Obituaries: Margaret McLean

Whether due to feminism or the triumph of trivia there has been an increasing fascination with the role of women in Hollywood, from the ideology of physical glamour to the practicalities of the technical work they have been allowed to perform there. Barbara McLean, who died at a suitably mythic 92, was not only boyishly beautiful in a manner appropriate to the golden age of Californian cinema, she was also, more importantly, a revered editor who perhaps single-handedly established women as vital creative figures in an otherwise patriarchal industry.

McLean was nominated for no less than seven Oscars for her cutting ways, finally winning the award in 1944 for Wilson, and without her film editing would never have developed into the female speciality, "ghetto" some might say, it has become in America at least.

McLean had an advantage in that she had been chopping and gluing since girlhood in her father's film laboratory in New Jersey, and when she moved to Los Angeles in 1924 she continued this paternalistic pattern by becoming the adopted protegee of Darryl F. Zanuck, the notorious 20th Century Fox chief. In fact Zanuck relied upon "Bobbie", as she was called by those who dared, for almost all his artistic decisions over several decades, and when he pronounced "Bobbie says . . ." it meant the matter was settled. Thus it was on Bobbie's recommendation that Tyrone Power was hired for Lloyd's of London and became a star, Zanuck deferring to her opinion in every area of the business from costumes to composers and composition.

McLean was head of Fox's editing for over 20 years and personally edited all of Zanuck's projects, her dedication being legendary whether watching a film 100 times before making a final cut or spending hours on the set noting the director at work. One of her regular collaborators was Henry King, and when he was shooting The Captain from Castille in 1947 she flew down to Mexico repeatedly to confer on the cutting, believing that a thorough editor should have seen a film's development all the way through.

Beginning in 1934 with The House of Rothschild and The Affairs of Cellini, McLean went on to edit innumerable films, everything from classics such as All About Eve to the improbably titled The Magnificent Dope. Amongst her last films was The Untamed (1955), but far from being tamed herself by old age or changes in technology McLean only officially retired from Fox in 1969.

Whether her exceptional slicer and splicer's eye was inherited from her family or was due to her musical studies as a child which ensured she could cut a musical to the beat, there can be no contradicting Ronald Davis's description in his 1993 book The Glamour Factory: "Creative, imaginative, and expert in her art, McLean was also quiet, efficient and co- operative." If that sounds like a patronising male qualification it can only seem radical by comparison with McLean's own theory on why women make better editors than men: "Because every woman is at heart a mother. A woman uses the scissors on a film like a mother would, with affection and understanding and tolerance."

Barbara McLean, film editor: born Palisades Park, New Jersey 1904: died Newport Beach, California 28 March 1996.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz