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Abbie Jean 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, 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 praised for her resourcefulness and for her attentiveness to the needs of DeMille.
Abbie Jean Macpherson
May 18, 1886
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||August 26, 1946 (aged 60)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Hollywood Forever Cemetery|
|Occupation||Actress, screenwriter, director|
|Years active||1908–1917 (acting)|
|Her collaborations with director Cecil B. DeMille|
MacPherson was born Abbie Jean MacPherson in Boston to a wealthy family of Spanish, Scottish, and French descent. Her parents were John S. MacPherson and Evangeline C. Tomlinson. 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.
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. However, she quickly became infatuated with film.
"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.'"
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."
After Griffith, she went on to the old Universal Company, where she was a leading lady. 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. 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 focused on writing.
DeMille and MacPherson formed what became one of the most influential and long-lasting partnerships in the industry. 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. 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 might have been 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.
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.
- Fra Diavolo (1933) (adaptation)
- Madam Satan (1930)
- Dynamite (1929)
- Young April (1926) (adaptation)
- Her Man o' War (1926)
- Red Dice (1926) (adaptation)
- The Road to Yesterday (1925) (adaptation)
- Triumph (1924) (adaptation)
- Adam's Rib (1923)
- Manslaughter (1922) (adaptation)
- Saturday Night (1922)
- A Prodigal Knight (1921)
- Forbidden Fruit (1921)
- Male and Female (1919)
- Till I Come Back to You (1918)
- Old Wives for New (1918)
- The Devil-Stone (1917)
- The Woman God Forgot (1917)
- The Little American (1917)
- The Love Mask (1916)
- The Golden Chance (1915)
- Chimmie Fadden Out West (1915)
- The Black Box (1915)
- Fisher Folks (1911)
- A Mohawk's Way (1910) as Indian
- "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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