RAY MILLAND was a Welsh-born actor and film director, who went from a jobbing actor in Britain and the United States to become a leading man in Hollywood during the 1930s. He was one of Paramount’s most bankable and durable stars during a screen career which ran from 1929 to 1985 and is one of only two Welshmen (the other being Sir Anthony Hopkins) to win an Oscar for Best Actor.
Milland was born Alfred Reginald Jones in Neath on January 3, 1907, the son of a steel mill superintendent. He was schooled independently before attending the private King’s College School in Cardiff.
He is perhaps best remembered for his Academy Award-winning portrayal of an alcoholic writer in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945) and also for such roles as a sophisticated leading man opposite John Wayne’s corrupt character in Reap the Wild Wind (1942), the murder-plotting husband in Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) and Oliver Barrett III in Love Story (1970).
Before becoming an actor, Milland served in the Household Cavalry of the British Army, becoming a proficient marksman, horseman, and aeroplane pilot. He left the army to pursue a career in acting and appeared as an extra in several British productions before getting his first major role in The Flying Scotsman (1929).
This led to a nine-month contract with MGM, and he moved to the United States, where he worked as a stock actor. After being released by MGM, Milland was picked up by Paramount, which used him in a range of lesser speaking parts, usually as an English character.
He was lent to Universal for the Deanna Durbin musical Three Smart Girls (1936) and its success had Milland given a lead role in The Jungle Princess (also 1936) alongside new starlet Dorothy Lamour. The film was a big success and catapulted both to stardom. Milland remained with Paramount for almost 20 years.
Milland appeared in many other notable films, including Beau Geste (1939), Billy Wilder’s The Major and the Minor (1942), The Uninvited (1944), Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear (1944), The Big Clock (1948) and The Thief (1952), for the last of which he was nominated for his second Golden Globe, and The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963).
After leaving Paramount, he began directing and moved into television acting. Once Paramount Pictures’ highest-paid actor, Milland co-starred alongside many of the most popular actresses of the time, including Gene Tierney, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers, Jane Wyman, Loretta Young, and Veronica Lake.
Milland’s Oscar-winning success in The Lost Weekend resulted in his contract being rewritten, and he became Paramount’s highest-salaried actor. When the film was premiered across Europe, Milland was sent to attend each opening. When he appeared in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, he was given the key to the city.
Milland was the subject of several Hollywood gossip columns for a period in the 1950s over an alleged affair with Grace Kelly, who he starred alongside in the 1954 movie Dial M for Murder.
Milland, who became a naturalised American citizen in the 1940s, died in Torrance, California, aged 79, on March 19, 1986.
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