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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor