The Raymond Massey I Knew
By Richard Chamberlain
I didn’t know, when I first met Raymond Massey in 1958, that he would become such a motivating force in my life. I just knew that I was scared. Barely 22 and scheduled to play one of his three sons in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode called “Road Hogs,” I expected to get eaten alive. Massey had a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, and I was sure he could make short work of someone whose total work experience to that point had been a “Don’t sneeze or you’ll miss me” part in Gunsmoke.
So I learned my lines to the letter and tried to figure the motivation for everything. But once this big, hulking person, with the rich, resonant, booming voice walked on to the set, you just held on and followed his lead.
To my amazement and relief, we got on well. He was gracious and seemed to take to me, which was a blessing because he had the final say a couple of years later when I was trying out to play Dr. Kildare to his Dr. Gillespie. He approved me, and we worked together on the show from 1961 until 1966.
Although I was the callowest of actors, he never became impatient, nor did he condescend. He was a wonderful teacher, by example. A much underrated actor, I think, he had amazing gifts and a subtle and acute intellect. He knew the shape and form of every scene he was to play. He could design highs and lows like an architect. He understood nuance and style.
He also had a tremendous sense of the absurd and a boyish humor. When scenes did not go well, or he had made some kind of mistake, he would say, “Aw, shit.” Every time he said it, it would come out differently. Sometimes it would be terse disgust, others squeaky frustration and others high drama.
At the end of one season, a director pieced all of these outtakes together and ran them for the cast and crew. At first, all of us smiled and chuckled, but by the end of the tape, we were all laughing so hard we were choking. No one laughed harder than Raymond.
His wonderful ability to laugh and the education in acting were two reasons for me to be grateful for my early exposure to him. But there was something equally important to me at that point in my life, and it was very personal.
When I was in my 20s, my father and I were not getting on well. Since then, the situation has totally changed and we have a good relationship. But in those early years I felt my father did not approve of me or my choice of career. Raymond became my father figure – befriending, advising, cajoling, joking. He and Dorothy would invite me over on weekends to have meals with them and their friends: Jack Hawkins, Cedric Hardwicke,
The fact that Raymond seemed to accept me as an actor and included me in his brilliant circle of friends had a great deal to do with my decision to go to England to study acting and work in the theatre. Although Dr. Kildare had offered the opportunity to work with such gifted directors as Lamont Johnson and Boris Segal, I knew I wanted the kind of training that Raymond himself had had.
We always kept in touch. I loved the Masseys. When we were separated, Dorothy dropped off notes, usually with funny clippings. When we were all in the same town, we would get together. The last time we were all together was a few summers ago, shortly before Dorothy died. I think after she died he just marked time. They had been married for more than 30 years, and they were a couple in every good sense of the word.
Raymond had a reputation of being big, gruff, austere and outspoken, and he could be those things. But he had a great, exuberant white Labrador retriever named Bunga, who used to greet you by putting his giant paws on your chest and giving your face a friendly lick. The dog just lived a joyful life. I always thought their temperaments were similar.
Raymond had qualities that are rare today. He had a total lack of pretence, genuine politeness and a keen intellectual curiosity. And he had a great ability to laugh. Anyone who ever heard that laugh boom out could never forget it.
© 1984 Richard Chamberlain