Douglas MacLean

Actor
Confirmed Years:   1916
Biography:

Charles Douglas MacLean was born in Philadelphia in 1890, the son of a Baptist minister of Scottish heritage.

After a peripatetic childhood and a few short lived careers, he enrolled at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1913, where he met Faith Cole, the first of his four wives. After an early stage career working with Maude Adams, Margaret Anglin and Daniel Frohman, his film career began in Fort Lee, NJ, alongside that of actress Alice Brady whose impresario father was financing a series of films for her.

He moved to California in 1916 and was a player with the Oliver Morosco Stock Company in Los Angeles, during their 1916-17 Season. At Morosco he met the director William Desmond Taylor, who had risen to prominence filming the serial The Diamond From the Sky, and it was during this time he made two films for The Flying A in Santa Barbara, both starring the temperamental actress Gail Kane. These were his first California produced features; one a comedy entitled THE UPPER CRUST and the second a WWI espionage melodrama SOULS IN PAWN. Neither film is known to exist. After his brief stay at American he went on to become a leading man for Mary Pickford, under the direction of Taylor, and, with the departure of star Charles Ray, became the Thomas H Ince Studio’s leading male actor.

After a series of highly successful starring roles under Ince’s supervision, including The Jailbird and The Hottentot, he followed Ray’s example and became an independent producer, making a string of charming, and extremely popular, vehicles; playing intelligent and ambitious young men involved in webs of mistaken identity, misunderstanding and confusion. Although often seen as a light romantic lead he was primarily a farceur and a precursor of the humor of Cary Grant and Jack Lemmon. By 1926 his production company, like Ray’s, had run out of steam and his style of comedy already eclipsed by more robust performers. Despite possessing a beautiful, rich voice, his two sound films, made for Al Christie’s second-string studio, failed to establish him as a star in that medium and he retired from acting.

Aside from his substantial collaborations with Ince, MacLean’s importance in Hollywood during the late Teens and early Twenties included his intriguing involvement in the 1922 murder of his then neighbor William Desmond Taylor, his association with the writer Adela Rogers St Johns and her family, his prolonged support of the fraternal Masquers Club and, as revealed through the rediscovery of his films, a discernable influence on more familiar comedians such as Harold Lloyd.

In the 1930s MacLean went on to become an important producer for RKO and Paramount, working with some of the most prominent comedians of the day, including WC Fields, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Wheeler and Woolsey and Mary Boland and Charles Ruggles; as well as actors Bing Crosby, Robert Cummings and Grant, all at the very outset of their careers; his most durable production a film of Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.

MacLean left production for the major studios in the mid-1930s following the difficulties he faced making a Civil War drama, So Red the Rose, for Paramount and friction with the studio head, Ernst Lubitsch. He made one highly popular film, Great Guy for Grand National with James Cagney, but the studio struggled with Cagney’s salary demands and collapsed. His final film was a remake of his first big hit 23 _ Hours Leave but it was not a success.

For the next forty years Douglas MacLean became an increasingly peripheral figure in Hollywood, with a series of unhappy marriages, including actresses Lorraine Eddy and Barbara Barondess, and unsuccessful attempts to write for the movies, radio and the stage. He died in July 1967 after a series of strokes, without the lasting legacy he deserved. He has the sad distinction, today, of being one of the most ignored and forgotten of the silent era’s major performers.

- Andrew Korniej,

San Francisco, 2005

Confirmed American Credits:

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