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 the shortest acceptance speech of any Oscar winner. He was also given an award at the first Cannes Film Festival for his performance. His performance had been so convincing that Milland was beleaguered for years by rumours that he actually was an alcoholic despite the fact that he wasn't.
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 also guest starred as Sire Uri in the pilot episode of the original Battlestar Galactica television series.
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