Ray Milland said he was a screen star for years before he understood enough about acting to handle his Oscar-winning role as Hollywood's most memorable alcoholic.
In "The Lost Weekend," his most famous role and the one for which he won a 1946 Oscar as lead actor, Milland played a dipsomaniac young writer so convincingly that he even fooled some friends into thinking he actually had become an alcoholic.
It happened, he later explained in his autobiography, during the filming of some sequences in New York City. As camouflaged cameras were shooting, a purportedly drunk Milland was staggering along 3rd Avenue when a friend saw him.
When the friend returned to Los Angeles she called Milland's wife and told her that her husband had become a bum. The story of Milland, the drunken derelict, was picked up by some of the Hollywood trade papers.
A frantic Mal Milland called her husband. And Milland, as he later wrote in "Wide-Eyed in Babylon," published in 1974, called Paramount Studios, which squelched the rumors.
Until "The Lost Weekend," Milland had been perceived in Hollywood as a light leading man with a ready smile and an agreeable disposition. He had never been regarded as an actor capable of handling a serious part.
Even he had doubts about whether he could play the role of Don Birnam, the writer staggering down 3rd Avenue, trying to pawn his battered typewriter.
"It was the first real job of acting—the first assignment to play someone other than myself—I'd ever been offered," he told an interviewer later. "I wasn't at all sure I was ready for it; that I knew enough about my craft. But I had to try. . . ."
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