Stage and film actress Janet Angel MacLachlan was born on August 8, 1933 in Harlem, New York. Her mother, Iris South (MacLachlan), and her father, James MacLachlan, were both Jamaican born and members of the Church of the Illumination. Attending P.S. 170 and Julia Ward Junior High School, MacLachlan graduated from Julia Richmond High School in 1950 and earned her B.S. degree in psychology from Hunter College in 1955. While holding down clerical jobs MacLachlan studied acting at the Harlem YMCA, the Herbert Berghoff Acting Studio and the Little Theatre of Harlem. Later, she received additional training from The Actors Studio, Joanie Gerber Voiceovers, and Theatre East in Los Angeles.
In 1961, MacLachlan took Cicely Tyson's place in The Blacks: A Clown Show by Jean Genet and worked along side James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Jr., Maya Angelou and Roscoe Lee Brown. In 1962, MacLachlan was cast in the parody Raising Hell in the Sun and was active in Actors Equity and The Committee for the Employment of Negro Performers. She spent a year at Minneapolis' Tyrone Guthrie Theater and acted in Washington, D.C.'s Shakespeare Festival before signing a contract with Universal Studios in 1964. Starting with The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965, MacLachlan has appeared in over 75 television shows including I Spy (1967), The FBI (1966), Star Trek (1967), The Fugitive (1966), The Name of the Game (1969/70), The Rockford Files (1975), Good Times (1978), Archie Bunker's Place (1980), Cagney and Lacey (1982/83), Amen (1988), Murder She Wrote (1985), Murder One (1986), Family Law (2000), and Alias (2002). MacLachlan's television movies include Louis Armstrong - Chicago Style (1976), Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (1978), The Sophisticated Gents (1981), For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story (1983), and The Tuskegee Airmen (1995). Her feature films include Up Tight (1968), ...tick...tick...tick (1970), The Man (1972), Sounder (1972), Tightrope (1984) and Black Listed (2003).
Often cast as a judge, nurse, doctor, psychiatrist, teacher or social worker, MacLachlan also featured in the Emmy Award winning KCET-TV PBS production of Voices of Our People: In Celebration of Black Poetry. The grant committee chair of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, MacLachlan lived in Los Angeles.
MacLachlan was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 30, 2005.