May McAvoy — What the "Mc" in McAvoy Means (1927) 🇺🇸

May McAvoy — What the "Mc" in McAvoy Means (1927) |

June 02, 2023

Beware of the wide-eyed little girls. They suggest so much that they are not. They look helpless and afraid — but the majority of them are more than adequately capable of taking care of themselves.

by Katherine Lipke

All of which brings the subject up to May McAvoy. For years we have been exclaiming over her sweet, dainty appeal, her "sheltered" charm. And all the time May has been developing into one of the canniest business women in the film industry. The "Mc" in her name is not without its meaning, as many a producer can testify. May's wide, deep eyes have helped drive many a hard and clever bargain — for May.

At present she is one of the highest-paid free-lance actresses on the screen. A fair average of the big productions of the past few years have named her in the cast. Companies with contract players of their own have billed May's name above the rest.

While other pretty and charming gilds of the leading-lady genus have been dallying around the outskirts, with only occasional good pictures to their credit and a few hundreds on their weekly salary checks, May has been getting an amazing number of coveted plums, with her salary running up into the thousands.

The answer to all this lies in May McAvoy herself — not in the god of good luck, nor the fairy of fortune.

In 1923 she was a contract player with Famous Players-Lasky, earning a nominal sum, playing in program pictures. The name of May McAvoy meant little or nothing in the picture world, except to those who remembered "Sentimental Tommy." So the tiny picture actress with the wide, appealing eyes purchased her contract from the studio. She was wise enough not to break it, with a subsequent law suit. She bought it instead.

Then followed six months when May didn't work. She wouldn't take just any sort of role in any sort of production. She refused to accept as low a salary as she had been paid at Lasky's. In other words, she "sat tight" and waited.

"It was the hardest period in my whole life," says May. "I was afraid that I would never work again. I began to think that I had been wrong in getting released from my contract. I wondered if any one would remember who May McAvoy was. It was dreadful. You see, I wanted to start out on my own and pick my own pictures and my own salary. And then no one seemed to want me."

When the spell finally broke the result was very flattering, for she was engaged by Famous Players at twice the amount she had earned there under contract, to play Glenn Hunter's lead in "West of the Water Tower." Even then May didn't lose sight of the whiff of Scotch in her ancestry. She not only received her own financial figure, but she started a plan which has been rigidly followed since — that of stipulating in her various contracts that she be featured in all publicity before other players in the picture.

In this way. being a free-lance player hasn't been detrimental to her. Usually a free lancer suffers because all the contract players are given the good "breaks" in publicity and also, in many cases, in the listing over the theaters.

Another rule which May has followed is to increase her price after appearing in a large production. Since the release of "Lady Windermere's Fan" and Ben-Hur, producers and directors have found that it is much more expensive than before to engage May McAvoy for a role. She reasons — and well — that her publicity value goes up after each big picture. Though the role of Esther in Ben-Hur was submerged by the dynamic conflict between Novarro and Bushman, May feels that this picture greatly increased her box-office value.

Apparently this system of free lancing is very fruitful. May McAvoy seldom seems to miss out. and certainly she has increased in popularity with her fans, and also in desirability with directors. She has made her service worth bidding for.

In the three years since she left Lasky's, she has played leading roles in twelve productions, a fair number of which have been conspicuous films.

Among them have been "The Enchanted Cottage," "Three Women," "Tarnish," Ben-Hur, Lady Windermere's Fan, "The Road to Glory," "The Savage," "The Passionate Quest," and The Fire Brigade.

Recently May refused to play in a picture because she wasn't guaranteed the number of weeks' work that seemed right to her. The studio official assured her that the picture would  probably take  longer than the  time she specified but that he didn't feel he could guarantee her the time beforehand. All other stipulations as to money and publicity were satisfactory, but she refused to compromise on this one point and declined the picture.

Then again she was offered a leading role in what will probably be one of the outstanding productions of the year. This time May felt that the character was weak and that the company was trading on the box-office value of her name. Without hesitation she refused, although the financial end of the contract was the most alluring ever offered her.

"I have to take care of myself," she states firmly. "Looking back, I have always been glad in the end when I haven't given in on any of my stipulations. Of course, if just the right picture should come along, I might make concessions.

"You see, I can't play all types of roles," she concedes with decent modesty. "It is fun to have a chance to characterize and, when opportunities like this arise, the money and the rest wouldn't matter so much. But I have to take care of my own interests, first and last."

And she does! Show me another girl in pictures who can drive as hard a bargain, to the gentle, feminine accompaniment of soft, beguiling eyes, curly lashes, and an alluring, though set, little mouth.

May McAvoy' s motto is, "I have to take care of myself," and she lives up to it by making iron-bound stipulations for producers to follow.

Photo by: Apeda Studio

It's that innocent look in May McAvoy's eye that makes it so surprising to every one that she can drive such hard bargains, as described in the story on the opposite page.

Photo by: Harold Dean Carsey (18861947)

Collection: Picture Play MagazineMarch 1927