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Ray Milland Dies of Cancer : Actor Won Fame for 'Lost Weekend' Role

March 11, 1986|From a Times Staff Writer

On Aug. 17, 1930, Milland sailed for New York. In Hollywood, he met and married Mal Weber. But, after he appeared in "Payment Deferred" in 1932, MGM dropped his option.

Milland was 25. His acting career apparently was at an end and his marriage in trouble. He sailed home to England.

But he decided to return to Hollywood, where he was forced to take a job in 1934 as manager at a Sunset Boulevard service station for $27.50 a week. On his way home from that job interview, Milland was so broke that he had to get off the bus at Van Ness and Melrose avenues, because he did not have the full fare back to his apartment.

It proved a fortuitous calamity because he stopped by the Paramount studios, where he was offered a two-week contract at $300 a week for a role in "Bolero," where he substituted for another English actor who had been injured.

Reconciliation With Wife

Soon after that Paramount signed him to a seven-year contract at $175 a week. It was the beginning of a long relationship. Shortly after that, Milland and his wife were reconciled.

At Paramount, he played everything from cowboys to playboys and aviators. He was the devil in one movie and an 18th-Century English procurer in another.

But despite the success, Milland remained an introvert, a man who invented all kinds of excuses to avoid movie openings and exhibitor meetings.

"I got out of most of those by having a relative die suddenly," he wrote later. "I honestly believe I had more relatives kick the bucket than any individual west of the Rockies."

In late life, he reflected that it took him time before he realized that acting was an art that had to be learned. Before that he had taken it for granted.

After "Lost Weekend," he became more secure as an actor and was able to defy the studios, drawing a two-month suspension from Paramount in 1948 for refusing a role in "Bride of Vengeance." He said he turned down the role because he felt that it would make a lousy movie.

His later films included "Dial M for Murder" in 1954; "The Premature Burial" in 1962; "Love Story" in 1970; "The Thing With Two Heads" in 1972, and "Escape to Witch Mountain" and "The Last Tycoon," both in 1976.

But he never again achieved the distinction or earned the awards that "Lost Weekend" had provided.

He branched into other areas, becoming a movie director, writing 24 short stories, most of them under pseudonyms, starring in the television series "Markham" in 1959 and "Rich Man, Poor Man" in 1976, when he was 68.

He also made several appearances as Stephanie Powers' father on the ABC series "Hart to Hart" and played a featured role in the 1982 CBS television movie "Charles and Diana: A Royal Romance."

He retired several times and moved to Europe, only to return to Southern California.

He leaves his wife, Mal, a daughter, Victoria Francesca Graham, and two grandsons, Travis and Alex Graham.

There will be no funeral services, his agent said. The body will be cremated.

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