He was born James Neville Mason in May, 1909. He was an intelligent young man and after attending one of England's top public schools, Marlborough, he went to Cambridge University where he achieved a First Class Honours Degree in Architecture.
He found himself drawn more to the stage than his academic subject, and after a period in local repertory he joined London's Old Vic Theater. Subtle and persuasive with good looks and a distinctive voice, he was a versatile performer and he quickly became an established stage actor. He began to be given small roles in many British movies from the mid-1930's onward, and gradually the roles got bigger until by the early 1940's he was one of the most prominent actors in British cinema, starring with Deborah Kerr and Robert Newton in 1942's Hatter's Castle.
He was an interesting, anguished contemporary anti-hero in 'The Night Has Eyes' in 1942 and 'Thunder Rock' in 1943. but he gained popularity as a brooding sexy semi-villain in Gainsborough Pictures' bodice-rippers such as 'The Man in Grey' in 1943 and 'The Wicked Lady' in 1945. Mason career as an international star began when he starred in the classic 'The Seventh Veil' which was acclaimed by the critics and was the biggest British box-office success of 1946.
Mason was a conscientious objector in World War II, a stance that created a lasting rift with his family. His general popularity with the public endured, however, and after the war, he began to take varied leads in a succession of challenging movies; the fleeing IRA man in 'Odd Man Out' in 1947, the blackmailer in 'The Reckless Moment' in 1949, the Flying Dutchman in 'Pandora and the Flying Dutchman' in 1951 and Field Marshal Erwin Johannes Rommel in 'The Desert Fox;The Story of Rommel' in 1951. This was not the only time Mason played Rommel. The second time was two years later in Robert Wise's 'The Desert Rats' in 1953 which featured fellow British actor Richard Burton as Rommel's English enemy commander.
Mason made his first Hollywood movie 'Caught' in 1949 and starred in many more, including the actor in decline in 'A Star Is Born' in 1954, and Captain Nemo in '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' in the same year and 'Journey to the Center of the Earth'in 1959. He also appeared in an unusually large number of undistinguished movies as he did not like to refuse work. As an older actor, Mason was sleek as the bisexual villain in 'North By Northwest' in 1959, and perfect as a vevet-voiced Professor Humbert Humbert in 'Lolita' in 1962.
He then turned to domestic tyrants, as in 'Spring and Port Wine' in 1970, and sad, corrupt authority figures such as the film director in 'The Last of Sheila' in 1973. He is stalwart, loyal, dim, and sweet-natured as one of the screen's best Dr. Watsons in 'Murder by Decree' in 1979.
Mason married twice, firstly from 1941 to 1964 to actress Pamela Ostrer with whom he had one son and one daughter, and then from 1971 to his death, to Australian actress Clarissa Kaye.
James Mason died from a heart attack on July 27, 1984 at his home in Lausanne, Switzerland.
James Mason Academy AwardsNo Wins:
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actor ... A Star Is Born (1954)
Best Supporting Actor ... Georgy Girl (1966)
Best Supporting Actor ... The Verdict (1982)