Ray Milland (3 January 1907 – 10 March 1986) was a Welsh actor and director. His screen career ran from 1929 to 1985, and he is best remembered for his Academy Award–winning portrayal of an alcoholic writer in The Lost Weekend (1945), a sophisticated leading man opposite a corrupt John Wayne in Reap the Wild Wind (1942), the murder-plotting husband in Dial M for Murder (1954), and as Oliver Barrett III in Love Story (1970).
Milland was born Alfred Reginald Jones (not Reginald Alfred John Truscott-Jones as has often been stated). His birth was registered in the March Quarter of 1907 in Neath, Wales, and he was the son of Elizabeth Annie (née Truscott) and Alfred Jones, though some sources still state 1905 as his birth year. In the 1911 census the family were living at 66 Coronation Road, Mount Pleasant, Tonna, Neath, Wales. Of his parents, Milland wrote in his 1974 autobiography Wide-Eyed in Babylon, "My father was not a cruel or harsh man. Just a very quiet one. I think he was an incurable romantic and consequently a little afraid of his emotions and perhaps ashamed of them... he had been a young hussar in the Boer War and had been present at the relief of Mafeking. He never held long conversations with anyone, except perhaps with me, possibly because I was the only other male in our family. The household consisted of my mother, a rather flighty and coquettish woman much concerned with propriety and what the neighbours thought."
Before becoming an actor, Milland served in the Household Cavalry. An expert shot, he became a member of his company's rifle team, winning many prestigious competitions, including the Bisley Match in England. While stationed in London, Milland met dancer Margot St. Leger, and through her was introduced to American actress Estelle Brody. Brody queried Milland's commitment to an army career, which led to Milland buying himself out of the forces in 1928 in the hope of becoming an actor.
His first appearance on film was as an uncredited extra on the Arnold Bennett film Piccadilly (1929). After some unproductive extrawork, which never reached the screen, he took on the agent Frank Zeitlin on the recommendation of fellow fledgling actor Jack Raine. It was his reputed prowess as a marksman that earned him work as an extra at the British International Pictures studio onArthur Robison's 1929 production of The Informer. While he was working on The Informer he was asked to test for a production being shot on a neighbouring stage. Milland made a good impression on director Castleton Knight and was hired for his first acting role as Jim Edwards, in The Flying Scotsman. Milland, in his autobiography, recalls that it was on this film that it was suggested he adopt a stage name; and chose Milland from the Mill lands area of his Welsh home town of Neath.
His work on The Flying Scotsman had impressed enough for him to be given a six-month contract, in which Milland starred in two more Knight directed films, The Lady from the Sea and The Plaything. Believing that his acting was poor, and that he had won his film roles through his looks alone, Milland decided to gain some stage work to improve his art. After hearing that club owner Bobby Page was financing a touring company, Milland approached him in hope of work. He was given the role of second lead, in a production ofSam Shipman and Max Marcin's The Woman in Room 13. Despite being released from the play after five weeks, Milland felt that he had gained valuable acting experience.
Move to America
In between stage work, Milland was approached by MGM vice-president Robert Rubin, who had seen the film The Flying Scotsman. MGM offered Milland a nine-month contract, based in Hollywood. MGM started Milland out in films such as Payment Deferred (1932) starring Charles Laughton.
Milland had a near-fatal accident on the set of Hotel Imperial (1939). One scene called for him to lead a cavalry charge through a small village. An accomplished horseman, Milland insisted upon doing this scene himself. As he was making a scripted jump on the horse, his saddle came loose, sending him flying straight into a pile of broken masonry. Laid up in the hospital for weeks with multiple fractures and lacerations, he was lucky to be alive. Milland appeared in the film "Irene" in 1940 opposite Anna Neagle.
When the Second World War began, Milland tried to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Forces, but was rejected because of an impaired left hand. He worked as a civilian flight instructor for the Army, and toured with a United Service Organisation (USO) South Pacific troupe in 1944. He married Muriel Weber on 30 September 1932, and they remained together until his death. The couple had a son, Daniel, and a daughter, Victoria (adopted).
When working on I Wanted Wings (1941), with Brian Donlevy and William Holden, he went up with a pilot to test a plane for filming. While up in the air, Ray decided to do a parachute jump (being an avid amateur parachutist) but, just before he could disembark, the plane began to sputter, and the pilot told Milland not to jump as they were running low on gas and needed to land. Once on the ground and in the hangar, Ray began to tell his story of how he had wanted to jump. As he did so, the color ran out of the costume man's face. When asked why, he told Ray that the parachute he had worn up in the plane was "just a prop", and that there had been no parachute.
During the filming of Reap the Wild Wind (1942), Milland's character was to have curly hair. Milland's hair was naturally straight, so the studio used hot curling irons on his hair to achieve the effect. Milland felt that it was this procedure that caused him to go prematurely bald, forcing him to go from leading man to supporting player earlier than he would have wished.
The pinnacle of Milland's career and acknowledgment of his serious dramatic abilities came in 1946 when he won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of an alcoholic in Billy Wilder's film The Lost Weekend (1945). He was the first Welsh actor to win an Oscar. Milland gave one of the shortest acceptance speeches of any Oscar winner. He was also given an award at the first Cannes Film Festival for his work in the film. His performance was so convincing that Milland was beleaguered for years by rumours that he actually was an alcoholic. The actor claimed he was not.
In 1951, he gave a strong performance in Close to My Heart, starring with Gene Tierney as a couple trying to adopt a child. The next year he appeared in The Thief in a role with no dialogue, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. In 1954, he starred opposite Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings in Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder.
He concentrated on directing for TV and film from the 1955 film A Man Alone and Lisbon for Republic Pictures that he also produced. From directing film he achieved much success directing for television. He returned as a film character actor in the late 60s and the 70s, notably in the cult classic Daughter of the Mind (1969), in which he was reunited with Gene Tierney, and in Love Story (1970). He also made many television appearances. He starred from 1953–1955 with Phyllis Avery and Lloyd Corrigan in the CBS sitcom Meet Mr. McNutley in the role of a college English and later drama professor at fictitious Lynnhaven College. The program was renamed in its second season as The Ray Milland Show. From 1959–1960, Milland starred in the CBS detective series Markham, but the program failed to capture an audience even though it followed the hit western Gunsmoke, starring James Arness.
In the late 1960s, Milland hosted rebroadcasts of certain episodes of the syndicated western anthology series, Death Valley Days under the title Trails West; the series' original host had been Ronald Reagan. He also turned in an appearance as a hand surgeon in the Night Gallery episode "The Hand of Borgus Weems." Toward the end of his life, Milland appeared twice as Jennifer Hart's father in ABC's Hart to Hart, with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers. He appeared on Colombo in 1971 and guest starred as Sire Uri in the pilot episode of the original Battlestar Galactica television series.
Milland had a tattoo on his upper right arm of a skull with a snake curled up on top of it with the tail of the snake sticking out through one of the eyes. The tattoo can be seen for a brief moment in the movie Her Jungle Love (1938).
Milland's son Daniel Milland appeared in several minor acting roles in the 1960s. He died in 1981 at the age of 41 in an apparent suicide.
Milland died of lung cancer in Torrance, California in 1986, aged 79. He was survived by his wife, the former Muriel Weber, and his daughter.