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Edna Ferber's Hollywood

Edna Ferber's Hollywood

J. E. Smyth
Thomas Schatz
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  • Book Info
    Edna Ferber's Hollywood
    Book Description:

    Edna Ferber's Hollywoodreveals one of the most influential artistic relationships of the twentieth century-the four-decade partnership between historical novelist Edna Ferber and the Hollywood studios. Ferber was one of America's most controversial popular historians, a writer whose uniquely feminist, multiracial view of the national past deliberately clashed with traditional narratives of white masculine power. Hollywood paid premium sums to adapt her novels, creating some of the most memorable films of the studio era-among themShow Boat,Cimarron, andGiant. Her historical fiction resonated with Hollywood's interest in prestigious historical filmmaking aimed principally, but not exclusively, at female audiences.

    InEdna Ferber's Hollywood, J. E. Smyth explores the research, writing, marketing, reception, and production histories of Hollywood's Ferber franchise. Smyth tracks Ferber's working relationships with Samuel Goldwyn, Leland Hayward, George Stevens, and James Dean; her landmark contract negotiations with Warner Bros.; and the controversies surrounding Giant's critique of Jim-Crow Texas. ButEdna Ferber's Hollywoodis also the study of the historical vision of an American outsider-a woman, a Jew, a novelist with few literary pretensions, an unashamed middlebrow who challenged the prescribed boundaries among gender, race, history, and fiction. In a masterful film and literary history, Smyth explores how Ferber's work helped shape Hollywood's attitude toward the American past.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79339-2
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xii)

    Among the literary giants of early twentieth-century America whose works were adapted into Hollywood movies, few, if any, cut a larger figure than Edna Ferber. From her breakthrough success in 1924 with the best-selling Pulitzer Prize winning novelSo Big, which became a major motion picture that same year, to the pinnacle of her career withGiantthree decades later, Ferber enjoyed a remarkable run of successful novels and a few hit Broadway plays, includingDinner at EightandStage Door(co-written with George S. Kaufman), which in turn became hit movies. Ferber, in fact, was the top-selling woman writer...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-1)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 2-2)
  6. Chapter one Edna Ferber’s America and the Fictions of History
    (pp. 3-30)

    Edna Ferber wrote vividly of the first time she saw a film: “It was in 1897 that I glimpsed the first faint flicker of that form of entertainment which was to encircle the world with a silver sheet. We all went to see the new-fangled thing called the animatograph,” she recalled. “It was hard on the eyes, what with a constant flicker and a shower of dancing black and white spots over everything. But the audience agreed that it was a thousand times more wonderful than even the magic lantern.”¹ Twenty years later, Ferber made her first sale to Hollywood...

  7. Chapter two The Life of an Unknown Woman So Big, 1923–1953
    (pp. 31-70)

    In 1924, when Edna Ferber publishedSo Big, she was one of America’s most successful serial fiction writers. Her modern stories of divorced mother and midwestern saleswoman Emma McChesney had made her a household name among female readers. She published her first novel in 1911, and a few years later sold the semiautobiographicalFanny Herself(1917) to Universal Studios. In 1920, she wrote her first historical novel,The Girls, a chronicle of three generations of middle-class Chicago women and their struggles for personal and financial independence from the Civil War to the aftermath of the First World War. Although Ferber...

  8. Chapter three Making Believe SHOW BOAT, RACE, AND ROMANCE, 1925–1957
    (pp. 71-112)

    Show Boatis perhaps Ferber’s best-known work of historical fiction, but ironically, most Americans remember the Oscar Hammerstein–Jerome Kern musical adaptation rather than Ferber’s original text.¹ Apart from selling Florenz Ziegfeld the musical rights to her novel in 1926, Ferber had no role in the creation of the libretto, but because of her business foresight, her name would always be linked with any publicity for the musical and subsequent films. Ferber’s novel of Magnolia Hawks Ravenal’s experience in the post–Civil War South considered three major issues that held Hollywood’s attention for decades: romance, race, and performance. In Ferber’s...

  9. Chapter four Marking the Boundaries of Classical Hollywood’s Rise and Fall CIMARRON, 1928–1961
    (pp. 113-152)

    Ferber reflected once, “I have always thought that a writing style should be impossible of sex determination. I don’t think the reader should be able to say whether a book has been written by a man or a woman.”¹ She was proud that her novels “could never be designated as feminine writing in theme, characterization, style or attack. They were written by a cerebral human being who had a knowledge of the technique of writing and of the human race. . . . When the writer obtrudes in a work of fiction it is bad writing.”² Despite the fact that...

  10. Chapter five Writing for Hollywood COME AND GET IT AND SARATOGA TRUNK, 1933–1947
    (pp. 153-190)

    Although Ferber’s next novel,American Beauty(1931), had sold well and received good reviews, it was not a best seller. Her portrait of cultural decay in New England was not a popular theme during the early 1930s, when so much of America was mired in a massive economic depression. The studios avoided purchasing it. While film adaptations of her series of plays coauthored with George S. Kaufman did well at Paramount (The Royal Family of Broadway, 1930) and MGM (Dinner at Eight, 1933), these modern set pieces about professional performers and social hypocrites were empty, though star-studded, dramatic exercises. Though...

  11. Chapter six Jim Crow, Jett Rink, and James Dean RECONSTRUCTING GIANT, 1952–1957
    (pp. 191-228)

    In December 1954, Edna Ferber wrote to director George Stevens, emphasizing her continued interest in his production of her latest book,Giant. She believed thatGiant’svalue lay in its exposure of racial prejudice against Mexican Americans in Texas, and that its racial themes had become “more vital, more prevalent today in the United States than . . . when I began to write the novel.”¹ Ferber hoped that one day Anglo oil millionaires like Bick Benedict and Jett Rink, the originators and perpetuators of these inequalities in the economic and social hierarchies of America’s new West, would be “anachronisms...

  12. Chapter seven The New Nationalism: ICE PALACE, 1954–1960
    (pp. 229-266)

    Even as her unofficial tenure ended asGiant’sscript vetter and production assistant, Edna Ferber was in the midst of two more frontier dramas.Cimarronwas nearly thirty years old, and MGM was remaking RKO’s masterpiece. Ferber had nothing but contempt for MGM, but realizing that she could do nothing to stop the latest remake of her work, she simply ignored the studio’s letters asking for her endorsement of the script. Her health was failing, and Ferber needed all her resources to finish her final novel,Ice Palace. Ice Palacegrew out of Ferber’s research forGiantand reflected the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 267-304)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 305-324)
  15. Index
    (pp. 325-338)