Arbuckle, Maclyn (1866–1931)

By: Donna P. Parker

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 1, 1994

Maclyn (Jedge) Arbuckle, character actor, was born at San Antonio on July 9, 1866. His mother was a Virginian and his father a Scot. Arbuckle's father sent him to Glasgow and Boston to prepare for Harvard and the Episcopal clergy, but Arbuckle rebelled and returned home to Galveston in 1883. Next the senior Arbuckle put his son in a drugstore to make a doctor out of him; but Maclyn broke so much glassware that after two months he was put in a hardware store. A succession of jobs followed-in a cotton office, on his father's stock farm near Dallas, and in the legal profession. He was admitted to the bar at Texarkana a few months before his twenty-first birthday, but was not financially successful as a lawyer. He could not afford a room, so he slept on a table in his office. His uncle sent him a measure of cloth to have made into a suit, but since Arbuckle could not afford the expense of a tailor, he used the cloth as a mattress and a volume of philosophy as a pillow. During these difficult financial times he became interested in the study of the classics and philosophy and, as he put it, "gradually worked down the centuries until I landed on Shakespeare, and there I stuck." He spent long hours memorizing Shakespeare's plays and recited passages to his friends whenever they would allow it. He also found an outlet for his interest in theater while campaigning to become justice of the peace in Bowie County. Riding a yellow horse and a mule on alternate days, he frequented all the barbecues and barrooms reciting the dream scene from Richard III before gamblers, saloonmen, rangers, cowpunchers, and river-hands. He lost the election but still acquired the nickname "Jedge." Ultimately, Arbuckle decided to leave "the quiet and deliberate starvation of the law and try the stage."

He made his first professional stage appearance at Shreveport, Louisiana, on December 25, 1888, in The Emigrant, with Peter Baker. He spent three seasons in the classical atmosphere of the R. D. MacLean company; in 1892–94 he played with Charles Frohman's company in Men and Women and The Girl I Left Behind Me; in 1895–96 he was with the Frawley Stock Company in San Francisco, most notably in Brother John and The Senator. According to Arbuckle, playing the role of the senator gave him the "idea of becoming identified with the big, typical, everyday American character as [his] special line of work." In 1898 he made his first London appearance, at the Strand Theatre, as John Smith in Why Smith Left Home. Arbuckle portrayed Jim Hackler in The County Chairman, a part he played four consecutive seasons, from 1903 to 1907. Another success followed with the role of Slim Hoover in The Round Up in 1907. He appeared from 1915 to 1917 as Rev. Murray Hilton in a rewritten revival of The Henrietta; he played John Tarleton in William Faversham's production of George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance in 1917. He played in Lord and Lady Algy and Home Again in 1918 and in The Better 'Ole in 1920. During his life he performed in more than thirty stage productions; many of these engagements lasted for more than one season, and some ran from two to four seasons.

During the successful run of The Better 'Ole on Broadway, William C. Hogg of Houston and some people from San Antonio approached Arbuckle with the idea of starting a motion picture company. Arbuckle resigned from The Better 'Ole and moved to San Antonio, where he formed the San Antonio Pictures Corporation in March 1918. As president and star, he produced Maclyn Arbuckle Photo Plays, one of which was The Prodigal Judge. During the 1920s he appeared in light films, primarily as a supporting player: The Prodigal Judge, Welcome to Our City, Mr. Potter of Texas, Mr. Bingle, The Young Diana (1922), Broadway Broke (1923), Janice Meredith (1924), That Old Gang of Mine (1925), and The Gilded Highway (1926). He also worked in two New York stage plays, Daddy Dumplins in 1921 and Wild Oats Lane in 1923.

He married Elizabeth Sheldon Carlisle. They had no children. Arbuckle died at Waddington, New York, on March 31, 1931, after a long illness. See also FILM INDUSTRY.

Maclyn Arbuckle, "Some Texas Experiences," Green Book Album, April 1909. Johnson Briscoe, Actor's Birthday Book (New York: Moffat, Yard, 1908). Larry Langman, Encyclopedia of American Film Comedy (New York: Garland, 1987). New York Times, April 1, 1931. San Antonio Express, March 16, 1919. Texas Magazine, November 1910. Who Was Who in the Theatre (4 vols., Detroit: Gale Research, 1978).
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Donna P. Parker, “Arbuckle, Maclyn,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 29, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994