Jeanie MacPherson

Jeanie MacPherson (May 18, 1886[1] – 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, 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.[2] She was appraised for her new level resourcefulness and attentiveness to the needs of DeMille.[3]

Jeanie MacPherson
Jeanie MacPherson
Jeanie MacPherson, circa 1920s
Abbie Jean Macpherson

May 18, 1886
DiedAugust 26, 1946 (aged 60)
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
OccupationActress, screenwriter, director
Years active1908–1917 (acting)
1913–1946 (screenwriting)
Notable work
Her collaborations with director Cecil B. DeMille

Early life

MacPherson was born Abbie Jean MacPherson[1] in Boston to a wealthy family of Spanish, Scottish, and French descent.[4] Her parents were John S. MacPherson and Evangeline C. Tomlinson.[1] As a teenager, she was sent to Mademoiselle DeJacque's school in Paris, but she 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.[4]

Back in the United States, MacPherson finished her degree at the Kenwood Institute in Chicago. It was there that 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 she could find.[4] However, she quickly became infatuated with film.[2]

"All I knew was that I wanted to act," she would later say. "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.'"[3]

Film career

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. MacPherson had dark hair, so she was often cast in gypsy or Spanish roles. From 1908 to 1917, she racked up 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."[3]

After Griffith, she went on to the old Universal Company, where she was a leading lady.[2] She got her first real opportunity in 1913, when she wrote, directed, and starred in The Tarantula (1913). She played the role of a Spanish-Mexican girl known as the tarantula, who would get men to become obsessed with her, get bored of them, and kill them with a 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.[2] 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";[2] from that point on, she focused on writing.

DeMille and MacPherson formed what became one of the most influential and long-lasting partnerships in the industry.[3] She penned 30 of DeMille's next 34 films. 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.[2][3] In 1927, she was one of the founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[2]

Personal life

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."[4] It was later confirmed by DeMille's niece that MacPherson was in fact one of his three mistresses.[5]

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.[2]

In 1946, MacPherson became ill with cancer while researching Unconquered (1947), a historical drama, and had to stop work.[4] 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.[2]

Selected filmography


  1. ^ a b c "Abbie Jean Macpherson - Massachusetts Births". FamilySearch. Retrieved May 20, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Lowry, Carolyn. The First One Hundred Noted Men and Women of the Screen"
  3. ^ a b c d e Casella, Donna. Feminism and the Female Author: The Not So Silent Career of the Woman Scenarist in Hollywood — 1896–1930,; accessed December 19, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e Clark, Randall (1986). "American Screenwriters". Dictionary of Literary Biography. 44 (2nd): 185.
  5. ^ "Jeanie Macpherson profile". Women Film Project. Retrieved December 2, 2014.

External links

1887 in film

The following is an overview of the events of 1887 in film, including a list of films released and notable births.

Dynamite (1929 film)

Dynamite is a 1929 American pre-Code drama film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Conrad Nagel, Kay Johnson, Charles Bickford, and Julia Faye. Written by Jeanie MacPherson, John Howard Lawson, and Gladys Unger, the film is about a convicted murderer scheduled to be executed, whom a socialite marries simply to satisfy a condition of her grandfather's will. Mitchell Leisen was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction.

For Better, for Worse (1919 film)

For Better, for Worse is a 1919 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Gloria Swanson. The film was the second of four "marriage films" directed by DeMille and the second DeMille film starring Gloria Swanson. For Better, for Worse was adapted for the screen by William C. DeMille. Jeanie MacPherson wrote the film's scenario.

Forbidden Fruit (1921 film)

Forbidden Fruit is a 1921 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and starring Agnes Ayers, Forrest Stanley, Clarence Burton, and Kathlyn Williams. It is a remake of the 1915 film The Golden Chance, which was also directed by DeMille. The film survives in prints at George Eastman House and the Library of Congress.


Jeanie is a feminine given name in the English language.

Land of Liberty

Land of Liberty is a 1939 American documentary film written by Jesse L. Lasky Jr. and Jeanie Macpherson. The film tells the history of the United States from pre-Revolution through 1939. The film was released on June 15, 1939, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Manslaughter (1922 film)

Manslaughter is a 1922 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Thomas Meighan, Leatrice Joy, and Lois Wilson. It was written by Jeanie MacPherson based upon the novel of the same name by Alice Duer Miller. Manslaughter was the first film to show an erotic kiss between two members of the same sex.

Saturday Night (1922 film)

Saturday Night is a 1922 American silent romantic comedy film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Leatrice Joy, Conrad Nagel, and Edith Roberts. It was Leatrice Joy's first film with DeMille.

Temptation (1915 film)

Temptation is a 1915 American silent romantic drama film directed and produced by Cecil B. DeMille. The film starred Geraldine Farrar and Theodore Roberts and was written by and based on an original story by Hector Turnbull. Additional writing was done by DeMille and Jeanie MacPherson, who did not receive screen credit.

The Buccaneer (1938 film)

The Buccaneer is a 1938 American adventure film made by Paramount Pictures and based on Jean Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. It was produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille from a screenplay by Harold Lamb, Edwin Justus Mayer and C. Gardner Sullivan adapted by Jeanie Macpherson from the novel Lafitte the Pirate by Lyle Saxon. The music score was by George Antheil and the cinematography by Victor Milner.The film stars Fredric March as Lafitte, Franciska Gaal and Akim Tamiroff with Margot Grahame, Walter Brennan, Ian Keith, Spring Byington, Douglass Dumbrille, Beulah Bondi and Anthony Quinn in supporting roles.

It is one of the few pre-1950 sound films by Paramount to remain under that studio's ownership (partly so the remake could be filmed), whereas most films from that era had been sold to EMKA, Ltd. – now part of NBCUniversal Television Distribution – in the early television era.

Cecil B. DeMille remade the film in 1958 in Technicolor and VistaVision with the same title, but because of ill health, he allowed Henry Wilcoxon, his longtime friend and associate, to produce it, and the film was directed by Anthony Quinn, who was his son-in-law at the time. DeMille received no screen credit, but did make a personal appearance in the prologue to the film, much as he did in The Ten Commandments. The 1958 version of The Buccaneer stars Yul Brynner, Charles Boyer and Claire Bloom, with Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson. Douglass Dumbrille appeared in both versions and Quinn acted in the earlier version.

The Captive (1915 film)

The Captive is an American silent-era film released on April 22, 1915. It was released on five reels. The film was written, directed, edited, and produced by Cecil B. DeMille. Jesse L. Lasky was another producer and Jeanie MacPherson worked with DeMille to write the screenplay. The film is based on a play written by Cecil B. DeMille and Jeanie MacPherson. The Captive grossed just over $56,000. On a budget of only $12,154. Blanche Sweet stars as Sonia Martinovich, alongside House Peters who stars as Mahmud Hassan. The film details the romantic war-era plight of Montenegrin protagonist, Sonia Martinovich, and her Turkish lover, Mahmud Hassan.

The Cheat (1923 film)

The Cheat is a 1923 American silent drama film produced by Famous Players-Lasky and distributed by Paramount Pictures, and is a remake of Cecil B. DeMille's 1915 hit feature using the same script by Hector Turnbull and Jeanie MacPherson. This version stars Pola Negri and was directed by George Fitzmaurice.

The Devil-Stone

The Devil-Stone is a 1917 American silent romance film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and co-written by his mother Beatrice deMille and his sometime lover Jeanie MacPherson and starring Geraldine Farrar. The film had sequences filmed in the Handschiegl Color Process (billed as the "DeMille-Wyckoff Process").

Only two of six reels are known to survive, in the American Film Institute Collection at the Library of Congress.This was the last of Farrar's films for Paramount Pictures.

The Dream Girl (film)

The Dream Girl was a 1916 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Based on an original story by DeMille writer Jeanie MacPherson, the film starred Mae Murray and Theodore Roberts. The film is now considered lost.

The Golden Bed

The Golden Bed is a 1925 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It is based on a novel, Tomorrow's Bread, by Wallace Irwin. Jeanie MacPherson wrote the screenplay. Prints of the film survive in the film archive at George Eastman House.

The Golden Chance

The Golden Chance is a 1915 American drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. A print of the film survives at George Eastman House. DeMille remade the film in 1921 as Forbidden Fruit.

The Love Mask

The Love Mask is a 1916 American drama silent film directed by Frank Reicher and written by Cecil B. DeMille and Jeanie MacPherson. The film stars Cleo Ridgely, Wallace Reid, Earle Foxe, Bob Fleming, Dorothy Abril and Lucien Littlefield. The film was released on April 13, 1916, by Paramount Pictures.

The Sea Urchin (1913 film)

The Sea Urchin is a 1913 American silent short romantic drama film directed by Edwin August and starring Jeanie MacPherson and Lon Chaney. The film was the earliest known character role by Lon Chaney and the first screenplay by MacPherson. The story follows a hunchback fisherman, who finds a young girl and raised her into womanhood with the intention of marrying her. A handsome boy soon gains her affections and the hunchback threatens him with a knife. The next day, the boat tips over during an argument and the hunchback saves the girl. As the young lovers reunite, he sees how happy they are together and he takes his leave. The film was released on August 22, 1913 and was played across the United States. The film is presumed lost.

The Ten Commandments (1923 film)

The Ten Commandments is a 1923 American silent religious epic film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Written by Jeanie MacPherson, the film is divided into two parts: a prologue recreating the biblical story of the Exodus and a modern story concerning two brothers and their respective views of the Ten Commandments.

Lauded for its "immense and stupendous" scenes, use of Technicolor process 2, and parting of the Red Sea sequence, the expensive film proved to be a box-office hit upon release. It is the first in DeMille's biblical trilogy, followed by The King of Kings (1927) and The Sign of the Cross (1932).

The Ten Commandments is one of many works from 1923 that entered the public domain in the United States in 2019.

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