Storytelling and a Man Named Ivan

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept that story is in our DNA. We are “wired for story” says social scientist Brené Brown. And, if current research is correct, we are quite literally “a part of all that I have met” as Alfred Tennyson wrote — past traumas, past loves, past experiences, co-mingling to make our stories all the more rich and interesting.

Our stories are what connect us, what make us see the common thread that unites us, despite all of the forces seeking to divide and conquer. Ultimately, it is the act of storytelling that keeps us alive — literally and figuratively — now, and even after we have passed.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago this when I read the obituary for a local man named Ivan MacDonald. I didn’t know Ivan very well — we worked together on a few small projects over the years — but he was a memorable character, for sure, with a fabulous story to tell!

The last time I saw Ivan was in 2014. He hired me to write that very obituary. It appeared in local papers, edited to fit, but I thought I would share it here in its entirety. To tell his story…

Ivan was 88 when he passed away on September 19, 2017.

IVAN MacDONALD

At an early age he was determined on a career in the theater. Detroit-born and educated, Ivan MacDonald began training with members of the famous Jessie Bonstelle Playhouse in Detroit.

He made his professional debut in 1946 in Maine at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Noel Cowards’s Tonight at 8:30 with Lilian Harvey; and in the world premiere of Michael Myerberg’s Production Balloon by Padraic Colum featuring McKay Morris.

The Detroit Dramatic Guild cast him in the juvenile lead in Papa is All, and a year later in The Play’s the Thing with Ian Keith and Joseph Macaulay, produced by Roger L. Stevens who later became one of New York’s prominent Broadway producers.

After his education was behind him, young MacDonald headed for New York to continue his theater studies, and landed a role on Broadway in Seeds in the Wind with Tonio Selwart and Sidney Lumet. Along the eastern seaboard, he made many summer theater appearances. He toured as Henry Morgan’s son in Father of the Bride, and with John Loder in O’ Mistress Mine. He repeated the same role at the Berkshire Playhouse, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, featured in O’ Mistress Mine opposite Peggy Conklin. The Myrtle Beach Playhouse, S.C., featured Ivan in a mystery thriller as a psychopathic killer in Twilight Walk by A.B. Shiffrin.

He appeared on all major television and radio networks. MacDonald was one of the pioneers of early television. For NBC, in the first live show on location (Delancey and Orchard Street, Manhattan), City at Midnight, he played a Jewish boy who was burned alive in a garbage can! For Robert Montgomery Presents, he played Omg Chi, a Chinese scheming extortionist in The Letter with Madeleine Carroll; on NBC, a romantic fantasy in the Chinese manner The Stolen Prince, portraying Long Fo, son of the royal cook; on the DuMont Network, a running part on Captain Video playing a Chinese communist; also Colgate Comedy Theater, The Florist Shop opposite Ruth Gilbert.

Uncle Sam took him for two years in 1950. The first year as an Entertainment Specialist for the U.S. Army Hospital, Fort Custer, Michigan; the second year, 11 months in Korea. On his return to New York in 1952, NBC cast him in Hall of Fame opposite Sarah Churchill (Winston’s daughter) in Fanny Stevenson. On CBS, Leave It to Larry with Eddie Albert; on ABC’s Boris Karloff Show opposite Karloff in Mr. I. Murderer by Arch Obler. On NBC Radio, he was George Bigelow on The Aldrich Family and was on Pepper Young’s Family and CBS’s Rosemary.

As he matured, casting became a problem. Ivan left New York and moved to Connecticut where he worked in a family business, MacDonald’s Motel in Branford, Connecticut..

Several years later, he developed an idea for an audio-visual film lecture on art and great gardens of the world. He performed live in a 60-minute lecture series, becoming a national speaker for major museums and colleges through the U.S., as well as for the Chautauqua Institution and the Caramoor Center for the Arts.

He found it a pleasure working with great talent and in three careers. Mr. MacDonald is the end of his family line.

©2017, Jen Payne. Detail of Spiral, Alexander Calder.