CBC Digital Archives

Telescope: Donald Sutherland

Smart and timely, Telescope promised to zoom in on famous and fascinating Canadians living all over the world. The brainchild of Fletcher Markle, this half-hour documentary series premiered in 1963 and ran for 10 seasons. Beginning in 1966, Telescope became the first Canadian-produced colour program on the CBC Television network.

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"Everything's happened to me so slowly," Donald Sutherland says in this 1970 interview, noting that it has taken him 20 years to get where he is now. The actor from Saint John doesn't have to worry about slowness any more. He's been in three films this year: MASH, Kelly's Heroes and Act of the Heart, and shows no sign of slowing down. This clip from CBC-TV's Telescope catches Sutherland on the set of Alex in Wonderland with director Paul Mazursky. Sutherland's wife Shirley Douglas is also featured, and there's a shot of a very young Kiefer too. Sutherland philosophically dissects MASH and reminisces about his early career and his Canadian roots. He thoughtfully recalls a winter night of long ago: "I can hear my mother saying 'OK, tonight you can comes downstairs, you and your brother, and you can sit cross-legged on the floor ... and you can listen to the Stanley Cup.'" 
• Donald McNichol Sutherland was born July 17, 1935 in Saint John to father Frederick (a salesman) and mother Dorothy. McNichol was his mother's maiden name.

• As a child, Sutherland battled health problems including polio, rheumatic fever and hepatitis.

• He grew up in the town of Bridgewater, N.S., where he graduated from high school.

• He has been married three times and has five children.  He married first wife Lois Hardwick in 1959.  Twins Kiefer and Rachel were born to Shirley Douglas, his second wife and daughter of famous Canadian politician Tommy Douglas. Douglas also has an older son, Thomas (seen in this clip), from her first marriage.

• Sutherland has three sons - Roeg, Rossif and Angus - with third wife actress Francine Racette. Some sources claim the two married in 1974, but in 2000 Sutherland told the London Daily Mail that they actually met in 1974 and lived together for 16 years before getting married in 1990.

• All of his children are in show business.  Kiefer Sutherland is a famous movie and TV star. His twin sister Rachel Sutherland is a TV producer in Canada. Roeg is a filmmaker while Rossif and Angus are actors.

• Sutherland had a much-publicized affair with actress Jane Fonda from 1971-1974.

• As he explains in this interview, Sutherland started in radio at age 14, at CKBW in Nova Scotia, where he was a news broadcaster and disc jockey.

• At the University of Toronto, he acted at Hart House Theatre, which has been a leader in Canada's "little theatre" movement since the 1920s. He played the young football player, Wally, in James Thurber's The Male Animal.

• Sutherland recounts the point where he decided he would make a go of it as an actor. After playing Stephano, the boisterous and drunken butler in Shakespeare's The Tempest, he read a favourable review in the Globe and Mail by Herbert Whittaker. "And he gave me a lovely review, and it all came together and consolidated and I said [clicks his mouth] that's exactly where I am."

• Hart House Theatre was the launching point for many famous Canadians, including Raymond Massey, Arthur Lismer, Dora Mavor Moore, Wayne and Shuster, William Hutt, Kate Reid, Don Harron, Norman Jewison and Lorne Michaels.

• Sutherland became well known after playing a military general in 1967's The Dirty Dozen. Critical acclaim came in 1968 with the quirky Joanna. Stardom followed soon with the Korean War-era medical epic MASH. He portrayed Dr. Hawkeye Pierce opposite Elliott Gould's 'Trapper' John. A critical smash, the film spawned an equally successful and acclaimed TV show of the same name.

• Sutherland was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1978, for his services to drama.

• He had a near-death experience in 1979 when he was ill with meningitis. Sutherland claims to have had an out-of-body experience and doctors told him he had died for a time.

Medium: Television
Program: Telescope
Broadcast Date: Sept. 15, 1970
Guest(s): Shirley Douglas, Paul Mazursky, Donald Sutherland
Host: Ken Cavanaugh
Duration: 18:35
This clip was edited for copyright reasons.

Last updated: September 16, 2014

Page consulted on September 16, 2014

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