The son of British stage actor Frederick Rains, Claude Rains gave his first theatrical performance at age 11 in Nell of Old Drury. He learned the technical end of the business by working his way up from being a two-dollars-a-week page boy to stage manager. After making his first U.S. appearance in 1913, Rains returned to England, served in the Scottish regiment during WWI, then established himself as a leading actor in the postwar years. He was also featured in one obscure British silent film, Build Thy House. During the 1920s, Rains was a member of the teaching staff at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art; among his pupils were a young sprout named Laurence Olivier and a lovely lass named Isabel Jeans, who became the first of Rains' six wives. While performing with the Theatre Guild in New York in 1932, Rains filmed a screen test for Universal Pictures. On the basis of his voice alone, the actor was engaged by Universal director James Whale to make his talking-picture debut in the title role of The Invisible Man (1933). During his subsequent years at Warner Bros., the mellifluous-voiced Rains became one of the studio's busiest and most versatile character players, at his best when playing cultured villains. Though surprisingly never a recipient of an Academy award, Rains was Oscar-nominated for his performances as the "bought" Senator Paine in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), the title character in Mr. Skeffington (1944), the Nazi husband of Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946), and, best of all, the cheerfully corrupt Inspector Renault in Casablanca (1942). In 1946, Rains became one of the first film actors to demand and receive one million dollars for a single picture; the role was Julius Caesar, and the picture Caesar and Cleopatra. He made a triumphant return to Broadway in 1951's Darkness at Noon. In his last two decades, Claude Rains made occasional forays into television (notably on Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and continued to play choice character roles in big-budget films like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Began acting at the age of 11, when he appeared in a London theater production of Nell of Old Drury.
- Served in the London Scottish Regiment during World War I.
- After the war, taught at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for several years.
- Distinctive voice led to his casting in the title role of his first film, a 1933 adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man.
- Final film role was King Herod in the 1965 Biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told.