Robert Donat

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Robert Donat (18 March 1905 – 9 June 1958) was an English film and stage actor.[1] He is best-known for his roles in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps and Goodbye, Mr. Chips for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor.


Early life

Donat was born Friedrich Robert Donat in Withington, Manchester, England, to Ernst Emil Donat and his wife Rose Alice (née Green) who were married at Withington, St Paul, in 1895. He was of English, Polish, German and French descent and was educated at Manchester’s Central High School for Boys.

Donat had a brother, John Donat, who was a trapper in Canada and later moved to Shelton, Connecticut. John Donat's children were Jean, Jay, and Peter. He was the owner of Lake George Camp for Girls in Gull Bay, New York, which catered to old New York families.


He made his first stage appearance in 1921 and his film debut in 1932 in Men of Tomorrow. His first great screen success came with The Private Life of Henry VIII, playing Thomas Culpepper.

He had a successful screen image as an English gentleman who was neither haughty nor common. That made him something of a novelty in British films at the time, and he was likened by critics to Hollywood's Clark Gable and Gary Cooper. His most successful films included The Ghost Goes West (1935), Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935), The Citadel (1938), for which he received his first Best Actor Oscar nomination, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). The latter saw him win the Academy Award for Best Actor, over 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. He was a major theatre star, noted for his performances on the British stage in Shaw's The Devil's Disciple (1938) and Heartbreak House (1942), Much Ado About Nothing (1946), and especially as Thomas Becket in T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral at the Old Vic Theatre (1952).

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