James Donald, 76, British actor best remembered for his role as the sympathetic doctor in David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” died Aug. 3 in Wiltshire, England, of stomach cancer.
The fourth son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister, Aberdeen-born Donald moved south to pursue a career in legit, debuting on the London stage in October 1938 in “The White Guard,” starring Marius Goring.
He rose to fame in the role of Roland Maule in Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter,” first staged in 1943.
Other stage parts include Peter Brook’s production of “The Brothers Karamazov” (1946), the assassin in Jean Cocteau’s “The Eagle Has Two Heads” ( 1947), “The Heiress,” and Laurence Olivier’s production of “Captain Carvallo” ( 1950).
Donald’s early films include “In Which We Serve” (1942) and Carol Reed’s “The Way Ahead.” In 1943 he signed a seven-year contract with MGM, notably portraying Kirk Douglas’ brother in the Van Gogh biopic “Lust for Life.”
Following “Kwai,” he also appeared in the POW dramas “The Great Escape” and “King Rat,” plus the Douglas starrer “Cast a Giant Shadow.”
Survived by his wife, Ann, and stepson Garth Alexander, former Variety Tokyo correspondent.