This class contains RD's extensive correspondence with friends, fellow actors and other professionals involved in theatre, film, broadcasting and writing. Although the correspondence relates largely to RD's professional life, many of these individuals were also close friends, and there is in addition a small amount of family correspondence. The letters span more than thirty years, and chart RD's life and work from his earliest repertory roles in the 1920s to his final film in 1958.
A valuable source of information on RD's career, the correspondence covers such topics as: his early attempts to find theatrical roles; specific projects he worked on; his move into theatre- and actor-management in the 1940s; collaborations and relationships with fellow theatre professionals; RD's film work, including his constant efforts to find suitable scripts, his dealings with directors and producers, his own creative input into films, problems arising from his early film contracts, his work as producer, director and star in The Cure for Love, and the constant tension and interplay between his theatre and film work; critical and public reception of RD's work; publicity and media interest in him; his verdicts on scripts sent by hopeful writers; appeals from other actors for parts; advice offered to young actors, notably RD's own nephew Peter Donat; and RD's career as a broadcaster and a reader of poetry. Other topics relating to theatre and film are also represented in the correspondence, such as the debate over the Sunday opening of British theatres during wartime; the issue of establishing a suitable memorial for Frank Benson; and the activities of the Un-American Committee investigating alleged communist activities in Hollywood in the late 1940s. The correspondence also reflects more personal concerns such as RD's constant struggle with asthma and ill health, his family and relationships, and his feelings of insecurity about his career.
The letters also provide valuable information about RD's numerous correspondents, many of whom are well-known figures. They include playwrights, screenwriters, film and theatre actors, directors and producers, other figures from the film industry, broadcasters, poets and writers, designers, journalists, and composers. There are two particularly large bundles of correspondence, both with playwrights who became good friends of RD and worked closely with him, namely Walter Greenwood (FRD1/1/179), and Henry Osborne Mavor, also known as James Bridie (FRD1/1/61).
Most of the letters are original, but the correspondence of the following individuals is included only in photocopied form, the originals having been sold at auction in 1997: T.S. Eliot; Greer Garson; Samuel Goldwyn; Tyrone Guthrie; Alfred Hitchcock; Alex Korda; David Selznick; George Bernard Shaw; Feliks Topolski; King Vidor; and Darryl Zanuck. Some but not all the correspondence of Max Beerbohm, James Hilton and Max Reinhardt is also in photocopied form.
Although most of the correspondence is with RD himself, some of it was carried out by his various secretaries over the years. There is also a small quantity of material addressed to individuals other than RD, such as a letter to Renée Asherson (FRD1/1/49) and letters to RD's father Emil Donat (FRD1/1/431).