james donald biog.

British Actor


Date of Birth
18 May 1917, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK

Date of Death
3 August 1993, Wiltshire, England, UK (stomach cancer)


    'Are they both mad, or am I going mad?
    Or is it the sun?'

    - Dr Clipton (James Donald)))<<

    Bridge on the River Kwai

If you want to see how youth turns into middle age watch the face of James Donald in two War movies, The Way Ahead (1944), and The Great Escape (1963), back to back. The arrogance of youth flickering on his face in the first is set in stone and lined with resignation in the second.

He was tall and gaunt, and played authority figures like military officers, doctors or scientists.

Born in Aberdeen, the fourth son of a Presbyterian minister, Donald made his first professional stage appearance sometime in the mid-30s, having been educated at Rossall School. During World War II he appeared in minor but important roles in such propaganda classics as In Which We Serve (1942), Went the Day Well? (Donald as a German is truly shocking but that was why he was cast) (1942) and The Way Ahead (1944). However, leading roles eluded him until Lust for Life (1956), in which he played Theo Van Gogh.

He then memorably portrayed Major Clipton in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). The final words of the film are his: "Madness. Madness!" He also played Group Captain Ramsey, the senior British officer in The Great Escape (1963), as well as supporting roles in other notable films both in Britain and the United States, including The Vikings (1958), King Rat (1965), Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), and Quatermass and the Pit (1967).

He also appeared regularly in many TV dramas in the UK and USA, as well as on stage.

Married with one stepson, he had retired from acting by the late 1970s because of his poor health. Instead, he grew grapes and made wine in Wiltshire where he died.


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