Comic Actor Don McArt, Stalwart At Royal Palm Dinner Theatre, Dies In Boca Hospice

By Bill Hirschman

CORRECTED AGE
Comic actor Don McArt, visually memorable for his short stature and prominent ears, as well as his frequent appearances with his sister Jan McArt, died Tuesday in a hospice in Boca Raton.

He was 90 years old, according to the Internet Movie Database.

Donald Craig McArt, known as Bunny to his friends, was the co-host and star at Jan McArt’s Royal Palm Dinner Theatre for 11 years. But his acting career stretched back to George Abbott’s Kiss and Tell on Broadway in 1943 and he had toured North America in recent years as George Burns in Say Goodnight Gracie.

McArt received a Carbonell award nomination from the South Florida Drama Critics for his performance in Finian’s Rainbow in 1990. His final appearance at the Royal Palm was in Some Like It Hot in 2001.

He was scheduled to appear in January with sister in her Play Reading Series presentation of Back Stage Story by playwright Tony Finstrom on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton.

McArt moved from to Boca Raton from Los Angeles in 1990 to star in his sister’s production of the tribute to vaudeville Sugar Babies in her Miami and Key West theatres. But he had played there earlier including helping his sister open the Royal Palm in Boca Raton performing in The Merry Widow in 1977.

He had acted in roles in series television in Los Angeles dating back to a 1956 appearance in Alfred Hitchcock Presents and encompassing appearances in The Addams Family and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He also acted in films under contract to the Disney Studios including small roles in The Absent-Minded Professor and the sequel Son of Flubber, as well as the1995 film Too Much with Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith.

Born in Cleveland, McArt grew up in Anderson, a small town north of Indianapolis, according to an obituary written by his sister. Their mother was a talented musician and homemaker and his father an engineer for General Motors. While earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Indiana University, he organized Don McArt’s Dance Band, played bass drum in the school’s Marching 100 IU Band, was president of his senior class, and president of the board of the Aeons.

After school, McArt became a newscaster/disc jockey at NBC affiliate WEOA in Evansville, Ind., before venturing to New York.

After being hired by George Abbott for Kiss and Tell, McArt performed in the Broadway and national companies of Pajama Tops, Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple and There’s A Girl In My Soup.

McArt also produced and directed at Hollywood legitimate theatres, wrote for radio, was a television producer at NBC and was seen on commercials for State Farm, Chevrolet, Hamm’s Beer, Allied Van Lines and others. All the while, McArt appeared on television shows, commercials and on stage with occasional appearances in Las Vegas.

McArt met Dr. Ernest Holmes who founded the Science of Mind Centers headquartered in Los Angeles. His sister wrote that he “often joked that he and Dr. Holmes felt an immediate affinity due to their mutually protruding ears and small stature, making them easily recognizable and adding a gentle charm to their speaking engagements.”

Already a motivational speaker, McArt completed training to be a minister, although he had no intention of doing so at the time. He received a doctor of divinity degree in 1974 and spent two years assisting a minister in California while pursuing his acting career. Later, he founded his own congregation, becoming minister of the Science of Mind Center and serving the Church of Religious Science in Whittier, Calif., for the next 17 years. He wrote a book, The Mental Makeover: Kiss Your ‘Buts’ Goodbye.

Offstage, McArt was an enthusiastic “antique car nut, ” a proud member of the Model A Club and enjoyed nothing more than driving his 1931 Model A Ford roadster whenever time permitted.

His national tour with Say Goodnight Gracie kept him busy the past four years, something McArt loved, his sister wrote. “You could call me an Irish version of George Burns,” Don McArt had joked. “I relate a lot to the struggles George Burns has early in his career, because I’ve had plenty of my own. I feel honored that I have been approved to play the role. It’s much better than retirement.”

Other survivors include brother Dr. Bruce McArt of Elkhart, Ind.; nieces Deborah Lahr Lawlor of Boca Raton, and Kristin McArt Genske of Sobbieski, Wisc.; nephews Kevin McArt of Elkhart, Scott McArt of Houston,. and David McArt of Green Bay, Wisc.; grandnieces Katharine Lawlor of New York City, and Madison McArt of Elkhart, and Brooklyn McArt of Elkhart.; grandnephews Evan Lawlor of Rollins College in Winter Park, Austin McArt of Elkhart, Grant McArt of Colorado and Adam McArt of Milwaukee.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28, at the Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center on the campus of Lynn University, 3601 N. Military Trail, Boca Raton. Dr. Barbara Lunde will preside.

In lieu of flowers or visits, the McArt family asks friends to make a donation to their favorite charity in honor of Don “Bunny” McArt.

 

To hear Jan McArt interviewing her brother Don two years ago for , WXEL’s Timesteps : The Florida Arts Oral History Project, click here. Thanks to Caroline Breder-Watts of Arts Radio Network.

Don McArt as George Burns in North American tour of Say Goodnight Gracie

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3 Responses to Comic Actor Don McArt, Stalwart At Royal Palm Dinner Theatre, Dies In Boca Hospice

  1. Rosemarie Sagarese Redman says:

    So saddened to hear about his passing. Don was amazing to perform with and had a heart of gold! We were so blessed to also have him marry us! My memories of Don will always be in my heart.

  2. Gloria Stein says:

    My special memory of Don was the Friday nite backstage jam sessions w/other singers
    at the wonderful Royal Palm Theater, too many years ago. I’ll never forget what pleasure he gave us. I’ll be there Fri to honor his memory.

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