The Seven Little Eatons was
a family of American stage
performers in the early part of the twentieth century.
Eatons, from Norfolk, Virginia, began their
careers in show business in 1911, when three of the
, and Pearl
hired to appear in a production of Maurice Maeterlinck
's fantasy play
The Blue Bird
at the Shubert
Belasco Theatre in Washington.
After The Blue Bird
closed, the sisters, younger brother
Joe and cousin Avery, began appearing regularly in various plays
and melodramas for the Poli stock company. Doris Eaton Travis, in
her memoirs, noted that "the local stock managers at the Poli
theatres knew that if you needed three or four or more children,
you could call Mama Eaton and get them all in one place." The Eaton
girls sometimes portrayed male roles; brother Joe sometimes
portrayed female characters and was billed as "Josephine." They
quickly gained reputations as professional, reliable and versatile
actors, and were rarely out of work.
As their careers flourished, the Eatons moved to New York and,
gradually, began performing in adult roles in musical theatre
productions and silent films. They had a special connection to the
1918 and 1922, at least one Eaton was a member of the
In the 1930s, with the advent of talkies, the decline of the
and the advent of the Great Depression
, the careers of the Eaton
siblings declined. Several struggled with alcoholism and drug
addiction; others went on to careers in the United States military
and the Arthur Murray
chain of dance
As of March 2009, Doris Eaton
is the only surviving Eaton sibling. At the age of 105,
she still performs annually on Broadway in benefits for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights
. She has also written a memoir about her family, entitled
The Days We Danced.
Although the family was called the "Seven Little Eatons," in fact
only five of the children were actively involved in show
- Evelyn Eaton Mills (1894 - 1980) was the
eldest of the Eaton siblings. While she was never a performer
herself, she was perhaps somewhat responsible for the Eaton
family's entrance into show business: she brought her three sisters
to audition for their first show, The Blue Bird. She
became, somewhat reluctantly, the "second mother" to the performing
children of the family, and was compelled by her parents to leave
school to look after them.
- Evelyn married Bob Mills in 1917; they had three children,
Edwin, Warren and Evelynne (also credited as Evelyn
Eaton, 1924 - 1964). All three children had successful
careers as juvenile actors on Broadway. Doris Eaton Travis, in her
memoirs, notes that Evelyn was a very aggressive stage mother, and eventually ended up
alienating her children. Evelyn was the last person ever to sign a
contract with Flo Ziegfeld, on behalf
of her daughter, who played the character of Kim as a child in a
1932 revival of Show Boat.
- Joseph Eaton (1905 - 1998) began his career at
the age of five in Mrs. Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch. From
1912 to 1914, he appeared in nearly twenty different productions
with the Poli Stock Company and elsewhere, often alongside one or
more of his sisters. Joe performed in the 1921 edition of the
Ziegfeld Follies, replacing his younger brother Charlie.
However, unlike the other Eaton siblings, he did not pursue show
business as an adult.
attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he performed with the Mask and Wig
Society. After college, he worked with RKO Studios, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, and
worked as an Arthur Murray dance instructor. During World War II he enlisted in the US Army, where he worked under the command of
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, rose to the rank of
lieutenant colonel and was awarded a Bronze Star. After the war, he returned to
work as a dance teacher in one of the Arthur Murray schools owned
by his sister Doris. He was married to wife Lucille for over fifty
years, and was the father of two children.
- Robert Eaton (1896-1935), the eldest Eaton
son, was not involved in show business. He served in the US Army during World War
I, and later formed a maintenance service with his wife. He
died of pneumonia in 1935.
- Travis, Doris Eaton. The Days We Danced, Marquand
Books, 2003. ISBN 0-8061-9950-4