Jeanie Macpherson - Writer

Writer, Director, and Actress. Nationality: American. Born: Boston, Massachusetts, in 1884. Education: Attended Mademoiselle DeJacque's School, Paris. Career: 1907–14—stage and film actress: member of the chorus, Chicago Opera House, film debut in Mr. Jones at the Ball , 1908, and in road companies of Cleopatra and Strongheart and on Broadway in Havana ; 1912—directed and appeared in new version of lost film, The Tarantula ; 1915—began long association with Cecil B. De Mille. Died: Of cancer, 26 August 1946.

Films as Writer for Cecil B. De Mille:


The Unafraid ; The Captive (+ ro); Chimmie Fadden Out West ; The Golden Chance


Maria Rosa ; Temptation ; The Trail of the Lonesome Pine ; The Heart of Nora Flynn ; The Dream Girl


Joan the Woman ; A Romance of the Redwoods ; The Little American ; The Woman God Forgot ; The Devil Stone


The Whispering Chorus ; Old Wives for New


Don't Change Your Husband ; For Better, for Worse ; Male and Female


Something to Think About


Forbidden Fruit ; The Affairs of Anatol


Saturday Night ; Manslaughter


Adam's Rib ; The Ten Commandments




The Golden Bed ; The Road to Yesterday


The King of Kings


The Godless Girl ; Dynamite


Madam Satan


The Crusades


The Plainsman


The Buccaneer


Land of Liberty (doc); Union Pacific


North West Mounted Police


The Story of Dr. Wassel

Other Films as Writer:


The Tarantula (+ d + ro)


The Ghost Breaker (+ d)


Red Dice (Howard); Young April (Crisp)


Fra Diavolo ( The Devil's Brother ) (Roach)

Films as Actress for D.W. Griffith:


Mr. Jones at the Ball


Mrs. Jones Entertains ; A Corner in Wheat


Winning Back His Love


The Spanish Gypsy ; Fisher Folks ; Enoch Arden


The Desert's Sting (d unknown)

Films as Actress for Cecil B. De Mille:


Rose of the Rancho


The Girl of the Golden West ; Carmen


By MACPHERSON: articles—

"Development of Photodramatic Writing," in Moving Picture World , 21 July 1917.

"Functions of the Continuity Writer," in Opportunities in the Motion Picture Industry , Los Angeles, 1922.

"The Subtitle: Friend and Foe," in Motion Picture Director (Hollywood), November 1926.

"Development of Photodramatic Writing," in Film History (London), no. 3, 1997.

On MACPHERSON: articles—

Cinema (Beverly Hills, California), no. 35, 1976.

Foreman, Alexa L., in American Screenwriters, 2nd series , edited by Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1986.

McCreadie, Marsha, "Pioneers (Part Two)," in Films in Review (New York), January-February 1995.

Kino (Sophia), no. 4, 1995.

* * *

Jeanie Macpherson was not a screenwriter when she was introduced to Cecil B. De Mille. She had been a director at Universal at one time, but when she met De Mille she was concentrating on acting. Due to her dark features, however, she was being typecast as either a gypsy or a Spaniard. Macpherson was cast by De Mille to act in a few of his features ( Rose of the Rancho , The Girl of the Golden West , Carmen , and The Captive —the last of which she also wrote) before she decided to turn exclusively to screenwriting. There was mutual attraction between Macpherson and De Mille from the start: she loved the challenge of working with a hard-driving perfectionist; he was drawn to her spirit and courage. It was a partnership that would last over 25 years.

Macpherson and De Mille held a common belief that would be the basis for every screenplay on which they collaborated: they despised weakness in men and women. In Macpherson's scripts, weak men were taken advantage of and degraded, and weak women were shallow, gold-digging, and destructive creatures who went from one rich man to the next. The screenwriter believed that men and women could learn from experience, however, and change weak or evil ways, and she demonstrated this in her early social dramas. Both Macpherson and De Mille celebrated the hero and the heroine—biblical, historical, or fictional—and praised their courage and perseverance.

Macpherson's strength was writing historical dramas. When she began her work for De Mille, she assisted the director in writing features for Geraldine Farrar, the operatic star, including Maria Rosa , Temptation , and Joan the Woman . This last was based on the life of Joan of Arc. While De Mille created the huge frame around the French girl's life with his grandiose settings and hundreds of extras, Macpherson fashioned a human drama with which the audience could identify. Thus, while Joan was part of a spectacular event, upon a closer look she was seen as a frightened young girl driven by her spiritual beliefs. The title, Macpherson's idea, emphasized the view of Joan as a human being rather than an indestructible saint. This same viewpoint was used in the De Mille epic The King of Kings . Based on the life of Jesus Christ, the film portrayed Mary Magdalene as a woman who was not evil but misguided, and Jesus as a virile and strong man.

By the Roaring Twenties, Macpherson had begun writing contemporary drama rather than historical projects. The liberal moral climate gave rise to the flapper, the sexually aware young woman who rejected conventional mores. Some of the best films De Mille and Macpherson created were responses to America's change in mood and fashion: Old Wives for New , Don't Change Your Husband , Male and Female , The Affairs of Anatol , Manslaughter , and Adam's Rib. Male and Female , an update of the play The Admirable Crichton , introduced a new element into Macpherson's screenplays: the blending together of past and present stories. Macpherson interweaved episodes from history and the Bible into modern dramas to demonstrate moral lessons. These lessons warned audiences of the excesses of the 1920s and what the future would hold if the warnings were not heeded. Flashbacks were used as lessons, such as the prologue to The Ten Commandments which concerned Moses and the story of the commandments (this version of Ten Commandments had a modern-day plot). Male and Female contained a flashback to Babylon; Manslaughter to ancient Rome; Adam's Rib to prehistoric times; Triumph to Romeo and Juliet; and The Road to Yesterday to 17th-century England. These screenplays offered audiences not only an admonishment for their money, but also the attraction of seeing stars in the period costumes that each flashback required.

In 1933, while De Mille was busy with other projects, Macpherson wrote the screenplay for Fra Diavolo for Laurel and Hardy, before rejoining the director for several films celebrating heroes: King Richard the Lionhearted in The Crusades , Wild Bill Hickok in The Plainsman , Jean Lafitte in The Buccaneer , the men who started the transcontinental railroad in Union Pacific , Canadian Mounties in North West Mounted Police , and Dr. Corydon E. Wassell in The Story of Dr. Wassell . In 1939, she coauthored and narrated the De Mille film Land of Liberty , a historical look at America for the New York World's Fair. These last research and writing projects were done mostly without credit. Before she could finish her research work on Unconquered for De Mille, Macpherson died of cancer in 1946. Her screenplays had gone full circle from the early escapist and historical films to realistic and social dramas and back to escapist and historical pictures again.

—Alexa L. Foreman

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