After discussing a controversial subject, it is refreshing to look at the career of a great character actor named Kenneth MacDonald. For most of his career, MacDonald was a bit part actor. He had a long career- over 200 films, he spent nine years as one of the judges on Perry Mason where his dialogue was limited to one line, such as “Sustained!”And of course, he was a noted villan in countless Three Stooges shorts. His great, silky voice enhanced his nefarious roles.
In the website, B Westerns.com under the category of Villans & Supporting players, Dave Smith wrote this capsule biography of the durable Kenneth MacDonald:
Kenneth MacDonald started out in silent films in 1923. When sound came along, he moved effortlessly into the new medium. He also made the transition into television and had a nice career there as well. Some sources list his name as McDonald but neither was his birth name. He was born Kenneth Dollins on September 8, 1901 in Portland, Indiana.
He grew up in Richmond, Indiana, where he earned seven letters at Richmond High School as a member of its football, basketball and track squads. He was the first President of the Richmond Athletic Association. His last appearance in Richmond was in 1970 when he returned for the fiftieth anniversary of his high school graduating class.
He went on stage in the early 1920’s but when he decided to try to break into the movies, he found the going rough. He wrote and published a pamphlet which he entitled, The Case for Kenneth MacDonald. This self-promoting booklet was distributed to all the studios and finally caught the attention of studio executives. His first feature was a Western, SLOW AS LIGHTNING in 1923. He worked steadily throughout the thirties in a variety of roles. In addition to playing a mustachioed villain in Westerns and other films, he often appeared in short subjects made by The Three Stooges and Hugh Herbert.
He became a regular fixture at Columbia studios portraying villains in cowboy star Charles Starrett’s series of Westerns. He had a suave demeanor and an excellent rich voice. He played con men, crooked lawyers, gang leaders, etc. He semi-retired in 1955. Television was just coming on strong and, thanks to his work with the Three Stooges, he landed a role as a Superior Court Judge in the popular PERRY MASON series. It seems Sam White, whose brother Jules was in charge of many of the Stooges comedies, was a member of the Perry Mason production team. Sam remembered MacDonald and suggested him for the role of the judge. The series ran initially from 1957 to 1966 and MacDonald was part of it for most of that run. This is the role for which he will be most remembered.
During his career he appeared in several major movies including, THE CAINE MUTINY, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE. He made his last film in 1967, the Audie Murphy western 40 GUNS TO ABILENE. Kenneth MacDonald appeared in over 150 films during his long career. At least a third of these were Westerns. He played with such Western stars as Randolph Scott, Rod Cameron, Buster Crabbe, Jock Mahoney and fellow Hoosiers Allan Lane, Chubby Johnson and Forrest Tucker.
Kenneth MacDonald was married to LaMee Nave MacDonald. He officially changed his name to MacDonald in 1930. Suffering from brain and lung cancer, he died on May 5, 1972 at the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Woodland Hills, California and was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills. MacDonald appeared in about 200 sound films — that number includes 65 westerns and 9 cliffhangers.
More: He was the youngest son of salesman John W. Dollins and hairdresser Mary E. Tate, and grew up in Indiana. After graduating from high school in 1920, he started working as a stage actor. In 1930 he married LaMee Kathryn Nave, which whom he had three children. That same year, he officially changed his last name from Dollins to MacDonald. After about a decade of performing onstage, he moved to Hollywood to try to break into motion picture acting. (Some sources list him as appearing as the star in a number of silent films, primarily Westerns, in the Twenties, though it is uncertain as to whether this may be a case of mistaken identity with another actor named Kenneth MacDonald.) MacDonald appeared in a few movies in the early Thirties, but only in uncredited bit parts. To try to boost his appeal and improve his prospects for a career as a screen actor, he self-published a promotional pamphlet entitled ‘The Case for Kenneth MacDonald’ and distributed it to every studio and producer he could think of. This strategy worked, and he soon began getting work at many of the studios he had sent the pamphlet to. He found a particular amount of success in B-Westerns, among them Charles Starrett’s ‘Durango Kid’ series, which was made at Columbia Pictures. Even though he wasn’t the star of the series, MacDonald quickly became a regular fixture in it. In addition to being a prolific actor in Westerns, he also appeared with the Three Stooges a total of seventeen times between 1946 and 1956, almost always playing a villain, a con man, a criminal, a gangster, or a crooked lawyer. The only instance where he played a non-villainous role was in ‘Blunder Boys’ (1955). After leaving Columbia’s short subjects department, MacDonald went into television acting. Most of the television programs he appeared in were in Westerns. He also had a recurring role on the series ‘Perry Mason,’ in which he played a Superior Court Judge. He was recommended for the role by Sam White, who was part of the program’s production team. Sam White’s brother Jules was the head of Columbia’s short subjects department, and thus remembered MacDonald’s name and credentials. MacDonald’s final appearance was in ‘Which Way to the Front?’ (1970), a movie in which he played an uncredited bit role. In all, he appeared in over 200 feature-length films, short subjects, and television programs combined.