Barton MacLane may have been born on Christmas Day, but there was precious little chance that he'd ever be cast as Santa Claus. A star athlete at Wesleyan University, MacLane won his first movie role in the 1924 silent Quarterback as the result of his football skills. This single incident sparked his interest in performing, which he pursued on a serious basis at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He performed in stock, on Broadway, and in bit parts in films lensed at Paramount's Astoria studios (notably the Marx Brothers' The Cocoanuts). In 1932, MacLane wrote a slice-of-life play titled Rendezvous, selling it to influential Broadway producer Arthur Hopkins on the proviso, that he, MacLane, be given the lead. The play was a success, leading to a lucrative film contract from Warner Bros.
Most effectively cast as a swaggering villain ("who never spoke when shouting would do," as historian William K. Everson observed), MacLane played good-guy leads in several Warner "B"s: he played the conclusion-jumping lieutenant Steve McBride in the studio's Torchy Blaine series. Free-lancing in the 1940s, MacLane made an unfortunate return to writing in 1941, penning the screenplay for the PRC quickie Man of Courage; it is reported that audiences erupted in shrieks of laughter when MacLane, reciting his own lines, recalled his childhood days on the farm by declaring "Boy! Did I love ta plow!" He was better served in a brace of John Huston-directed films, beating up Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and being beaten up by Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. MacLane's TV-series work included a starring stint on The Outlaws (1960-62) and the recurring role of General Peterson on I Dream of Jeannie (1965-69). Having come into the world on a holiday, Barton MacLane died on New Years' Day, 1969; he was survived by his wife, actress Charlotte Wynters.