Robert Donat (1905 - 1958)

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Robert Donat
Born Friedrich Robert Donat 18 March 1905 Withington, England
Died 9 June 1958 (aged 53) London, England
Resting place East Finchley Cemetery
Occupation Actor
Years active 1921–1958
Spouse(s) Ella Annesley (m. 1929; div. 1946)
Renée Asherson (m. 1953; his death 1958)
Children 3
Relatives Peter Donat and Richard Donat (nephews)
Friedrich Robert Donat (18 March 1905 – 9 June 1958) was an English film and stage actor. 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.
In his book, The Age of the Dream Palace, Jeffrey Richards wrote that Donat was "The British cinema's one undisputed romantic leading man in the 1930s". "The image he projected was that of the romantic idealist, often with a dash of the gentleman adventurer."
Donat suffered from chronic asthma, which affected his career and limited him to appearing in only 20 films.
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. 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. He left school at 15, working as Bernard's secretary to fund his continued lessons. Donat also took part in dramatic recitals at various venues across the North West of England.
Donat made his first stage appearance in 1921 at age 16 with Henry Baynton's company at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Birmingham, playing Lucius in Julius Caesar. His break came in 1924 when he joined the company of Shakespearean actor Sir Frank Benson, where he stayed for four years.[6] He also worked in provincial repertory theatre.
In 1928 he began a year at the Liverpool Playhouse, starring in plays by Galsworthy, Shaw and Brighouse, among others. In 1929 he played at the Festival Theatre in Cambridge under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie. He appeared in a number of plays, some with Flora Robson, and also directed.
Donat married Ella Annesley Voysey (1903–1994) in 1929; the couple had three children together, but divorced in 1946.
London
In 1930 Donat moved to London, where he eventually made his debut in Knave and Quean at the Ambassadors Theatre. He received acclaim for a performance in a revival of St Joan.
In 1931 he achieved notice as Gideon Sarn in an adaptation of Precious Bane. He played roles at the 1931 Malvern Festival.
Around 1930 and 1931, he was known as "screen test Donat" in the industry because of his many unsuccessful auditions for film producers. MGM's producer 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.
Donat made his film debut in a quota quickie Men of Tomorrow (1932) for Alexander Korda's London Films. An abysmal screen test for Korda had ended with Donat's laughter. 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."
Korda cast Donat in the lead in That Night in London (1932), directed by Rowland V. Lee. He had a key role in Cash (1933), directed by Zoltan Korda, co starring Edmund Gwenn.
The Private Life of Henry VIII
Donat's first great screen success came in his fourth film. This was as Thomas Culpeper in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) for the same producer. The film, starring Charles Laughton in the title role, was an enormous success around the world, including Hollywood. Donat started receiving Hollywood offers.
At the 1933 Malvern Festival Donat received good reviews for his performance in A Sleeping Clergyman, which transferred to the West End. He was also in St Joan.
Korda loaned Donat to Edward Small for the only film Donat made in Hollywood, The Count of Monte Cristo (1934). (In exchange Leslie Howard was sent to Korda to make The Scarlet Pimpernel.)
The film was successful and Donat was offered the lead role in a number of films for Warners, including Anthony Adverse (1935) and another swashbuckler, Captain Blood (1935). However Donat did not like America and returned to Britain.
He played on stage in Mary Read opposite Flora Robson.
In England, Donat had the star role in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) opposite Madeleine Carroll. 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 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."
Hitchcock wanted Donat for the role of the agent in Secret Agent (1936) and Detective in Sabotage (1936), but this time Korda refused to release him. John Loder played the role. MGM wanted him for Romeo and Juliet but he turned them down. Sam Goldwyn made several offers which were turned down, as was an offer from David O. Selznick to appear in The Garden of Allah and Small to make The Son of Monte Cristo.
Donat's next film was for Korda, The Ghost Goes West (1935), a comedy directed by René Clair. In 1936 Donat took on the management of the Queen's Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, where he produced Red Night by J. L. Hodson.
Korda wanted Donat to make Hamlet. Instead the actor appeared in Korda's 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. 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. 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.
He was going to return to the US in 1937 to make Clementine for Small at RKO but changed his mind, fearing legal reprisals from Warners.
In 1938, Donat signed a contract with MGM British for £150,000 with a commitment to making six films.
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.
He played in Shaw's The Devil's Disciple (1938) on stage at the Piccadilly Theatre in London and the Old Vic.
Donat is best remembered for his role as the school master in Goodbye, 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." His rivals for the Best Actor Award were Clark Gable for Gone with the Wind, Laurence Olivier for Wuthering Heights, James Stewart for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mickey Rooney for Babes in Arms.
MGM wanted Donat to star in a movie about Beau Brummell and a new version of Pride and Prejudice but the war delayed this.
In the early days of World War Two, Donat focused on stage. He played three roles at the 1939 Buxton Festival, including a part in The Good Natured Man.
He had the title role in The Young Mr. Pitt (1942) for 20th Century Fox and played Captain Shotover in a new staging of Heartbreak House at the Cambridge Theatre in London from 1942–43. For MGM British he starred in The Adventures of Tartu (1943), with Valerie Hobson. Donat wanted to play the Chorus in Olivier's Henry V, but the role went to Leslie Banks.
In 1943 he took over the lease of the Westminster Theatre, staging a number of plays there until 1945, including An Ideal Husband (1943–44), The Glass Slipper (1944) and The Cure for Love (1945) by Walter Greenwood. With the latter, which he directed, he began his professional association with Renée Asherson, later his second wife.
Donat was reunited with Korda for Perfect Strangers (1945) with Deborah Kerr, the last film he did for MGM British.
In 1946 Donat and Asherson appeared at the Aldwych Theatre in a production of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Donat. He also directed The Man Behind the Statue by Peter Ustinov. Both lost money.

Donat had a cameo as Charles Parnell in Captain Boycott (1947) with Stewart Granger. He appeared on stage in a revival of A Sleeping Clergyman in 1947.

He longed desperately to be cast against type as Bill Sikes in David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948), but Lean thought him wrong for the part and cast Robert Newton instead. Donat played the male lead in The Winslow Boy (1948), a popular adaptation of the Terence Rattigan play.

Robert Donat Biography & Family History

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Birth


Withington, United Kingdom

Death


London, England United Kingdom
Cause of death: Brain tumor.

Cause of death

Brain tumor.

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FILM STAR
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. The film's soundtrack had to be re-recorded after shooting was completed because Donat's asthma had severely affected his voice. Modestly received by a reviewer in The Monthly Film Bulletin, and described as "pedestrian" by 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.
Donat appeared on radio. In 1949 he did a performance of Justify by John Galsworthy on Theatre Guild on the Air for America.
In 1950 he moved to Cyprus to help with his asthma.
Donat and Asherson also appeared in The Magic Box (1951), where Donat played William Friese-Greene. However his asthma was affecting his ability to perform. Donat married Asherson, his second wife, in 1953. They later separated, but might have reconciled.
He was cast as Thomas Becket in T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral in Robert Helpmann's production at The Old Vic rheatre in 1952 but, although his return to stage was well received, his illness forced him to withdraw during the run.[36] The same reason also caused him to drop out of the film Hobson's Choice (1954). Scheduled to play Willy Mossop, he was replaced by John Mills.[42] 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)."[43] David Thomson also suggested this explanation, and Donat himself thought that his illness had a 90% basis in his psychology. In a 1980 interview with Barry Norman, his first wife Ella Annesley Voysey (by then known as Ella Hall), said that Donat's asthma was a psychosomatic response to the birth of their daughter. According to her: "Robert was full of fear."
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.
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." He had collapsed with a stroke during filming but managed to recover to complete the film.
Several months after his death, Donat was nominated for his first Golden Globe and received a National Board of Review Special Citation for his performance.
Death and legacy
Donat died in London on 9 June 1958 at age 53. Regarding the actor's death, biographer Kenneth Barrow noted that Donat had "... a brain tumour the size of a duck egg and cerebral thrombosis was certified as the primary cause of death". He left an estate worth £25,236.
Donat has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6420 Hollywood Blvd. A blue plaque also commemorates his life at 8 Meadway in Hampstead Garden Suburb. His place of birth at 42 Everett Road in Withington is also commemorated by a similar plaque.[52] Donat's son, John Donat, (1933–2004), was an architectural photographer,[53] and actors Peter Donat and Richard Donat are his nephews.Friedrich Robert Donat (18 March 1905 – 9 June 1958)

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Timeline

1905 - In the year that Robert Donat was born, the German born physicist, Albert Einstein, proposed the Special Theory of Relativity: 1) that observers can never detect uniform motion except relative to other objects and that 2) unlike the velocity of massive objects, the speed of light is a constant and is the same for all observers independent of their constant velocity toward or away from the light source. Not such simple concepts that lead to the equation everyone now knows: E = mc2.

1933 - Robert was 28 years old when Frances Perkins became the first woman to hold a cabinet-level position, appointed by President Roosevelt to serve as Secretary of Labor. She told him that her priorities would be a 40-hour work week, a minimum wage, unemployment compensation, worker’s compensation, abolition of child labor, direct federal aid to the states for unemployment relief, Social Security, a revitalized federal employment service, and universal health insurance. President Roosevelt approved of all of them and most them were implemented during his terms as President. She served until his death in 1945.

1940 - Robert was 35 years old when in July, Billboard published its first Music Popularity Chart. Top recordings of the year were Tommy Dorsey's "I'll Never Smile Again" (vocal Frank Sinatra) - 12 weeks at the top, Bing Crosby's "Only Forever" - 9 weeks at the top, and Artie Shaw's "Frenesi" - 12 weeks at the top.

1941 - He was 36 years old when on December 7th, the Japanese attacked the military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The surprise aerial attack damaged 8 U.S. battleships (6 later returned to service), including the USS Arizona, and destroyed 188 aircraft. 2,402 American citizens died and 1,178 wounded were wounded. On December 8th, the U.S. declared war on Japan and on December 11th, Germany and Italy (allies of Japan) declared war on the United States. World War II was in full swing.

1958 - In the year of Robert Donat's passing, on March 24th, Elvis Presley was inducted into the United States Army. Although he could have served in Special Services as an entertainer, he chose to become a regular soldier. Almost everyone thought it would be the end of his career - it wasn't.

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Obituary

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Robert Donat passed away on June 9, 1958 in London, United Kingdom at age 53. His cause of death is listed as: brain tumor.. He was born on March 18, 1905 in Withington, United Kingdom. There is no information about Robert's surviving family.

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The Winslow Boy
Apr 13 · Reply
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