James Donald (James Robert MacGeorge)

James Donald

James Donald (18 May 1917 – 3 August 1993) was a Scottish actor. Tall and thin, he specialised in playing authority figures.  Donald was born in Aberdeen, and made his first professional stage appearance in the late-1930s, having been educated at Rossall School on Lancashire’s Fylde coast. During World War II he had minor roles in war films including, In Which We Serve (1942), Went the Day Well? (1942), and The Way Ahead (1944). He played Mr. Winkle in the 1952 film version of The Pickwick Papers. However, leading roles eluded him until he played Theo Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956).  His work in the theatre included Noël Coward’s Present Laughter (1943) which starred Coward himself, and The Eagle with Two Heads (1947), You Never Can Tell (1948), and The Heiress (1949) with Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft and Donald Sinden.

He memorably portrayed Major Clipton, the doctor who expresses grave doubts about the sanity of Col. Nicholson’s (Alec Guinness) efforts to build the bridge in order to show up his Japanese captors, in the blockbuster classic film The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). He had the honour of speaking the film’s iconic final words: “Madness!, Madness!” He also played another memorable military character, Group Captain Ramsey, the Senior British Officer in The Great Escape (1963), as well as 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).  Donald starred in a 1960 television adaptation of A. J. Cronin’s The Citadel and appeared regularly in many other television dramas in the UK and US, as well as on stage. In 1961, he played Prince Albert opposite Julie Harris’s Queen Victoria, in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Laurence Housman’s play Victoria Regina, for which he received an Emmy nomination.  Donald retired from acting in part because of a lifelong asthmatic condition. He died of stomach cancer on 3 August 1993. He was survived by his wife, Ann, and a stepson.


  • May, 18, 1917
  • United Kingdom
  • Aberdeen, Scotland


  • August, 03, 1993
  • United Kingdom
  • Wiltshire, England

Cause of Death

  • stomach cancer

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