William Claude Rains (10 November 1889 – 30 May 1967) was an English actor of stage and screen whose career spanned 46 years. After his American film debut with The Invisible Man (1933) he played in classic films like The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Wolf Man (1941), Casablanca (1942; as Captain Renault), Notorious (1946), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He had been a four-time nominee for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, but never won. Rains was considered to be "one of the screen's great character stars"[2] with an extraordinary voice who was, according to the All-Movie Guide, "at his best when playing cultured villains".[3]

Early life

Rains began life in Camberwell, London. According to his daughter, he grew up with "a quite serious Cockney accent and a speech impediment". His parents were Emily Eliza (née Cox) and the actor Frederick William Rains.[4] Rains made his stage debut at the age of 11 in the play Nell of Old Drury.[5]

His acting talents were recognised by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Tree paid for the elocution lessons that Rains needed to succeed as an actor. Later, Rains taught at RADA, where his students included John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier. Many years later, after Rains had gone to Hollywood and become a well-known film actor, Gielgud commented: "He was a great influence on me. I don't know what happened to him. I think he failed and went to America."[6]

Rains served in the First World War in the London Scottish Regiment, alongside fellow actors Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman and Herbert Marshall. At one time, he had been involved in a gas attack that left him nearly blind in one eye for the rest of his life.[7] By the end of the war, he had risen from the rank of Private to that of Captain.


Rains began his career in London theatre, achieving success in the title role of John Drinkwater's play Ulysses S. Grant, the follow-up to the same playwright's Abraham Lincoln. He moved to Broadway in the late 1920s to act in leading roles in such plays as Bernard Shaw's The Apple Cart and the dramatisations of The Constant Nymph and Pearl S. Buck's novel The Good Earth (as a Chinese farmer).

Although he had played a single supporting role in a silent, Build Thy House (1920),[2] Rains came relatively late to film acting, His screen test for A Bill of Divorcement (1932) for a New York representative of RKO was a failure but, according to a few accounts, led to him being cast in the title role of James Whale's The Invisible Man (1933) after his screen test was inadvertently overheard from the next room.[8] His agent though, Harold Freedman, had a strong connexion with the Laemmle family, who controlled Universal Studios at the time, and Whale himself had been acquainted with Rains in London and was keen to cast him in the role.[9][10]

Rains signed a long term contract with Warner Bros. on 27 November 1935 with Warner able to exercise the right to loan him to additional studios and Rains having a potential income of up to $750,000 over 7 years.[11] He played the villainous role of Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Rains later credited the film's co-director Michael Curtiz with teaching him the more understated requirements of film acting, or "what not to do in front of a camera." On loan to Columbia Pictures, he performed the role of the corrupt American senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) for which he received his first Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. For his home studio, Warner Bros, he played the murderer Dr. Alexander Tower in Kings Row (1942) and the cynical police chief Captain Renault in Casablanca (also 1942). On loan again, Rains played the title character in Universal's remake of Phantom of the Opera (1943).

Bette Davis named him her favourite co-star, and they made four films together, including Now, Voyager (1942) and Mr. Skeffington (1944). Rains became the first actor to receive a million-dollar salary, when he portrayed Julius Caesar in a large budget but unsuccessful version of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), filmed in Britain. Shaw apparently chose him for the part, although Rains intensely disliked Gabriel Pascal, the film's director and producer. He followed it with Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) as a refugee Nazi agent opposite Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Back in Britain, he appeared in David Lean's The Passionate Friends (1949).

His only singing and dancing role was in a 1957 television musical version of Robert Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamelin, with Van Johnson as the Piper. The NBC colour special, broadcast as a film rather than a live or videotaped programme, was highly successful with the public. Sold into syndication after its first telecast, it was repeated annually by a large number of local US TV stations.

Rains remained a popular character actor in the 1950s and 1960s, appearing in a large number of films. Two of his well-known later screen roles were as Dryden, a cynical British diplomat in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and King Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), his last film.

In 1963 he portrayed Alexander Langford, an attorney in a ghost town, in the episode "Incident of Judgement Day" on CBS's Rawhide.

He additionally made several audio recordings, narrating a few Bible storeys for children on Capitol Records, and reciting Richard Strauss's setting for narrator and piano of Tennyson's poem Enoch Arden, with the piano solos performed by Glenn Gould. He starred in The Jeffersonian Heritage, a 1952 series of 13 half-hour radio programmes recorded by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters and syndicated for commercial broadcast on a sustaining (i.e., commercial-free) basis.

Personal life

Rains became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1939. He married six times, and was divorced from the first five of his wives: Isabel Jeans (married 1913–1915); Marie Hemingway (to whom Rains was married for less than a year in 1920); Beatrix Thomson (1924–8 April 1935); Frances Propper (9 April 1935 – 1956); and the classical pianist Agi Jambor (4 November 1959 – 1960). In 1960, he married Rosemary Clark Schrode, to whom he had been married until her death on 31 December 1964. His only child, Jessica Rains, was born to him and Propper on 24 January 1938.

He acquired the 380-acre (1.5 km2) Stock Grange Farm in West Bradford Township, Pennsylvania (just outside Coatesville) in 1941, and spent much of his time between film takes reading up on agricultural techniques. He sold the farm when his marriage to Propper ended in 1956. Rains spent his final years in Sandwich, New Hampshire.[12] He passed away from an abdominal haemorrhage in Laconia on 30 May 1967, aged 77. He had been buried at the Red Hill Cemetery in Moultonborough, New Hampshire.

Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice, a biography by David J. Skal and Rains' daughter Jessica, was published in 2008.

Awards and nominations

In 1951, Rains won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for Darkness at Noon. He had been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor on four occasions: for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Casablanca (1942), Mr. Skeffington (1944) and Notorious (1946). Rains has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6400 Hollywood Boulevard.


YearTitleRoleDirectorOther cast membersNotes
1920Build Thy HouseClarkisGoodwins, FredFred GoodwinsHenry Ainley
1933The Invisible ManDr. Jack Griffin/The Invisible ManWhale, JamesJames WhaleGloria Stuart, Henry Travers, Una O'Connor
1934The ClairvoyantMaximusElvey, MauriceMaurice ElveyFay Wray
1934Crime Without PassionLee GentryHecht, BenBen Hecht, Charles MacArthurMargo, Whitney Bourne
1934The Man Who Reclaimed His HeadPaul VerinLudwig, EdwardEdward LudwigLionel Atwill, Joan Bennett
1935The Last OutpostJohn StevensonGasnier, LouisLouis Gasnier, Charles BartonCary Grant
1935The Mystery of Edwin DroodJohn JasperWalker, StuartStuart WalkerDouglass Montgomery, Heather Angel, David Manners
1936Hearts DividedNapoleon BonaparteBorzage, FrankFrank BorzageMarion Davies, Dick Powell, Charlie Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton
1936Anthony AdverseMarquis Don LuisLeRoy, MervynMervyn LeRoyFredric March, Olivia de Havilland, Gale Sondergaard
1937Stolen HolidayStefan OrloffCurtiz, MichaelMichael CurtizKay Francis, Ian Hunter
1937The Prince and the PauperEarl of HertfordKeighley, WilliamWilliam KeighleyErrol Flynn, Billy and Bobby Mauch
1937They Won't ForgetDist. Atty. Andrew J. "Andy" GriffinLeRoy, MervynMervyn LeRoyGloria Dickson, Lana Turner
1938White BannersPaul WardGoulding, EdmundEdmund GouldingFay Bainter, Jackie Cooper, Bonita Granville, Henry O'Neill, Kay Johnson
1938Gold is Where You Find ItColonel Christopher "Chris" FerrisCurtiz, MichaelMichael CurtizGeorge Brent, Olivia de Havilland, Tim HoltTechnicolor
1938The Adventures of Robin HoodPrince JohnCurtiz, MichaelMichael Curtiz, William KeighleyErrol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil RathboneTechnicolor
1938Four DaughtersAdam LempCurtiz, MichaelMichael CurtizRosemary, Lola, and Priscilla Lane, Gale Page, John Garfield
1939They Made Me a CriminalDet. Monty PhelanBerkeley, BusbyBusby BerkeleyJohn Garfield, Gloria Dickson, May Robson
1939JuarezEmperor Louis Napoleon IIIDieterle, WilliamWilliam DieterlePaul Muni, Bette Davis, Brian Aherne, John Garfield
1939Sons of LibertyHaym SalomonCurtiz, MichaelMichael CurtizGale SondergaardTechnicolor; two-reel short
1939Daughters CourageousJim MastersCurtiz, MichaelMichael CurtizRosemary, Lola, and Priscilla Lane, Gale Page, John Garfield
1939Mr. Smith Goes to WashingtonSen. Joseph Harrison PaineCapra, FrankFrank CapraJean Arthur, James Stewart, Thomas MitchellNomination—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1939Four WivesAdam LempCurtiz, MichaelMichael CurtizEddie Albert, Rosemary, Lola, and Priscilla Lane, Gale Page, John Garfield
1940Saturday's ChildrenMr. Henry HalevySherman, VincentVincent ShermanJohn Garfield, Anne Shirley
1940The Sea HawkDon José Alvarez de CórdobaCurtiz, MichaelMichael CurtizErrol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Henry Daniell, Flora Robson, Alan HaleSepia tone (sequence)
1940Lady with Red HairDavid BelascoBernhardt, CurtisCurtis BernhardtMiriam Hopkins, Laura Hope Crews
1941Four MothersAdam LempKeighley, WilliamWilliam KeighleyRosemary, Lola, and Priscilla Lane, Gale Page
1941Here Comes Mr. JordanMr. JordanHall, AlexanderAlexander HallRobert Montgomery, Evelyn Keyes, Edward Everett Horton
1941The Wolf ManSir John TalbotWaggner, GeorgeGeorge WaggnerLon Chaney, Jr., Evelyn Ankers, Patric Knowles, Ralph Bellamy, Warren William, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya
1942Kings RowDr. Alexander TowerWood, SamSam WoodAnn Sheridan, Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Betty Field, Charles Coburn
1942MoontideNutsyMayo, ArchieArchie MayoJean Gabin, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell
1942Now, VoyagerDr. JaquithRapper, IrvingIrving RapperBette Davis, Paul Henreid, Gladys Cooper
1942CasablancaCapt. Louis RenaultCurtiz, MichaelMichael CurtizHumphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Dooley WilsonNomination—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1943Forever and a DayAmbrose PomfretWilcox, HerbertHerbert Wilcox
(sequence with Rains)
Anna Neagle, Ray Milland, C. Aubrey Smith
1943Phantom of the OperaErique Claudin/The Phantom of the OperaLubin, ArthurArthur LubinNelson Eddy, Susanna FosterTechnicolor
1944Passage to MarseilleCaptain FreycinetCurtiz, MichaelMichael CurtizHumphrey Bogart, Michèle Morgan, Philip Dorn, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Helmut Dantine
1944Mr. SkeffingtonJob SkeffingtonSherman, VincentVincent ShermanBette Davis, Walter Abel, George Coulouris, Richard WaringNomination—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1945Strange HolidayJohn StevensonDuvivier, JulienJulien DuvivierJean Gabin, Richard Whorf, Allyn Joslyn, Ellen Drew
1945This Love of OursJoseph TargelDieterle, WilliamWilliam DieterleMerle Oberon
1945Caesar and CleopatraJulius CaesarPascal, GabrielGabriel PascalVivien Leigh, Stewart Granger, Flora RobsonTechnicolor
1946NotoriousAlex SebastianHitchcock, AlfredAlfred HitchcockCary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Louis CalhernNomination—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1946Angel on My ShoulderNickMayo, ArchieArchie MayoPaul Muni, Anne Baxter
1946DeceptionAlexander HolleniusRapper, IrvingIrving RapperBette Davis, Paul Henreid
1947The UnsuspectedVictor GrandisonCurtiz, MichaelMichael CurtizJoan Caulfield, Audrey Totter, Constance Bennett, Hurd Hatfield
1949The Passionate FriendsHoward JustinLean, DavidDavid LeanAnn Todd, Trevor Howard
1949Rope of SandArthur "Fred" MartingaleDieterle, WilliamWilliam DieterleBurt Lancaster, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre
1949Song of SurrenderElisha HuntLeisen, MitchellMitchell LeisenWanda Hendrix, Macdonald Carey
1950The White TowerPaul DeLambreTetzlaff, TedTed TetzlaffGlenn Ford, Alida Valli, Oskar Homolka, Cedric Hardwicke, Lloyd BridgesTechnicolor
1950Where Danger LivesFrederick LanningtonFarrow, JohnJohn FarrowRobert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, Maureen O'Sullivan
1951Sealed CargoCaptain SkalderWerker, Alfred L.Alfred L. WerkerDana Andrews, Lloyd Bridges
1953The Man Who Watched the Trains Go ByKees PopingaFrench, HaroldHarold FrenchMärta Torén, Marius GoringTechnicolor
1956LisbonAristides MavrosMilland, RayRay MillandRay Milland, Maureen O'HaraTrucolor
1957The Pied Piper of HamelinThe Mayor of HamelinWindust, BretaigneBretaigne WindustVan Johnson, Lori NelsonTechnicolor
1959This Earth Is MinePhilippe RambeauKing, HenryHenry KingRock Hudson, Jean Simmons, Dorothy McGuireTechnicolor
1960The Lost WorldProfessor George Edward ChallengerAllen, IrwinIrwin AllenMichael Rennie, Jill St. John, David Hedison, Fernando Lamas, Richard HaydnDeluxe color
1961Battle of the WorldsProfessor BensonMargheriti, AntonioAntonio MargheritiBill CarterColour
1962Lawrence of ArabiaMr. DrydenLean, DavidDavid LeanPeter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy, José FerrerTechnicolor
Super Panavision 70
1963Twilight of HonorArt HarperSagal, BorisBoris SagalRichard Chamberlain, Nick Adams, Joey Heatherton, Linda Evans
1965The Greatest Story Ever ToldHerod the GreatStevens, GeorgeGeorge StevensMax von Sydow, plus a large number of cameosTechnicolor
Ultra Panavision 70

Radio appearances

1952Cavalcade of AmericaThree Words[13]