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People > Famous Scottish Canadians > Shirley Douglas

Scottish Actors

Shirley Douglas (1934- ):

"When the health situation started to fall apart here, it made me so angry I could hardly see straight. I couldn't ignore it."
~ Shirley Douglas 1
Shirley Douglas
Shirley Douglas

Shirley Douglas was born to Irma and Tommy Douglas in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. She began acting as a young child, making an appearance as a munchkin in 1939's The Wizard of Oz. After winning a best actress award for her role in the Little Regina Theatre's entry in the Dominion Drama Festival in 1950, she decided to pursue acting as a career. Formally trained at London's Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts, Douglas spent five years in Britain acting in television and theatre before returning to Canada in 1957. She had her first role in a feature film in 1955's Joe MacBeth, a modern gangster version of the Shakespearean play. Seven years later, she landed her breakthrough role as the piano teacher, Mrs. Starch, in Stanley Kubrick's acclaimed film, Lolita.

After Shirley married fellow Scottish-Canadian actor Donald Sutherland in 1966, the newlyweds moved to Los Angeles to pursue their acting careers. A woman who had inherited her father's sense for justice, Douglas became involved in the burgeoning U.S. protest movement. She marched in demonstrations for civil rights, women's liberation, and protested the Vietnam War. Her work in fundraising for a Friends of the Black Panthers children's breakfast program led to an arrest for conspiracy to possess unregistered explosives, allegedly attempting to purchase hand grenades for the Black Panthers. Although the charges were soon found to be false, her five-day stint in jail cut her life in the United States short, as the incident led to the denial of her work permit in 1977. Her father commented to reporters about the arrest, "I am proud that my daughter believes, as I do, that hungry children ought to be fed, whether they are Black Panthers or white Republicans." 2

Having been divorced from Sutherland for several years by this point, Douglas moved to Toronto with her three children, twins Rachel and Kiefer Sutherland, and Thomas Douglas, the product her first marriage in the late 1950s. During the 1980s, she graced stages across the country, performing in both small local theatres and prestigious venues such as the National Arts Centre and the stages of the Stratford Festival. Directors sought her captivating stage presence, her alluring style, and her beautiful voice. She became famous for her portrayal of strong and passionate women in film and theatre, including Marilla in Anne of Green Gables; Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (whom she played alongside her son, Kiefer Sutherland, in the role of Tom); and Madeline Albright in the 2006 ABC miniseries, The Path to 9/11.

Shirley Douglas won a 2000 Gemini Award for Best Featured Actress for her role in the 1999 television film, Shadow Lake. In 2003 Governor General Adrienne Clarkson made her an Officer in the Order of Canada for her contribution to the performing arts and non-profit health care. The following year she was inducted with a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.

When the Conservative government began the move towards privatizing health care, Douglas used her celebrity status to bring the public's attention to the necessity of socialized medicine. Today she is a national spokesperson for the Canadian Health Coalition Lobby and one of the most prominent supporters of the NDP. She plans events, organizes fundraisers, and campaigns for the party in addition to lobbying the government to maintain socialized health care. Shirley Douglas is, after all, her father's daughter.

  1. MacAulay, Jayne, "Medicare's Scrappy Defender," Zoomer
  2. Shackleton, Doris French, Tommy Douglas, McClelland & Stewart, Ltd.: Toronto, 1975. 295
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