Jeanie MacPherson circa 1920s
May 18, 1887|
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||August 26, 1946
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Jeanie MacPherson (May 18, 1887 – August 26, 1946) was an American actress, writer, and director from 1908 until the late 1940s. She was a pioneer for women in the film industry. She worked with some of the best filmmakers of the time ranging from D.W Griffith to Cecil De Mille. While she started in the theater, and then had a brief stint as an actress, she ultimately dedicated her life's work to screenwriting for De Mille. She was appraised for her new level resourcefulness and attentiveness to the needs of De Mille.
Macpherson was born in Boston, MA. She was named after Jeanie MacPherson, the Scottish Joan of Arc, who led the Highlanders at the Battle of Culloden. She received the first portion of her education in Paris, but finished her degree from the prestigious Kenwood Institute in Chicago, IL. In Chicago she started her career as a dancer and stage performer. However, she quickly became infatuated with film. She was quoted as saying "All I knew was that I wanted to act. Then someone told me about motion pictures, how drama was filmed. I was fascinated. I like mechanics anyway. I hunted all over New York for a studio--and couldn't find one. At last a super told me a man named Griffith was doing pictures for the Biograph Company. Mr. Griffith wasn't in. His assistant was. I told him my stage experience. He ignored it, scorned it. 'We want to know what you can do before a camera'”.
She made her film debut in 1908 with a short film called the “Fatal Hour” directed by D.W Griffith. For the next year she acted in many controversial and ethnic roles for Griffith's films. Macpherson had dark hair, so she was often cast in gypsy or Spanish roles, even though she was of Scotch and French origin. From 1908 to 1917 she is accredited with 146 acting credits. She was quoted as looking back on her time with Griffith as her “first glimmer of the possibilities in the new industry [and] from those days on [she had] seen a variety of attitudes toward the script writers”.
After Griffith, she went on to the old Universal Company where she was a leading lady. She got her first real opportunity here in 1913, when she wrote, directed, and starred in, “The Tarantula” for them. She played the role of a Spanish-Mexican girl, known as the tarantula, whom would get men to become obsessed with her and then once she had their infatuation, she would get bored of them and kill them with a tarantula bite. Due to this film she became the youngest director in motion picture history.
She went on to direct, “The End of the Rainbow” for Universal in 1916. The film concluded her directing career. She continued at the old Universal Company for two years until her health caused her to break from the company. Upon her recovery she found herself at Lasky Studios, however she quickly sought out Cecil De Mille to see if she could act in his films. However, he told her “I am not interested in star Macpherson but I am in writer Macpherson”. From this moment on in 1917, she solely focused on writing.
De Mille and her formed what became one of the most influential, long lasting, partnerships in the industry. She was infatuated with his perfection and force of will, while he was captivated by her high spirited courage. Of De Milles next 34 films she penned 30 of them. They were infatuated with each other; he would provide the crowd shots and epic sense, while she would humanize the heroine. They both loathed weakness, which they defined as a man being degraded, and women who were shallow, money hungry looking for a man to take care of them. However, they both believed in the power of people to change their ways, which many of their scripts showed.
Some of their most notable work: “Rose of the Rancho” with Bessie Barriscale; The Girl of the Golden West with House Peters, Sr.; The Cheat with Sessue Hayakawa; and The Golden Chance with Wallace Reid. She thoroughly believed that as motion picture owes its psychology to D.W. Griffith, it owes its dramatic picture scenario construction to that of De Mille. Through her pen as a female scenarist she was able to give women a voice in the film writing industry.
The outside world was very skeptical of her and De Milles relationship, as some believed that they may be having an affair. It was later confirmed by De Milles niece that Macpherson was in fact one of his three mistresses.
She was obsessed with flying, and would try to do so daily. She bragged about being the only woman having piloted the late Lieutenant Locklear, the world’s greatest stunt fliers, plane. He gave her the utmost confidence in her skill.
- "Lowry, Carolyn. The First One Hundred Noted Men and Women of the Screen"
- Casella, Donna. Feminism and the Female Author: The Not So Silent Career of the Woman Scenarist in Hollywood — 1896–1930
- "Jeanie Macpherson". Women Film Project. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jeanie MacPherson.|
- Jeanie MacPherson at the Internet Movie Database
- Jeanie MacPherson at the Women Film Pioneers Project
- Jeanie MacPherson at Virtual History