At age 11, Robert Donat began taking elocution lessons to overcome a stutter, going on to develop an exceptional and versatile voice. At 16 he debuted onstage and later played a number of Shakespearean and classical roles in repertory and touring companies; it was almost ten years, however, before he made his London debut. In the early '30s he attracted the attention of filmmakers, and signed a contract with Alexander Korda; almost immediately he was internationally famous for his romantic lead in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), his third film. He made one film in Hollywood but he didn't like the town or the prospect of becoming a conventional movie star. For his starring role in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), in which he aged from 25 to 83 onscreen, he won the "Best Actor" Oscar. Although very successful, his career was hampered by chronic asthma and an insecure, self-doubting personality; he turned down many more films than he accepted, and for an actor of his time, his filmography is unusually thin. He appeared in only three films in the '50s, and was seriously ill during the production of his last, requiring oxygen tanks to complete his work. Donat died at 53. He was married to actress Renee Asherson.
Biography by Rovi
- Known for his beautiful speaking voice, developed as a child through elocution lessons that he took to overcome a stutter.
- Began acting in the theater at 16 and played a number of Shakespearean and classical roles in repertory and touring companies before making his London debut in 1930.
- Gained world fame playing Thomas Culpeper in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933).
- Made only one Hollywood-produced film, The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), preferring to work on stage and screen in his native Britain.
- As the title character in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, for which he won an Oscar, he was seen to age from 25 to 83, though he would not reach old age in real life, dying from complications of chronic asthma at the age of 53.