A tall, dark-haired actor from Ireland, J.W. Johnston appeared in such play as The Squaw Man and The Waif, both under the auspices of Broadway impresario Charles Frohman, prior to entering films with the Eclair company in 1912. Johnston later became a member of the Lasky stock company, starring opposite Bessie Barriscale in Cecil B. DeMille's production of the old David Belasco warhorse Rose of the Rancho (1914). He was the hero of God's Little Acre (1916), falling in love with Mabel Taliaferro while still married to Helen Dahl, and the mountain guide saving Marguerite Clark from ne'er-do-well William Courtleigh Jr. in Out of the Drifts (1916). Johnston would make a total of four films with the popular Clark, but lost her to higher billed actors in all four. By the 1920s, he was playing minor character parts and left films shortly before sound. After nearly a decade on legitimate stages, Johnston returned to films near the end of his life, but in unbilled bit parts.