A titan in the field of low-budget movie-making, Australian-born stage actor J.P. McGowan enjoyed his first major success directing his wife Helen Holmes in the immensely popular and lucrative Hazards of Helen series, in which he also often played the villain. The McGowans left the producer, Kalem, after 30-odd installments to produce their own railroad series and serials under the Signal banner. The venture was reasonably successful until the distributor, Mutual, went out of business in 1919, after which the couple went into an immediate decline professionally and personally. On his own, McGowan spent the 1920s producing, directing, and acting in some of the cheapest professional films ever released, usually budgeting his little action melodramas for less money than MGM would spend on a newspaper add and economizing by incorporating plenty of stock footage that at least offered the illusion of grandeur. A character actor and bit part player in the 1930s, McGowan made his final screen appearance in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939).