With his regal bearing, fine voice, comic gifts and remarkable stage presence, Donald Scott was for many years one of the best loved singer actors on the London stage. He appeared in repertory, musicals, variety and pantomime, but was perhaps best known as Captain Georg Ludwig von Trapp in The Sound of Music, in which role he gave 2,000 performances over seven years.
He auditioned for the part in a West End production at the Palace Theatre in 1960. He did not get it, but he was taken the following year as understudy. When he was spotted by Richard Charles Rodgers, co-writer of the musical. he was offered the lead role in the Broadway production, where it was already running successfully.
He began playing in New York in 1961 with Martha Wright as Maria. “The role has needed his dignity and the lustre of such a voice”, wrote Norman Nadel in the New York Telegram. “Even on his first night, he brought new insight into the inflexible captain, the lonely widower, the tentative lover and the troubled father. You know I think Mr Scott could run for governor and be elected on his looks and bearing alone. With his voice, it would be a sure thing.” Baroness von Trapp was among the others who complimented him on his performance.
He stayed with the production until it closed in June 1963. Scott then returned to London and took over from Roger Dann as Captain Georg Ludwig von Trapp in the London production of The Sound of Music at the Palace Theatre, alongside Sonia Rees. This he did until January 1967 when the show finally came to an end.
He was born Francis Sydney MacDonald in 1919 in Ilford, Essex. In 1937 he began to study at the Metropolitan Academy of Music and Dramatic Art at Wanstead, and became a member of their operatic society.
His intention, however, was to become a doctor, and he went on to study medicine at the University of London’s Kings College, but the war prevented him from completing his studies.
In 1939 he joined the Medical Service of the RAF and served in Italy and in the western desert (Egypt), where he began entertaining the troops and hospital patients as a baritone singer.
After the war he began his stage career in a summer show, Gaytime, in Newquay, Cornwall in 1949. That year he was the principal singer in Yesteryear, a stage show performed between films at the Empire Leicester Square. He went on to do television work at the Alexandra Palace in 1950, singing and taking part in sketches in the series Regency Room and the revue Mud in your Eye.
There followed the series The Passing Show, a chronicle of 50 years of show business, with Adele Leigh (1951) and Eric Robinson’s Music for You (1950-1958). Scott became a regular on the BBC TV entertainment show Kaleidoscope in 1953; and played the lead in the ITV musical play The Lilac Domino (1956) and in Balalaika (1957), an ITV adaptation of the West End musical.
He also starred in numerous BBC radio broadcasts in the 1950s, particularly with the soprano Sylvia Robin in such series as Land of Romance (1950); and hosted his own series, The Pleasure of Your Company, on BBC Radio Scotland, with the Scottish Variety Orchestra. By the late 1950s he was consistently busy with both radio and television work.
Scott made his big screen debut in 1951 in a walk on part as a reporter in Henry Koster’s film No Highway, based on Nevil Shute’s novel and starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart. He appeared in Paul Ehrlich’s film A Break with the Past.
His stage work included several West End shows, notably Noel Coward’s After the Ball (1954) with Mary Ellis, Vanessa Lee and Peter Graves; Twenty Minutes South with Daphne Anderson and directed by Hattie Jacques (1955), and the revue Late Interlude at the Arts Theatre (1956). His pantomime performances included Mother Goose at the Richmond Theatre (1957).
After The Sound of Music, Scott was cast in the leading role Achilles in the musical High Diplomacy at the Westminster Theatre (1969). He played the lead in a musical The Vanishing Island and in Peter Howard’s Give a Dog a Bone at the Westminster Theatre (1972-73). He also played in the musical revue GB there in 1973. In the mid 1970s he Scott joined the Theatre in Education programme, which took plays to schools.
Between 1974 and the late 1980s Scott appeared in numerous productions at Worthing’s Connaught Theatre where he made his debut performance in 1974 in The Diary of Anne Frank as Dussel, the dentist who joins the von Haan family in hiding.
His most notable performances were in numerous Shakespeare plays; included the Duke in As You like It and Montague in Romeo and Juliet.
When he retired from the stage in the late 1980s he became a professional photographer, taking portraits of actors and casts for promotional purposes.
In his spare time Scott – a kind, generous man with a wicked sense of humour – practiced homeopathy and was a member of the British Homeopathic Association, the British Society of Dowsers and the Radionics Association.
In the 1960s Scott moved from London to Storrington, West Sussex with his partner, the author and actor Billy Thatcher, with whom he stayed 17 years. After Billy Thatcher’s death from cancer in 1964, at the age of 43, he moved to Worthing.
Donald Scott, actor and singer, was born on October 4, 1919. He died on May 18, 2007, aged 87