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Herbert Mason

Not to be confused with Herbert Mason the photographer who photographed St Paul's Survives (1940).

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Herbert Mason
MC
Born Samuel George Herbert Mason
(1891-04-07)7 April 1891
Moseley, Birmingham, England
Died 20 May 1960(1960-05-20) (aged 69)
London, England
Nationality English
Other names Maj. Herbert Mason, Bertie, Garry, Werb
Occupation Film director, film producer, actor, army officer, presenter, stage manager, stage director, choreographer, production manager, playwright
Years active 1933–1955
Spouse(s) Daisy Fisher (1914 – 1960; his death)
Children Jocelyn Mason (daughter)
Michael Mason (son)
Parent(s) Samuel George Mason (father)
Amy Mason (née Collins) (mother)
Relatives Ellen Terry (aunt)
Harry Mason (uncle)
Samuel Mason (grandfather)
John Gielgud (distant cousin)
Military career
Rank Major
Unit 16th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Battles/wars

First World War

Awards Military Cross

Samuel George Herbert Mason MC (7 April 1891 – 20 May 1960) was a British film director, producer, stage actor, army officer, presenter of some revues, stage manager, stage director, choreographer, production manager and playwright.[1][2] He was a recipient of the Military Cross the prestigious award for "gallantry during active operations against the enemy."[3] During the 1920s he stage managed some of the largest shows in London (including many of Andre Charlot's musical revues) and began his film career with the arrival of sound in motion pictures.

Mason was the Assistant director for I Was a Spy, which was very successful in the box office and voted best film of the year. He made his debut as director in 1936 with The First Offence. Several rising actors and actresses (including Vivien Leigh) made their film debuts in some of his films before they rose to prominence. He worked for several studios and production companies including Gaumont British, Gainsborough Pictures, London Films and MGM-British Studios. Mason directed 16 films (from thrillers to comedies), moved into producing for the rest of his career and authored some plays with his wife Daisy Fisher, a novelist and playwright also with a background in theatre.

His films were generally very well received, and some of them were marked out for the inventiveness of the plot and humour.

Early life

Samuel George Herbert Mason was born on 7 April, in Moseley, Birmingham the third of four children of Samuel George Mason (a Brass Founder at Samuel Mason Ltd) and Amy Mason (née Collins) and a nephew (by marriage) of the famous Shakespearean actress – Ellen Terry.[4][5] His grandfather Samuel Mason was also a Brass Founder.[6] The firm was originally called Mason and Lawley – makers of balance cocks for clock movement. It was later renamed Samuel Mason Ltd specialising in bar equipment.[7] Mason was educated at Solihull Grammar School and left aged 14. Mason was apprenticed in the family brass foundry prior to beginning his career as an actor in about 1907. He was a Stage Manager at the Palace Theatre and Birmingham Repertory Theatre (up to 1914) where he appeared in The Critic and The Christmas Party.[8] Both the plays also starred Felix Aylmer and Frank Clewlow.

Mason was an Officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment from 1914 and then in the Machine Gun Corps during the First World War. He joined the army about two months after marrying a chorus girl Daisy Fisher. On 17 November 1914 he received his commission as a temporary Second Lieutenant.[9] He rose to the rank of Major and was awarded the Military Cross[10] for his great personal outstanding gallantry when commanding the 59th brigade machine gun company at the taking of Guillemont during the Battle of the Somme.[11] The report written on 7 September 1916 (from the Public Record Office and the National Archives in Kew) is Mason's description of the battle. The 59th machine gun company had 16 machine guns and about 170 men. About half the men died in the battle. While his unit was waiting in line, he occupied himself doing a self-portrait using oil paints, which were presumably left by a French officer in the trench. Mason served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment with the brother of Michael Balcon (who worked with Mason on The First Offence, I was a Spy and Take My Tip as Producer).[12] Additionally he served in the Machine Gun Corps with Clive Brook who later became an actor[13] and a friend. Mason spent the whole four years in the Western Front was awarded the Mons Star – the medal of those who were in it from the beginning.

Career

Stage career in London (1918–1927)

After the war Mason resumed his career in the Theatre. In the 1920s he stage directed and stage managed many stage revues at Vaudeville Theatre including Yes![14] and Puppets![15] In 1921–22 Mason staged managed and starred in Pot Luck! with Beatrice Lillie, Herbert Mundin who is best known for his role as Much the Miller's Son in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).[16] Mason also staged managed London Calling! a musical revue, which Fred Astaire assisted with the choreography.[17] The play is famous for being Noël Coward's first publicly produced musical work. In 1924 Mason staged and choreographed The Punch Bowl, which starred Fisher and Eric Coates.[18] In 1925, the play was later transferred to His Majesty's Theatre, London and Vaudeville Theatre. During the performance at Vaudeville Theatre he was one of the proprietors.[19] After the production, the theatre was closed on 7 November 1925 and reconstructed.[20] In 1925 he was an Assistant Producer for Still Dancing and choreographed Bubbly, which was performed at the Duke of York's Theatre. In 1926 he produced Yvonne a successful musical comedy (staged by George Edwardes at Dalys Theatre, London).[21] Mason choreographed Vaudeville Vanities, which was performed at the Vaudeville Theatre from 1926–27 and went on tour at the Royal Theatre, Rochdale in 1929.[22][23] In 1927 he presented, produced and starred (as Shipwright) in Daisy Fisher and Harold Simpson's The Cave Man.[24][25]

Film career (1928–1945)

In 1928 with the arrival of sound, Mason began to make his mark in the film industry by presenting stage shows for the Gaumont – British cinema circuit. He respected and worked with Victor Saville on I Was a Spy as an Assistant Director. The producer Michael Balcon mentions in his memoir, that he "told [Mason] to take the script [for I was a Spy] to Belgium, find Mrs McKenna, and get her to approve [the script] by page" and Mason came back "with every page approved."[26] Although the film was very successful in the Box Office[27] this however was not Saville's reaction; when he watched the completed I was a Spy with Mason he was devastated but Mason reassured him that it was his "best to date."[28] The film starred Herbert Marshall, who previously had a role in Daisy Fisher's comedy Lavender Ladies.[29] A few decades later I was a Spy was shown at the National Film Theatre, London.[30] The following year. Mason worked with Saville on Evergreen as a Unit Manager.

In 1936 he made his first film as Director; The First Offence (Bad Blood), a spy thriller in which he directed the young John Mills. It was filmed in London and was inspired by Mauvaise Graine directed by Billy Wilder.[31] He also directed the famous actor George Arliss just before Arliss retired from the stage. He directed a dozen engaging films including a 'diplomatic thriller' – East Meets West. During filming for East Meets West a group of film extras went on a strike however Mason successfully resolved it "by offering each extra an additional pound and a blanket."[32] Dr Mitchell refused to allow Mason to direct Doctor Syn because Fisher had German Measles; so Roy Neill replaced Mason as Director.[33]

In 1939 Mason directed The Silent Battle, a thriller set on the Orient Express. The film starred Rex Harrison and was the film debut for Megs Jenkins, who had a small role.[34] She later had roles in It's in the Bag and John and Julie.

Mason changed his pace from perky musicals to dark drama with A Window in London (Lady in Distress) about a man who believes he has witnessed a murder from a passing train. However his films became lighter again including Back-Room Boy – a comedy set in a lighthouse starring Arthur Askey. Robert Murphy describes the film as "the funniest if the least original of the Askey comedies" in his book Realism and Tinsel.[35] This view is shared with John Howard Reid who mentions in his book that it, "is also highly successful in delivering both laughs and thrills."[36]

Additionally Michael Hodgson mentions in his book that "A Window in London was a dark and disturbing remake of Maurice Cam's French circular drama Metropolitain."[37] The film starred Michael Redgrave who previously played Christopher Drew in Fisher's comedy A Ship Comes Home at the St Martin's Theatre in May 1937.

Before the Second World War Mason combined with some others to buy a country house, Cuffnells (the family home of Alice Liddell). They brought it and originally planned to convert it into an upmarket hotel. However, when the war broke out in 1939, Cuffnells was requisitioned by the army. By the time the war ended it was in such poor condition that it had to be demolished. Filming for Dr. O'Dowd took place in the summer of 1939 and was completed after the war started. Dr. O'Dowd was the film debut for Peggy Cummins.[38] The film was successful and described as "one of the best films of Ireland ever made." Felix Aylmer also appeared in Dr. O'Dowd,The Briggs Family and Once a Crook.[39][40]

Mason (like Basil Rathbone and many others) offered his service in the war but was turned down because he was too old. However he was awarded a medal for his services as a member of the Home Guard. Despite moving into film making Mason continued to work in the theatre on some occasions. In 1940, Mason presented Peril at End House, which was written by Arnold Ridley and performed at the Vaudeville Theatre. It was an adaptation of the book by Agatha Christie and Isabel Dean's London debut.[41][42] 2 years later he produced Herbert Farjeon's The Big Top, which starred Beatrice Lillie, whom Mason previously appeared on stage with.[43][44]

During the war in A Yank in the RAF a "British camera team [consisting of] (Ronald Neame, Jack Whitehead and Otto Kanturek [worked] under the direction of Mason to take footage of Spitfires being rearmed."[45] With complete co-operation from the RAF, as well as extensive use of stock RAF footage, the studio was allowed to film actual battles shot by a camera equipped aircraft – an old Anson – large enough to carry the camera team. Mason did not fly with the crew.[46] He was credited as Maj. Herbert Mason.[47] It is likely that the reason for this was to make it more appealing to a wartime audience, since the film was about military service and made by people who understood the forces.

Mason directed and produced the musical comedy Flight from Folly, which was his last directorial credit. It was also the last film made at Warner's Teddington Studios before it was bombed in 1944[48] and the film debut for Pat Kirkwood. Currently Dr. O'Dowd, It's in the Bag and Flight from Folly are three of the BFI 75 Most Wanted Films (list of 75 most sought – after British Future films not currently held in the BFI National Archive). In May 2014 It's in the Bag was given a DVD commercial release by Renown Pictures Ltd however this version is 17 minutes shorter than the original version.[49]

His career as Film Director known in Italy are only two films: East in Revolt (original title: His Lordship), an adventure film of 1936 and The Mystery Guest of a Detective (original title: Strange Boarders) in 1938.

Rest of his career (1945–1960)

After directing Flight from Folly, Mason joined London Films as an Associate Producer[50] and produced some films with its founder Alexander Korda including Bonnie Prince Charlie and Anna Karenina. Mason and Daisy Fisher financed and were authors of the play of Lend Me Robin, which was performed in the Embassy Theatre, London from 5 October 1948[51] a few years before it was sold to the Central School of Speech and Drama. It was a comedy about a wife who tries to win back her philandering husband by taking a lover. The play starred Charles Goldner as the husband and Sonia Dresdel. When it opened it did very well but then one reviewer came to the play drunk. He wrote an unpleasant review and it folded up after only three weeks. Three years later Mason and Fisher worked together on 'an eternal triangle Thriller Dangerous Woman' which was shown at Wimbledon Theatre. The play starred Thora Hird; the following year she had a role in Time Gentlemen Please! and later Background, both produced by Mason.[52] Fisher also wrote the story for Things Are Looking Up, which Mason worked on as an Associate Producer. Vivien Leigh who is best known for her leading role in Gone with the Wind made her film debut in an uncredited role as a schoolgirl.[53] Thirteen years later she appeared in Anna Karenina, which Mason also worked on as an Associate Producer.[54]

Mason was with MGM and Fox British and produced several films with John Grierson's Group Three Productions at Southall Studios including Background (U.S Edge of Divorce) and Child's Play during the 50s.[55] Another project as producer during that period included Lewis Gilbert's Cast a Dark Shadow.

Charles Allen Oakley mentions in his book that, "The post-war era ended for the British cinematograph industry almost indeterminately during 1952 and 1953."[56] John and Julie a comedy produced by Mason in 1955 (two years after the Coronation) was about 2 children wanting to go to see the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It is a moving snapshot of a war weary country coming alive – an unrecognised classic and undiscovered sociological resource. He produced his last film – The Blue Peter, which was later retitled Navy Heroes, which was released in November 1955 (UK) and December 1957 (USA). The film is about youth seamanship at the original Outward Bound in Aberdovey, Wales, a programme similar to Sea Scouting or Sea Cadets.

On 20 May 1960, Herbert Mason died in London at the age of 69.

Personal Life and Family

Mason was known to his friends as 'Werb.'[57] He was called "Bertie" by his family. Interestingly his mother's brother was called Bertie Collins. Mason first met his future wife when they were both in a play about David Garrick with him taking the lead. Afterwards she and others called him 'Garry.'

Mason's family had lived in Birmingham for several generations (approximately from the end of the 18th Century). For a long time Mason's family worked at the brass foundry – a business, which Samuel Mason set up in the 1860s. In 1860 Thomas Lucas Birch and James Birch separated themselves from Yates and formed a partnership with Samuel Mason. Birch & Mason specialised in pewter goods and bar equipment. On 9 May 1862 the partnership was dissolved and Mason continued the business alone under Samuel Mason Ltd.[58] However the firm competed with a rival firm Gaskell & Chambers until it faced bankruptcy in 1910. Gaskell and Chambers then purchased Mason's bar fitting trade however Harry Mason (Samuel Mason's son) who had been running Samuel Mason Ltd, restarted it under the name of Harry Mason Ltd from about 1910.[59] It can be assumed that Harry Mason took over Samuel Mason Ltd after his nephew left to begin his career in the theatre. Today Harry Mason Ltd specialises in cellar equipment and beer.[60]

In 1914, before the outbreak of the First World War, Mason married Daisy Fisher, a chorus girl, actress, lyricist and singer who also had a background in theatre and later became a novelist and playwright. She survived him with a daughter and son – Jocelyn Mason and Michael Mason. Their son Michael Mason became a Senior Radio Producer at the BBC.[61][62]

John Gielgud (the grandnephew of Ellen Terry and grandson of Kate Terry) and Edward Carrick (the art director of several film companies) were distant cousins.

Mason was a keen fisherman and very interested in birds. He was a good artist (he once did a self-portrait of himself as a clown during the First World War) and was very stylish in his own dress and got many of his clothes from Hawes and Curtis. Through Billy Cotton, the band leader (a friend of his who was also an amateur racing driver), he took an active interest in cars and car racing. he was intrigued by any new mechanical device.

Mason was talented at spotting rising actors; some of his films are remembered for introducing them to the screen before they became famous.

Filmography

Director

Producer

Production Manager

Plays

Choreographer

Presenter

Stage Appearances

Stage Director

Stage Manager

Playwright (with Daisy Fisher)

Producer

See also

References

  1. ^ "Herbert Mason". BFI. Retrieved 21 April 2010. 
  2. ^ McFarlane, 2005, p. 462
  3. ^ "Tuesday 17 September 2002 Supplement No. 1". The Gazette. The London Gazette. 17 September 2002. p. 11146. Retrieved 22 March 2015. 
  4. ^ Quinlan, 1999, p. 225
  5. ^ Hodgson, Michael (2013). Patricia Roc: the goddess of the Odeons. p. 37. 
  6. ^ "The London Gazette, December 26, 1893". The Gazette. The London Gazette. 26 November 1893. p. 7556. Retrieved 21 March 2015. ...,presented to the said Court by Samuel Mason and Samuel George Mason, trading as Samuel Mason, of Dale End, Birmingham. 
  7. ^ "George Glazer Gallery – Antique Decorative Arts – S.S. Sirius Relic Souvenir Brass Rod Section". georgeglazer.com. Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  8. ^ "Production of The Christmas Party". Theatricalia. Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  9. ^ "The London Gazette, 9 March 1915". The Gazette. The London Gazette. 9 March 1915. p. 2369. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  10. ^ McFarlane, 2005, p. 462
  11. ^ "Supplement to the London Gazette, 14th November 1916". The Gazette. The London Gazette. 14 November 1916. p. 11060. Retrieved 18 March 2015. For conspicuous gallantry in action. He brought up machine-guns under intense fire, and organised the machine-gun section defence of each object as gained, displaying great courage and initiative. He greatly assisted our holding the position when gained. 
  12. ^ Balcon, 1969, p. 74
  13. ^ Aaker, Everett, 2013, p. 40
  14. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920–1929, pp. 249–250
  15. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920–1929, p. 265
  16. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920–1929, p. 137
  17. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920–1929, p. 244
  18. ^ "The Punch Bowl". Cadbury Research Library Special Collections. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 25 April 2015. 
  19. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920-1929, p. 384
  20. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920-1929, p. 384
  21. ^ "Yvonne: A Musical comedy". jazzageclub.com. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  22. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920–1929, p. 476
  23. ^ "Vaudeville Vanities". Cadbury Research Library Special Collections. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  24. ^ "The Caveman". Cadbury Research Library Special Collections. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  25. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920–1929, p. 555
  26. ^ Balcon, 1969, pp. 74–75
  27. ^ Howard Reid, 2006, p. 135
  28. ^ Moseley, 2000, p. 69
  29. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920-1929, p. 379
  30. ^ Moseley, 2000, p. 68
  31. ^ Neale, 2012, p. 138
  32. ^ Fells, 2004, p. 188
  33. ^ Arliss, 1940, p. 243
  34. ^ "Obituary: Megs Jenkins". independent.co.uk. The Independent. 12 October 1998. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  35. ^ Murphy, 1989, p. 196
  36. ^ Reid, 2010, p. 225
  37. ^ Hodgson, 2013, p. 37
  38. ^ Hodgson, Michael (2013). Patricia Roc. pp. 47–8. I was only young when I made Dr. O'Dowd, my first ever film...recalled Peggy Cummins 
  39. ^ Kevin Rockett (1996). The Irish Filmography: Fiction Films, 1896-1996. Red Mountain Media. p. 145. 
  40. ^ "Felix Aylmer". explore.bfi.org.uk. BFI. Retrieved 29 May 2015. 
  41. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1940–1949, pp. 17–18
  42. ^ "Peril at End House". Cadbury Research Library Special Collections. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  43. ^ "The Big Top". Cadbury Research Library Special Collections. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 24 April 2015. 
  44. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1940-1949, p. 72
  45. ^ Mackenzie, 2001, p. 48
  46. ^ Neame and Cooper, 2003, p. 52
  47. ^ American Film Institute, 1999, p. 464
  48. ^ McFarlane, 2005, p. 462
  49. ^ "It's in the Bag". renownpicturesltd.com. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  50. ^ McFarlane, 2005, p. 462
  51. ^ "Lend Me Robin". Cadbury Research Library Special Collections. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  52. ^ "Hird, Thora". museum.tv. The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 23 May 2015. 
  53. ^ Reid, 2005, p. 205
  54. ^ Reid, 2010, pp. 16–7
  55. ^ McFarlane, 2005, p. 462
  56. ^ Oakley, 2013, p. 206
  57. ^ Quinlan, 1999, p. 225
  58. ^ "The London Gazette, Issue 22624, 9 May 1862". The Gazette. The London Gazette. p. 2447. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  59. ^ Shill, 2006, ebook
  60. ^ "Harry Mason Ltd". harrymason.co.uk. Masons. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  61. ^ Telegraph Obituary: Michael Mason, Daily Telegraph, 3 July 2014
  62. ^ Daniel Snowman Obituary: Michael Mason The Guardian 13 July 2014
  63. ^ Reid, 2006, p. 135
  64. ^ "I Was a Spy (1933)". explore.bfi.org.uk. BFI. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  65. ^ The Illustrated London News, Volume 209. Issues 5594–5619. Illustrated London News & Sketch Limited. 1946. p. 250. ... as Scottish clansman storm the rocky heights of Tor Choicht during the taking of a scene in "Bonnie Prince Charlie", a Korda film being made near Fort William, Scotland, under the direction of producer of Herbert Mason. 
  66. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920–1929, p. 320
  67. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920–1929, p. 15
  68. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1920–1929, p. 476
  69. ^ "Our Cabaret". Cadbury Research Library Special Collections. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  70. ^ Wearing, 2014, London Stage 1940–1949, p. 74

Bibliography

Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Aldgate, Anthony and Richards, Jeffrey. (2007). Britain Can Take It: The British Cinema in the Second World War. 2nd edition. I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd
  • American Film Institute. (1999). AFI American Film Catalogue of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States. University of California Press
  • Arliss, George. (1940). George Arliss. John Murray
  • Balcon, Michael. (1969). Michael Balcon Presents...A Lifetime of Films. Hutchinson
  • Blum, Daniel. (1955). Screen World Volume 6. Biblo & Tannen Publishers
  • Fells, Robert M. (2004). George Arliss: The Man Who Played God. Scarecrow Press
  • Hobson, Harold. (1950). Theatre – Volume 2. Longmans, Green and Co
  • Hodgson, Michael. (2013). Patricia Roc: the goddess of the Odeons. Author House
  • Howard Reid, John. (2006). America's Best, Britain's Finest: A Survey of Mixed Movies. Lulu.com
  • Howard Reid, John. (2010). British Movie Entertainments on VHS and DVD: A Classic Movie Fan’s Guide. Lulu.com
  • Howard Reid, John. (2005). Hollywood's Miracles of Entertainment. Lulu.com
  • McFarlane, Brian. (2005). The Encyclopedia of British Film. Methuen (2nd edition)
  • Mackenzie, S.P. (2001). British War Films 1939–1945. Hambledon and London
  • Moseley, Roy. (2000). Evergreen: Victor Saville in His Own Words. Southern Illinois University Press
  • Murphy, Robert. (1989). Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1939 – 1949. Routledge
  • Neale, Steve. (2012). The Classical Hollywood Reader. Routledge
  • Neame, Ronald. (2003). Straight from the Horse's Mouth. Rowman & Littlefield
  • Oakley, Charles Allen. (2013). Where We Came In: Seventy Years of the British Film Industry. Routledge
  • Quinlan, David. (1984). British Sound Films: The Studio Years 1928–1959. BT Batsford Ltd
  • Quinlan, David. (1999). Quinlan's Film Directors. BT Batsford Ltd (2nd edition)
  • Richards, Jeffrey. (2009). The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in 1930s Britain. I.B.Tauris Publishers
  • Shill, Ray. (2006). Workshop of the World: Birmingham's Industrial Legacy. The History Press
  • Wearing, J.P. (2014). The London Stage 1920 – 1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers and Personnel. Rowman & Littlefield Education
  • Wearing, J.P. (2014). The London Stage 1940 – 1949: A Calendar of Productions, Performers and Personnel. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
  • (1946). The Illustrated London News, Volume 209. Issues 5594–5619. Illustrated London News & Sketch Limited

External links

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