Charles Ray (actor)

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Charles Ray
Charles Ray by Albert Witzel 2.jpg
Born(1891-03-15)March 15, 1891
DiedNovember 23, 1943(1943-11-23) (aged 52)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Occupation(s)Actor, director, producer, screenwriter
Years active19111943
Clara Grant
(m. 1915;div. 1935)

Yvonne Guerin
(m. 1941;died 1942)

Charles Edgar Ray (March 15, 1891 – November 23, 1943) was an American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter. Ray rose to fame during the mid-1910s portraying young, wholesome hicks in silent comedy films.


Early life

Ray was born in Jacksonville, Illinois, and moved to Springfield as a child where he attended elementary school. He then moved to Needles, California, for a time before finally relocating to Los Angeles where he finished his education. He began his career on the stage before working for director Thomas H. Ince as a film extra in December 1912. [1] He appeared in several bit parts before moving on to supporting roles. Ray's break came in 1915 when he appeared opposite Frank Keenan in the historical war drama The Coward . [2]


Ray's popularity rose after appearing in a series of light comedy films which cast him in juvenile roles, primarily young, wholesome hicks or naive "country bumpkins" that foiled the plans of thieves or con men and won the heart of his dream girl. [3] In March 1917, he signed with Paramount Pictures and resumed working with director Thomas H. Ince. [4] By 1920, he was earning a reported $11,000 a week (approximately $149,000 today). [5] As Ray’s success grew, so did his ego. By the time he left Paramount, he had gained a reputation for being difficult and egomaniacal. In 1920, he left Paramount after studio head Adolph Zukor refused to give him a substantial pay raise. Zukor later wrote in his autobiography, The Public Is Never Wrong, that Ray's ego and behavior had become problematic and that Ray "... was headed for trouble and [I] did not care to be with him when he found it." Ray soon formed his own production company, Charles Ray Productions, and used his fortune to purchase a studio on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles (now known as the KCET Studios) where he planned to produce and shoot his own films. [6] [7]

Ray's first independent production, 45 Minutes from Broadway , was released in August 1920 and was fairly successful. In February 1921, he produced and starred in The Old Swimmin' Hole , the only full length, American silent film that did not have intertitles to further the plot. The film drew critical acclaim for going against convention and for featuring a simple plot that was easy to follow without intertitles. Despite the acclaim, the film was only shown for a short time in theaters in larger cities (where more sophisticated audiences were more likely to accept experimental films and concepts) because the film featured Ray in a country bumpkin role. [8] In February 1922, he signed a long term contract with United Artists. [9]

Charles Ray in 1922 Charles Ray - Feb 1922 EH.jpg
Charles Ray in 1922

By the time Ray signed with United Artists, he had grown tired of playing young country bumpkin characters in comedy films. [3] [10] In an effort to change his image to that of a romantic leading man, Ray decided to produce an epic historical drama film based on The Courtship of Miles Standish , an 1858 narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. [11] The poem centers around a love triangle between early American settlers John Alden, Miles Standish, and Priscilla Mullens. In November 1922, Ray announced that he would portray the lead role of John Alden in the film. He stated, "There will be immense satisfaction to me in playing a real character, not the puppet of some author's invention." [12]

In her book Off With Their Heads!: A Serio-Comic Tale Of Hollywood, screenwriter Frances Marion wrote that numerous people attempted to dissuade Ray from making the film because lengthy costume dramas were not box office draws at the time. [13] Ray chose not to listen to the advice and, after failing to secure financial backing from a major studio, he put up $500,000 (approximately $7,952,000 today) of his own money to finance the film. [14] Ray began filming The Courtship of Miles Standish in January 1923 at his namesake studio on Sunset Boulevard. [7] Production costs quickly rose as Ray spent money with abandon. In addition to the $65,000 (approximately $1,034,000 today) 180-ton replica of the Mayflower that was set on a mechanism to simulate it being on rough seas, Ray also had full sized log cabins built solely for exterior shots. [12] [15] [16] By the end of filming, Ray had invested all of his saving, nearly $2 million (approximately $31,809,000 today), and borrowed additional funds at a 30% interest rate to finish the film. [5] The film's final budget was estimated at $3 million (approximately $47,713,000 today). [17]

Charles Ray in The Deuce of Spades lobby card, 1922 Charles Ray in The Deuce of Spades.jpg
Charles Ray in The Deuce of Spades lobby card, 1922

Released to theaters on December 30, 1923, The Courtship of Miles Standish received some critical acclaim, mainly for its cinematography, but received generally lukewarm reviews and was a box office failure. [18] Ray lost all of the money he invested in the film and, due to the film’s box office failure, his popularity quickly declined. Thomas Ince, who had worked with Ray early in his career, attempted to help Ray by casting him in the drama Dynamite Smith (1924), directed by Ince's brother Ralph. The film did little to help boost Ray's popularity. While he continued working in films until the 1940s, Ray never regained the popularity he once attained. For the remainder of his career, he was relegated to small supporting and uncredited extra work.

Decline and later years

In December 1925, Ray was forced to file for bankruptcy after being sued by more than a dozen creditors for monies owed and back taxes. [3] [19] His production company also declared bankruptcy. [20] Actress Jane Novak later recalled that Ray's wife Clara Grant (whom he married in November 1915) contributed to Ray's egomania and spendthrift ways. The couple lived in a lavish Beverly Hills home equipped with gold doorknobs, several lacquered pianos, black marble bathtubs with gold fixtures and a full sized tree made of semi-precious stones that sat in their bathroom. They employed a full staff of servants and owned a fleet of luxury cars. Grant bought expensive dresses that she refused to wear more than once and traveled in a Rolls-Royce with an ermine floor rug. [17] [21] The day before Ray was to file for bankruptcy, the couple held a dinner party with a personal butler for each of their guests at their home that reportedly cost $30,000. [22] Film executive Pat Powers attended the party and asked Ray, "... how can you do this if you're going bankrupt tomorrow? Who will pay the bills? And he [Ray] said, 'we thought it was the thing to do.'" [6]

In 1928, Ray appeared in his final silent film, The Count of Ten, in which he had a supporting role. From 1929 to 1931, he appeared in stage roles in off-Broadway productions but found little success. He returned to the screen in 1932's The Bride's Bereavement; or, The Snake in the Grass, a comedy short and his first sound film. In July 1934, Ray filed for bankruptcy for a second time. [23] He and wife Clara Grant, from whom he had been separated since 1930, divorced in May 1935. [18] [24]

In an attempt to earn money and revive his career, Ray began writing. In 1935, he released a collection of short stories entitled Hollywood Shorts. In September 1936, he began publishing a magazine called Charles Ray's Hollywood Digest. The magazine featured a mixture of humorous stories and jokes, film reviews and industry news and editorials and articles written by actors and directors including Melvyn Douglas, Groucho Marx and Cecil B. DeMille. In the magazine's first issue, Ray wrote a story which poked fun at then popular and influential gossip columnist Walter Winchell entitled “Is Winchell a Heel?” (“Heel” being slang for a contemptible person). [22] The magazine folded in 1937 after just two issues due to a lack of public interest. [17]

Ray returned to film work again where he earned a reported $11 a day as a featured extra. [17] On June 4, 1941, he married for a second time to French actress Yvonne Guerin. [25] Guerin died the following year. [26] During his final years, Ray struggled with poor health but continued to work in bit roles. He ended his career in uncredited bit roles in Slightly Dangerous (1943) and An American Romance , which was released a year after his death.


On November 23, 1943, Ray died of a systemic infection caused by an impacted wisdom tooth at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles for which he had been hospitalized six weeks prior. [27] [28] He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in an unmarked grave in Glendale, California. [29] [28]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Charles Ray received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960, [30] located at 6355 Hollywood Boulevard. [31]


Short subjects
1911The Fortunes of WarLetty RobertsLost film
1913The Favorite SonJim KingShort
1913The SharpshooterJack Krone - a Young BlacksmithShort
1913The BarrierWade - the Young LieutenantShort
1913 The Witch of Salem John HastingsShort
1914For Her Brother's SakeJohn Frye - the BrotherShort
1914Shorty's SacrificeTom SimmsShort
1914The Curse of HumanityRogerShort
1914The Fortunes of WarCarlos RomezShort
1915In the Tennessee HillsJim CarsonShort
1915The Wells of ParadiseTom DolanShort
1915The Conversion of Frosty BlakeReverend Horace BrightrayShort
1915The Ace of HeartsJean DesmondShort, Credited as Charles E. Ray
1918A Liberty Bond PleaA farm boyShort
1932The Bride's Bereavement; or, The Snake in the GrassShort
1934Stolen by Gypsies or Beer and BicyclesElmer UpdikeShort, Alternative title: Beer and Bicycles
1915The Cup of LifeJohn Ward
1915 The Coward Frank Winslow
1915City of the DeadCecil WeatherbyAlternative title: The Forbidden Adventure
1915The Painted SoulBarnardAlternative title: The Straight Road
1916 Peggy Colin Cameron
1916The DeserterLieutenant Parker
1916The Honorable AlgyThe Honorable AlgyLost film
1917 The Millionaire Vagrant Steven Du Peyster
1917 The Pinch Hitter Joel Parker
1917 The Clodhopper Everett Nelson
1917 His Mother's Boy Matthew Denton
1918 The Claws of the Hun John Stanton
1918 The Law of the North Alain de Montcalm
1918 String Beans Toby Watkins
1919 The Busher Ben Harding
1919 Hay Foot, Straw Foot Ulysses S. Grant Briggs
1919 Bill Henry Bill Henry Jenkins
1919 Red Hot Dollars Tod Burke
1920 Alarm Clock Andy Andrew Gray
1920 The Village Sleuth William Wells
1920 45 Minutes from Broadway Kid Burns
1920 An Old Fashioned Boy David WarringtonDirector, producer
1921 The Old Swimmin' Hole EzraProducer
1921 Scrap Iron John SteelDirector, writer
1921 A Midnight Bell Martin TrippLost film
1921 Two Minutes to Go Chester BurnettDirector, producer
Lost film
1921R.S.V.P.Richard MorganDirector
1922 The Barnstormer JoelDirector
Lost film
1922 Gas, Oil and Water George Oliver WatsonDirector, producer
1922Alias Julius CaesarBilly BarnesDirector, producer
1922 Robin Hood ExtraUncredited
1923 The Girl I Loved John MiddletonProducer
1923 Ponjola
1923 The Courtship of Miles Standish John Alden Producer
Lost film
1924 Dynamite Smith Dynamite Smith
1925 Percy Percival Rogeen
1925 Some Pun'kins Lem Blossom
1925 Bright Lights Tom Corbin
1926 The Auction Block Bob Wharton
1926 Paris Jerry
1926 The Fire Brigade Terry O'Neil
1927 The American Unreleased film
1927 Getting Gertie's Garter Ken Walrick
1927 Vanity Lt. Lloyd Van Courtland
1928 The Garden of Eden Richard Dupont
1928 The Count of Ten Johnny McKinney
1934 School for Girls Duke
1934 Ladies Should Listen Henri, the porter
1934 Ticket to a Crime Courtney Mallory
1935 Welcome Home Andrew Carr
1935 Just My Luck Homer Crow
1936 Hollywood Boulevard Charlie Smith, Assistant Director
1940 A Little Bit of Heaven Uncle Wes
1941 Wild Geese Calling Undetermined Minor RoleUncredited
1941 A Yank in the R.A.F. American business executiveUncredited
1941 Married Bachelor Man in Lounge Room Getting BagpipesUncredited
1941 Appointment for Love ButlerUncredited
1941 Harvard, Here I Come! ReporterUncredited
1942 Rio Rita Hotel GuestUncredited
1942 Mrs. Miniver Man getting on BusUncredited
1942 The Magnificent Dope Uncredited
1942 Tennessee Johnson SenatorUncredited
1943 Slightly Dangerous Opera PatronUncredited
1944 An American Romance ExtraUncredited
Released posthumously

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Ray, c.1918 Charles Ray by Albert Witzel.jpg
Ray, c.1918
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