bring forth that weird whinney which passes for laughter.
Post-war days for Claude were marked by nothing but sock-and-buskin. Soon after his first appearance in America in “The Constant Nymph,” he joined the Theatre Guild and stayed with them as one of their three most brilliant performers (Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne being the other two) until that “come-hither” from Hollywood where he first appeared in “The Invisible Man.”
From that day on, he has been conscientiously cast in roles that call for at least one murder, an occasional suicide, and the right to look agonized, which he does perhaps better than any other actor on the contemporary screen.
All of which dovetails nicely with his friends’ theory that Rains is an Englishman only by accident of birth and heredity, and a Russian by temperament!
When I asked one of them how Claude spent his time when he wasn’t creating one of those Rain-ish, electro-magnetic roles, he replied: “He sits home among his pewter mugs and Jacobean four-posters, and broods.”
Several years ago, Claude bought himself an old Dutch clapboard house at the nether end of New Jersey. That house and the farm on which it stood expressed a life-long dream. In it he stored his selection of antiquarian delights that cost a fortune, (nearly his entire one) and years of rummaging in dusty back rooms of crabbed dealers and in cupboards of English yeomen. Claude Rains lived there alone during the latter half of his engagement with the Theater Guild, cheerfully commuting two hours to and from the theatre, and in his spare time pitching hay, or brooding. Then came the catastrophe.
“This is the way he broke the news to me,” his friend related, “and it’s typical of the kind of thing one comes to expect from Claude.
“At three o’clock one morning I was awakened by a long-distance call from New York. In a fog I took up the receiver. A booming voice at the other end thundered, Hello, James, this is Claude. I said, ‘Yes, Claude.’ Booming voice at the other end, Did I tell you, James, that I intended raising chickens on my farm ? Yes, Claude, this time more faintly, with a slight note of exasperation (after all, it was three A. M.). Explosion at the other end Well, I can’t! That’s too bad, Claude,’ I whispered, asleep on my feet. Second explosion. ‘Well, why don’t you ask me why?’ the voice blared irritably. ‘Why, Claude ?’ I murmured, feebly by this time the receiver had fallen out of my hand.”
” ‘Because there aren’t any roosters left, and the hens are dead, too! Well, what I mean is the farm was struck by lightning, last night when I was in town and it’s disappeared. Demolished. Gone up in smoke. All of it. Not even a tree or a candlestick left standing!”
“That’s the way Claude springs things. Unexpected, like a natural cataclysm!”
But despite his fitful, Slavic moods, the English in Claude will out when occasion demands. In a crisis, he’s as dependable as the Bank of England. I happened to witness an example of this “cricket side” to Claude’s nature.
About a week before Christmas there was still some shooting to be done on the final sequences of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” One member of the cast, Frank Sullivan, an Englishman, had been counting for weeks on eating plum-pudding in merrie old England. To reach his home on Christmas day he had to leave Hollywood by plane on a certain morning. But the day before there was still another outdoor scene to shoot, and to finish it meant working until dawn. It also meant an all-night session for Claude, the only other person in the scene. More than that, it called for a bit of difficult gymnastics from him a jump from an eight-foot elevation.
The night was desperately cold, and this outdoor scene had never been rehearsed after dark. Miscalculating the distance because of the dim lights, Claude landed with his leg twisted up under him. Aside from a snort and a groan, what seemed to be a slight difficulty in rising, and a more than usual twist to his mouth, nobody noticed anything unusual about Claude.
The leap occurred at midnight, but the camera kept on grinding for three hours after, so that Mr. Sullivan could catch his plane early next morning. He did.
Later that same morning, Claude’s doctor sent a message to the studio that Mr. Rains would be detained in bed for a week or more with a badly twisted ankle, caused, the previous night, by a fall which was giving Mr. Rains considerable pain. The doctor asked rather bluntly why Mr. Rains hadn’t been permitted to go home after the accident occurred. Whereupon the entire staff fainted dead away, after proclaiming Claude a hero and thereby adding another notch to Claude’s self-consciousness.
But Mr. Rains, being tough as a battering ram, and having the resilience of a punching bag, refused to listen to the doctor, and hobbled to the studio on crutches. Arrived, he discarded these encumbrances, finished the picture, and departed for the East. There he completed negotiations for another farmhouse, (this time of stone and in Pennsylvania), and then set sail for England where he made a picture, and motored eighty miles an hour through Buckinghamshire, Devonshire, Dorset, Essex, Wessex and Sussex, in search, no doubt, of a Cromwellian egg-cup, or an Elizabethan feather-duster to hang by the lovers’ nook at his fireside.
“Mr. Temperament” by Hilary Lynn in the magazine Screenland (Oct 1935):