Top 10 Welsh actors: Ray Milland

Image of Ray Milland

Last updated: 05 March 2010

Ray Milland (Reginald Truscott Jones) (1908-86)

Ray Milland, the first Welsh actor to win the Hollywood Best Actor Oscar, has also played more lead and supporting roles in US mainstream features than any other actor.

The Neath-born former Royal Household Cavalry Guardsman made brief appearances in British films at the end of the 1920s, at the cusp of the silent and sound eras, but his appearance in Arthur Robinson's much praised The Informer (1931) was more subliminal than fleeting.

In Hollywood he became much sought after in the 1930s and 1940s, as a Paramount contract star, gaining the ultimate Academy Award accolade for a performance of almost frightening intensity as alcoholic novelist Don Birnam in Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945).

In the 1930s he was often an attractive charmer, generally in fairly lightweight films or action movies but Three Smart Girls (1936) with teen star Deanna Durbin and Milland with one or two fellow eligibles in tow, reputedly saved Universal from bankruptcy.

Milland gained more critical credibility in Mitchell Leisen's Easy Living (1937), with Jean Arthur and written by the talented Preston Sturges, and for a time the Welshman virtually had the pick of glamorous leading ladies. He also played, just once, novelist Sapper's then popular hero in Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937), and was an attractive presence in William Wellman's lively Beau Geste (1939).

In the 1940s there were good notices for Milland in Billy Wilder's The Major and The Minor, which tackled, sensitively, a potentially taboo subject - the older man falling for a 12 year old girl (played by Ginger Rogers).

He was also impressive in Fritz Lang's atmospheric British-set noir thriller Ministry of Fear (1944), John Farrow's The Big Clock (1948) and Mitchell Leisen's Arise my Love (1940), with Claudette Colbert, from a Billy Wilder script.

In the 1950s Milland retained appeal as a brisk, matter-of-fact would be wife killer in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954), made in 3D but generally shown flat.

In the 1950s he also had his own TV show in America and he later even metamorphosed intermittently into a credible director of cinema features, especially with the reactionary nuclear thriller Panic in the Year Zero (1962).

In the 1960s his increasingly weathered appearance helped Milland to achieve two memorable performances in films by US exploitation horror director Roger Corman. He was the anguished soul haunted by the prospect of a living death in the admirably tense Premature Burial (1962) and the overreaching inventor/boffin 'midst the entertaining improbabilities of The Man With X Ray Eyes (1963).

It was unfortunate that throughout his career Milland only came back to Wales to film once, for Circle of Fear (1951) an uncharacteristically drab effort from highly regarded director Jacques Tourneur with the Welshman (playing an American) hunting in the south Wales pits and valleys and in Scotland for the truth behind his brother's death.

In his last films, most of them unremarkable, Milland became increasingly stiff and patrician, though he did enjoy one more box office success as Ryan O'Neal's father in Love Story (1970).


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