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Although he seldom puts brush to canvas, nglish actor is appropriately cast in
Him to be made in Australia because . . .
James Mason regards
a talented painter
By KAY KEAVNEY
«TM late," said James 1 Majori, in that well remembered voice. "I'm so sorry.'
He loo; ed at me apologeti- cally, his brown eyes sur- prisingly vulnerable. He en- closed my hand in a strong, warm grip and at once all
The te> ion had been very real. To -gin with, for any- one of m generation, meet- ing Jam Mason is like shaking h. ids with one's own youth.
And th time allotted to me was very short. The dis- tinguisher British actor was in Sydne\ not only as a star but as producer of a film, "Age of ( nsent," based on a j book by ustralia's wayward
genius, N man Lindsay.
Bea ful voice
Mr. M ion was a very busy mar. Another reporter would b' waiting in the wings. Ai now he was late, an emf ney production meeting, id my time was
In a si .11 lounge off the hotel foi r, photographer Ernie Nutt flourished his
"I hop .hey're in color." said Ja es Mason, "in tribute to ny beautiful tie."
beautiful, :t, alas, no color. Uiactor-like, he didn't pose,
?nertly le. ,ed back and let the pictur. be taken. .
Then h as all attention.
I discardef half my questions »nd tried o find out why he had be- ome an actor. He nw said so i .instantly that he
never real!, wanted to be one - ant: he did hold an
architect's degree from Cambridge I niversity.
He said ;n the beautiful English yoi« e, unmarked by long years in America:
I was the youngest of three sons of a textile mer- chant The firm had been very prosperous, but I grew UP m the days of the Depres- sion, and money, you see, was very tight.
1 did rather brilliantly at """"o', and my father ex- pected great things of me.
, w** the only member of the family to get a univer f'ty education and I won
I ^ "«re, too.
When I graduated I was
22, and impatient. Times were bad and I had no strings to pull.
"I was faced with two prospects - to expect my father to go on supporting me for three more years while I finished my training - or take a job as a draughtsman and study at night school for years."
He grimaced. " "It all seemed very dodgy. But
what else was there to do? I'd never thought, you know, of being an actor. I'd always been in love with the theatre, though.
"When I was a little boy at boarding-school my grand- father was kind enough to buy me a subscription to a weekly paper called 'The Children's Magazine.' It kept turning up for years.
# Cora shows Bradly how to catch sand worms - Norman Lindsay's sketch from his novel "Age of Consent." James Mason stars
as Bradly in the film version.
"When I was about 12 I wrote and asked my grand- father to change the sub- scription.
"I requested a little publi- cation called "The Theatre.' That was the first symptom."
James Mason sat back and laughed. His hands were quiet. He made very few
"But I never imagined myself as an actor, a par- ticipant.
"At Cambridge, I was more interested in the cinema. There were all sorts
of highbrow cinema clubs and film societies, specialising in the avant garde. I wanted to create films, though, rather than act in them. Do you know, I still do?
"But I acted on the stage in Cambridge productions. I still didn't think of myself as an actor, but I enjoyed the success. Though I'd done so well academically, I'd never felt I was a success, except when I was on the
"Anyway, when I began wondering what to do, the answer came to me. I'd be
"My father? Oh, disap- pointed, naturally." The brown eyes lit up under the grizzled brows. "My father thought aptors were very amusing fellows. Good com- pany at the club. Always knew the latest good stories. But couldn't take them
seriously! Still, there it was."
Did he himself resent the
way things had turned out?
"Not in the least," said James Mason. "But then, I'd have enjoyed doing so many things. In fact - no, that would sound arrogant."
I begged him to go on, and he laughed.
"I was thinking of what Truman Capote said in an interview. He said arro- gantly, Td have been good at anything.'
"Perhaps, in a way, rightly or wrongly, I feel like that. I like to direct and produce,
. James Mason with the colorful tie he wore when interviewed in Sydney.
though I've never yet directed a full-length pic-
"Write? Yes, I've written plays and screenplays with my ex-wife, Pamela Kellino. But only in a utility way. I have no crying need to
"My only gift there is in terms of form rather than content. I'm much more interested in visual expres-
"I regard myself as a talented painter, though I seldom put brush to canvas. I see painting in terms of
In the film, Mason plays a painter in the creative doldrums. The enchanting book by Lindsay was set in the Depression days of the
"When I started trying to set up the film," he said, "be- fore I met Michael Powell, I wanted to keep it in period, when an artist's problems were different.
"But we decided to make it contemporary, and the artist became an abstract
painter. I've often thought abstract painting leads to a dead end, you know.
"Most people get in a rut, just designing patterns. They begin to ask, 'What am I doing here? What am I saying?'
"That's the position in which my artist finds him- self, right at the height of his success. He knows he's not having fun any more, not expressing his love of life and color and humanity.
"So he leaves New York and returns to Australia, and goes to a remote shore where he meets the oyster girl, Cora, who bcomes his
In the book, the middle aged artist is peculiarly innocent and sex-shy. The
girl, little . more than a child, is entirely innocent, too alone even to know that she is lonely. How much had this been changed?
He said, "The overall shape of the story has been kept. As in the book, he goes to this place to be alone. There he finds an object he
can use - as an artist.
"He is fascinated by Cora as a painting property. But he regards her as no more
than an attractive tree or flower. Then, when she's in danger, he helps her, and this makes a slight change in the relationship.
"This kindness is new to the girl, and she reacts to it. Now they're friends. Finally she gets into a great mess. And propinquity and com- passion stir something in him to be recognised as sex."
We got on to the role of
the actor in the world at
large. James Mason disap- proves of actors using the value of their names to press political causes.
"Politics isn't a question of emotions. An actor isn't necessarily a good political student, and it's so dangerous that leaders these days are elected on the grounds of their TV appearances. It isn't true that TV can't lie, and this isn't only in the political sphere."
H* grinned. "I know some sons-of-bitches who project beautifully. They come over with a sweet smell.
"Charm is a very dan- gerous quality. I have been cheated by some very charm- ing men."
He said, "A good actor should be a searcher for truth. If the writer has seen the truth of a situation with honest eyes and is not just
trying to sell a bill of goods, the actor should express that truth for him.
"I'll give you an example. I don't endorse films like 'Bonnie and Clyde.' I think they were a couple of dan- gerous little sick people, liv- ing in a very unhealthy period of American history.
"If you make a historical film, it's only worth doing if you try to represent that history as true, so that the spectator is amàzed by the spectacle. Of course, the writer may rearrange the
"But 'Bonnie and Clyde' is an ugly distortion of the
It sounded as if James
Mason believed that art
"Art should enlighten," he said promptly. "The whole business of plays is the nourishment of people's imagination.
"In making films, the things I'd most like to achieve would be to fill
people with wonder and de- light and excitement."
He had brought up his daughter, Portland, by
rather unorthodox methods. Did he feel they had suc-
"My daughter is a very wonderful and intelligent girl. Yes, I think they must
Was he pleased that she wanted to be an actress?
He wanted her to do whatever seemed most re- warding to her.
Time was up. But I risked one last, flying question. Did
he like women?
"Yes," he said. "I like women very much. I like them as persons.
"In fact, I think - yes, I think I get along better with women than with men."