J. P. McGowan

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J. P. McGowan
Jpmcgowanbookcover.jpg
Born John Paterson McGowan
(1880-02-24)February 24, 1880
Terowie, South Australia, Australia
Died March 26, 1952(1952-03-26) (aged 72)
Hollywood, California, USA
Nationality Australian
Occupation Actor
Director
Writer
Years active 1910-1938

John Paterson McGowan (February 24, 1880 – March 26, 1952) was a pioneering Hollywood actor and director and occasionally a screenwriter and producer. J. P. McGowan, as he was usually known, remains the only Australian to have been made a life member of the Screen Directors Guild (now Directors Guild of America).

Biography[edit]

Born in the then-bustling railway centre of Terowie in South Australia, McGowan grew up in Adelaide (Islington) and Sydney. He was a capable horseman and served in the Second Boer War with Montmorency's Scouts as a special dispatch rider.

From South Africa McGowan was recruited to take part in a Boer War exhibit in the US at the 1904 World's Fair. He then began working in live theatre, and in 1910 joined Kalem Studios in New York City. That year McGowan made his first film appearance in A Lad from Old Ireland as part of the crew that traveled to Ireland to do the first American film shot on location outside of the United States. His horseback riding ability enabled him to do many of Kalem's riding stunts.

McGowan directed and often acted in the first 33 episodes of Kalem's 1914 adventure film series, The Hazards of Helen, which eventually ran to 54 episodes, some still with McGowan's participation. While filming he began a relationship with Helen Holmes, the film's star, and the two married. They left Kalem to set up their own production company, Signal Films, which successfully made a series of railroad melodramas but lost out when their distributor (Mutual) failed. The collaboration ended when they divorced in 1925. There was an adopted daughter, Kaye.

McGowan successfully made the transition from silent film to talkies. While never a major star, in a busy career that spanned four decades he is credited with acting in 232 films—mostly strong roles like sheriff or villain—writing 26 screenplays and directing 242 productions. In 1932 he directed a young John Wayne in the 12-episode rail vs airplane serial The Hurricane Express for the independent Mascot Pictures. From 1938 to 1951, as Executive Secretary of the Screen Directors Guild, he fought to secure recognition for the director within the studio systems of the film and emerging television industry.

Lobby card for Discontented Wives, 1921

J.P. McGowan died in 1952 in Hollywood and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. His life story was told in the 2005 McFarland book, J. P. McGowan: Biography of a Hollywood Pioneer by John J. McGowan (ISBN 0-7864-1994-6).

McGowan's career is celebrated biennially in the town of his birth with the Terowie Days of Rail and Screen. The adventurous, stunt-filled partnership with Helen Holmes has been celebrated in the film, 'Stunt Love', which was presented at the Adelaide Film Festival in February 2011 and at Museum of Modern Art, New York, in April 2011.

Though known on a personal basis, like many Australian Johns, as Jack, J. P. should not be confused with the younger Jack McGowan, who was long a screenwriter with MGM. Many movie sales lists do make this confusion, but if the film is a light comedy or musical, that is NOT the heavyweight J.P.!

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • McGowan, John J. J. P. McGowan: Biography of a Hollywood Pioneer. McFarland, 2005.

External links[edit]