Donald Buka, Veteran Stage and Film Actor, Dies at 88

Obituaries   Donald Buka, Veteran Stage and Film Actor, Dies at 88
 
Donald Buka, a veteran stage actor who toured with the Lunts and acted opposite the likes of Helen Hayes and Bette Davis, died on July 21 in Reading, MA. He was 88.

Born Aug. 17, 1920 in Cleveland, OH, his first Broadway stage credit was in 1940 and it was a doozy — The Theatre Guild’s revival of The Taming of the Shrew, starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in their sole attempt at Shakespeare. By the end of the year he was in the ensemble of a Twelfth Night in which Helen Hayes, as Viola, was directed by Margaret Webster. In 1944, he was cast in no less than three Broadway productions, beginning with Bright Boy, one of the first shows produced by David Merrick, and followed by the short-lived Helen Goes to Troy and Sophie.

After one more flop, 1945's Live It Again, the darkly handsome actor began concentrating on television and film. His first film role was perhaps his best known, playing the son of Bette Davis in the 1943 film adaptation of Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine.

A few notable film noirs followed: "Vendatta" (produced by Howard Hughes, who had Mr. Buka under contract for a time), "The Street With No Name" (as Richard Widmark's evil under-boss) and "Between Dawn and Midnight" (in which he played a cop-killing gangster). He played a rare lead role in 1953's "Stolen Identity," portraying a refugee taxi driver working illegally in Vienna who switches identities with a passenger who is murdered soon after leaving his cab. He also took roles in many of the notable television programs of the next two decades, including "Kraft Television Theatre," "The Philco Television Playhouse," "Dragnet," "M Squad," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "77 Sunset Strip," "Perry Mason," "Ironside" and "The Barbara Stanwyck Show."

Actress Yvette Vickers described a scene where Mr. Buka's character manhandled her in an episode of "The Rebel": "He was a fine actor, and we got into it. We were both on a high-energy plane, like it was really happening. Yeah, he was very rough. But we went out afterwards. He was adorable."

He returned to Broadway one in the 1960s, for Those That Play the Clowns; one in the 70s, A Texas Trilogy; and three times in the 1980s, for revivals of Major Barbara, The Corn Is Green and Design for Living. Off-Broadway theatre credits included The Adding Machine with the Phoenix Theatre, and a Hamlet starring Siobhan McKenna. Mr. Buka also taught acting classes on the Upper West Side for years. Mr Buka was married three times. The first two unions ended in divorce. His third marriage, to artist Suzanne Sinaiko, lasted from 1992 until her 1998, her death. He is survived by son Dr. Robert (Bobby) L. Buka, a dermatologist in New York City.

A memorial service is planned for the fall in Manhattan.

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