James Robertson Justice

Active - 1944 - 1971  |   Born - Jun 15, 1905   |   Died - Jul 2, 1975   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Adventure, War, Romance

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Like the stalwart medieval castles that still dominate the hillsides of his childhood home in southwestern Scotland, James Robertson-Justice was imposing. His cavernous chest, his resonant voice, his full beard, and his stately bearing all suggested the regality of a mighty king. In fact, in the Sword and the Rose in 1953, Robertson-Justice portrayed the most lordly of British kings, Henry VIII, winning critical acclaim. Physically, he was the near mirror image of Henry as depicted in the 1538 portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger. More important, though, Robertson-Justice wore the mantle of Henry's personality, mimicking the king's authoritarian demeanor and legendary appetite for all things worldly. That he was at home in the role of Henry VIII was not surprising. Like the Tudor king,Robertson-Justice loved athletics, dancing, politics, and learning (he held two doctor's degrees: a Ph.D. and a doctorate in law). Moreover, he had mastered the royal sport of falconry, and even taught young Prince Charles the finer points of the ancient pastime. Official biographies say Robertson-Justice was born in the maritime community of Wigtown in the southernmost shire in Scotland. However, the town of Langholm, also in southern Scotland, proudly proclaims that he was actually born there in the Crown Hotel during an emergency stop when his mother was traveling. There is no argument, though, about when he was born: June 15, 1905. His education at Marborough College in England and Bonn University in Germany equipped him with the skills necessary to succeed in a variety of pursuits. Heeding one of Plato's ancient admonitions, he balanced mental activity with physical activity, becoming a netminder for the London Lions in the British Ice Hockey Association. After a skiing injury waylaid him, he refereed matches. Though he had the desire and talent to become an actor, he first pursued a career in Canada as a journalist, then fought in the Spanish Civil War and WWII. In 1944, he made his first film, Fiddlers Three, a fanciful comedy about time travelers in ancient Rome, where Robertson-Justice was a centurion. That stint was the first of many roles in films set in the distant past, including The Black Rose (1950), David and Bathsheba (1951), Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), Les Misérables (1952), The Story of Robin Hood (1952), Rob Roy (1953), The Sword and the Rose (1953), Land of the Pharaohs (1955), and Moby Dick (1956). However, in spite of his ability to wield swords, wear crowns, and dodge cannonballs, his signature role -- the one that earned him a warm niche in the hearts of Britons everywhere -- was that of Sir Lancelot Spratt, a chief surgeon in the celebrated series of zany Doctor films. The first in the series, Doctor in the House, was Britain's biggest moneymaker in 1954. It was Spratt's job to rule unruly medical students with an appetite for women, money, and fast cars. Remarkably, while making five more Doctor films over the next 16 years, Robertson-Justice had the time and energy to serve as rector of the University of Edinburgh. He died in 1975 at King's Somborne, England.

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