J. Farrell MacDonald: Actor & Director (1875 - 1952) | Biography
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J. Farrell MacDonald
Actor & Director

J. Farrell MacDonald

J. Farrell MacDonald
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Actor & Director
A.K.A. J. Farrell McDonald
Was Actor Film director Television actor
From United States of America
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender male
Birth 6 June 1875, Waterbury
Death 2 August 1952, Hollywood (aged 77 years)
Star sign Gemini
The details (from wikipedia)


John Farrell MacDonald (June 6, 1875 – August 2, 1952) was an American character actor and director. He played supporting roles and occasional leads. He appeared in over 325 movies over a 41-year career from 1911 to 1951, and directed forty-four silent films from 1912 to 1917.
MacDonald was the principal director of L. Frank Baum's Oz Film Manufacturing Company, and he can frequently be seen in the films of Frank Capra, Preston Sturges and, especially, John Ford.

Early years

MacDonald was born in Waterbury, Connecticut. George A. Katchme's A Biographical Dictionary of Silent Film Western Actors and Actresses gives his date of birth as April 14, 1875. He was sometimes billed as Joseph Farrell MacDonald, J.F. Mcdonald and Joseph Farrell Macdonald as well other variations.

MacDonald graduated from Yale University with a B.A. degree in 1903 and played football while he was there.


In The Last Alarm (1940), playing a leading role for Monogram Pictures as a retiring fire chief coping with his last day on the job.

Early in his career, MacDonald was a singer in minstrel shows, and he toured the U.S. extensively for two years with stage productions. He made his first silent film in 1911, a dramatic short entitled The Scarlett Letter made by Carl Laemmle's Independent Moving Pictures Company (IMP), the forerunner of Universal Pictures,. He continued to act in numerous films each year from that time on, and by 1912 he was directing them as well. The first film he directed was The Worth of a Man, another dramatic short, again for IMP, and he was to direct 43 more films until his last in 1917, Over the Fence, which he co-directed with Harold Lloyd. MacDonald had crossed paths with Lloyd several years earlier, when Lloyd was an extra and MacDonald had given him much-needed work – and he did the same with Hal Roach, both of whom appearing in small roles in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, which MacDonald directed in 1914. When Roach set up his own studio, with Lloyd as his principal attraction, he hired MacDonald to direct.

By 1918, MacDonald, who was to become one of the most beloved character men in Hollywood, had given up directing and was acting full-time, predominantly in Westerns and Irish comedies. He first worked under director John Ford in 1919's A Fight for Love and was to make three more with the director that same year. In all, Ford would use MacDonald on twenty-five films between 1919 and 1950, during the silent era notably in The Iron Horse (1924), 3 Bad Men (1926) and Riley the Cop (1927).

Movie still for Tiger Fangs (1943), J. Farrell MacDonald (left), Arno Frey (center), Frank Buck (right)

With a voice that matched his personality, MacDonald made the transition to sound films easily, with no noticeable drop in his acting output – if anything, it went up. In 1931, for instance, MacDonald appeared in 14 films – among them the first version of The Maltese Falcon, in which he played "Detective Tom Polhaus" – and in 22 of them in 1932. Although he played laborers, policemen, military men and priests, among many other characters, his roles were usually a cut above a "bit part": his characters usually had names, and he was most often credited for his performances. A highlight of this period was his performance as the hobo "Mr. Tramp" in Our Little Girl with Shirley Temple (1935).

In the 1940s, MacDonald was part of Preston Sturges' unofficial "stock company" of character actors, appearing in seven films written and directed by Sturges. MacDonald appeared in Sullivan's Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, The Great Moment, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, Unfaithfully Yours and The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend, Sturges' last American film. Earlier, MacDonald had also appeared in The Power and the Glory, which Sturges wrote. His work on Sturges' films was generally uncredited, which was more often the case as his career went on – although the quality of his work was undiminished. He was notable in 1946 in John Ford's My Darling Clementine in which he played "Mac," the bartender in the town saloon. MacDonald also had an uncredited role in It's a Wonderful Life, he played the owner of the tree which was damaged by George Bailey with his car.

MacDonald made his last film in 1951, a comedy called Elopement. His few television appearances also occurred in that same year.


MacDonald died in Hollywood on 2 August 1952 at the age of 77. He was married to actress Edith Bostwick until her death in 1943, and they had a daughter, Lorna. His grave is located at Chapel of the Pines Crematory.

Selected filmography

  • The Scarlet Letter 1911
  • The Worth of a Man (1912) (director)
  • Rory o' the Bogs (1913) (director)
  • Samson (1914) (director)
  • The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914) (director)
  • The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914) (director)
  • His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914) (director)
  • The Last Egyptian (1914) (director)
  • The Heart of Maryland (1915)
  • Rags (1915)
  • Lonesome Luke, Social Gangster (1915) (director)
  • Over the Fence 1917 (director)
  • Roped (1919)
  • A Fight for Love (1919)
  • Riders of Vengeance (1919)
  • The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1919)
  • A Sporting Chance (1919)
  • Marked Men (1919)
  • Bullet Proof (1920)
  • Hitchin' Posts (1920)
  • The Freeze-Out (1921)
  • The Wallop (1921)
  • Action (1921)
  • Sky High (1922)
  • The Bonded Woman (1922)
  • Drifting (1923)
  • The Signal Tower (1924)
  • The Iron Horse (1924)
  • Lightnin' (1925)
  • Kentucky Pride (1925)
  • Thank You (1925)
  • The Fighting Heart (1925)
  • The Lucky Horseshoe (1925)
  • The Last Frontier (1926)
  • The Shamrock Handicap (1926)
  • 3 Bad Men (1926)
  • Sunrise (1927)
  • East Side, West Side (1927)
  • The Cohens and the Kellys in Paris (1928)
  • Bringing Up Father (1928)
  • In Old Arizona (1928)
  • None but the Brave (1928)
  • Riley the Cop (1928)
  • Masked Emotions (1929)
  • Abie's Irish Rose (1929)
  • Strong Boy (1929)
  • Men Without Women (1930)
  • Born Reckless (1930)
  • The Girl of the Golden West (1930)
  • The Easiest Way (1931)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1931)
  • Sporting Blood (1931)
  • The Squaw Man (1931)
  • The Brat (1931)
  • Under 18 (1931)
  • The Phantom Express (1932)
  • Probation (1932)
  • The Hurricane Express (1932)
  • Hotel Continental (1932)
  • Murder on the Campus (1933)
  • The Working Man (1933)
  • Once to Every Woman (1934)
  • Romance in Manhattan (1935)
  • Let 'Em Have It (1935)
  • Our Little Girl (1935)
  • Danger Ahead (1935)
  • Front Page Woman (1935)
  • Shadows of the Orient (1935)
  • Riffraff (1936)
  • Show Boat (1936)
  • Topper (1937)
  • Courage of the West (1937)
  • The Great Barrier (1937)
  • County Fair (1937)
  • Maid of Salem (1937)
  • My Old Kentucky Home (1938)
  • The Crowd Roars (1938)
  • Gang Bullets (1938)
  • The Lone Ranger Rides Again (1939)
  • Susannah of the Mounties (1939)
  • Untamed (1940)
  • The Last Alarm (1940)
  • Dark Command (1940)
  • Wild Bill Hickok Rides (1942)
  • The Ape Man (1943)
  • Tiger Fangs (1943)
  • The Great Moment (1944)
  • Johnny Angel (1945)
  • Joe Palooka, Champ (1946)
  • My Darling Clementine (1946)
  • It's a Wonderful Life (1947)
  • Sand (1949)
  • Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
  • Elopement (1951)

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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