|Aged 32. From Motion Picture Story |
Magazine, February 1912
John J. McGowan traces Jack McGowan’s early life back to Terowie, South Australia, a town with a population of 5,000 when the railway was built in 1880. This is most certainly a significant year for Jack, being born on February 24 that year to Thomas Kennedy McGowan and Marion Paterson McGowan, who immigrated to Australia from Plymouth, England only two years earlier. It was the exposure to the railway Jack’s father worked on, and later Jack himself, which led him to gain enough experience to create exciting action-adventure silent films with the rail as the focus of the plot. These films expanded Hollywood’s offerings to the viewing public in addition to the many romance stories and comedies that frequently played across the country. Westerns with stars like William S. Hart provided some degree of action, but nothing could compare to the fast-moving trains and daring stunts performed by Jack and his wife Helen Holmes in “The Hazards of Helen”, a film series (versus a film serial, which relies upon a set of chapters each ending with a cliffhanger) which lasted for 119 episodes, each 12-minute single reel story complete unto itself but utilizing the same set of characters. Some of the other stuntmen in “The Hazards of Helen” episodes include the future western star Leo D. Maloney, and comic Harold Lloyd. It is worth noting that Jack McGowan’s use of trains and stunts predates that of Buster Keaton in “One Week” (1920), “The General” (1926) and “Speak Easily” (1932). Buster performed dangerous stunts on a train in the style of Jack McGowan in “The General”, which may as well be a paean to McGowan’s innovative use of trains, stunt work, and the movie camera.
|From The Moving Picture World, September 15, 1917|
|A poster for "Stormy Seas" 1923|
|From Motion Picture News, March 3, 1917|
Jack McGowan’s most meaningful contribution to Hollywood after his many years of filming was as Executive Secretary for the Screen Directors Guild (now known as Directors Guild of America), which began in 1936. When the Motion Picture Producers Association (now known as Motion Picture Association of America) was formed in 1922, the organization’s intent was to prevent the existence of unions among actors and film writers but eventually failed. With this new union for movie directors coming into play, the MPPA wasted no time in trying to vanquish the guild. Jack’s people skills came strongly into play once again, fighting for the creative rights and salaries of directors who on more than one occasion had to butt heads with the studio owners. John J McGowan stresses that while Jack certainly kept company with the best of the A-list directors like John Ford and D. W. Griffith which helped keep him in the business until at least 1939, Jack never joined that esteemed list, although not doing so certainly did not diminish his contributions to Hollywood in any way.
|"Stormy Seas" 1923|
Tom Tyler first worked with Jack McGowan in 1929, soon after Tom’s contract with FBO expired that year. It is possible this was not the first time Tom became familiar with the name J. P. McGowan, as Jack directed a number of movies for Robertson-Cole Productions, the distributor for FBO’s films. Even though Tom and Jack were different in personality, they both came from working class backgrounds and loved their work. Tom Tyler’s introvert was a perfect complement to Jack’s extrovert, people-person personality. In a way Tom’s work ethic helped fuel Jack’s new production company under his own name, affording him the ability to crank out just as many movies in 1929 as he did back during the 1910’s.
|J. P. McGowan in "Deadwood Pass", 1933|
To purchase a copy of “Hollywood’s First Australian”, click here.