Kenneth MacGOWAN - Writer

Producer. Nationality: American. Born: Winthrop, Massachusetts, 30 November 1888. Education: Attended Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, graduated 1911. Career: 1910–25—drama critic; stage producer with Eugene O'Neill's Provincetown Playhouse, New York; story editor for RKO, then producer for RKO, 1932–35, Fox, 1935–44, and for other studios until 1947; then head of Department of Theater Arts, University of California, Los Angeles. Died: In Los Angeles, California, 27 April 1963.

Films as Producer/Associate Producer:


The Penguin Pool Murder (Archainbaud)


Topaze (D'Arrast); Double Harness (Cromwell); Little Women (Cukor); The Great Jasper (Ruben); Rafter Romance (Seiter); If I Were Free (Nugent)


La Cucaracha (Corrigan—short); Anne of Green Gables (Nicholls); Murder on the Blackboard (Archainbaud); Long Lost Father (Schoedsack); Finishing School (Tuchock and Nicholls); Hat, Coat, and Glove (Miner); Wednesday's Child (Robertson)


Becky Sharp (Mamoulian); King of Burlesque (Lanfield); Jalna (Cromwell); The Return of Peter Grimm (Nicholls); Half Angel (Lanfield); Murder on a Honeymoon (Corrigan); Enchanted April (Beaumont)


Lloyds of London (H. King); To Mary—with Love (Cromwell); Sins of Man (Brower and Ratoff)


This Is My Affair (Seiter); Wake Up and Live (Lanfield); Love and Hisses (Lanfield)


Four Men and a Prayer (Ford); In Old Chicago (H. King); Kentucky Moonshine (Butler); Kidnapped (Werker); I'll Give a Million (W. Lang)


Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford); Stanley and Livingstone (H. King); Swanee River (Lanfield); The Return of the Cisco Kid (Leeds); The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (Cummings); Susannah of the Mounties (Seiter)


Brigham Young—Frontiersman (Hathaway); Star Dust (W. Lang); The Return of Frank James (F. Lang); Tin Pan Alley (W. Lang)


Hudson's Bay (Pichel); Man Hunt (F. Lang); The Great American Broadcast (Mayo); Belle Starr (Cummings)


Happy Land (Pichel)


Lifeboat (Hitchcock); Jane Eyre (Stevenson)


Easy Come, Easy Go (Farrow)


By MacGOWAN: books—

The Theater of Tomorrow , New York, 1921.

With Robert Edmond Jones, Continental Stagecraft , New York, 1922.

With Herman Rosse, Masks and Demons , New York, 1923.

Footlights across America , New York, 1929.

With G. V. Hamilton, What Is Wrong with Marriage , New York, 1929.

Early Man in the New World , New York, 1950.

A Primer of Playwriting , New York, 1951.

With others, Theatrer Pictorial , New York, 1953.

With William Welnitz, The Living Stage , New York, 1955.

Behind the Screen: The History and Techniques of the Motion Picture , New York, 1965.

By MacGOWAN: articles—

"Seeing the News by Film," in Collier's (New York), 1 April 1916.

"Beyond the Screen," in Seven Arts (New York), December 1916.

"Cross-Roads of Screen and Stage," in Seven Arts (New York), April 1917.

"As the Movies Mend," in Seven Arts (New York), September 1917.

"On the Screen," in New Republic (New York), 15 September 1917.

"The March of the Photoplay," in Motion Picture Classic (New York), May 1919.

"George Loane Tucker—Miracle Man," in Motion Picture Classic (New York), December 1919.

"Artistic Future of the Movies," in North American Review (New York), February 1921.

"The Coming of Sound to the Screen," in Quarterly of Film, Radio, and Television (Berkeley, California), Winter 1955.

"When the Talkies Came to Hollywood" in Quarterly of Film, Radio, and Television (Berkeley, California), Spring 1956.

On MacGOWAN: book—

Bloom, Thomas Alan, Kenneth MacGowan and the Aesthetic Paradigm for the New Stagecraft in America , New York, P. Lang, 1994, 1997.

On MacGOWAN: articles—

Dickson, Robert G., in Films in Review (New York), October 1963.

Chansky, Dorothy, "Kenneth Macgowan and the Aesthetic Paradigm for the New Stagecraft in America," in Theatre Survey , May 1998.

* * *

Kenneth MacGowan was a creative motion picture producer, film scholar, and teacher. The 50 films for which he was responsible include two milestones in the use of three-color Technicolor, and his ten years at 20th Century-Fox resulted in his being regarded as an expert in historical biographies.

A New Englander and Harvard graduate, MacGowan was the entertainment editor of the Philadelphia Evening Ledger , publicity director for Goldwyn Pictures, and drama critic for the New York Globe . More importantly, in 1924 he was named director of the revamped Provincetown Playhouse, the two associate directors being the playwright Eugene O'Neill and the scenic designer Robert Edmund Jones. That trio's productions of O'Neill's All God's Chillun Got Wings , Desire under the Elms , and The Emperor Jones were revolutionary in theater history. By 1926 financial setbacks forced MacGowan into play production outside Provincetown Playhouse, and he was eventually hired by David O. Selznick—at the suggestion of director Irving Pichel—as story editor at RKO. He went from story editor to producer, his first important production being the charming Topaze starring John Barrymore and Myrna Loy, followed by the highly successful and enduring Little Women . He then produced La Cucaracha , the first live-action film in three-color Technicolor for which he hired Robert Edmund Jones to "design Light." That led to his technically innovative Technicolor production of Becky Sharp , directed by Rouben Mamoulian.

Following disagreements with RKO, MacGowan joined the newly formed 20th Century-Fox in 1935 where his assignments ran the gamut of Fox's output from musicals to basic programmers. With the success of Lloyds of London in 1936, he was handed many of Fox's biographical features, including In Old Chicago . Darryl F. Zanuck suggested that story as a result of MGM's success with San Francisco . The film's famous Chicago fire sequence remains a landmark in special effects. Subsequently, MacGowan produced The Story of Alexander Graham Bell , Stanley and Livingstone , Brigham Young—Frontiersman , and Tin Pan Alley . MacGowan's favorite film was Happy Land , a piece of Americana about "the effects of World War II on a typical American Family." He was instrumental in arranging for John Steinbeck to flesh out Alfred Hitchcock's nucleus of an idea for Lifeboat , one of the director's more unusual and interesting films. MacGowan ended his association with Fox in 1944 with Jane Eyre , but was one of numerous producers on that project.

After producing Easy Come, Easy Go for Paramount in 1947, he left the motion picture business to join UCLA, where he was responsible for organizing one of the best university theater departments in the country. That university's theater building is now named after him, and shortly before his death he completed work on his unique and lasting book, Behind the Screen: The History and Techniques of the Motion Picture .

—Ronald Bowers

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