Talent scouts took both of them to Hollywood, but not as a duo. Grace went to Paramount and later Universal, while Ray was signed by MGM. He seemed to have all the ear markings of a star. Dark and boyishly handsome with energy to spare, he first played a leading role as a youth in the low-budget programmer Down in San Diego (1941), then kicked up his heels a bit in the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musical Babes on Broadway(1941), where he danced to "By the Light of the Silvery Moon." He appeared with Rooney again in the star's vehicle Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941).
After that, things stopped clicking. The momentum of his career was not helped by war service, where he at least managed to appear in both the stage and film versions of Winged Victory (1944). Unable to rise above the secondary ranks, the June Allyson/Peter Lawford collegiate musical Good News (1947) would prove to be Ray's last feature for MGM. Divorced from actress Elisabeth Fraser whom he met while appearing in the stage show of "Winged Victory" in 1943, he met and subsequently married fellow dancer/singer Peggy Ryan while freelancing in films. McDonald can be spotted in the Dane Clark film noir Whiplash (1948) and the David Brian film Inside Straight (1951). Among his unworthy film roles were Flame of Youth (1949) His films with Ryan included Shamrock Hill, There’s a Girl in My Heart (both 1949), and All Ashore (1953), which re-teamed him with Mickey Rooney. McDonald and Ryan divorced in 1958.
During the subsequent lean years, he and Peggy toured stages and nightclubs until their divorce. Ray popped up on TV variety shows as well and in 1959, while in New York to appear on a show, he died after choking on food in his hotel room. He was only 37. Not remembered well today, as is the case with sister Grace, Ray McDonald nevertheless had a great musical talent and ingratiating presence, which certainly deserves a mention.
The cause of his death has been a matter of contention for decades. Hollywood hearsay has it that he took his own life by overdosing on sleeping pills, depressed over the state of his career. His daughter Liza, however, maintains that his career was thriving, having done the Ed Sullivan variety show.At the time of his death, in fact, he was in New York preparing to do a Chuck McCann comedy show. He died in his hotel room apparently of visceral congestion (choking to death on food). Because sleeping pills were found in his room, reporters assumed it was suicide and the rumor caught on. According to the Medical Examiner, Liza says, no drugs were found in her father's system and the death certificate supports her claim.
Likeso many Hollywood hopefuls, Ray McDonald faded in obscurity. Do yourself a favor and check out his performance in Good News. It was excellent. McDonald should have been a much bigger star than he was...