A stage actor of many years' standing, James Stephenson made his British film debut in 1937. That following year, Stephenson was hired as a contract player by Warner Bros., where he spent most of his time playing suave villains or disgraced gentlemen. He was afforded better roles in films like 1938's Boy Meets Girl (as the movie bit player who "legitimizes" Marie Wilson's baby), 1939's You Can't Get Away with Murder and Elizabeth the Queen, and 1940's The Sea Hawk. His big break came when, ignoring studio resistance, director William Wyler and star Bette Davis insisted upon casting Stephenson as self-sacrificing family lawyer Howard Joyce in the 1940 adaptation of The Letter. This performance earned the actor an Academy Award nomination and, more importantly, the old "star build-up" from the Warners publicity flacks (who proceeded to slice 15 years off Stephenson's age in his "official" studio biography). James Stephenson went on to play the title role in Calling Philo Vance (1940) and above-the-title parts in a handful of programmers until his fatal heart attack at the age of 53.