Charles Ray was born Charles Edgar Alfred Ray in Jacksonville, IL., March 15, 1891. Ray's father worked for a railroad causing them to move quite a bit, so he attended schools in both Springfield and Peoria before the family moved to Needles, CA., first, and then Los Angeles. While in Needles, he worked at the local theatre doing mostly menial jobs, but occasionally being given the opportunity to have a walk-on or other small part. While attending Los Angeles Polytechnic High School, he earned one dollar a performance for walk-on parts at the Burbank Theatre and the Mason Opera House. He began attending a business school, but this was not his interest, and his sister provided the funding for him to attend the Wallace Dramatic School. In the ensuing years, he produced short plays with some friends in local movies houses and worked at least one summer with a traveling theatre troupe. Ray recalled that he learned Thomas Ince was hiring actors, and, on Dec. 12, 1912, he went to the studio where director Charles Giblyn put him on the payroll as an extra. Ray's talent at make-up attracted the attention of Ince, and during the conversation between the two, Ray admitted that he felt better suited to juvenile roles than cowboys and Indians. Ince eventually gave him a juvenile role in the Civil War drama "The Favourite Son" (1913). During the next two years, Ray played mostly in stories with a Civil War or Puritan background, but the parts became more significant sometimes being placed in a lead role. Finally, in 1915, he was cast in "The Coward" as the terrified young Confederate soldier whose father cannot bear the thought of a coward in his family. Although Ray soon became most famous for his "hick" portrayals, this is not the only type of film he made. Following "The Coward," Ray's portrayals included an adventurer in Arabia, a painter who falls in love with his model, an Army deserter, a rich man's son, a young man who goes to Ireland to claim his inheritance, the son of a prosecuter who is defended on a murder charge by his father's lawyer-wife, a playboy, etc. However, it was films like "The Clodhopper" (1917), "A Nine O'Clock Town" (1918), "String Beans" (1919) and "The Busher" (1919) that established the rural, shy, hick character for which he became so popular. During most of these years, Ince was a part of the Triangle company, and Ray continued with Ince when he moved over to Paramount. Ray eventually left Paramount and contended that the reason was he wanted to form his own production company. In his autobiography"The Public Is Never Wrong," Paramount head Adolph Zukor claimed he offered Ray $5,000 a week to which Ray replied, "That offer is an insult." So, for whatever the reason, Ray began his own production company with some relative success in the begining with films such as "45 Minutes From Broadway" (1920) and "The Old Swimmin' Hole" (1921), an experiment in a film with no intertitles. He began releasing his pictures through First National, but then struck a deal with United Artists and produced two pictures, "A Tailor-Made Man" (1922) and "The Girl I Loved" (1923), the latter being a rural tale and one of his best. In 1923, Ray unwisely sunk every cent he had and could borrow into the lavish costume drama "The Courtship of Miles Standish." The venture was a dismal failure, and Ray, who had been living a rather extravagant lifestyle due to his past success, had to sell his house and move into an inexpensive apartment while his wife, Clara, opened a dress shop. Thomas Ince came to Ray's rescue and cast him in films that did not go back to the country hick character, but they did exploit the "innocence triumphs over evil" theme with success. Ray's good fortune was short-lived, however. Ince died suddenly while on a weekend trip on William Randolph Hearst's yacht. Ray's career from 1924 to 1928 was a mixture of some good and bad. After Ince's death, he did films for poverty-row studio Chadwich, but then was signed for four films with MGM, who, unfortunately, did not renew his contract. He played in films opposite Leatrice Joy and Marie Prevost for Producers' Distributing Corporation, but came back with two commendable portrayals in Universal's "The Count of Ten" (1928) and opposite Corinne Griffith in "The Garden of Eden" (1928), his last silent film. Although Ray had been trained on the stage and had a good voice, he was unable to get work in talkies. He did some stage work, wrote an unsuccessful play, and wrote a novel and a collection of short stories that did not sell. Although he and his wife had earlier moved to New York to be closer to the stage work he wanted, they divorced in 1934. He married Yvonne Guerin, a beautiful Parisienne, and they moved to Los Angeles. His sound movie debut was in Cary Grant's "Ladies Should Listen" (1934) with a few lines as a doorman. He had bit parts in a few other features during the next two years, but went from 1936 to 1940 without a film role. Finally, in 1940, he was cast in "A Little Bit of Heaven" (1940), and after a decent role as an American businessman in "A Yank in the RAF" (1941), he seemed to be on the road to a renewed career. Unfortunately, in 1942, he went bankrupt a second time, and his wife died. On Nov. 23, 1943, Ray died, the official cause of death being listed as infection from an impacted tooth. He was 52 years old.
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