Ray Milland (1905-1986)

Ray Milland
Ray Milland
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Ray Milland was a Welsh actor who was extremely well known as an romantic and comedy lead during the 1930's and 1940's. His greatest role was opposite Jane Wyman as the alcoholic writer in Billy Wilder's 'The Lost Weekend' in 1945 for which he won a Best Actor Oscar. Milland starred as Don Birnam, a failed writer and chronic alcoholic, whose weekend-long bender may be his last. He is finally forced to come to terms with his alcohol addiction.

Milland was a prolific and versatile performer who appeared in almost 200 movies during his career as well as starring in over 20 television shows including his own show during the late 1950's.

Later in his career, after a spell as a director in both TV and film, he returned to movies and became a noted character actor. He played the father of Ryan O'Neal in 'Love Story' in 1970.


He was born Alfred Reginald Jones on January 3, 1905 in Neath, Wales and until the age of five, spoke only Welsh. As a youth he excelled at sports and became an expert horseman, riding as an amateur jockey for his uncle's training stable.

After studying at King's College, Cardiff, he was accepted as a guardsman into the Royal Household Cavalry in London in 1926. During his 3 years there the athletic young man further improved his riding skills and proved to be an excellent fencer and boxer and won trophies for his shooting with the Regiment's top class rifle team.

The Young Actor 1929

He left the Guards in 1929 and began his acting career with small roles on the London stage followed by a role in the Silent movie 'The Flying Scotsman' in 1929. He became friendly with the popular silent movie actress, Estelle Brody, and he was offered a small role in her latest movie 'The Plaything'. Bigger roles soon followed for the tall handsome young man, including one of the leads in 'The Lady from the Sea' later in 1929.

He at first used the name Spike Milland, then Raymond Milland before hitting on the name he is known by today. Of the several different theories as to how the name "Ray Milland" was born, the most likely seems to be simply that he took his new surname from the Millands area of Neath.

With his confidence bolstered he set out in 1930 for Hollywood, where he was signed by MGM but was offered little work except for the role of Charles Laughton's nephew in 'Payment Deferred' in 1932. After a year, and out of contract and returned to England.

Hollywood Actor 1934

He soon returned to Hollywood and in 1934 he was signed up by Paramount with whom he stayed for most of his career. For several years he played light romantic second leads usually as the friend or rival of the leading man in such films as 'The Return of Sophie Lang' and 'Next Time We Love' in 1936, 'Easy Living' in 1937, opposite Jean Arthur in an early Preston Sturges script, 'Bulldog Drummond Escapes' the following year and 'Her Jungle Love' with Dorothy Lamour in 1938.

Hollywood Star 1939

In 1939 he began to attract more Hollywood plaudits when he co-starred with Gary Cooper in 'Beau Geste' and in 1942 he co-starred with John Wayne and Paulette Goddard in a sea-faring melodrama 'Reap the Wild Wind'. In the same year he appeared in another starring role as the major with Ginger Rogers in 'The Major and the Minor' which, significantly, was directed by Billy Wilder. Two years later Wilder would select Milland to star in his ground-breaking drama 'The Lost Weekend'.

Others films of note from this time are 'Forever and a Day' also in 1943, and 'Lady in the Dark' and the interesting film noir thriller, 'Ministry of Fear' in 1944.

The Lost Weekend

Milland was offered the starring role in 'The Lost Weekend' in 1945 on the strength of his performance in 1942 in 'The Major and the Minor' also directed by Billy Wilder. He surprised many critics by the depth and intensity of his performance as the alcoholic writer Don Birnam and he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. He also won an award at the first Cannes film Festival for his work in the film. A modest man, Milland chose to give no speech when he accepted his Oscar, but bowed gracefully before exiting the stage.

'The Long Weekend' marked the highpoint of his career and he became Paramount's highest salaried actor. He made many films after it, some of them of a good standard, but the majority mediocre. For the rest of his prolific career he would never again match the heights he achieved in 'The Long Weekend'.

In 1951, he gave a well received performance in 'Close to My Heart', with Gene Tierney and the next year he appeared, unusually, in a role without dialogue in 'The Thief', for which he received a Golden Globe Award nomination.

He starred as an icy murderer with Grace Kelly in Hitchcock's 'Dial M for Murder' in 1954 and from 1955 onward he started directing himself in a number of movies, including a good Western, 'A Man Alone' in 1955, and the grim nuclear quickie 'Panic in Year Zero!' in 1962.

Later Career

From the mid 1950's Milland began to appear regularly on the new medium of television, with appearances in series such as 'Meet Mr. McNutley', 'The Ford Television Theatre', 'Markham' and 'Columbo'. Near the end of his career, Milland appeared twice in 'Hart to Hart' as Jennifer Hart's father, with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers.

In the early 1960's he made the transition to movie character actor, rather than leading man. He portrayed a man obsessed in 'Premature Burial' in 1962 and a self-destructive surgeon 'The Man with X-Ray Eyes' the following year. He continued the horror theme in the 1970's with 'The Thing with Two Heads' in 1972, and 'The House in Nightmare Park' and 'Terror in the Wax Museum' the following year. His run of mediocre films was briefly halted when he made 'Escape to Witch Mountain' in 1975. His last film was 'The Gold Key' in 1985, after which his increasingly frail health forced him to retire.


In September 1932, Milland married Muriel Weber, and they remained together for 54 years until his death in 1986. There was more than a whiff of scandal in 1954 when he was rumoured to have had a serious affair with his co-star in 'Dial M for Murder', Grace Kelly, who was notorious for bedding her leading men. Apart from that, the Millands led a remarkably quiet life, eschewing the normal Hollywood party scene, staying home and raising son, Daniel, and adopted daughter, Victoria.

When the Second World War began, Milland was rejected when he tried to enlist in the armed forces due to an injured hand. He was an enthusiastic amateur pilot and he worked as a civilian flight instructor for the Army, as well as touring with a United Service Organisation (USO) South Pacific troupe in 1944.

In 1976 he published his autobiography, "Wide-Eyed in Babylon", a self-deprecating account of his life to date.

Milland was a heavy cigarette smoker for most of his life and he died of lung cancer in Torrance, California, on March 10, 1986, aged 81.

Ray Milland Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Actor ... The Lost Weekend (1945)
No Unsuccessful Nominations:

Ray Milland Filmography

The Flying Scotsman
The Lady from the Sea
Piccadilly (uncredited)
The Plaything
The Informer (uncredited)
Way for a Sailor
Passion Flower (uncredited)
The Bachelor Father
Strangers May Kiss (uncredited)
Just a Gigolo
Ambassador Bill
Larceny Lane
The Silent Voice
Polly of the Circus (uncredited)
-But the Flesh Is Weak (uncredited)
Payment Deferred
This Is the Life
We're Not Dressing
Orders Is Orders
Many Happy Returns
Charlie Chan in London
One Hour Late
The Gilded Lily
Four Hours to Kill!
Alias Mary Dow
The Glass Key
Next Time We Live
The Return of Sophie Lang
The Big Broadcast of 1937
Three Smart Girls
The Jungle Princess
Bulldog Drummond Escapes
Wings Over Honolulu
Easy Living
Ebb Tide
Wise Girl
Her Jungle Love
Tropic Holiday
Men with Wings
Say It in French
Hotel Imperial
Beau Geste
Everything Happens at Night
French Without Tears
The Doctor Takes a Wife
Arise, My Love
I Wanted Wings
The Lady Has Plans
Reap the Wild Wind
Are Husbands Necessary?
The Major and the Minor
Star Spangled Rhythm
Forever and a Day
The Crystal Ball
Lady in the Dark
The Uninvited (uncredited)
Till We Meet Again
Ministry of Fear
The Lost Weekend
To Each His Own
The Well-Groomed Bride
Mrs. Loring's Secret
The Trouble with Women
Golden Earrings
Variety Girl
So Evil My Love
The Big Clock
Sealed Verdict
Miss Tatlock's Millions
The Contact Man
It Happens Every Spring