Jeanie MacPherson, circa 1920s
Abbie Jean Macpherson|
May 18, 1886
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
August 26, 1946 (aged 60)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Cancer|
|Resting place||Hollywood Forever Cemetery|
|Occupation||Actress, screenwriter, director|
|Notable work||Her collaborations with director Cecil B. DeMille|
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Jeanie MacPherson (May 18, 1886 – 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 period including D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. 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 DeMille. She was appraised for her new level resourcefulness and attentiveness to the needs of DeMille.
MacPherson was born Abbie Jean Macpherson in Boston to a wealthy family. Her parents were John S. Macpherson and Evangeline C. Tomlinson. She was a petite, spirited girl of Spanish, Scottish, and French descent. As a teenager she was sent to Mademoiselle DeJacque's school in paris but was forced to leave when her family fell on hard times. She then returned to the United States and began to look for a job.
It was back in the United States that MacPherson finished her degree from the prestigious Kenwood Institute in Chicago. It was there, in the windy city of Chicago, where she started her career as a dancer and stage performer. She began her theatrical career in the chorus of the Chicago Opera House. Over the next few years she took singing lessons and took whatever theater-related jobs that she could find. 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 roles in which she had to portray ethnicities other than her own 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 (1913) 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. 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 B. DeMille to see if she could act in his films. He told her, "I am not interested in star Macpherson but I am in writer Macpherson"; from that point on, she solely focused on writing.
DeMille and MacPherson formed what became one of the most influential and 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. She penned 30 of DeMille's next 34 films. They admired 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 and money-hungry, looking for a man to take care of them. They both believed in the power of people to change their ways, which many of their scripts showed.
Some of their most notable works are Rose of the Rancho (1914) with Bessie Barriscale, The Girl of the Golden West with Mabel Van Buren, The Cheat (1915) with Sessue Hayakawa, The Golden Chance (1915) with Wallace Reid, Joan the Woman (1916) with Geraldine Farrar, A Romance of the Redwoods (1917) with Mary Pickford, The Little American again with Pickford, and The Woman God Forgot (1917) again with Farrar.
She thoroughly believed that as motion picture owes its psychology to D. W. Griffith, it owes its dramatic picture scenario construction to that of DeMille. Through her pen as a female scenarist she was able to give women a voice in the film writing industry. In 1927, she was one of the founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The outside world was very skeptical of MacPherson and DeMille's relationship, as some believed that they may be having an affair. In 1921, MacPherson told a reporter, "I shall always be grateful for Mr. DeMille's assistance. He is a hard taskmaster and he demands that a thing shall be perfect... It was hard, but it taught me that anything worth doing at all was worth doing perfectly." It was later confirmed by DeMille's 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 plane of the late Lieutenant Locklear, the world’s greatest stunt flier. He gave her the utmost confidence in her skill.
In 1946, MacPherson became ill with cancer while researching Unconquered (1947), a historical drama, and had to stop work. She died that August in Los Angeles at age 60, and was buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood. She was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6150 Hollywood Blvd.
- "Abbie Jean Macpherson - Massachusetts Births". FamilySearch. Retrieved May 20, 2016.
- "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, tandfonline.com; accessed December 19, 2016.
- Clark, Randall (1986). "American Screenwriters". Dictionary of Literary Biography. 44 (2nd): 185.
- "Jeanie Macpherson profile". Women Film Project. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
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