Edit
Donald Wolfit Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (3) | Trivia (13) | Personal Quotes (1)

Overview (3)

Date of Birth 20 April 1902New Balderton, Nottinghamshire, England, UK
Date of Death 17 February 1968Hammersmith, London, England, UK  (heart ailment)
Birth NameDonald Woolfitt

Mini Bio (1)

One of the great British stage actors of his era Donald Wolfit was noted for his magnificent portrayals of King Lear and Tamburlaine. Yet no actor of his generation was surrounded by more controversy. He was temperamental and difficult to deal with, enraged by criticism and tyrannical with the companies he led.

Although his talent was never in any doubt, critics often condemned his companies' poor supporting players and tasteless costumes. Even in death he had his critics.

Wolfit appeared in numerous theatre seasons at the Old Vic and Stratford-upon-Avon but preferred the life of a touring player and as the star of a vagabond troupe. He also appeared in many films and television plays. One of his most barnstorming performances was in the title role of the film Svengali (1954) in which, with his hypnotic real-life stare, he puts Hildegard Knef into a permanent trance.

The money from his film work helped to finance many of his stage productions. Wolfit is best remembered today as the inspiration for the film The Dresser (1983), in which Albert Finney plays a barnstorming actor-manager.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Patrick Newley

Spouse (3)

Rosalind Iden (1948 - 17 February 1968) (his death)
Susan Katherine Anthony (1934 - ?) (divorced) (2 children)
Chris Castor (16 April 1928 - 1934) (divorced) (1 child)

Trivia (13)

His daughter with Chris Castor, Margaret Wolfit is also a successful stage actress.
At the time that Laurence Olivier first played Richard III onstage in 1944, Wolfit's Richard had set the standard and was considered definitive, but Olivier's portrayal easily surpassed Wolfit's, and became the new standard by which other performances of the role have been judged.
In 1948, Donald finally married his longtime co-star, actress Rosalind Iden, who was the daughter of British director, actor and educator B. (Ben) Iden Payne (1881-1976) and Edwardian actress Mona Limerick. Dr. Payne was internationally known as a Shakespearean director and for his modified Elizabethan staging. He directed both Donald and his daughter in Stratford Festival productions of "Troilus and Cressida" and "Much Ado About Nothing" in 1936. Dr. Payne was also the source of inspiration for the character of "The Old Actor" in Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's long-running musical "The Fantasticks".
Although Sir Donald was a very good actor he was also quite vain and always surrounded himself with inexperienced or inferior actors so that his part always took center stage unchallenged by a better performer.
Third wife Rosalind co-starred on Broadway with Donald in 1947 playing Cordelia to his Lear, Rosalind to his Touchstone, Portia to his Shylock, and Ophelia to his Hamlet.
Father was an accountant.
Took his first job teaching in a preparatory school in Eastbourne.
Often derided as a ham actor because, although he was good, his company was full of nondescript actors, none of whom would be able to outshine the star. He gave his name to the character "Wolfit" in the ground-breaking 1950s radio comedy "The Goon Show" played by Spike Milligan who reprised the character in the 1956 film The Case of the Mukkinese Battle-Horn (1956) where a 'resting' silent actor accidentally goes into the Police station instead of the Labour Exchange.
He was awarded the the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1950 King's New Year Honours List and appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 1957 Queen's Birthday Honours List for his services to drama.
He had a particular hatred of Sir John Gielgud, who claimed that he always worried whenever Wolfit had a big success in case "he now had the money to hire men to murder me". It was said that Wolfit could never bring himself to utter Gielgud's name, "save with a hiss". The two men nonetheless worked together in the film "Becket" with no injuries on either side.
Although he was often accused of hiring mediocre actors for his theatre company deliberately so that he could outshine them, in fact a number of eminent theatrical personages had early chances under his management. These included Harold Pinter, Joan Greenwood, Eric Porter, Ronald Fraser and Alun Owen, most of whom spoke well of him after finding fame.
Sir Donald's first professional acting work was done in the 1920s, in the company of a now-forgotten actor-manager named Charles Doran. Sir Ralph Richardson got his start in the same company and at the same time. The two future actor-knights were not friends.
Appeared in three films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: Room at the Top (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Becket (1964). Of those, Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is a winner in the category.

Personal Quotes (1)

Garrick is my yardstick.

See also

Other Works | Publicity Listings | Official Sites | Contact Info

Contribute to This Page