Raymond Massey

Raymond Massey

Massey in a publicity photo for Adventures in Paradise, May 1961
Born Raymond Hart Massey
(1896-08-30)August 30, 1896
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died July 29, 1983(1983-07-29) (aged 86)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Pneumonia
Resting place Beaverdale Memorial Park in New Haven, Connecticut
Occupation Actor
Years active 1918–1973
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Margery Fremantle (1921–29; 1 child)
Adrianne Allen (1929–39; 2 children)
Dorothy Whitney (1939–82; her death)
Children Anna Massey
Daniel Massey
Geoffrey Massey
Relatives Vincent Massey (brother)

Raymond Hart Massey (August 30, 1896 July 29, 1983) was a Canadian/American actor, known for his commanding, stage-trained voice. For his lead role in Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), Massey was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. He was also well known for playing Dr. Gillespie in the NBC television series Dr. Kildare (1961–1966).

Early life

Massey was born in Toronto, Ontario, the son of Anna (née Vincent), who was American-born, and Chester Daniel Massey, the wealthy owner of the Massey-Harris Tractor Company and son of Hart Massey and grandson of founder Daniel Massey.[1] His branch of the Massey family emigrated to Canada from New England a few years before the War of 1812, their ancestors having migrated from England to the Massachusetts colony in the 1630s. He attended secondary school briefly at Upper Canada College, before transferring to Appleby College[2] in Oakville, Ontario, and taking several courses at University of Toronto, where he was an active member of the Kappa Alpha Society. He later graduated from Balliol College, Oxford.

At the outbreak of World War I, Massey joined the Canadian Army, serving with the artillery on the Western Front. He returned to Canada suffering shell-shock and was engaged as an Army instructor for American officers at Yale University. In 1918, he was sent to serve in Siberia, where he made his first stage appearance, entertaining American troops on occupation duty. Severely wounded in action in France, he was sent home, where he eventually worked in the family business, selling farm implements.

Acting career

Drawn to the theater, he first appeared on the London stage in 1922. His first movie role was in High Treason (1927). In 1929 he directed the London premiere of The Silver Tassie. In 1931 he played Sherlock Holmes in The Speckled Band, the first sound film version of the story. In 1934 he starred in The Scarlet Pimpernel, and in 1936 he starred in Things to Come, a film adaptation by H.G. Wells of his own speculative novel, The Shape of Things to Come (1933). In 1944 Massey played the District Attorney in Fritz Lang's classic film noir, The Woman in the Window, which starred Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett.

Despite his being Canadian, Massey became famous for playing archetypal U.S. historical figures. He portrayed the American Revolutionary War character Abraham Farlan, who hated the British for making him a casualty of that war, in the 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven in the US). He also played abolitionist/insurrectionist John Brown in two films: Santa Fe Trail (1940) and again in the low-budget film Seven Angry Men (1955 ). The character of Brown is portrayed as a wild-eyed lunatic in Santa Fe Trail whereas he is a well-intentioned but misguided character in the more sympathetic Seven Angry Men.

Massey scored a great triumph on Broadway in Robert E. Sherwood's play Abe Lincoln in Illinois despite American reservations about Lincoln being portrayed by a Canadian, and he repeated his role in the 1940 film version (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor). Massey again portrayed Lincoln in The Day Lincoln Was Shot on Ford Star Jubilee (1956), and, in a wordless appearance, in How the West Was Won (1962). A fellow actor is said to have remarked that Massey wouldn't be satisfied with his Lincoln impersonation until someone assassinated him.

On stage in a dramatic reading of Stephen Vincent Benét's John Brown's Body (1953 ), Massey, in addition to narrating along with Tyrone Power and Judith Anderson, took on both the roles of John Brown and Abe Lincoln in the same work.

Raymond Massey played a Canadian on screen only once, in 49th Parallel (1941).

Also in 1941, Massey starred in George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma, opposite Katharine Cornell, opening just one week before Pearl Harbor. During the war, he teamed up with Cornell and other leading actors in a revival of Shaw's Candida to benefit the Army Emergency Fund and the Navy Relief Society.[3]

Massey portrayed the character of Jonathan Brewster in the film version of Arsenic and Old Lace. The character had been created by Boris Karloff for the stage version and the character was written to resemble Karloff (a running gag in the play and the film). Even though the film was released in 1944, it was shot in 1941, at which time Karloff was still contracted to the Broadway play, and could not be released for the filming, unlike his costars Josephine Hull, Jean Adair and John Alexander. Massey and Karloff had appeared together in James Whale's suspense film The Old Dark House (1932).

Massey rejoined the Canadian Army for World War II, though he was eventually released from service and returned to acting work.

Following the war, Massey became an American citizen. His memorable film roles after that included the husband of Joan Crawford during her Oscar-nominated role in Possessed (1947) and the doomed publishing tycoon Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead (1949), opposite Gary Cooper. In 1955, he starred in East of Eden as Adam Trask, father of Cal, played by James Dean, and Aron, played by Richard Davalos.

Massey became well-known on television in the 1950s and 1960s. He was cast in 1960 as Sir Oliver Garnett in the episode "Trunk Full of Dreams" of the NBC western series, Riverboat. In the story line, Garnett is part of a floating theater on the river vessel, the Enterprise. Bethel Leslie is cast as Juliet, Willard Waterman as de Lesseps, and Mary Tyler Moore as Lily Belle de Lesseps.[4]

Massey is particularly remembered as Dr. Gillespie in the popular 1961-1966 NBC series Dr. Kildare, with Richard Chamberlain in the title role. Massey and his son, Daniel, were cast as father and son in The Queen's Guards (1961).

Personal life

Massey was married three times.

  1. Margery Fremantle from 1921 to 1929 (divorce); they had one child, architect Geoffrey Massey.
  2. Adrianne Allen from 1929 to 1939 (divorce); Allen was a London and Broadway stage actress. They had two children who followed him into acting: Anna Massey and Daniel Massey.
  3. Dorothy Whitney from 1939 until her death in 1982.

His high-profile estrangement and then divorce from Adrianne Allen was the inspiration for Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin's script for the film Adam's Rib (1949), starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and indeed Massey married the lawyer who represented him in court, Dorothy Whitney, while his then former wife, Allen, married the opposing lawyer, William Dwight Whitney.[5][6]

Raymond Massey's older brother was Vincent Massey, the first Canadian-born Governor General of Canada. Raymond Massey also dabbled in politics, appearing in a television advertisement in 1964 in support of the conservative Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Massey denounced U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson for a "no-win" strategy in the Vietnam War, suggesting that Goldwater would pursue an aggressive strategy and win the war quickly.[7] (Johnson, who defeated Goldwater, later did expand the war without success.)

Massey died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California on July 29, 1983, a month before he would have turned 87.[8] That was the same day as the death of David Niven, who had co-starred with him in The Prisoner of Zenda and A Matter of Life and Death. Massey is buried in New Haven, Connecticut's Beaverdale Memorial Park.


Massey has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for movies at 1719 Vine Street and one for television at 6708 Hollywood Blvd. His achievements have also been recognized in a signature cocktail, the Raymond Massey.


Year Film Role Other notes
1928 High Treason Cabinet Maker
1929 The Crooked Billet Undetermined role uncredited
1931 The Speckled Band Sherlock Holmes
1932 The Old Dark House Philip Waverton
The Face at the Window Paul le Gros
1934 The Scarlet Pimpernel Citizen Chauvelin
1936 Things to Come John Cabal/Oswald Cabal
1937 Dreaming Lips Miguel del Vayo
Under the Red Robe Cardinal Richelieu
Fire Over England Philip II of Spain
The Prisoner of Zenda Black Michael
The Hurricane Governor Eugene De Laage
1938 Black Limelight Peter Charrington
The Drum Prince Ghul
1940 Abe Lincoln in Illinois Abraham Lincoln Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Santa Fe Trail John Brown
1941 49th Parallel Andy Brock
Dangerously They Live Dr. Ingersoll
1942 Desperate Journey Major Otto Baumeister
Reap the Wild Wind King Cutler
1943 Action in the North Atlantic Capt. Steve Jarvis
1944 Arsenic and Old Lace Jonathan Brewster
The Woman in the Window Dist. Atty. Frank Lalor
1945 Hotel Berlin Arnim von Dahnwitz
God Is My Co-Pilot Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault
1946 A Matter of Life and Death Abraham Farlan
1947 Mourning Becomes Electra Brig. Gen. Ezra Mannon
Possessed Dean Graham
1949 Roseanna McCoy Old Randall McCoy
The Fountainhead Gail Wynand
1950 Barricade Boss Kruger
Chain Lightning Leland Willis
Dallas Will Marlow
1951 Sugarfoot Jacob Stint
Come Fill the Cup John Ives
David and Bathsheba Nathan
1952 Carson City A. J. "Big" Jack Davis
1953 The Desert Song Sheik Yousseff
1955 Battle Cry Maj. Gen. Snipes
Prince of Players Junius Brutus Booth
East of Eden Adam Trask
Seven Angry Men John Brown
1957 Omar Khayyam The Shah
The Naked and the Dead Gen. Cummings
1958 Now That April's Here Narrator
1961 The Fiercest Heart Willem Prinsloo
The Great Impostor Abbott Donner
The Queen's Guards Capt. Fellowes
1962 How the West Was Won Abraham Lincoln
1969 Mackenna's Gold The Preacher
1971-1972 Night Gallery Colonel Archie Dittman
Doctor Glendon
Season 1, episode 4, second segment: "Clean Kills and Other Trophies"
Season 3, episode 4: "Rare Objects"
1973 The President's Plane is Missing Secretary of State Freeman Sharkey

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1941 Philip Morris Playhouse Wuthering Heights[9]
1942 Philip Morris Playhouse The Man Who Played God [10]
1945 Inner Sanctum Mystery Death Across the Board[11]
1952 Cavalcade of America With Malice Towards None[12]
1952 The Endless Frontier Only One to a Customer[13]

See also


  1. Cawthra Square House
  2. northernstars.ca Profile of Raymond Massey
  3. Tad Mosel, "Leading Lady: The Word and Theatre of Katharine Cornell", Little, Brown & Co., 1978
  4. ""Trunk Full of Dreams", Riverboat, October 31, 1960". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
  5. Dirks, Tim. "Adam's Rib". Filmsite.org. American Movie Classics. Retrieved November 22, 2011.
  6. Eagan, Daniel (2010). America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in The National Film Registry. London: the Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0826429773.
  7. Massey's ad for Goldwater
  8. Raymond Massey dies at 86
  9. "Raymond Massey and Sylvia Sidney in 'Wuthering Heights'". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 11, 1941. p. 26. Retrieved July 21, 2015 via Newspapers.com.
  10. "The Short and Long of Radio". The Evening News. April 17, 1942. p. 16. Retrieved August 1, 2015 via Newspapers.com.
  11. "Radio's Golden Age". Nostalgia Digest. 37 (1): 40. Winter 2011.
  12. Kirby, Walter (February 10, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 38. Retrieved June 2, 2015 via Newspapers.com.
  13. Kirby, Walter (February 17, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved June 1, 2015 via Newspapers.com.
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