Mackinnon, Claire Adams (1896–1978)

by Virginia Maxwell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Claire Adams Mackinnon (1896-1978), film actress and benefactor, was born on 24 September 1896 at Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, daughter of Stanley Wells Adams, a Welsh-born accountant, and his Canadian wife Lillian, née Kennedy. Although her given names were registered as Beryl Vere Nassau, she was always known as Claire. Educated in Canada and England, she worked briefly as a Red Cross nurse during World War I. She visited New York and did the rounds of the studios, hoping to break into the motion-picture industry as an actress. In 1920 she signed a five-year contract with Benjamin Bowles Hampton, a 44-year-old producer from Hollywood. She moved to California where she acted in more than forty silent films, including melodramas, comedies and westerns.

Described as 'patricianly beautiful', Claire worked with many of Hollywood's leading actors. She starred in at least four movies with Tom Mix, appeared with Wallace Beery and Lon Chaney, and in 1923 was Rin Tin Tin's leading lady in Where the North Begins (she maintained that Rin Tin Tin was her favourite 'leading man'). The best-known film in which she acted was The Big Parade (1925), directed by King Vidor, in which she played John Gilbert's American sweetheart. At Hollywood on 18 September 1924 Claire married Ben Hampton; they had no children. He died in 1932, leaving her very wealthy.

Donald John Scobie Mackinnon (1906-1974), grazier and sportsman, was born on 25 March 1906 at Prahran, Melbourne, second child and eldest son of Lauchlan Kenneth Scobie Mackinnon, a Scottish-born solicitor, and his Victorian-born wife Margaret Jessie, whose father John Simson owned the Western District property, Trawalla. Known to family and friends as Scobie, Donald was educated at Melbourne and Geelong Church of England Grammar schools. In October 1925 he entered Jesus College, Cambridge; two years later he was captain of boats. He read history and law, but did not take a degree.

On his return from England in 1928, Mackinnon took up residence at Mooramong, a grazing property bought for him by his father, near Skipton in the Western District. He led a bachelor's life until 1937 when he met Claire at a party in London. They married three weeks later, on 1 April, at Christ Church, Mayfair, and remained childless.

After a protracted honeymoon, in March 1938 Donald brought Claire to Victoria. The couple divided their time between their country house and their town house at 220 Domain Road, South Yarra. They entertained often at Mooramong, which they transformed from a staid Victorian homestead into a jazz-age folly with Art Deco cocktail bar, swimming pool, games room, and a bathroom reminiscent of a film star's dressing-room. On their frequent trips to Melbourne to attend the races, the cinema and innumerable cocktail parties, they travelled in their Silver Ghost Rolls Royce. Wearing smart hats and chic outfits, and often adorned with her diamonds, Claire was an exotic figure at Government House functions and at the race-course.

Donald inherited his father's devotion to horse-breeding and racing: his most successful horse was Contador, winner of the Victoria Racing Club's Grand National Hurdle in 1962. Mackinnon served on the Ripon Shire Council, and he and Claire were life governors of Skipton hospital. A devoted animal lover, she was vice-president of the Lort Smith Hospital for Sick Animals, North Melbourne.

Donald Mackinnon died of a coronary occlusion on 22 December 1974 at South Yarra and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $2,111,729. Claire died on 25 September 1978 at Windsor, Melbourne; she, too, was cremated. After generous bequests to friends, family members and animal-welfare bodies, she left the remainder of her estate to the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) for the creation of a wildlife sanctuary and flora and fauna park at Mooramong. The property now has many rare species of plants and provides a habitat for the endangered eastern barred bandicoot. Judy Cassab's portrait of Donald reveals a distinguished-looking man, with a moustache and self-deprecating smile; Reshid Bey's portrait depicts Claire wearing furs and jewels; both paintings are held at Mooramong.

Select Bibliography

  • Photoplay, Dec 1924
  • Film Index, no 3, 1970, p 12
  • Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa, US), no 179, May 1990, p 44
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1 Apr 1937
  • New York Times, 18 Oct 1978
  • D. Hellier, Social History Report on Mooramong, Skipton (1989) and Mooramong Collection (National Trust of Australia, Victorian Branch, Melbourne)
  • Mackinnon albums, National Trust Collection (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Virginia Maxwell, 'Mackinnon, Claire Adams (1896–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mackinnon-claire-adams-10996/text19553, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 1 July 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Adams, Beryl Vere Nassau
  • Hampton, Claire
  • Adams, Claire
Birth

24 September 1896
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Death

25 September 1978
Windsor, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation