Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Former 'One Life to Live' Scene Designer Macdonald Eaton Dead at 83

Macdonald Eaton, a noted scenic designer, artist and art director, passed away March 4, 2013, in New Orleans, La., after an extended struggle against cancer.

Born in Watchung, Eaton studied art at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., and received his bachelor of fine arts degree from that institution in 1951. He also was a graduate of North Plainfield High School, and attended Watchung Borough School.

After a two-year stint with the Army working on a highly classified assignment at the U. S. Pictorial Center, he designed several off-Broadway shows and produced a play in the Fourth Street Playhouse. His new play received a rave review from noted critic Walter Kerr. In the early 1950s, he stage-managed the Koffman Auditorium Cultural Center in Manhattan, as well.

Eaton was conscripted by ABC-TV as Network Designer from 1951 through 1962. He worked with a long list of celebrities in the production of special and public affairs shows. They included Helen Hayes, Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, Sammy Davis, Sr., and Dick Clark. From ABC, he moved onto CBS where he worked with Ed Sullivan, Kate Smith, Victor Borge, Jerry Orbach and Arthur Miller, among others.

In the early 1970s he was called back by the Army as a civilian for three years, again to do highly classified work as art director in government film production. His next assignment was with Knowland Studies, creating scenery for Broadway shows.

In 1975 he returned to ABC-TV to become Charge-Man Scenic Designer of the popular daytime serial, “One Life to Live,” a job he held for 15 years. In the 1980’s he was given an exhibit of his portraits of the entire cast of “One Life to Live” in the lobby of the ABC Headquarters building. While at ABC, he studied with New York artist, Fritz Henning, participated in a number of group art shows and was featured in three one-man shows.

In 1979, to celebrate his 50th birthday, his hometown of Watchung held a 30-year retrospective at the original Borough School. Displayed were 75 of the paintings he created over the years.

During that period, Portraits, Inc., a Park Avenue, New York, gallery featured his portraits, including a self-portrait that was exhibited in the gallery’s window.

In 1990, he and his wife, Jeanne Button-Eaton, a nationally known costume designer, moved to New Orleans to fulfill her appointment by Tulane University as Professor of Costume Design. At the same time, Eaton was appointed to Tulane’s Adjunct Theater faculty in scenic design and art. In that capacity, he designed three productions for the Tulane Summer Shakespeare Festival.

During his tenure at Tulane, he exhibited work at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Contemporary Arts Center, where he designed and painted a 40-foot mural for Raven productions.

Eaton was a career member of United Scenic Artists Local 829, New York. He was also a member of the Mary E. Wilson Memorial Church, Watchung.

Eaton’s paternal grandfather was Congressman Charles A. Eaton of Watchung, one of the signers of the United Nations Charter. His maternal grandfather, Harry B. MacDonald, was the first Mayor of Watchung.

Eaton leaves his wife, Jeanne, his stepson, film actor Raphael Sbarge, his brother, Charles A. Eaton III of Milton, Del., his sister, Mrs. Janice Eaton Atkins of San Antonio, Texas, six nephews and four nieces. A memorial service is being planned for later this month. Interment will be in Hillside Cemetery, Scotch Plains.

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