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James, Pamela, and Portland Mason, “Genesis/Creation” (1956?)
from James Mason with Pamela and Portland Read Bible Stories for Children 
PRI Records L-1690

What better place to begin?

I’m guessing at 1956: It was  Mason’s entrepreneurial peak, having that year produced and cowritten the film Bigger Than Life and starred in the short-lived James Mason Show on TV. This LP was probably a spin-off from or tie-in to the latter, which also featured his wife and daughter. It was part of a minor Cold War fad of having distinguished British actors intoning Bible verses on LP. Laughton did it, Olivier did it, God knows who else did it, but many cut albums aimed at wringing some easy coin from the US heartland for an afternoon’s work in the studio. This seems a slightly more thoughtful, charming, and heartfelt effort, given the involvement of the whole family, the original score, and the artwork. No credit on the script is given; perhaps Mason wrote that as well. He was a conscientious objector during World War II, implying some ethical or religious underpinnings to the man.

The LP is even more a Cold War relic than it first appears. While Laughton was on Decca and Olivier was on Mercury, Mason’s effort ended up on PRI Records, “a division of Precision Radiation Instruments Inc,” which, this page tells us, was a manufacturer of Geiger counters that had entered the record business. I smell tax write-offs, but who knows?

Mason’s television and recording career may not have survived 1956, but his movie career went from strength to strength: North by Northwest and Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1959, Lolita in 1962, etc. Then came an expensive divorce from Pamela and the need to pay for it, leading to a filmography notable more for quantity than quality and episodes such as a commercial for Thunderbird—the wine, not the car—which Mason apparently scripted himself. Sadly for Mason’s posthumous reputation and hilariously for the rest of us, it seems to have inspired this uncanny bit of impersonation/character assassination from Jon Hamm.

That’s a long way from Genesis.

Credited as engineer on the record is Bones Howe, in what must have been one of his first assignments at Hollywood’s Radio Recorders at the beginning of a storied career (the Turtles, the Association, the Fifth Dimension, Tom Waits, etc.).

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