Photograph by Howard Jean from Vogue (1952).
November 16, 1903
|Died||March 28, 1996 (aged 92)|
|Spouse(s)||Robert D. Webb (1951–1990)|
|Awards||Best Editing 1944 Wilson|
In the period Darryl F. Zanuck was dominant at the 20th Century Fox Studio, from the 1930s through the 1960s, McLean was the studio's most prominent editor and ultimately the head of its editing department. She won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing for the film Wilson (1944). She was nominated for the same award another six occasions, including All About Eve (1950). Her total of seven nominations for Best Editing Oscar was not surpassed until 2012 by Michael Kahn.
She had an extensive collaboration with the director Henry King over 29 films, including Twelve O'Clock High (1949). Her impact was summarized by Adrian Dannatt in 1996: McLean was "a revered editor who perhaps single-handedly established women as vital creative figures in an otherwise patriarchal industry."
McLean was born in Palisades Park, New Jersey; she was the daughter of Charles Pollut, who ran a film laboratory. As a child she worked on release prints from the adjacent studio of E.K. Lincoln in Grantwood, who was an early producer of films. No doubt the early experience in processing of film was helpful to McLean when she became an assistant film editor, but McLean later commented that her musical training as a child also was very important.
In 1924, she married J. Gordon McLean, who was a film projectionist and later, a cameraman. After marrying, the couple moved to Los Angeles, California. McLean found work as an assistant editor at First National Studio. She subsequently joined Twentieth Century Pictures, where initially, she assisted the editor Alan McNeil. In 1933, she received her first editing credit for Gallant Lady; her work on Les Misérables (directed by Richard Boleslawski, 1935) was nominated for the Academy Award for Film Editing.
In 1935, 20th Century Pictures merged with the Fox Film Corporation to form 20th Century Fox. Darryl F. Zanuck was the head of the merged studio, and McLean became the chief editor under his sponsorship. John Gallagher has written that "Studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck was himself a brilliant editor and maintained the best editorial department in Hollywood."
McLean retained this position until her retirement in 1969. McLean had more authority over the editing of the studio's films than is typical for contemporary film editors; as Lizzie Francke described it: "McLean worked during a period when the editor was often left to his or her own devices in the cutting room. The pressures of production turn-over during the hey-day of the studio system often meant that the director could not be around to supervise since they were on to their next production."
Darryl Zanuck not only trusted McLean with the editing of 20th Century Fox's more important projects, he depended on her judgment in many other areas of filmmaking, including casting and production. In 1940, a Los Angeles Times story noted that "Barbara McLean, one of Hollywood's three women film editors, can make stars — or leave their faces on the cutting room floor." She was also instrumental in the careers of other film editors such as Hugh S. Fowler, William H. Reynolds, and Robert Simpson.
|"For all her focus on keeping the narrative moving, McLean's editing could dazzle if called for. In A Bell for Adano (1945), she took material director Henry King shot on the return of the Italian POWs to their village and put it together with such a pure sense of emotion that when she cut at exactly the right moment to King's overhead shot of the prisoners and villagers coming together in the square, the cut was more heart-stopping than conventional close-ups would have been."|
|— Tom Stempel|
McLean began her long association with the director Henry King on the films The Country Doctor (1936) and Lloyd's of London (1936); she received her second nomination for an Academy Award for the latter film. McLean received three further nominations for editing films directed by King: for Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), The Song of Bernadette (1943), and Wilson (1944). The 1944 film was something of an editorial tour de force. As Tom Stempel has described it, "she had to cut down the enormous amount of footage from the 1912 Democratic convention into a workable sequence, and she condensed several bill-signing sequences into montage sequences." Wilson, which rarely is seen anymore, was the only film for which McLean won an Academy Award for Film Editing.
It may be that King and McLean's greatest accomplishment was the film Twelve O'Clock High (1949); Sean Axmaker has written "Twelve O'Clock High was one of the early and arguably the greatest of the Hollywood films to examine the pressures of command and the psychological toll of making life and death decisions for men they come to know and care for." While the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, neither King nor McLean received personal Academy Award recognition for their work in making that film. Nearly half of the 62 films crediting McLean as editor were directed by Henry King.
The other films she edited at 20th Century Fox involved many different directors, including many who were distinguished. She was nominated for an Academy Award for editing The Rains Came (1939), which was the only time she worked with director Clarence Brown. She edited one of John Ford's films, Tobacco Road (1941), and one of George Cukor's, Winged Victory (1944). In 1950-1951, McLean edited three of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's films, including All About Eve, for which she received her final Academy Award nomination. Her nomination was among the 14 nominations for the film.
In the 1940s, McLean and her first husband divorced. In 1951 she married Robert D. Webb, who had been working as King's assistant director. In 1952, McLean edited Viva Zapata, one of Elia Kazan's films, and in 1954, she edited Michael Curtiz's The Egyptian. She also edited the first movie produced in CinemaScope, Henry Koster's The Robe (1953). McLean's last editing credit was for Untamed (1955). She was co-producer of Seven Cities of Gold (1955). Her later work was primarily as a supervisor and administrative. McLean retired from 20th Century Fox in 1969, apparently because of her husband's poor health. She received the inaugural American Cinema Editors Career Achievement Award in 1988. She died in Newport Beach, California in 1996.