Scottish-born actor James Donald was born in Aberdeen on May 18, 1917, and took his first professional stage bow some time in the late 30s. He finally attained a degree of stardom in 1943 for his sterling performance in Noël Coward’s “Present Laughter”, which starred Coward himself. Subsequent post-war theatre work included “The Eagle with Two Heads” (1947), “You Never Can Tell” (1948) and “The Heiress” (1949) with Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft and Donald Sinden.
Rather humorless in character with a gaunt, intent-looking face and no-nonsense demeanor, James made his debut in British films in 1942, fitting quite comfortably into the stoic war-era mold with roles in such noteworthy military sagas as In Which We Serve (1942) and The Way Ahead (1944). Ably supporting such top-notch actors as Spencer Tracy and Deborah Kerr in Edward, My Son (1949) and Elizabeth Taylor and Stewart Granger in Beau Brummell (1954), he also managed to head up a number of films including White Corridors (1951) in which he and Googie Withers play husband and wife doctors who try to balance career and marriage; Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers (1952) as “Nathaniel Winkle”, and Project M7 (1953) as a scientist obsessed with his work. In addition, he earned superb marks for a number of quality films in the 1950s and 1960s. His portrayal of painter ‘Vincent Van Gogh”s brother “Theo” in Lust for Life (1956) with Kirk Douglas, was quite memorable, as was his trenchant work in the WWII POW dramas The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Great Escape (1963), and King Rat (1965). Most of the men he played were intelligent, moral-minded and honorable. While continuing to perform on stage, he also gained TV exposure. James received an Emmy nomination for his role as “Prince Albert” opposite Julie Harris in Victoria Regina (1961), and performed the part of the cruel-eyed stepfather “Mr. Murdstone” in the period remake of David Copperfield (1970) toward the end of his career. Off the screen for a number of years, he died of stomach cancer on August 3, 1993 in England. He was 76.
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