Tribute By Monica Sullivan
Women have actually been involved in film since the very early days of the industry, although their contributions are frequently ignored or minimised by historians. One of the best screen writers in Hollywood between 1915 and 1940 was a University of California at Berkeley dropout and former San Francisco Examiner reporter named Frances Marion. Frances Marion was beautiful and talented enough to be an actress, which she was during the early days of her career. She was far more attracted to writing, however, and her response to an early disaster is indicative of how she was able to sustain her 25 year career. She was lucky enough to write a script (the first of many) for screen queen Mary Pickford, who urged her to promote herself with Eastern movie executives at the film's premiere.
Frances Marion raised money for the trip with a two-week acting job, only to learn that the film's negative and all the prints had been destroyed in a studio fire. Unwilling to return to Hollywood a failure, she offered her services as a screenwriter on a free trial basis. She salvaged an unmarketable film by adding an effective prologue, and earned a studio job at $200 a week. Best remembered for her Oscar winning screenplays for "The Big House" and "The Champ", Frances Marion had a deep understanding of the motion picture medium. In addition to her extensive screen credits, she also worked behind the scenes as an uncredited script doctor.
The list of male studio giants who advanced her career is impressive, but Frances Marion always claimed that she received her greatest support from women. In fact, at one point in M.G.M. history, male screenwriters were complaining about the "tyranny of women writers" over which they felt she presided at the studio. Frances Marion never achieved her dream to become a movie producer, but her movies, including "Tillie Wakes Up," "Stella Maris" and "The Wind," are constant staples on late night television and video shelves. Her 1972 autobiography, OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!, (published a year before her death at age 84) provides a lucid and compassionate account of her many years in Hollywood.
One of her finest efforts, "Dinner at Eight", is a perfect blend of the sturdy humour and honest sentiment which other writers often tried to emulate without success. Contemporary screenwriters owe an enormous debt to Frances Marion, a plucky writer from San Francisco whose taste and intelligence continue to inspire moviegoers today.
© 1998 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 4/1/98
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