Celebrity Deaths ›

The Ray Milland 25

Getty Images / John Kobal Foundation / George Hurrell

The Ray Milland 25

Ray Milland died 25 years ago on this day. Here are 25 facts about the actor best known for his role in The Lost Weekend.

1. He was born Reginald Alfred John Truscott-Jones in Neath, Wales on January 3, 1905. His stage name of “Milland” was inspired by a street in his hometown.

2. While working on a steamer ship at age 15, he got a tattoo on his upper right arm of a snake curled atop a skull. The tattoo is briefly visible in the 1938 film Her Jungle Love.

3. Ray Milland served four years in as a guardsman in the elite Royal Household Cavalry in London, where he became an accomplished horseman, boxer, fencer and expert marksman.

4. His first acting experience also came in London, where he did work on the stage. He appeared in several British films before moving to Hollywood.

5. Milland’s debut film in 1929, The Flying Scotsman, was released by Warner Brothers. Shot as a silent, a soundtrack was later added, making it one of the first sound films made in Britain. Milland wasn’t the star, but received third billing.

6. Discovered by a Hollywood talent scout, he came to the Hollywood in 1930.

7. After four years of playing small and supporting roles, in 1934 he became a contract player at Paramount Pictures. One of the Paramount producers advised him to “lose the limey accent” in order to broaden his acting range.

8. He would remain at Paramount for the next 21 years.

9. Ray Milland averaged 4-5 movies a year, still mostly playing supporting roles or secondary leads. He played mostly in light comedies, but also featured in memorable film noirs and one of the best spooky movies of the 1940s, The Uninvited. Director Martin Scorcese later cited it as one of the scariest movies of all time.

10. During production of 1939’s Hotel Imperial, Milland insisted on doing his own stunt work and was badly injured in an accident when his saddle came loose during a horse jumping scene and he fell head first into a pile of bricks. Milland was unconscious for nearly 24 hours and had to be hospitalized for two weeks.

11. Injuries sustained to his left hand during the accident were also grounds for the U.S. Army denying him enlistment when he tried to join after the outbreak of World War II.

12. For 1942’s Reap the Wind, director Cecil B. DeMille wanted Milland’s character to have curly hair, so Milland’s naturally straight hair was given the curling iron treatment. He would later blame this, somewhat improbably, for his premature baldness.

13. Ray Milland’s breakout role came in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, where he played the downward spiraling New York alcoholic writer Don Birnam.

14. Milland was initially reluctant to take the role, feeling Birnam was too unlikeable a character. Several other actors had turned it down for similar reasons, including Cary Grant. Actor Jose Ferrer had been director Billy Wilder’s first choice, but Paramount vetoed his casting.

15. The film was a huge critical success. It won the Palm d’Or at the 1945 Cannes Film Festival and would win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor.

16. Milland delivered the shortest acceptance speech in Oscar history, uttering not a word but just bowing to the audience.

17. Another of his most memorable roles came in Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, where he played Tony Wendice, an former professional tennis player who wishes to have his wealthy wife killed. It was another role that might have gone to Cary Grant – Grant had wanted the part but the studio was reluctant to let him play a villain.

18. “I keep playing neurotics because I’m a Welshman and so I’m supposed to be moody,” Milland once said when asked about his frequent casting in film noirs. “But I don't think Welshmen are any more moody than normal. It's the rest of the world that's out of step.”

19. By the 1960s his career as a big studio leading man was over, but that didn’t keep him from acting. He began appearing in low budget fare, including 1963’s X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes and 1972’s The Man With Two Heads.

20. When asked why he chose to participate in such films, he is reputed to have answered matter-of-factly, “The money, baby! The money!”

21. In addition to Hitchcock, Wilder and DeMille, Milland worked with many other great directors including Fritz Lang, Jacques Tournier, Norman Taurog, George Cukor, Roger Corman and Elia Kazan.

22. Milland had numerous TV credits as well as film roles. Notable television shows he appeared on include Father Knows Best, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Night Gallery, Battlestar Galactica, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and Charlie’s Angels.

23. Milland himself also directed no less than five feature films. His first was the 1955 Western A Man Alone. Including works produced for TV, Milland has 11 directorial credits.

24. He is also a published author, penning his autobiography, Wide-Eyed in Babylon, in 1974.

25. Ray Milland died of lung cancer on March 10, 1989, at 81 years old. He was survived by his wife and children.