McCAMBRIDGE firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2002-12-31 published
Carried cans across Canada, selling shows to nascent local television stations
By Carol COOPER
Carrying cans of film across the country, sometimes screening them in feed stores and warehouses, he brought American shows to Canadian homes. John A. MacDONALD, one of Canada's first television-show salesmen has died, aged 72.
Beginning his career in 1958 with Screen Gems, the television program sales arm of Columbia Pictures, Mr. MacDONALD sold shows such as Father Knows Best, Rin Tin Tin, and the Flintstones to buyers at fledgling television stations and helped them develop their programming.
"He was a mentor in those days when I knew very little," said Merv STONE, who spent 28 years as head of programming and acquisitions at Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Television. As operations manager for CHAT-Television in Medicine Hat, Alta., until 1960, Mr. STONE was among Mr. MacDONALD's early clients.
After 23 years with Columbia Pictures Television, Mr. MacDONALD spent five years as vice-president and managing director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Television Canada, opening its Canadian office in Toronto when he joined the company in 1981.
Respected for his diligence, integrity and knowledge, Mr. MacDONALD belonged to a close-knit group of distributors who worked for competing companies.
"The extraordinary thing about this fraternity was that we admired each other, we were all Friends, and there was never any knifing in the back," said David McLAUGHLIN, once a distributor for Warner Bros. and later Mr. MacDONALD's boss and friend. "If a client said: 'I'm interested in such and such a show,' we never said: 'Oh, that's terrible. What you need is my show, because it's so much better.'"
The affable and articulate Mr. MacDONALD was also known for his sense of humour and for an ability to mimic. "Whenever we met, it was never a simple hello," Mr. McLAUGHIN said. "It was usually show-biz - showtime. We'd cut up and make gags and in three minutes, we were rolling around, laughing ourselves to pieces."
In fact, like many in the early days of television, Mr. MacDONALD did start out in show business.
Born in Brantford, Ontario, in 1930, he was the only child of Scottish immigrants, his father a ship plater. The family went without a telephone until Mr. MacDONALD was 6 and they belonged to a church that had no minister, organ or choir. Congregation members, including young John, sang a cappella--in harmony.
His father paid him a nickel for each book read and a penny for each word spelled and defined correctly. During his childhood, Mr. MacDONALD absorbed works by Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. In 1941, the family moved to Victoria, so that Mr. MacDONALD's father could work in the shipyards. Mr. MacDONALD attended Esquimalt High School.
The school's strong arts program whetted his appetite for music and theatre. Mr. MacDONALD appeared in school plays, musicals and the school band. After graduation, he left home to pursue his love of the stage.
While working at a bank, Mr. MacDONALD sang and acted in productions by Victoria's Gilbert and Sullivan Society, then the world's largest, the Victoria Little Theatre and the summer Starlight Theatre at night. Guest actors from the summer theatre, Vancouver's Theatre Under the Stars, where Bruno GERUSSI and Robert GOULET spent part of their early careers, appeared in the Starlight productions. in turn, Starlight actors were invited to audition with Theatre Under the Stars.
Mr. MacDONALD, aspiring to perform full-time, joined Theatre Under the Stars in 1949 and appeared in five productions for each of the following five seasons, including the part of Sly Masterson in Guys and Dolls.
At Theatre Under the Stars in 1951, Mr. MacDONALD, met Sheilagh HENDERSON, a dancer from the Winnipeg Ballet who performed with the company to supplement her winter income. "The singers always liked to take out the dancers," she said. They married in 1953.
With little money, the newlywed Mr. MacDONALD often entertained himself and his wife by playing the piano, improving on his self-taught skill. He loved music, especially jazz and the big bands.
And he continued acting. With the Vancouver Little Theatre MacDONALD played the lead opposite film stars Peggy Ann GARNER and Mercedes McCAMBRIDGE and performed in early Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Vancouver television musicals between 1953 and 1956.
Finally needing a better day job he joined Screen Gems as its western sales representative in 1958, yet continued acting in his spare time. A move to Toronto in 1961 to become eastern sales supervisor left him no time to perform and in 1974, he was promoted to vice-president of sales and director of Columbia Pictures Television in Canada.
While on business trips, his piano-playing ability proved a good companion. Often lonely, he would ask to use the piano in hotel bars, and played requests for those who gathered, said his daughter Jeannie HEROLD.
Having a father who sold television shows didn't gain her any status with her schoolmates, though. Most thought her father repaired televisions. Still they perked up when he got her an autograph of Shirley JONES and David CASSIDY of The Partridge Family.
Despite rubbing shoulders with stars in Hollywood and Cannes, her father remained modest, she said. "He always said: 'They put their pants on one leg at a time. They're just the same as you and me.'"
Mr. MacDONALD loved old musicals and when with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, brought certain films home for family and Friends to view. Once during a poolside screening of the Battle of Britain at friend Alan KEYWORTH's house, a gust of wind blew the screen into the pool. "We got to know the neighbours rather quickly," KEYWORTH said.
A fan of television producer and director Seymour BERNS's stories, Mr. MacDONALD, who liked to talk - a lot - was fond of recounting them. Once in Hollywood, he began to tell a BERNS tale, forgetting that BERNS himself was in the room. As he went on with the anecdote, embellishing and enhancing it along the way, BERNS turned and said: "Shouldn't that story be over by now?."
But Mr. MacDONALD's theatrical bent never ended. He orchestrated the lighting for his wife's ballet-school shows and did son Glen's makeup for Halloween. And as well as being a director of the Broadcast Executives Society from 1972 to 1978 and its chairman in 1974 and 1975, he produced the organization's Christmas luncheon for many years, writing scripts and organizing entertainment.
After one successful event, the crowd of 1,000 in the Sheraton Hotel in Toronto rose to give Mr. MacDONALD, busy directing activities from the control room, a standing ovation. Mr. McLAUGHIN hurled a roll at Mr. MacDONALD, who was behind the control room's glass. Many followed suit and Mr. MacDONALD joined in the fun, ducking to avoid the "hits."
Mr. MacDONALD also helped set up the Ruth Hancock Scholarship for students pursuing a career in broadcasting and revamped the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' award ceremony. He retired in 1987.
As for his very Canadian name: "He always said he was working on the sir," Sheilagh MacDONALD said. Mr. MacDONALD leaves his wife of 49 years, Sheilagh, son Glen, daughter Jeannie HEROLD and six grandchildren.
John A. MacDONALD, actor, salesman; born in Brantford, Ontario, March 25, 1930; died in Markham, Ontario, on November 23, 2002.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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McAMMOND email@example.com_county.toronto.toronto_star 2002-12-30 published
DOWNING, Grace Evelyn (née McAMMOND) -- Peacefully on Saturday, December 28, 2002 at Shepherd Lodge in her 92nd year. Beloved wife of the late John. Dear sister-in-law of Vera, George (Eileen) and Mary. Will be sadly missed by her nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at Knox Presbyterian Church, 4156 Sheppard Avenue East, on Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 7: 30 p.m.
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