Confession: My 80's love affair with the horror rack at the local indy video store caused me to come to think of Ray Milland as the star of flicks like Frogs (1972) and The Thing With Two Heads (1972). I just thought of Milland as the cranky old guy in B-horror films back then. So I'm actually pretty happy that TCM decided to stick with movies from Milland's peak plus a few from his formative years in their April Star of the Month tribute to the Oscar winning star of The Lost Weekend (1945), though I have to say, I wouldn't mind seeing X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes again!
It was obvious, they said, that I couldn't be billed as Reginald Truscott-Jones, because people would laugh. Did I have any suggestions? When I said no, I hadn't thought about it, they started with a list that went back to William the Conqueror. One son-of-a-bitch even suggested Percival Lacey--it was so odd people might believe it. He damn near lost his teeth with that one. I was tired, and the bloom was going, and I wanted to be back with Luisa, I wanted to catch shrimp with my hands again, I wanted to swim in the warm-watered pools of the mill lands, I wanted--! That was it! That was the name I wanted! Mill Land! I wanted always to remember those simple days, the ones that were clean and chaste, because I had a feeling I would never see them again. I explained it, and I was adamant. The bastard who'd suggested Percival Lacey said you couldn't have a name with three Ls in it. I said, "Well, for Christ's sake, take one out!" - Page 85, Wide-Eyed in Babylon by Ray Milland.
Ray Milland's early acting career was filled with many stops and starts and Milland even found himself forced to take on work as the assistant manager at a Shell Service Station to make ends meet at a time following some of those first few films for MGM! He broke into movies in England based on his looks with no previous training but would eventually latch on with Paramount where he stayed for what he says was 21 years. Besides The Lost Weekend other Milland favorites being played by Turner Classic Movies this month include The Major and the Minor (1942) with Ginger Rogers, Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1952), the French Foreign Legion film Beau Geste, and 1944's spooky ghost story The Uninvited. The complete TCM schedule of Milland films airing in April is listed below.
As the dates above go to show it took some time for Milland to find his greatest success, but this speaks volumes for his tenacity given just how green Milland admits he was as a 24 year old kid at the time of his 1929 screen debut. For Milland film work was just a job at first, something he'd try out and move on to something new if it didn't work out. It's a good thing he ran into a Paramount casting director at a nearby coffee shop to land a supporting part in Bolero (1934), or who knows what might have become of him and his then stalled film career. As the 1930's rolled on he'd become more serious about his work, a state of mind he didn't really pick up on himself until he realized he upped his own movie-going from once or twice a month to a couple of times a week.
Of those experiences Milland mentions many of his film favorites by name when he writes that "most of my enjoyment came from watching the actors in the supporting casts, the true professionals, who provided the salt and pepper, the seasoning, the jewellike bits worth remembering. People like Frank McHugh, Berton Churchill, Donald Meek, Taylor Holmes. And on the distaff side, Patsy Kelly, May Robson, Una O'Connor, Louise Beavers. And from Europe, Etienne Girardot, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Fritz Feld, hell, there's a list as long as my arm, and they had all been pros from the time they could walk" (203).
Milland's career would peak with The Lost Weekend, though it's a better peak than many other Award winning actors would enjoy as Milland's Don Birnham is still well-recalled today. In the 1950's Milland joined the long list of aging film stars with their own television show as he starred for two seasons in Meet Mr. McNulty, retitled The Ray Milland Show in season 2--I'd love to catch a few episodes of this seemingly forgotten sitcom!
As Milland aged he lost his hair and expanded his waistline, but the work was still there for a former Oscar-winner, quality be damned in many cases. In Wide-Eyed in Babylon Milland largely concentrates on his early years but he makes mention of eventually succeeding at his goal: directing motion pictures. Milland writes modestly, "...through devious finagling and by assuming horrifying financial liabilities I've succeeded in directing six pictures--none of them outstanding, but none of them lost money either" (241). Some of them were pretty good too!
The 68-year old Milland of Wide-Eyed in Babylon is by this time living in France and freely admits to choosing most of his parts based on the travel at this late date. Newspaper reports from a time shortly after Wide-Eyed in Babylon's publication state that Milland not only received a $100,000 advance for writing it, but that the book was a bestselling success that was paying out strong royalties.
Married to the same woman, Muriel Weber, for over 53 years, Milland frankly mentions separating a few times and even suggests he may have had a few Hollywood affairs to cause at least one such break-up, but the at times overly-macho Milland makes no bones about adoring his wife, whom he called Mal, from the moment that they met. The Millands had two children. Ray Milland was 81 when lung cancer took his life in 1986.
TCM Star of the Month Ray Milland Schedule
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
- 8:00 pm - The Major and the Minor (1942) starring Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson
- 10:00 pm - The Crystal Ball (1943) starring Paulette Goddard, Ray Milland, Virginia Field
- 11:30 pm - A Woman of Distinction (1950) starring Rosalind Russell, Ray Milland, Edmund Gwenn
- 1:00 am - The Doctor Takes a Wife (1940) starring Ray Milland, Loretta Young, Reginald Gardiner
- 2:45 am - Irene (1940) starring Anna Neagle, Ray Milland, Roland Young
- 4:30 am - The Bachelor Father (1931) starring Marion Davies, Ralph Forbes, C. Aubrey Smith
- 6:15 am - Polly of the Circus (1932) starring Clark Gable, Marion Davies, Raymond Hatton
Tuesday, April 12
- 8:00 pm - So Evil My Love (1948) starring Ray Milland, Ann Todd, Geraldine Fitzgerald
- 10:00 pm - Dial M for Murder (1954) starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings
- 12:00 am - The Safecracker (1958) starring Ray Milland, Barry Jones, Jeannette Sterke
- 2:00 am - Ministry of Fear (1944) starring Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, Carl Esmond
- 3:30 am - Hostile Witness (1968) starring Ray Milland, Sylvia Syms, Felix Aylmer
- 5:15 am - Payment Deferred (1932) starring Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan, Dorothy Peterson
- 6:45 am - Blonde Crazy (1931) starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Louis Calhern
Tuesday, April 19
- 8:00 pm - Kitty (1945) starring Paulette Goddard, Ray Milland, Patric Knowles
- 10:00 pm - Reap the Wild Wind (1942) starring Ray Milland, John Wayne, Paulette Goddard
- 12:15 am - Beau Geste (1939) starring Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston
- 2:15 am - Everything Happens at Night (1939) starring Sonja Henie, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings
- 3:45 am - The Uninvited (1944) starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp
- 6:00 am - Wise Girl (1937) starring Miriam Hopkins, Ray Milland, Walter Abel
Tuesday, April 26
- 8:00 pm - The Lost Weekend (1945) starring Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry
- 10:00 pm - Close to My Heart (1951) starring Ray Milland, Gene Tierney, Fay Bainter
- 11:45 pm - High Flight (1957) starring Ray Milland, Bernard Lee, Kenneth Haigh
- 1:15 am - Night Into Morning (1951) starring Ray Milland, John Hodiak, Nancy Davis
- 2:45 am - A Life of Her Own (1950) starring Lana Turner, Ray Milland, Tom Ewell
- 4:45 am - The Man Who Played God (1932) starring George Arliss, Bette Davis, Violet Heming
- 6:15 am - Strangers May Kiss (1931) starring Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery, Neil Hamilton
- 7:45 am - Just a Gigolo (1931) starring William Haines, Irene Purcell, C. Aubrey Smith
Shop Ray Milland Vintage Cards & Collectibles
Christy, Marian. Ray Milland--Beyond Lost Weekend. The San Mateo Times. 11 Nov 1974: 10.
Milland, Ray. Wide-Eyed in Babylon. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1974.