It’s not that he didn’t have a fine career. He was, after all, an Oscar winner. He worked with any number of the greats; Hitchcock was one of the many directors who captured his ability to project a sense of classy menace. Heck, if we want to go there, he’s one of the people who actually appeared on Columbo more than once, both as the killer and as the victim’s husband on separate episodes. He’s definitely one of the “they can’t all be classics” people, admittedly, given he made 130 movies and had 43 TV credits; he worked from the very beginning of the sound era—his first credit is from 1928—to the ’80s, very shortly before he died.
But I am who I am, and to me, he’s always going to be the sinister Aristotle Bolt in Escape From Witch Mountain. Boss to fellow Columbo murderer and “they can’t all be classics” club member Donald Pleasence. Certain that those two mysterious children will somehow make him money, even if the movie isn’t entirely clear on how. It’s a small, strange role from the days when Disney was casting actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood in as many minor roles as they could. It was an odd studio tradition, but it introduced the young Disney fan to a lot of great performers.
And my, but Ray Milland was great. In his early years, he was cast as a light romantic lead, or more frequently The Other Man. It wasn’t until The Lost Weekend that people realized there was more to him than that. His roles became more varied, everyone from Stanford White to the actual literal devil. When he started being seen as too old for leading roles, he mostly made the switch to television. But only mostly; his last film role was 1985’s Serpiente de Mar, the year before he died.
As for television? Yeah, not all winners there, either. I’m genuinely surprised he never did Perry Mason, and of course he died slightly too soon to do Murder, She Wrote. But he got his start in a show called Meet Mr. McNutley, also The Ray Milland Show, and since his character’s name changed to McNulty in the second season, one assumes it had still another name at some point. It’s one of those shows with a lot of people whose names you might not know but who you definitely recognize. Milland spent many years as the person you probably knew in assorted TV shows.
Now, it’s true that, during World War II, the FBI suspected him of meeting with Nazis in Mexico, which doesn’t seem to have been the case. And Tony Curtis apparently said in his memoirs that Milland was an anti-Semite. But that’s all the information I have on that. Certainly he applied for military service—he’d been in the Royal Guards before he got into acting—but a damaged left hand kept him out of the military. Instead, he toured with the USO. He was even a civilian flight instructor. And if he supported Reagan later in life, well, so did a lot of other great stars. At least he was more talented than Reagan.