Portland Mason

Child actress and daughter of James Mason

As the first child of the actors James Mason and his wife Pamela, Portland Mason made headlines almost from birth. At her christening, her father became violent when a press photographer elbowed his way to the font and took flash pictures. Portland also heard flashbulbs pop in 1964 during her parents' long and acrimonious divorce hearings. After James Mason's death in 1984, his daughter was back in court, fighting an even more protracted battle over his estate.



Portland Mason, actress and writer: born Los Angeles 26 November 1948; married Rob Schuyler; died Los Angeles 10 May 2004.



As the first child of the actors James Mason and his wife Pamela, Portland Mason made headlines almost from birth. At her christening, her father became violent when a press photographer elbowed his way to the font and took flash pictures. Portland also heard flashbulbs pop in 1964 during her parents' long and acrimonious divorce hearings. After James Mason's death in 1984, his daughter was back in court, fighting an even more protracted battle over his estate.

James Mason's greatest friend and champion in his earliest days in America was the saturnine comedian Fred Allen. Portland Mason was named after Allen's wife and squeaky-voiced comic foil Portland Hoffa, who was, in turn, named after her birthplace in Oregon. Hoffa's namesake grew up in a Beverly Hills mansion. Replete with banquet hall, projection room, billiard room, date palms, trout-stocked brook and one of Tinseltown's most grandiose swimming pools, it was built in the late 1920s by Buster Keaton.

For his biography James Mason - Odd Man Out (1989), Sheridan Morley interviewed Jane Greer, who had acted with Mason in the film The Prisoner of Zenda (1952). Greer said:

He was always talking about Portland, who was then about three, and about how he and Pamela had decided the only way to stop her smoking cigarettes in later life was

 

to let her have one very young and see how it made her cough. So I asked how that had worked out and James said, "Well, she's now up to two packs a day."

At seven, Portland wore high heels and make-up. While her father observed strict film actor hours, retiring each right at 10, she was allowed to stay up as late as she liked and to go on dates. Although it was widely reported that she had her own mink coat at the age of nine, her father always denied this. He adored his "Porty"; before he accepted a quarter of a million dollars to play Captain Nemo in Disney's 20,000 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1954), he demanded a clause in the contract, allowing his daughter to borrow a print of any Disney film.

At seven she starred in The Child (1954), a short film directed by her father and written by her mother. The trade journal The Hollywood Reporter commented, "Portland Mason as a child? Talk about miscasting!" In 1959 her father again directed her, in the melodrama Maria Martin or the Murder in the Red Barn at the Laguna Playhouse. By this time, she had already made many television appearances, played Gregory Peck's daughter in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), and acted in two films which starred her father: Bigger Than Life (1956) and Cry Terror! (1958).

In 1960 Stanley Kubrick asked James Mason to play Humbert Humbert in his film version of Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita. Although he turned down the part in favour of a Broadway musical, Mason recommended his daughter for the title role. When the musical project fell through, he accepted the Humbert part, with Sue Lyon playing the eponymous nymphet.

Portland Mason's much- publicised image made her ideal casting as one of Ronald Searle's teenage hellions in the film The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery (1966). After acting in the Dirk Bogarde thriller Sebastian (1968), she turned to writing.

In 1971 James Mason married the actress Clarissa Kaye. He died 13 years later, leaving everything to Kaye, but specifying that his $15m estate would pass to Portland and her younger brother Morgan after Kaye's death. Although their stepmother died in 1994, it wasn't until 1999, after more than a decade of legal wrangling, that Portland and Morgan were finally awarded Mason's ashes.

According to her husband, Rob Schuyler, Portland Mason had been writing a book about her father.

Dick Vosburgh

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