Jack Donner did his first professional acting in the play A Sound of Hunting by Harry Brown at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles in 1952. After a successful opening night there was no further audience for the remaining 29 days of the theater lease, due to lack of promotion. On the last night of the lease, the box office manager came back stage and told the cast “There’s a man who came every night and, although he was told there was no performance, he insisted on buying a ticket anyway. We owe him a performance.” The actors performed for the man, the only person in the 1,100 seat theater. As the cast took its bows, the house lights came up in time to see the man exiting the auditorium. Jack yelled out “Oh, my God, it’s my father!”
Sam Doner, Jack’s father, came from Austria to the U.S. alone while still a teenager. He thought in black and white terms. Jack always felt his father took away from that experience the belief that actors could not make a living. Jack finally won his father’s approval in the early Sixties when Sam saw his son on TV. Sam excitedly exclaimed “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me?” (Communication was not a strong suit in the Doner family.)
But Jack went on to do scores of plays, including the longest running U.S. production of the Irish playwright Sean O’Casey’s Purple Dust in New York City, which featured the beloved actor Peter Falk.
Of Jack’s considerable list of TV credits, he is well known for his role as the Romulan “Sub Commander Tal” in the first season of Star Trek, in the episode “The Enterprise Incident.”. The most recent of the dozens of films Jack has appeared in are 333 a horror movie, J. Edgar as Leonardo DiCaprio’s father, directed by Clint Eastwood, and A New York Heartbeat, written and directed by Tjardus Greidanus, due to hit theaters in late 2011 or early 2012. The character lead, Big Didi, an ex-mob boss is among Jack’s favorite roles, along with the mysterious Dr. Munoz in Bryan Moore’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s classic short story “Cool Air,” the corrupt “Dr. Bassett” in Demon Under Glass, written and produced by Deborah Warner and John Cunningham, and the wizard Afzel in Retro Puppet Master. His many other credits may be found at IMDb.com.
Donner began coaching and teaching actors while still in New York from 1955 to 1960. He and his talented actor friend Lee Delano founded the Oxford Theater and Drama Workshop in Hollywood in 1966. Among Jack’s stellar former students are the gifted writer/director/producer Barry Levinson and the accomplished actors Craig T. Nelson, Barbara Parkins, and Don Johnson.
In 1970, one of Jack’s students at the time was dating the famed mime Marcel Marceau, who came to the Oxford to see a rehearsal of a program Jack devised that he called The Drama and Comedy Gym. After the rehearsal Marceau, with gleaming eyes and a broad smile, said to Jack “We have nothing like this in Europe, and I have seen nothing like it in America.”
In 1986, after a several year illness that kept Jack from working as an actor (see the article “Curing Asthma” on his website: www.abovetheswamp.com), and after studying psychology at UCLA and earning a Master of Science degree at California State University at Dominguez Hills, which he used to help heal his condition, Jack became a licensed psychotherapist. He extracted pertinent elements from that discipline to enhance and deepen his theory of human value and a process of acting that is tailored to evoke the “magic,” the power, and uniqueness in an actor’s performance.
Jack currently lives in Santa Monica, California and continues writing and acting. See many of his articles and other works at www.abovetheswamp.com