J. Farrell MacDonald

J. Farrell MacDonald
Born (1875-06-06)June 6, 1875
Waterbury, Connecticut, US
Died August 2, 1952(1952-08-02) (aged 77)
Hollywood California, US
Cause of death Natural Causes
Occupation Actor, Film director, singer
Years active 1911–1951
Spouse(s) Edith Bostwick

Joseph Farrell MacDonald (June 6, 1875 August 2, 1952) was an American character actor and director. He played supporting roles and occasional leads. MacDonald, who was sometimes billed as "John Farrell Macdonald", "J.F. Mcdonald" and "Joseph Farrell Macdonald" as well other variations, appeared as an actor 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.


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,.[1] 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.[1]

By 1918, MacDonald, who was to become one of the most beloved character men in Hollywood,[1] 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).[1]

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.[1] 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. He 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



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