The Lakes Region of New Hampshire holds an attraction to visitors looking to get away from the big city, but also for famous people seeking a little anonymity and a bit of peace and quiet. Whether spending a summer beside the lake or seeking a permanent country retreat, New Hampshire has provided the ideal setting for many celebrities, both past and present.
Residents of Sandwich are proud to count actor Claude Rains among their cultural treasures. The character actor best known for his role as Inspector Renault in the 1942 film classic, “Casablanca”, spent the final years of his life at the former Weed house at the junction of Route 109 and Little Pond Road in Sandwich.
Rains, also known for his roles as the title character in “The Invisible Man” and as Sir John Talbot in “The Wolf Man” as well as a Nazi spy in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious”, he earned four Academy Award nominations during his career. He earlier taught at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London where two notable students were John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier.
According to written accounts, Rains’ introduction to Sandwich came about when he and his fourth wife sent their daughter to camp in New Hampshire. Rains’ friend and physician, Charles Uhle, was a summer resident of Sandwich and he invited the actor and his wife to visit him there.
Rains was living at a 500-acre farm in Pennsylvania at the time but he later moved to a manor house that was similar in style to his future home, the Weed house, except that it was situated in West Chester, the county seat of Chester County. He missed living in the country; more so each time he visited Squam Lake with his friends. Eventually, he approached Denley Emerson, a Sandwich real estate agent, about finding a manor-style house similar to his West Chester home. Emerson successfully brokered the sale of the Weed house by Dorothy Weed, 84, in 1963.
Those who knew Rains said he was friendly, with a great sense of humor, but he valued his privacy and did not often accompany his then-wife, Rosemary (his sixth), to the dinner parties where she was ever the popular guest. There also were some amusing stories, such as one appearing in the Sandwich Historical Society Newsletter in 1995, in which biographer Toby Irene Cohen told of Rains taking long walks wearing a cape, a broad-brimmed hat, and dark glasses, “so as not to be noticed” — to which Cohen added, “Yet, undoubtedly, he anticipated such attire would have quite the opposite effect which is what he really wanted.”
Another account, by Del Brandt in the Weirs Times, had Rains expressing wonderment at some of the odd names one encounters in New Hampshire: Hart’s Location, Horse Corner, Ewings Grant, etc. That was followed by the actor telling his listener that, although he had spent time in London, where he was born in 1889, “the rest of the time we divided between Chipping Norton, Biggleswade, and Leighton Buzzard.”
The home he bought in Sandwich was modernized, but not greatly altered, as Rains believed in honoring the integrity of historic houses and barns. He had the kitchen updated, enclosed a small porch, and had an icehouse turned into an art studio for his wife. The other changes were cosmetic, such as painting the walls and selecting curtains. He reportedly had bookshelves from ceiling to floor and his daughter said he read every book he owned.
Rains also took pride in the yard, planting lilacs, magnolias, hydrangeas, and crabapple trees.
By all accounts, he enjoyed his time in Sandwich but he was disheartened after Rosemary took ill and died in late 1964. He also battled ill health which prevented him from returning to acting, and he died of an intestinal hemorrhage on May 30, 1967.
Claude and Rosemary Rains are buried at Red Hill Cemetery in Center Harbor, with matching, black marble headstones. On his stone is the epitaph, “All things once/Are things forever/Soul once living/lives forever.”