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Without Lying Down

Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood

Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 1
Pages: 475
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  • Book Info
    Without Lying Down
    Book Description:

    Cari Beauchamp masterfully combines biography with social and cultural history to examine the lives of Frances Marion and her many female colleagues who shaped filmmaking from 1912 through the 1940s. Frances Marion was Hollywood's highest paid screenwriter—male or female—or almost three decades, wrote almost 200 produced films and won Academy Awards for writing "The Big House" and "The Champ."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92138-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-8)
  2. Prologue
    (pp. 9-12)

    As Frances Marion rose to accept the Academy Award for Screenwriting for her original story The Big House, she became the first woman writer to win an Oscar. Since 1917, she had been the highest- paid screenwriter in Hollywood—male or female—and was hailed as "the all-time best script and story writer the motion picture world has ever produced."

    Just forty and "as beautiful as the stars she wrote for/' Frances was already credited with writing over one hundred produced films. Her importance to MGM was reflected by the fact that films she had written were nominated this evening...

  3. Chapter 1
    (pp. 13-24)

    arion Benson Owens first publicly documented her creative talents at San Francisco's Hamilton Grammar School "when I was caught drawing cartoons of my teachers on the blackboard and was expelled from all public schools." As a rule, she was very well behaved, having been taught early "the hypocrisies of social graces." Yet while others might see her dismissal as something to be ashamed of, Marion was always to view it with a sense of accomplishment. Just twelve years old, she had been set apart from those she considered "fastidious and dull" and that was definitely a step in the right...

  4. Chapter 2
    (pp. 25-37)

    When Robert and Marion moved into their new home at 2600 Wilshire Boulevard in January of 1912, she stayed busy organizing the house while he opened C. W. Pike’s Los Angeles office. The demands of building his father’s business kept Robert downtown all day and into the night, and Marion failed to find domestic life particularly satisfying. It had been difficult enough to play the role of society matron in San Francisco where at least therewasa society. This Los Angeles was another situation entirely.

    Los Angeles in 1912 was a sprawling flatland stretching between the ocean and the...

  5. Chapter 3
    (pp. 38-50)

    The Bosworth complex on Occidental was, for its time, state of the art. It had been built from the ground up as a year-round studio, in contrast to the many other companies that used vacant buildings on the empty lots during the winter months. (The term “shooting on the lot” came about because that is exactly what they were doing.)

    The executive office building was two stories of steel and concrete and housed the accounting department, scenario writers, and editors. A theater was attached to the laboratory where thousands of feet of film were printed each day. There was a...

  6. Chapter 4
    (pp. 51-62)

    Frances took the 7:30 ferry across the Hudson River to Fort Lee the next morning and arrived at World studio’s front gate, where the solicitous guard assumed she was an actress. When she told him she was a writer, he unceremoniously pointed to a bench and said, “Wait for ‘Sternie.’ ” After an hour, a slight young man in his late teens, walking with a confidence beyond his years, strode toward her with an outstretched hand and introduced himself as Joe Stern.

    He showed her to a row of small cubicles he called offices and told her to make herself...

  7. Chapter 5
    (pp. 63-74)

    Frances had been working nonstop for almost a year. As head of the scenario department, she reviewed all World’s scripts as well as writing her own. She helped cast the films, supervised screen tests for new talent, and often directed scenes. At night she watched films, both hers and those from other studios, and still she churned out five “Daily Talks” columns a week for Mary Pickford.

    Actors and directors started and then wrapped films, but Frances’s work had no natural breaks. She still could not believe her good fortune and compulsively pushed herself, but even she could not keep...

  8. Chapter 6
    (pp. 75-86)

    By the summer of 1917, Douglas Fairbanks had skyrocketed to fame. It had been a year and a half since he had met Mary and while he had been immediately taken with her, she was attracted slowly as they saw each other at various functions, often in the company of their respective spouses. They shared a unique experience in their mutual stardom and Doug sought Mary’s advice about dealing with Zukor and Lasky, but it had not been until Doug’s mother died in December of 1916 that the relationship changed from friendship to intimacy.

    Doug was heading east on the...

  9. Chapter 7
    (pp. 87-100)

    Mary Pickford was married to one man and in love with another, but she still had an eye for a handsome face. In her position as their honorary colonel, she reviewed the troops of the 143rd Field Artillery and blew a special silver whistle to start the camp football game. On the field and at the dinner at the Hotel del Coronado that February evening in 1918, Mary spotted a six-foot-two, blue-eyed, sandy-haired fullback whose chiseled features stood out even in a crowd of good-looking men. She was careful to position herself next to him for the team picture.


  10. Chapter 8
    (pp. 101-112)

    Frances was greeted at the dock by reporters eager to hear her war stories. The reception had been arranged by Pete Smith, the Famous Players Lasky publicity man she had known when he was promoting Bosworth films. Frances used the opportunity to champion the talents of Wesley Ruggles and Harry Thorpe yet found it difficult to articulate the war’s devastation.

    “What may come as an aftermath of all I saw and experienced is more than I can say right now, but when I think of all the scenes I witnessed, I realize how helpless I am, or would be, in...

  11. Chapter 9
    (pp. 113-122)

    Clara Thomson had been hearing about Frances since shortly after Fred met her, but she had not let herself believe it was anything serious. Fred had written, very matter-of-factly, about his pride in Frances’s work during the war and Clara knew they had spoken of marriage, but it wasn’t until February 12, 1919, that she realized the truth in the black and white of newsprint.¹

    On page one, theLos Angeles Heraldran a large studio publicity picture of Frances with an inset of Fred in uniform. The headline read “Engaged, not Wed to Fred Thomson, says Scenario Star.” Datelined...

  12. Chapter 10
    (pp. 123-131)

    In May of 1920, Fred and Frances sailed for Europe. They bought a car and drove through Spain, along the French Riviera, and over to Genoa and Pisa. The road to Florence was particularly dusty and they were slowed by the muddy terrain on the way into town, but they spent several days enraptured by the array of artwork, particularly the Raphaels and Botticellis. Fred began experimenting with a stereoscopic camera and color plates, taking pictures of the “unbelievable treasures” displayed in churches and open buildings. They shared a sense of privilege to be in the presence of such talent...

  13. Chapter 11
    (pp. 132-141)

    When they returned to Los Angeles in the fall of 1920, Fred and Frances had taken an apartment at the Colonial House on Havenhurst and now they went house hunting. They soon found a large home at 744 Windsor Boulevard and put $3,000 down, agreeing to the asking price of $83,000. Their next-door neighbor was Harold Lloyd, with whom they became lifelong friends, but they still had to find a home for Silver King.

    Frances introduced Fred to the cowboy stars she knew and they unselfishly showed him the lay of the land. Silver King was offered a stall at...

  14. Chapter 12
    (pp. 142-153)

    The Hays office may have provided the industry with a buffer to absorb the blows of reforming citizens and headline writers, but the day-to-day work of scenario writers became more complicated. The studios hired their own in-house censors and synopses of proposed stories were submitted to the MPPDA. Yet many producers openly coached the writers on how to get around the regulations, and Frances laughed when she was told to “make your scenario sound awfully sweet and don’t describe your heroine as sexy,” but she submitted summaries that bore little resemblance to what ended up on the screen.

    Frances fell...

  15. Chapter 13
    (pp. 154-168)

    In her “spare time” Frances was finishing the novel she had started during their summer at Chappaqua,The Rise and Fall of Minnie Flynn. It was a fairly serious tale of a poor young girl from the New York tenements climbing to stardom through luck and fate without learning enough about herself and the world around her to maintain her good fortune. Frances called it a “tragedy of success” and meant it as a warning to the thousands of women she saw pouring into Hollywood full of optimism and without the slightest idea of what lay ahead. With self-deprecating humor...

  16. Chapter 14
    (pp. 169-179)

    Frances had been talking about filming the popular novelStella Dallaswith Sam Goldwyn since one of their first meetings.

    “It’s a beautiful woman’s story,” Sam asserted confidently. “I’m starring Ronald Colman in it.”

    Frances was unable to resist asking, “As a female impersonator?”

    “He looked at me sharply for a moment. When he laughed, I put the mental boxing gloves away.”

    Frances always considered the conversation a defining moment in their relationship and they had worked well together on half a dozen films since. When Goldwyn finally secured the rights after more than a year of negotiating, she gave...

  17. Chapter 15
    (pp. 180-189)

    In February of 1926, minor shock waves went through the business end of the film industry when it was announced Joseph P. Kennedy had bought control of R-C Pictures Corporation and Film Booking Office of America. Wall Street experience was unique for a studio head; almost all the other companies were run by men who had grown up with the industry after starting as junk dealers or salesmen. Marcus Loew summed up their surprise by saying, “A banker? I thought this business was just for furriers.”¹

    What Loew and the others didn’t know was that several years earlier Kennedy had...

  18. Chapter 16
    (pp. 190-198)

    Large estates began to proliferate around their hill and Jack Gilbert’s new home was right opposite theirs in Benedict Canyon. One night Frances went out to check on her nieces, who were supposedly taking a late-night swim, but instead found them congregated around the telescope that was to be for stargazing, now directed at the Gilbert home. The girls were taking in every detail of the “uninhibited parties on his terrace.”¹

    The Thomsons’ newest and closest neighbor was more to their liking. Rudolph Valentino consulted with Fred on where to build a stable for his Arabian horses and once again...

  19. Chapter 17
    (pp. 199-208)

    As she was preparing for the birth of Fred junior, Frances had decided it was time to stop jumping between assignments and studios and settle into a long-term arrangement. Her personal life was changing, and so was the business of making movies; mergers, competition for distribution, and rising costs over the past few years had sharply reduced the number of studios.

    Since completingThe Scarlet LetterandThe Red Millat MGM, she had been in discussions with Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer about joining them under contract, and it was tempting. Their Culver City studio was flourishing. Where...

  20. Chapter 18
    (pp. 209-217)

    More painfully aware than ever of the compromises that were required, Frances knew she was at MGM to stay. Distasteful as it often was, she was willing to play the role of loyal functionary when required. It was with that awareness that she opened her invitation to attend the May 11, 1927, banquet in the Crystal Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel to “celebrate” the official organization of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

    What had started as a dinner conversation between Louis B. Mayer and his guests Conrad Nagel and Fred Niblo about the state of filmmaking had...

  21. Chapter 19
    (pp. 218-229)

    Contrary to the impression that Al Jolson opened his mouth to sing and all of Hollywood stopped dead in its tracks, the “talkie” revolution was a tenuous process that took several years to evolve.

    The impact of sound had first been debated in the early twenties as radio became a medium of communication, some saying it would have no effect and others convinced it would ruin movies forever. Thalberg had mused, “I think, in the long run, it will be a good thing. It will spur the makers of moving pictures on to supplying new story elements, with which radio...

  22. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  23. Chapter 20
    (pp. 230-242)

    Fred’s image as a problem solver and a man of action was accurate when the hurdles were clear. He was used to obstacles that he could overcome by tenacity and hard work, but was lost in this veiled corporate nightmare. Kennedy continued to demand huge fees for Fred’s services in order to keep him off the screen and he was forced into idleness.

    Privately, Fred vacillated between grandiose plans and depression. He played in the pool with his young sons and worked on a new thirty-foot speedboat, spending hours in his shop developing new and improved engines. Then he would...

  24. Chapter 21
    (pp. 243-252)

    For the first few months following Fred’s death, Frances was numb with the pain of loneliness. The very foundation of her existence had been abruptly yanked from beneath her. Forty years old and alone with two babies to raise, twenty horses to feed, and a huge estate to maintain, her only comfort came from her belief that the children were so young they couldn’t comprehend the loss.

    Frances sat for hours at the organ or the piano and friends gingerly came by to visit. Gilbert Roland was ushered in to find her almost in a trance, playing Schubert and Brahms...

  25. Chapter 22
    (pp. 253-262)

    Frances’s world had crashed the year before with Fred’s death, so in the weeks following October 29, 1929, she witnessed the results of the stock market crash with a surreal sense of detachment. She compared the collective feeling of vulnerability and the frantic but futile search for a safe haven to being in a disastrous earthquake and her compassion was saved for the “millions of small investors who lost their lifelong savings.”

    Louis B. Mayer’s hand-wringing only added to her disdain for him; his income would continue to pour in and besides, he was the one who had encouraged her...

  26. Chapter 23
    (pp. 263-278)

    The idea first came to her as she was watching Marie Dressier on the set ofAnna Christie. As marvelous as Marie was in the role of Marthy, she was obviously restrained, and that started Frances thinking about the possibilities of a more comedic drama for the actress set against a similar backdrop of the sea. And then it occurred to her she might be able to help her friend Lorna Moon at the same time.

    Lorna had been working at MGM since 1927 and wrote four scenarios that year alone, but the tuberculosis that had forced her to give...

  27. Chapter 24
    (pp. 279-294)

    After selling The Enchanted Hill, Frances moved herself and the boys and then George into two different homes, each time thinking that she would use it as a base to look for something more permanent. She had bought beach property in Venice with two houses on it, but in her determination to maintain their friendship, George took one of the houses after the divorce and she kept the other for weekends or renting. She was looking for a house in town when her friend Hector Turnbull, the head of the scenario department at Paramount, and his wife, Blanche, asked if...

  28. Chapter 25
    (pp. 295-312)

    Once the Olympics were over and the international visitors returned home, Doug Fairbanks left on a pleasure trip to the Orient and Frances and Mary went to work filmingSecrets. While she had kept up the pretenses of being the happy hostess of Pickfair, Mary went before the cameras more determined than ever to show her worth on the screen and with a new level of desperation to save her marriage. She had long suspected Doug of infidelities, but when she received by mistake a bracelet engraved for another woman, it confirmed the rumors that he was keeping company with...

  29. Chapter 26
    (pp. 313-325)

    At the studio that summer of 1933, no one seemed to be in charge. Frances was treated with deference, but for the first time she felt gone around. The power struggles, minicabals, and whispered meetings in the hallways both bored and appalled her. Her contract expired in May and she put all her faith in Irving’s return.

    She worked at home on herPaid to Laughdesigned as a vehicle for Marion Davies and Bing Crosby in his acting debut. It was what Frances still did best even if she didn’t enjoy it much anymore: showcasing new talent with a...

  30. Chapter 27
    (pp. 326-337)

    Frances returned to MGM in the middle of April 1935 and picked up where she left off, which to Anita Loos’s relief meant being handed back the script ofRiffraff. What Frances had started asShantytownfor Mary Pickford and then tried to alter for Gloria Swanson and Clark Gable had gone from a melodrama to a comedy and back again. Irving had passed it to Anita and then been in and out of production meetings. She turned in draft after draft, each time waiting days in between for a response. Al Lewin and Bernie Hyman were both in charge...

  31. Chapter 28
    (pp. 338-347)

    Frances returned to MGM in January of 1937, but her plan “to write, direct and produce” had died with Irving Thalberg. Eddie Mannix was now officially Mayer’s right-hand man and he offered her a contract strikingly different in tone and content from any of her previous agreements. Her salary was $2,500 a week, but on a week-to-week basis that could be terminated at any time by either party. She no longer had any guarantees of screen credits or her name being used in publicity, any producer could assign her work, and she had nothing to say about loan-outs.¹

    It was...

  32. Chapter 29
    (pp. 348-356)

    “Hollywood was stunned,” Frances remembered. “A giant foot had stepped on our ant hill. Men immediately left the studios in droves; almost two thirds of the skilled employees from the technical crews, scores of writers, directors, cameramen and actors and even the producer Darryl Zanuck enlisted.”

    It was left to Joe Cohn to hand Mayer the list of his stars who enlisted and Frances called “the Big Boss’s” attempt to keep them home “the ‘tug of war’ which was won by Washington and the men who were determined to fight.” James Stewart, Robert Taylor, and Robert Montgomery were soon followed...

  33. Afterword
    (pp. 357-372)

    When Bess Meredyth and her husband, Michael Curtiz, started their own production unit at Warner Brothers in late 1946, Frances decided to join them. Yet if she hoped to make a fresh start on the Warners lot, that was thwarted when she discovered upon her arrival that the office they were to use was none other than the old Marion Davies bungalow that Hearst had moved from MGM. Marion had made only four films at Warners before retiring from the screen for good in 1937, leaving the famous bungalow behind.

    Michael Curtiz was in a position to command his own...

  34. Epilogue
    (pp. 373-378)

    Elsie Janis continued to work in films and theater in Europe and America until her beloved mother’s death in July 1930. Elsie claimed she had never married because her mother was “the most marvelous companion in the world. There’s never been a wild place in Paris, or New York or Chicago that I wanted to see that my mother wouldn’t go along with me to see it.… If I stub my toe and start to fall—well, I don’t land on a tack, but on mother. Show me a man like that … but they aren’t made and I’ve looked.”¹...

  35. Author's Notes
    (pp. 379-386)
  36. Endnotes
    (pp. 387-434)
  37. Bibliography
    (pp. 435-440)
  38. Filmography
    (pp. 441-454)
  39. Index
    (pp. 455-475)