HomeAmerican EntertainmentTed Donaldson, Child Star During Classic Hollywood Era, Dies at 89

Ted Donaldson, Child Star During Classic Hollywood Era, Dies at 89

by Craig Garrett
Ted Donaldson
(Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)

Ted Donaldson, a child actor during the golden age of Hollywood and star of Elia Kazan’s first feature. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, has died. He was 89, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Donaldson passed away on Wednesday due to medical difficulties stemming from an accidental fall in his Echo Park home back in January. Thomas Bruno, a close friend of the deceased, confirmed this news with THR.

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Donaldson made his big screen debut alongside Hollywood icon Cary Grant in 1944’s Once Upon a Time. In the comedy, he starred as a young boy who could get his pet caterpillar Curly to dance along with him when he played “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” on the harmonica.

Additionally, he starred as Danny Mitchell in eight B-movies from Columbia Pictures that centered around a German shepherd named Rusty. The first film was Adventures of Rusty (1945), and it included Ace the Wonder Dog.

On August 20th, 1933, Donaldson was born in Brooklyn as an only child to songwriter Will Donaldson. He is renowned for co-writing the hit track “Do Wacka Do” which became a smashing success with Roger Miller’s rendition years later. Following the abrupt passing of his mother, Jo, when he was only a few months old, his father remarried Muriel Pollock – an accomplished organist and composer.

Ted Donaldson got his start in acting in 1941

In 1941, Donaldson attended the Professional Children’s School in New York and performed a magic act. In 1943, Donaldson graced Broadway with his presence alongside esteemed actors Gregory Peck, Stella Adler, and Geraldine Fitzgerald as a younger version of Kenneth Tobey’s character in Max Reinhardt’s Sons and Soldiers.

His performance in Sons and Soldiers earned him an audition with Columbia Chief Harry Cohn. He was ultimately cast as Arthur “Pinky” Thompson in Once Upon a Time. Grant was quite taken with the young man, overseeing his selection of a new blue serge suit at a Hollywood costumer and then attending Donaldson’s 1949 high school graduation ceremony alongside Betsy Drake. The renowned actor had an endearment for him as evident in a 2018 interview, fondly referring to him as “Teddy.”

After his performance in Mr. Winkle Goes to War, Donaldson was offered a role in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The film also featured Edward G. Robinson and Ruth Warrick.

Donaldson originated the part of James “Bud” Anderson Jr in ‘Father Knows Best’

Between 1949 and 1954, Donaldson had the pleasure of playing James “Bud” Anderson Jr. alongside Robert Young in NBC Radio’s Father Knows Best series. When CBS offered him to continue the series with Young on the television adaptation, he declined, fearing typecasting.

A true gent, Donaldson committed his life to educate others in the art of acting by teaching classes and working for years at a bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard. Donaldson had the pleasure of attending several TCM Classic Film Festivals, including 2016 when a newly restored edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn astounded attendees. He was very much looking forward to coming back for the Hollywood event next month. Bruno and his wife Heidi have started a GoFundMe page to assist with funeral expenses.