Charles Ray

Active - 1915 - 1990  |   Born - Mar 15, 1891   |   Died - Nov 23, 1943   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Romance, Comedy Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The son of a railroad man, American actor Charles Ray settled with his family in Los Angeles in the early 1900s. While attending Los Angeles Business College, Ray became stagestruck, and began appearing in local productions for an average of $1 per performance. He went on to stock productions, where he first discovered how much he enjoyed the star spotlight. At the age of 20, Ray walked into the Santa Monica film studios of Thomas Ince, offering his services in any capacity; he worked as assistant director, technician, and extra before given his chance to play the juvenile lead in The Favorite Son (1913). Ray's big break came as the teenaged hero of The Coward (1915), a Civil War drama; he remained one of Ince's major players until he struck out on his own in 1919.

Specializing in bucolic country-boy roles, Ray made up to nine features per year, earning $35,000 per picture. Ray's popularity was greatest in rural areas, where fans demanded to see their favorite in virtually the same role from one picture to the next. Usually, Ray played the naive hick who is taken advantage of by city slickers, and who pines for the leading lady but dares not speak up for her. He varied this characterization in such films as The Busher (1917), wherein he'd play a small-time hero whose outsized ego would alienate all those around him. The latter characterization was closer to the real Charles Ray, who was known to be quite arrogant and demanding on the set. He became his own producer in 1920, setting up a small studio which would later be the headquarters of Monogram Pictures -- and still later, served as the site of Los Angeles' public TV station. Anxious to break loose from his confining screen image, Ray poured all his resources into a costume epic, The Courtship of Miles Standish (1923). The film was a disaster, bankrupting Ray and destroying him as an independent producer. He continued starring in films for various studios, vainly hoping to recapture his public; in 1928 he attempted a complete character switch as the ultra-sophisticated "roue" hero of The Garden of Eden. But Ray's time had passed, and he'd made too many enemies in Hollywood to be given a break when talkies came in. He appeared briefly in vaudeville, then returned to movies as an extra and bit player. Occasionally he'd have the lead in a poverty-row production like Just My Luck (1936), but otherwise Charles Ray was forgotten. Reports differ as to how he reacted to this reversal of fortune: certain contemporaries insist that he hounded casting offices for character parts (he did manage a good role in A Yank in the RAF [1942]), while writer/director Garson Kanin claims that Ray told him he was content to be an extra and wouldn't take a comeback role if it was offered him. In 1942, Charles Ray died of a tooth infection at the age of 52.

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