Paul Massie obituary in “The Guardian” in 2011.
There are some actors who, having disappeared from the public gaze early in their careers, always prompt the question, “Whatever happened to … ?” The answer, in the case of Paul Massie, who has died of lung cancer aged 78, is that, at the height of his fame on films and television, he gave it up at the age of 40 to teach drama at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
The son of a Baptist minister, Massie was born Arthur Massé in the city of St Catharines, in the Niagara region of Ontario. Although he was brought up in Canada, almost his entire 16-year acting career was in Britain. In fact, the only film he made in Canada was his first, Philip Leacock’s High Tide at Noon (1957), a Rank Organisation melodrama shot in Nova Scotia. Although it was a bit part, the tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed 25-year-old made an impression on the producers, who invited him to England. Autographed
Despite having only spent a year in theatre school in Montreal, and having done little acting, Massie was thrust into the limelight in 1958 when he was chosen to play Brick opposite Kim Stanley as Maggie the Cat in a stage production of Tennessee Williams’s Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. Since it was forbidden to portray homosexuality (or even the suggestion of it) on the stage in Britain, the only way the play could be presented was under club conditions. Thus, by paying a five-shilling subscription, audiences were able to see Peter Hall’s production at the Comedy theatre, London. Though Kenneth Tynan thought Massie was not up to his female partner, the actor gathered huge praise for his performance in Anthony Asquith’s Orders to Kill (1958), for which he won a Bafta as most promising newcomer to film.Advertisement
Certainly it was his best role, one that suited his sensitive, rather self-effacing persona. Massie played a young American bomber pilot sent to Nazi-occupied Paris to kill a man believed to be betraying his colleagues in the French resistance. After getting to know his intended victim, he begins to have doubts about his mission. Massie is brilliant at conveying the dilemma in which he finds himself and in moments of panic, such as not being able to get out of a telephone booth.
In 1959, Massie appeared in two films in which he was equally ambivalent: in Basil Deardon’s Sapphire, as the possibly racist fiance of a murdered girl, known as a “lily skin”, having “passed herself off as white”, and in Asquith’s Libel, as an ex-PoW who accuses a baronet (Dirk Bogarde), claiming to have been in the same camp, of being an impostor. He then took the title roles in The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll (1960), a Hammer Horror version of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic. This time, the bearded, middle-aged Jekyll is transformed into a dashing and virile young playboy.
In a lighter vein, Massie, playing perfectly straight as a genuine artist, was phoney artist Tony Hancock’s roommate in a Paris attic in The Rebel (1961). While Massie delivers such lines as “Art to me is more than inspiration, it’s life itself … Every brush-stroke is torn out of my body … I’m seeking the volcanic turbulence of light and colour … I don’t just paint a chair, I become the chair.” Hancock, the leader of the school of the New Infantilism, tells him, “Your colours are the wrong shape.”
Massie was straight man again as a penniless music student surrounded by the likes of Leslie Phillips, Kenneth Williams and Sid James in Gerald “Carry On” Thomas’s Raising the Wind (1961). Massie’s last feature was as a wide-eyed new inmate of a prison in the Porridge-like The Pot Carriers (1962).
At the same time, Massie appeared in many television dramas and series such as Armchair Theatre (1959), No Hiding Place (1961), The Avengers (1965) and in the title role in all five episodes of Hawkeye, The Pathfinder (1973), based on James Fenimore Cooper’s novel.
Massie then gave up acting and taught at the University of South Florida for nearly 30 years, hardly ever referring to his past career. After his retirement in 1996, he was named professor emeritus. He lived his last days in a modest house on the south shore of Nova Scotia.
He is survived by his three sisters, Frances, Jacqueline and Dorothy.
• Paul Massie (Arthur Dickinson Massé), actor, born 7 July 1932; died 8 June 2011