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Ray Milland : Wide-Eyed In Babylon

ray book

Ray published his autobiography back in 1974 and having recently come across a hardcopy edition I thought it about time I give it a go.

ray milland

Like many film fans I have seen more than my fare share of Ray’s movies over the years and repeatedly point out he has me convinced that he was a snarly old coot post 1965ish. This because he always seemed to play one down the stretch of his long career. So I found it comical reading this thinking just that. It’s been written by a cranky senior citizen. Some passages in the book did nothing to change that opinion while at the same time to hear his tales of being a young man arriving in Hollywood and falling into fame are quite enjoyable.

I really had no idea of Ray’s background. He’s from Wales and served in the Cavalry before coming to America. He was also an expert marksman which helped launch his career in films when a sharpshooter was needed on a call  sheet.

ray and jean

It’s the early Hollywood stories that interested me and truthfully he tells them sparingly without to much detail and at times respectfully holds back names to protect both the innocent and the guilty I suppose.

Imagine going back to the early thirties and meeting a young Cary Grant on a tennis court. Enlisting a pre Stagecoach fame John Wayne as an usher at your wedding. It’s comforting to know that Ray was married to the same woman for his entire life and he details there life together with respect and love.

ray and claudette

Ray’s career almost didn’t work out in films as MGM dropped him early on only to have Ray fall into the hands of fate with Paramount and finding much success in light comedies opposite Claudette Colbert and Jean Arthur among others.

He tells of working with Cecil B. De Mille on Reap The Wild Wind opposite Duke and many comedy of error stories are mixed in between the pages of film stories that interest me for the trivia involved.

He spends a good chapter on the height of his fame starring in the Billy Wilder film The Lost Weekend and his subsequent Oscar for his performance here. I must say I didn’t come away feeling any ego on his part but purely a feeling of luck leading his life.

milland-lostweekend45

Sadly he did jump from 1945 into the present being the early seventies and didn’t go into the fifties and sixties other than a couple of remarks. That I found disappointing as a film fan always looking for details on productions and costars.  Not even any stories of working on Dial M For Murder which could be the film that today’s audiences might at least be familiar with over many of Ray’s other titles.

Mostly the final pages ramble on over a few topics including a rant from Cameron Mitchell while filming a low budget film overseas that I suspect was probably released as Slavers and sitting alongside Gary Cooper as he surprises Ray with his drawing skills.

ray museum

As I pointed out Ray always struck me as a bit snarly so while reading his story written by his own hand I would constantly find myself imagining that older version of Ray and his voice barking out some of the pages at me. I was also surprised at quite a few “off color” remarks made occasionally throughout the book that I won’t go into. Today I am quite sure that an editor would have scratched them from a manuscript if the author already hadn’t himself.

Overall Ray tells a good story here that may ramble at times but he paints a nice window to the past that us film fans are constantly trying to rediscover.

10 Comments »

  1. I think I have this book but despite being a BIG Ray fan never read the whole thing. Very interesting he didn’t talk about Dial M! as you say that’s the one casual movie watchers will best remember (and the first movie I saw of his). I remember Carole Lombard championed him too early on.

  2. As a fan of Milland’s work both in front of and behind the camera, this book interests me, I really should have been aware of it but wasn’t – so thanks for highlighting it.

  3. “It’s been written by a cranky senior citizen” haha that made me laugh.
    Yeah hehe you just can’t help but read things in your head in the voice of the person sometimes.
    Makes it more fun.
    btw have you managed to see Alias Nick Beal yet?

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