Donald Sutherland as Norman Bethune
In China, he's been a national hero since his death in 1939. But in his birthplace of Canada Dr. Norman Bethune was virtually unknown until the 1970s. His communist beliefs and unorthodox personality made him a controversial figure in Canada. His medical accomplishments, however, are irrefutable. Bethune cared for the wounded in wartorn Spain and China, and in the process revolutionized military medicine.
• Prior to the 1970s, there were very few English-language biographical works on Bethune. Among these early works were:
• The Scalpel, The Sword by Sydney Gordon and Ted Allan (first published in 1952)
• A 1964 National Film Board documentary called Bethune
• As Canadians became more aware of Bethune in the 1970s, a flurry of biographical works were released. These included:
• Bethune by Roderick Stewart (1973)
• Bethune: The Montreal Years by Libby Park, Stanley Ryerson and Wendell MacLeod (1978).
• More recent books include:
• Politics of Passion: Norman Bethune's Writing and Art by Larry Hannant (1998)
• Norman Bethune: The Incredible Life and Tragic Death of a Revered Canadian Doctor by Frances Hern (2004).
• Sutherland played Bethune again in a 1990 film called Bethune: The Making of a Hero. (It was renamed Dr. Bethune when it was released on video.) The making of this movie was plagued with controversy. Screenwriter Ted Allan and actor Donald Sutherland had major clashes over their interpretations of Bethune's character. This caused lengthy production delays. There were also numerous location and funding problems. When it was released, it was considered one of the most expensive Canadian movies ever made.
• After all the media build-up, reviews of the 1990 movie were generally lukewarm. Maclean's magazine said it had "obvious flaws," noting that it suffered from what seemed like patchwork editing. But Maclean's also praised Sutherland's part in the film, saying he gave "the performance of his life."
Program: 90 Minutes Live
Broadcast Date: Jan. 21, 1977
Guest(s): Donald Sutherland
Host: Peter Gzowski
Last updated: August 30, 2013
Page consulted on December 5, 2013
All Clips from this Topic
Exploring the early years of Dr. Bethune.
Bethune provides medical care to wartorn China.
In this 1972 clip, writer Ted Allan tells Barbara Frum that it took de...
33 years after his death, Bethune is finally a "Canadian of national h...
A Gravenhurst family has to move now that tourists are flocking to see...
Bethune's niece recalls her family's embarrassment over her uncle's Co...
In this clip from 1973, author Roderick Stewart speaks at length about...
Besides being a renowned physician, Norman Bethune was also an art ent...
A portrait of Bethune, from the doctors and nurses who knew him in Mon...
Actor Donald Sutherland praises Dr. Bethune, who he recently played in...
This 1988 clip reveals how on-set differences of opinion almost derail...
Rod Mickelburgh visits the children of the late Jean Ewen, a nurse who...
50 years after the People's Republic of China was founded, Bethune is ...
In China, he's been a national hero since his death in 1939. But in hi...