On the Four MacQuarrie Brothers

There were four MacQuarrie Brothers in silent films. They emerged from the San Francisco theatre scene: George (1873-1951), Frank (1875-1950), Murdock (1878-1941), and Albert, or Al (1882-1950).

George, the eldest, was married to the star Helen MacKellar, whom he’d hired when his traveling stock company was playing the Pacific Northwest. Both his Broadway and film careers began in 1916, around the same time as hers. Of his 19 Broadway plays through 1931, none played longer than a couple of months. He was luckier in films, appearing in 89 of them through the end of his life. As the photo above indicates, he was George Washington to Alice Brady’s Betsy Ross in Betsy Ross (1917), one of his more notable silent roles. In the talkies, he tended to play bit parts, although the movies are better known. You can catch glimpses of him in Abraham Lincoln (1930), King Kong (1933), the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933), W.C. Fields You’re Telling Me (1934), Harold Lloyd’s The Cat’s Paw (1934), The Mighty Barnum (1934), Call of the Wild (1935), The Crusades (1935), Diamond Jim (1935), Mae West’s Klondike Annie (1936), and The Plainsman (1936), among dozens of others.

Somewhat less distinguished was Frank MacQuarrie, whose first film The Black Box (1915) is pictured above. Like George, he was a supporting player, appearing in 44 films for Universal through 1919, the last of which was The Lone Hand with Hoot Gibson.

Though third in birth order, Murdock McQuarrie was the most significant of the brothers. He was the first one I became aware of, by virtue of the fact that he played the kooky inventor in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). Murdock began acting in films at Universal much earlier than the other two (1912), had nearly 300 credits as a screen actor, and directed over 50 films between 1914 and 1922. He started out playing title roles in such things as versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913) and Richelieu (1914) but had become a bit player by the talkies, rounding out his career in things like The Corpse Vanishes and Cat People, both in 1942.

Safety First, 1915

Though the youngest of the MacQuarrie brothers, Albert appears not to have been the most adaptable, for his 77 screen credits cease when sound becomes parts of the picture. His first movie part was a starring role in The Masquerade Hero (1915). He appears to have been a particular favorite of Douglas Fairbanks, appearing in several of his pictures from Manhattan Madness (1916) to Don Q Son of Zorro (1925) and The Gaucho (1927).

For more on silent and early film, and classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.  

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