Melbourne MacDowell

Willet Melbourne MacDowell (November 22, 1856 – February 18, 1941) was an American stage and screen actor. He began on the legitimate stage in the 1870s and first appeared on the silent screen in 1917.

Melbourne MacDowell
Willet Melbourne MacDowell

November 22, 1856
DiedFebruary 18, 1941(1941-02-18) (aged 84)
Years active1877–1932
  • Fanny Davenport
    (married 1889–1898)
  • Wilhelmina Marie Strauss
  • Nellie Irving
  • Virginia Drew Trescott
  • Mrs. Caroline Wells Neff


Willet Melbourne MacDowell was born in Little Washington, New Jersey (now South River, New Jersey). He had an older brother named E. A. MacDowell. As a teen Melbourne went to sea in the Merchant Marines eventually becoming a mate.[1] Back in the US he had his first acting experience in Montreal at a theatre where he was a ticket seller, assistant doorkeeper and where his brother was employed as an actor. MacDowell was occasionally asked upon to act. Here in Montreal he got a chance to act with Adelaide Neilson, a legend in her short life, in the Shakespeare play As You Like It. Neilson played one of the main characters Rosalind and MacDowell was briefly on as Charles the wrestler. By 1877 MacDowell made his first professional acting appearance in the United States at the Boston Museum where his brother E.A. was an actor. In 1888 MacDowell became acquainted with Fanny Davenport playing in La Tosca with her. In 1889 the two married. He would continue to act with her in her series of emotional plays until her death in 1898. After Davenport died MacDowell became associated professionally with her successor, Blanche Walsh, who continued playing Davenport's famous and emotional roles. A large man weighing over 200 pounds, MacDowell played the hero or distinct character in plays.[1]


MacDowell began appearing in silent films in 1917 by which time he was long a stage veteran. His costars were such actors as William S. Hart, Lon Chaney, Charles Ray, Enid Bennett and numerous others. Though he lived until the early 1940s, his film career ended in 1928 with the end of silent films. He returned for one sound film short in 1932, A Fool About Women with Andy Clyde and Vernon Dent.

Several films that Melbourne MacDowell appeared in survive today and can be found on DVD, particularly two of his outings with Lon Chaney, Nomads of the North and Outside the Law as well as the restored Bebe Daniels 1928 feature Feel My Pulse.

Marriages, death

MacDowell was married several times, his most famous marriage being his first to the legendary Fanny Davenport. On February 18, 1941, MacDowell died at Decoto, California from a clot on his brain.[2]

Selected filmography


  1. Famous Actors of the Day in America by Lewis Strang, p. 239 c. 1899
  2. Who Was Who on the Screen by Evelyn Mack Truitt, 2nd ed. c. 1977 p. 290
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