Marjorie Eaton

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Marjorie Eaton
Marjorie Eaton in Night Tide (1961).jpg
Eaton in Night Tide (1961)
Marjorie Lee Eaton

(1901-02-05)February 5, 1901
DiedApril 21, 1986(1986-04-21) (aged 85)
Resting placeCremated
EducationThe Art Institute of Boston
Art Students League of New York, San Francisco School of Fine Arts
Known forPainting, Architecture, Acting
Notable work"Taos Ceremony", "Taos Man Seated", "Man in Cloak"
MovementModernism, Cubism

Marjorie Lee Eaton (February 5, 1901 – April 21, 1986) was an American painter, photographer and character actress best known for physically portraying Emperor Palpatine in the original release of The Empire Strikes Back, though her face was masked and her voice dubbed. The 2004 DVD release of the film had her replaced by the best-known portrayer of the character, Ian McDiarmid.


Eaton's most famous painting, "Taos Ceremony", circa 1928–1932

Eaton was born in Oakland, California and raised in the San Francisco suburb of Palo Alto, California. She attended the Katherine Delmar Burke School and graduated in 1920. She studied at The Art Institute of Boston, in Florence, Italy and in Paris.

In 1925, Eaton's stepmother, Edith Cox Eaton, purchased the historic Palo Alto house of Juana Briones de Miranda and it became a celebrated art colony and family home up until its destruction in 2015. Artist Lucretia Van Horn and sculptor Louise Nevelson spent significant periods of time there, as did Marjorie.[1] In 1939, Marjorie designed and built her own adobe near the Briones house working closely with renowned architect Gregory Ain. Marjorie Eaton had taken painting classes with Hans Hofmann at the Art Students League of New York and afterwards shared a studio with Louise Nevelson whom she met at the League.[2] Marjorie and Louise lived downstairs from Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and the four became close friends and fellow artists.

Though trained in the Stanislavsky method of acting, Marjorie Eaton's initial career choice was to work as either an architect or commercial artist. Before acting, she had joined the art colony in Taos, New Mexico from 1928 to 1932 and Mexico from 1933 to 1935,[3] [4] where she lived with and worked with Diego Rivera on locations in northern Mexico.[5] She gained "a reputation for modernist figural work with bold lines, strong color, and Cubist influenced."[4] Her painting "Taos Ceremony" was exhibited in December 2008 as part of a retrospective exhibit "Colorado and the Old West", which showcased 19th and 20th century artworks related to Colorado and New Mexico.[3] However, she found it impossible to make a living as a woman artist, so she gave up painting entirely and turned to acting.[5]

Eaton appeared both in film and on stage, performing in a number of Broadway plays.[5] She made her (uncredited) film debut in Anna and the King of Siam in 1946. Later roles included Hester Forstye in That Forsyte Woman (1949), Madame Romanovitch in Night Tide[6] (1961), the starring role of Hetty March in the low-budget, science fiction B movie Monstrosity (1963), Miss Persimmon in Mary Poppins (1964), and Sister Ursula in The Trouble with Angels (1966).[5]

In 1979, aged 78, Eaton filmed scenes for The Empire Strikes Back, the second Star Wars film. Eaton portrayed the role of Emperor Palpatine, under heavy makeup, with superimposed chimpanzee eyes and a voice dubbed over by Clive Revill. While Revill received on-screen credit, Eaton did not, and they were both replaced by Ian McDiarmid for the 2004 DVD release. The makeup was sculpted by Phil Tippett and applied by Rick Baker, who had used his own wife Elaine for the makeup tests. As nobody received on-screen credit for playing the Emperor other than voice actor Clive Revill, the identity of the actor was initially unclear. It was widely and incorrectly reported that Elaine Baker had appeared on screen, while in reality she was only used for makeup tests and it is Eaton who appears in the final film.[7][8][9] As a result, Eaton's role in the film was unconfirmed until 2016.

In March 1986, she suffered a stroke. On April 21, 1986, she died at her childhood home in Palo Alto surrounded by two nieces and a nephew by marriage. After the memorial services, her cremated ashes were scattered in two places: half over the property where she grew up and half in Taos where she spent years as an artist.[5]





Eaton's Broadway credits include Merchant of Venice, Bell, Book and Candle in 1950, In the Summer House in 1953, and One Eye Closer in 1954.[5]


  1. ^ The Tall Tree, Newsletter of the Palo Alto Historical Association, October 2011 issue, pg. 3, accessible online at
  2. ^ Louise Nevelson, by Arnold B. Glimcher, Dutton, 1976, page 41
  3. ^ a b Kyle MacMillan (December 12, 2008). "Unsung Western heroes emerge". Denver Post. p. Features, Page D–12.
  4. ^ a b "Marjorie Lee Eaton (1901-1986)". Retrieved January 16, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Staff (April 23, 1986). "Marjorie Eaton, Veteran Actress of Stage and Screen, P.A. Resident" (payment required). San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved January 16, 2012.
  6. ^ "'Night Tide,' a Mood Piece, Is Shown at the Selwyn Theater". The New York Times. June 7, 1963.
  7. ^ Rinzler, J.W. (October 22, 2013). The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Enhanced ed.). Ballantine Group. ISBN 9780345543363.
  8. ^ Courley, Matt. "I Was There Too". Earwolf. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  9. ^ @pablohidalgo (October 26, 2016). "Okay here's what I've got. It is not Elaine Baker in the movie. @PhilTippett sculpted the piece and Rick applied it" (Tweet) – via Twitter.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rindfleisch, Jan, with articles by Maribel Alvarez and Raj Jayadev, edited by Nancy Hom and Ann Sherman. Roots and Offshoots: Silicon Valley's Arts Community. Santa Clara, CA: Ginger Press., 2017. pp. 44–52. ISBN 978-0-9983084-0-1

External links[edit]