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Friedrich Robert Donat
Robert Donat
(18 March 1905 – 9 June 1958) was an English film and stage actor.[1] He is best remembered for his roles in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), winning for the latter the Academy Award for Best Actor. Donat was also a successful stage actor, despite the challenge of chronic asthma from which he suffered.

Contents

1 Early life and career 2 Stardom 3 Later life and career 4 Death and legacy 5 Filmography 6 References 7 External links

Early life and career[edit] Donat was born in Withington, Manchester, the fourth and youngest son of Ernst Emil Donat, a civil engineer of German origin from Prussian Poland, and his wife Rose Alice Green.[2] He was of English, Polish, German and French descent and was educated at Manchester's Central High School for Boys. He took elocution lessons with James Bernard. Donat made his first stage appearance in 1921, at the age of 16, with Henry Baynton's company at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Birmingham, playing Lucius in Julius Caesar. His real break came in 1924 when he joined the company of Shakespearean actor Sir Frank Benson, where he stayed for four years.[3] Donat married Ella Annesley Voysey (1903–1994) in 1929; the couple had three children together but divorced in 1946. Stardom[edit] "The British cinema's one undisputed romantic leading man in the 1930s was Robert Donat", wrote Jeffrey Richards in his book The Age of the Dream Palace.[4] "The image he projected was that of the romantic idealist, often with a dash of the gentleman adventurer."[5] Initially, around 1930 and 1931, he was known as "screen test" Donat in the industry because of his many unsuccessful auditions for film producers.[6] MGM's producer Irving Thalberg
Irving Thalberg
spotted him on the London stage in Precious Bane, and Donat was offered a part in the American studio's Smilin' Through (1932). He rejected this offer.[5] Instead, Donat made his film debut in a quota quickie Men of Tomorrow
Men of Tomorrow
(1932) for Alexander Korda's London Films. An abysmal screen test for Korda had ended with Donat's laughter.[7] Reputedly, Korda in response exclaimed: "That's the most natural laugh I have ever heard in my life. What acting! Put him under contract immediately."[6] Donat's first great screen success soon followed in his fourth film. This was as Thomas Culpeper in The Private Life of Henry VIII
The Private Life of Henry VIII
(1933) for the same producer.[8] Korda loaned him to Edward Small for the only film Donat made in Hollywood, The Count of Monte Cristo (1934).[9] He did not care for the film colony and, despite being offered the lead role in Captain Blood (1935),[10] returned to Britain to begin work on Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) opposite Madeleine Carroll.[10] His performance was well-received: "Mr Donat, who has never been very well served in the cinema until now, suddenly blossoms out into a romantic comedian of no mean order", wrote the film critic C. A. Lejeune in The Observer at the time of the film's release. Lejeune observed that he possessed "an easy confident humour that has always been regarded as the perquisite of the American male star. For the first time on our screen we have the British equivalent of a Clark Gable
Clark Gable
or a Ronald Colman, playing in a purely national idiom. Mr Donat, himself, I fancy, is hardly conscious of it, which is all to the good."[11] Hitchcock wanted Donat for the role of the Detective in Sabotage (1936), but this time Korda refused to release him.[12] In 1936 Donat took on the management of the Queen's Theatre
Queen's Theatre
in Shaftesbury Avenue
Shaftesbury Avenue
where he produced Red Night by J. L. Hodson.[2] He made two further films under his contract with Korda, The Ghost Goes West (1935), and Knight Without Armour
Knight Without Armour
(1937). Korda became committed to the latter project because of Donat's indecision. Madeleine Carroll had read the James Hilton novel while shooting The 39 Steps, and had persuaded Donat that it could be a good second film for them to star in together. Donat acquired the rights and passed them on to Korda, although by now Carroll was unavailable.[13] His eventual co-star, Marlene Dietrich, was the source of much attention when she arrived in Britain, in which Donat was involved, and this was enough for him to suffer a nervous collapse a few days into the shooting schedule. Donat entered a nursing home.[13] The production delay caused by Donat's asthma led to talk of replacing him. Dietrich, contracted by Korda for $450,000, threatened to leave the project if this happened, and production was halted for two months, until Donat was able to return to work.[14] In 1938, Donat signed a contract with MGM British for £150,000 with a commitment to making 6 films.[15][16] In The Citadel (1938), he played Andrew Manson, a newly qualified Scottish doctor, a role for which he received his first Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Donat is best remembered for his role as the school master in Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Mr. Chips
(1939). Australian film critic Brian McFarlane writes: "Class-ridden and sentimental perhaps, it remains extraordinarily touching in his Oscar-winning performance, and it ushers in the Donat of the postwar years."[17] His rivals for the Best Actor Award were Clark Gable
Clark Gable
for Gone with the Wind, Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
for Wuthering Heights, James Stewart
James Stewart
for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
and Mickey Rooney for Babes in Arms. He was a major theatre star. His stage career included performances in Shaw's The Devil's Disciple
The Devil's Disciple
(1938) and Captain Shotover in a new staging of Heartbreak House
Heartbreak House
(1942). With The Cure for Love (1945) by Walter Greenwood, one of the stage productions he directed, he began his professional association with Renée Asherson, later his second wife.[18] This continued with a production of Much Ado About Nothing (1946) with the couple playing Benedict and Beatrice. Donat lobbied hard for two film roles: he was cast in neither. He wanted to play the Chorus in Olivier's Henry V, but the role went to Leslie Banks, and he longed desperately to be cast against type as Bill Sikes
Bill Sikes
in David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948), but Lean thought him wrong for the part and cast Robert Newton
Robert Newton
instead. The MGM British contract ended with litigation, and he made only two more films for the company, The Adventures of Tartu
The Adventures of Tartu
(1943), with Valerie Hobson
Valerie Hobson
and Perfect Strangers (1945) with Deborah Kerr. Later life and career[edit] Donat suffered from chronic asthma, which affected his career and limited him to appearing in only twenty films.[19] Donat and Asherson reprised their stage roles in the film version of The Cure for Love (1949). His only film as director, its production was affected by his ill health.[18][20] The film's soundtrack had to be re-recorded after shooting was completed because Donat's asthma had severely affected his voice.[21] Modestly received by a reviewer in the Monthly Film Bulletin, and described as "pedestrian" by Philip French
Philip French
in 2009, it was a hit in the North. In this film, Donat used his natural Mancunian accent, which his early elocution lessons had attempted to completely suppress.[22][23] Donat married Asherson, his second wife, in 1953. They later separated, but might have reconciled.[20] He was cast as Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket
in T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral in Robert Helpmann's production at the Old Vic Theatre
Old Vic Theatre
in 1952, but although his return to stage was well received, his illness forced him to withdraw during the run.[21] The same reason also caused him to drop out of Hobson's Choice (1954). Scheduled to play Willy Mossop, he was replaced by John Mills.[24] Author David Shipman speculates that Donat's asthma may have been psychosomatic: "His tragedy was that the promise of his early years was never fulfilled and that he was haunted by agonies of doubt and disappointment (which probably were the cause of his chronic asthma)."[25] David Thomson also suggested this explanation,[26] and Donat himself thought that his illness had a 90% basis in his psychology.[4] In a 1980 interview with Barry Norman, his first wife Ella Annesley Voysey (by then known as Ella Hall),[27] said that Donat's asthma was a psychosomatic response to the birth of their daughter. According to her: "Robert was full of fear."[28] Lease of Life (1954), made by Ealing Studios, was his penultimate film in which Donat plays a Vicar who discovers that he has a terminal illness.[21] Donat's final role was the mandarin Yang Cheng in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958). His last spoken words in this film, an emotional soliloquy in which he confesses his conversion reducing Ingrid Bergman as the missionary to tears, were the prophetic, "We shall not see each other again, I think. Farewell." Several months after his death, Donat was nominated for his first Golden Globe and received a National Board of Review Special
Special
Citation for his performance. Death and legacy[edit] He died on 9 June 1958 aged 53 in London. His biographer Kenneth Barrow writes on the cause of his death: "Perhaps the asthma had weakened him but, in fact, it was discovered he had a brain tumour the size of a duck egg and cerebral thrombosis was certified as the primary cause of death."[29] Donat has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Walk of Fame
for motion pictures at 6420 Hollywood Blvd. A blue plaque commemorates Donat at 8 Meadway in Hampstead Garden Suburb.[30] His place of birth at 42 Everett Road in Withington
Withington
is also commemorated by a similar plaque.[31] The architectural photographer, John Donat (1933–2004), was his son[32] and the actors Peter Donat and Richard Donat are his nephews. Filmography[edit]

Robert Donat
Robert Donat
and Elissa Landi
Elissa Landi
in The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)

Year Title Role Notes

1932 Men of Tomorrow Julian Angell

1932 That Night in London Dick Warren

1933 Cash Paul Martin

1933 Private Life of Henry VIII, TheThe Private Life of Henry VIII Thomas Culpeper

1934 Count of Monte Cristo, TheThe Count of Monte Cristo Edmond Dantès, the eponymous Count

1935 39 Steps, TheThe 39 Steps Richard Hannay

1936 Ghost Goes West, TheThe Ghost Goes West Murdoch Glourie/Donald Glourie

1937 Knight Without Armour A. J. Fothergill

1938 Citadel, TheThe Citadel Dr. Andrew Manson Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor

1939 Goodbye, Mr. Chips Mr. Chips Academy Award for Best Actor Nominated — New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor (3rd place)

1942 Young Mr Pitt, TheThe Young Mr Pitt William Pitt / The Earl of Chatham

1943 Adventures of Tartu, TheThe Adventures of Tartu Captain Terence Stevenson / Jan Tartu released in the United States as Sabotage Agent

1943 New Lot, TheThe New Lot Actor uncredited

1945 Perfect Strangers Robert Wilson released in the United States as Vacation From Marriage

1947 Captain Boycott Charles Stewart Parnell

1948 Winslow Boy, TheThe Winslow Boy Sir Robert Morton

1950 Cure for Love, TheThe Cure for Love Sergeant Jack Hardacre

1951 Magic Box, TheThe Magic Box William Friese-Greene, "the forgotten inventor of movies"

1954 Lease of Life Rev. William Thorne Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role

1958 Inn of the Sixth Happiness, TheThe Inn of the Sixth Happiness Mandarin of Yang Cheng, TheThe Mandarin of Yang Cheng National Board of Review
National Board of Review
Special
Special
Citation Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama (both recognitions were posthumous)

References[edit]

^ Obituary Variety, 11 June 1958. ^ a b Ivor Brown and K.D Reynolds "Donat, (Frederick) Robert", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004 ^ [1] Donat Family Letters – John Rylands University Library ^ a b Jeffrey Richards The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in 1930s Britain, London: I.B Tauris, 2010 [1984], p.225 ^ a b Richards, p.226 ^ a b "Mr. Donat Captures Hollywood", The Milwaukee Journal, 9 July 1939, p.26 ^ Charles Drazin Korda: Britain's Movie Mogul, London: I.B. Tauris, 2011, p.90 ^ "Notes on Films". The Sunday Herald. Sydney. 23 July 1950. p. 6 Supplement: Features. Retrieved 7 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.  ^ Peter Hopkinson Screen of Change, London: UKA Press, 2008, p.84 ^ a b "The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)", TCM Film Article ^ Mark Glancy The 39 Steps, London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003, p.91 ^ Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock
and François Truffaut Hitchcock, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985, p.109 ^ a b Drazin, p.170-71 ^ Charlotte Chandler Marlene: Marlene Dietrich, A Personal Biography, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011, p.120 ^ H. Mark Glancy When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' Film 1939–1945, Manchester: Manchester
Manchester
University Press, 1999, p.82 ^ Joan Littlefield "Film Producers Have Learned How Brains Can Make Winners: Britain On The Screen", The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 8 June 1938, p.4 ^ Brian McFarlane "Donat, Robert (1905–1958)", BFI screenonline reprinted from McFarlane (ed.) Encyclopedia of British Cinema, London: Methuen/BFI, 2003, p.183 ^ a b Obituary: Renée Asherson, Daily Telegraph, 4 November 2014. Retrieved 4 November 2014 ^ "illness May Silence Donat's Golden Voice". The Sunday Herald. Sydney. 2 August 1953. p. 14. Retrieved 7 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.  ^ a b Simon Farquhar "Renée Asherson: Actress renowned for her grace and beauty", The Independent, 6 November 2014 ^ a b c "Mr. Donat has a new Lease of Life" Sydney Morning Herald, 28 October 1954. Retrieved 27 July 2010 ^ Michael Brooke "Cure For Love, The (1949)", BFI screenonline ^ Philip French
Philip French
"Philip French's screen legends, No 54: Robert Donat 1905–1958", The Observer, 19 April 2009 ^ Obituary: Sir John Mills, Daily Telegraph, 25 April 2005 ^ David Shipman The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, London: Macdonald, 1989, p.176 ^ David Thomson The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, London: Little, Brown, 2002, p.241 ^ "The British Greats: 2, Robert Donat", BBC Genome, 6 August 1980 from Radio Times Issue 2960, 31 July 1980, p.50 ^ reprinted in The Listener, vol.104, p.241 ^ Barrow, Kenneth (1985). Mr Chips: The Life of Robert Donat, London: Methuen, p. 191. ISBN 0-413-58070-9. ^ "DONAT, ROBERT (1905–1958)". English Heritage. Retrieved 5 August 2012.  ^ "Hello Mr Chips – plaque marks home of Oscar winner Robert Donat". MEN Media. Retrieved 7 August 2013.  ^ https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/home/john-donat-1933-2004/139560.article

External links[edit]

Robert Donat
Robert Donat
on IMDb Robert Donat
Robert Donat
at the British Film Institute's Screenonline Robert Donat
Robert Donat
archive at the University of Bristol
University of Bristol
Theatre Collection- University of Bristol Robert Donat
Robert Donat
Papers, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester Photographs and literature Robert Donat
Robert Donat
Blog The Sire de Maletroit's Door starring Robert Donat
Robert Donat
on Theatre Royal: 1 November 1953.

v t e

Academy Award for Best Actor

1928–1950

Emil Jannings
Emil Jannings
(1928) Warner Baxter
Warner Baxter
(1929) George Arliss
George Arliss
(1930) Lionel Barrymore
Lionel Barrymore
(1931) Fredric March
Fredric March
/ Wallace Beery
Wallace Beery
(1932) Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
(1933) Clark Gable
Clark Gable
(1934) Victor McLaglen
Victor McLaglen
(1935) Paul Muni
Paul Muni
(1936) Spencer Tracy
Spencer Tracy
(1937) Spencer Tracy
Spencer Tracy
(1938) Robert Donat
Robert Donat
(1939) James Stewart
James Stewart
(1940) Gary Cooper
Gary Cooper
(1941) James Cagney
James Cagney
(1942) Paul Lukas
Paul Lukas
(1943) Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby
(1944) Ray Milland
Ray Milland
(1945) Fredric March
Fredric March
(1946) Ronald Colman
Ronald Colman
(1947) Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
(1948) Broderick Crawford
Broderick Crawford
(1949) José Ferrer
José Ferrer
(1950)

1951–1975

Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey Bogart
(1951) Gary Cooper
Gary Cooper
(1952) William Holden
William Holden
(1953) Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
(1954) Ernest Borgnine
Ernest Borgnine
(1955) Yul Brynner
Yul Brynner
(1956) Alec Guinness
Alec Guinness
(1957) David Niven
David Niven
(1958) Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston
(1959) Burt Lancaster
Burt Lancaster
(1960) Maximilian Schell
Maximilian Schell
(1961) Gregory Peck
Gregory Peck
(1962) Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier
(1963) Rex Harrison
Rex Harrison
(1964) Lee Marvin
Lee Marvin
(1965) Paul Scofield
Paul Scofield
(1966) Rod Steiger
Rod Steiger
(1967) Cliff Robertson
Cliff Robertson
(1968) John Wayne
John Wayne
(1969) George C. Scott1 (1970) Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman
(1971) Marlon Brando1 (1972) Jack Lemmon
Jack Lemmon
(1973) Art Carney
Art Carney
(1974) Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson
(1975)

1976–2000

Peter Finch
Peter Finch
(1976) Richard Dreyfuss
Richard Dreyfuss
(1977) Jon Voight
Jon Voight
(1978) Dustin Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman
(1979) Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro
(1980) Henry Fonda
Henry Fonda
(1981) Ben Kingsley
Ben Kingsley
(1982) Robert Duvall
Robert Duvall
(1983) F. Murray Abraham
F. Murray Abraham
(1984) William Hurt
William Hurt
(1985) Paul Newman
Paul Newman
(1986) Michael Douglas
Michael Douglas
(1987) Dustin Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman
(1988) Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis
(1989) Jeremy Irons
Jeremy Irons
(1990) Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins
(1991) Al Pacino
Al Pacino
(1992) Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
(1993) Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
(1994) Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage
(1995) Geoffrey Rush
Geoffrey Rush
(1996) Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson
(1997) Roberto Benigni
Roberto Benigni
(1998) Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey
(1999) Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe
(2000)

2001–present

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington
(2001) Adrien Brody
Adrien Brody
(2002) Sean Penn
Sean Penn
(2003) Jamie Foxx
Jamie Foxx
(2004) Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman
(2005) Forest Whitaker
Forest Whitaker
(2006) Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis
(2007) Sean Penn
Sean Penn
(2008) Jeff Bridges
Jeff Bridges
(2009) Colin Firth
Colin Firth
(2010) Jean Dujardin
Jean Dujardin
(2011) Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis
(2012) Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey
(2013) Eddie Redmayne
Eddie Redmayne
(2014) Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio
(2015) Casey Affleck
Casey Affleck
(2016) Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman
(2017)

1 refused award that year

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 46958124 LCCN: n85120517 ISNI: 0000 0000 8379 7529 GND: 114221251 SUDOC: 145719995 BNF: cb14011615v (data) MusicBrainz: 33a4dc66-973e-424b-adce-8163be8da674 BNE: XX1166

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