As you may know, Universal Studios is rebooting its Monsters franchise starting with The Mummy and The Invisible Man. We here at Universal Monsters Universe were thrilled by the news and it gave us the idea to start the “Meet the Monsters” series of articles that have been seen on the site. Each article features the actors and actresses who starred in the original Universal Monsters movies. In this edition, we will be covering a man who has played in two Monsters movies: Mr. Claude Rains.
William Claude Rains was born on November 10, 1889 in Camberwell, London, England to actor Frederick William Rains and his wife Emily Eliza Rains (nee Cox). According to his daughter Jessica, Claude had “a very serious Cockney accent and a speech impediment.” He made his acting debut at age 11 in a stage production of Nell of Old Drury. He was noticed by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), who paid for elocution lessons to help Rains speak better. Rains would eventually teach at RADA later in his career. Rains went on to serve in World War I where a gas attack left him nearly blind in one eye. He served in the London Scottish Regiment with fellow famous actors Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman and Herbert Marshall. He would finish his service with the rank of Captain.
Rains made his way to Broadway in the 1920s and landed a small role in a silent movie before landing his first major Hollywood role as Dr. Jack Griffin in Universal Studios’s 1933 film, The Invisible Man. Rains was not even the first choice to play the Invisible Man. Universal wanted Boris Karloff but he refused due to salary issues. Director James Whale wanted Rains after overhearing him screen test for another movie and because he knew him personally. The film became a hit and launched his career. In 1935, he signed with Warner Brothers but had an option to be loaned out to other studios.
Rains would go on to star in such classic movies as 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood alongside Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with James Stewart, 1941’s The Wolfman with fellow monsters Lon Chaney, Jr. and Bela Lugosi as Sir John Talbot and 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O’ Toole and Alec Guiness. He was married six times and had Jessica, his only child, with his fourth wife Francis Propper. He went on to live in New Hampshire and passed away there on May 30, 1967 at age 77 from an abdominal hemorrhage.
Claude Rains may have played the Invisible Man but he was anything but invisible in Hollywood. His extensive filmography speaks volumes of his talent and how he overcame adversity. He went from having a speech impediment, to being nearly blinded in war to becoming a star in Hollywood’s greatest movies. Claude Rains has left a legacy that will be hard to match in film.