James Albert Stephenson was a British actor. The son of chemist and druggist John G. Stephenson and his wife Emma, Stephenson grew up in the West Riding of Yorkshire and Burnley, Lancashire, with his brothers, Alan and Norman. He became a bank clerk and later had a career as a merchant. In the 1930s, he emigrated to the United States and took U.S. nationality in 1938.
Stephenson lacks a body of work that insists on being dealt with here. Yet 1 welcome him into the book, because his Howard Joyce in The Letter is one of the great performances in film history. And that was noted at the time: after a string of minor roles, Stephenson was nominated as best supporting actor in the film (he lost to Walter Brennan in The Westerner a comic reversal of justice). Except that Stephenson is hardly a supporting actor in the film. He is actually credited as a star, and I’m sure lie’s on screen more than Herbert Marshall as the husband. Indeed, I think of The Letter as a series of terrible examinations in which Stephenson gradually exposes Davis’s guilt, and his own distress.
He was an English stage actor (as far as I can tell) who arrived in Holhwood (at Warners) only in the mid-1980s. He worked hard for the next few years, but so many of his parts were far smaller than his capacity: King of the Underworld (37, Lewis Seiler); The Cowboi/from Brooklyn (38, Lloyd Bacon); Boy Meets Girl (38, Bacon); Nancy Drew, Detective (38, William Clemens); Devil’s Island (39, Clemens), with Boris Karloff; Torchy Blane in Chinatown (39, William Beau- dine): Secret Service of the Air (39, Noel Smith), a Ronald Reagan picture; Confessions of a Nazi Spy (39, Anatole Litvak); The Old Maid (39, Edmund Goulding), with Bette Davis; as Major de Beaujolais in Bean Geste (39, William Wellman); as Egerton in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (39, Michael Curtiz); We Are Not Alone (39, Colliding); the lead in Calling Philo Vance (40, Clemens); The Sea Hawk (40, Curtiz); Murder in the Air (40, Seiler); A Dispatch from Beaters (40, William Dieterle); as a shrink who hardly realizes Geraldine Fitzgerald loves him in Shining Victory (41, Irving Rapper); teaching Reagan in International Squadron (41, Lothar Mendes); Flight from Destiny (41, Vincent Sherman).
He died, of a heart attack, in Los Angeles in 1941. Of course, he didn’t look well in The Letter, but one reads that as the impact of Leslie Crosbie.
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Born April 14, 1889
Died July 29, 1941