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The Shocking Miss Pilgrim

The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood

Frederica Sagor Maas
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Shocking Miss Pilgrim
    Book Description:

    " Freddie Maas's revealing memoir offers a unique perspective on the film industry and Hollywood culture in their early days and illuminates the plight of Hollywood writers working within the studio system. An ambitious twenty-three-year-old, Maas moved to Hollywood and launched her own writing career by drafting a screenplay of the bestselling novel The Plastic Age for ""It"" girl Clara Bow. On the basis of that script, she landed a staff position at powerhouse MGM studios. In the years to come, she worked with and befriended numerous actors and directors, including Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Eric von Stroheim, as well as such writers and producers as Thomas Mann and Louis B. Mayer. As a professional screenwriter, Fredderica quickly learned that scripts and story ideas were frequently rewritten and that screen credit was regularly given to the wrong person. Studio executives wanted well-worn plots, but it was the writer's job to develop the innovative situations and scintillating dialogue that would bring to picture to life. For over twenty years, Freddie and her friends struggled to survive in this incredibly competitive environment. Through it all, Freddie remained a passionate, outspoken woman in an industry run by powerful men, and her provocative, nonconformist ways brought her success, failure, wisdom, and a wealth of stories, opinions, and insight into a fascinating period in screen history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2707-1
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Kevin Brownlow

    THIS IS A HARD INTRODUCTION TO WRITE. Thirty years ago, when I started as a film historian, early Hollywood was dismissed as a place of sin and sacrifice, a modern Sodom and Gomorrah. One author called it Hollywood Babylon. I thought this obsession with the lurid overshadowed the important and often remarkable work being done at the time. In my first book, I tried to highlight the creative achievements of a vast number of astonishingly gifted individuals. But, as with any human endeavour, there was undeniably a dark side to the community, and Frederica Sagor experienced it to the full....

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    AT A HOUSE PARTY IN NOVEMBER 1988, I happened to meet an eager young writer named Sidney D. Kirkpatrick. Fascinated by Hollywood’s lurid past, especially the silent era, he had just written a bestseller,The Cast Killers.I met him again a few weeks later, at Dutton’s Bookstore in Beverly Hills, where the youthful author-celebrity was enjoying his first book launching and where I stood in line (something I had never done before) with the rest of the autograph seekers. When it came my turn, he wrote on the flyleaf of my book: “To frederica: who paused a few moments...

  6. Chapter 1 Family Roots
    (pp. 1-11)

    MY MOTHER WAS A GRADUATE of Moscow University in the early 1880s. She had also been a piano student at the Moscow Conservatory of Music and aspired to be a concert pianist until Anton Rubinstein, who was head of the conservatory and one of her teachers, told her that her hands were too chubby, her fingers too short, for her to hope for a soloist career. Another of her teachers, just beginning his career, was Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Mama treasured two small autographed pictures of these great artists, and they alone adorned her bedroom bureau until I fell heir to...

  7. Chapter 2 From Columbia To Universal
    (pp. 12-26)

    WHEN I WAS SEVENTEEN, I was a freshman at Columbia University, on 110th Street near Broadway in New York City. All the boys I knew were either Over There or about to go Over There to fight Huns and save the world for democracy. Woodrow Wilson, whom I idolized, was president of the United States and was being blamed for getting us into the war by German sympathizers both in and outside Congress. It was not an easy time to be seventeen.

    My being a journalism student was a compromise and very much a second choice. From grammar school on,...

  8. Chapter 3 Story Editor
    (pp. 27-40)

    TWO WEEKS AFTER BECOMING Universal’s story editor, I had my first “downstairs” conference with the company brass. They had given me the job, and they would want to know what to expect. I had to prove that, despite my age, I had what it took to run a story department. I was equally determined to prove not only that I was qualified but that I had very definite ideas about running that department. One of my objectives was to convince these hard-boiled execs to increase their budget allowance for story material and meet the market competition of other film companies....

  9. Chapter 4 Purchase of The Plastic Age
    (pp. 41-49)

    SHORTLY AFTER MY RETURN from the West Coast. Universal decided to come up in the world. The company opened up spanking new offices on Fifth Avenue near Fifty-seventh Street in a brand-new thirty-some-story building where Universal occupied the ninth and tenth floors. The only flaw in this arrangement for me was that the new offices were no longer within walking distance of the Algonquin Hotel on West Forty-sixth Street.

    The Algonquin was where Hortense Schorr. Virginia Morris, Regina Crew Cruickshank, Radie Harris, and I–all working gals in story and publicity departments, movie periodicals, newspaper and movie columns–had a...

  10. Chapter 5 My Introduction to Hollywood
    (pp. 50-67)

    A TEMPERATURE OF 101 DEGREES GREETED ME when I arrived at the Los Angeles station. The year was 1924, before the beautiful Union Station of today, with its Spanish tiles and flowered patios, was built. There was no one to meet me.

    Soon, my five suitcases and I were deposited in a cab. My destination was The Halifax, an apartment hotel on Ivar near Vine. My rent? An easy fifty dollars a month for a fully equipped kitchen and nicely furnished studio. The wall bed, on pulleys, was supposed to come down easily, but it defied me. It would either...

  11. Chapter 6 Hollywood Parties
    (pp. 68-84)

    NOT KNOWING WHAT BEING A SCREENWRITER in films was going to be like, I had high aspirations and expectations. For weeks after I turned in my script onDance Madness,I was deluged with stories, plays, and scripts and asked to read them. Most were garbage, plain garbage, and I said so. One or two had possibilities, but I never heard any more about them after they reached Mr. Rapf’s desk. Meanwhile, I waited with bated breath for my next assignment.

    The big talk about MGM was something calledThe Big Parade,in production with John Gilbert and Renée Adorée,...

  12. Chapter 7 My Friend, Riza
    (pp. 85-104)

    About this time, I received a letter from my dear friend Virginia Morris in New York, who was now handling publicity for Preferred Pictures. It referred to a young woman, Riza Royce, who had appeared in a New York play on Broadway and drawn the attention of J.G. Bachman, treasurer of Preferred Pictures. He had signed her to a three-month contract at a nominal salary, subject to the approval of B.P.Schulberg. Would I meet her at the station when she arrived, take her under my wing, and help her to get settled? Any request from my friend Virginia was a...

  13. Chapter 8 The Troublemaker
    (pp. 105-116)

    IN THE FALL Of 1926, I had a sudden and violent abdominal attack in the middle of the night. Doubled up with pain and not having a doctor of my own, I summoned Dr. James Reed, an orthopedic surgeon who ministered to the medical needs of half of filmdom. At Orthopedic Hospital, he diagnosed my distress as tubular reaction and indicated that an operation was the solution. Naturally, I was considerably upset because that meant I would not be able to bear children. To this day, I remain convinced that all I had was an old-fashioned bellyache. I was to...

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. Chapter 9 Meeting Ernest Maas
    (pp. 117-137)

    THE THOUGHT OF SPENDING the rest of my career writing flimsy fare likeThe First Night—to say nothing of contending with studio politics and the insanity of Hollywood life—had become unbearable. Perhaps, I reflected, my true vocation lay in writing novels and short stories and not in the movie business at all.

    The more I considered this possibility, the more excited I became. If I turned out short stories of quality, I thought, magazines would surely buy them. If I had something to say in a novel, how could it fail to get published? I made up my...

  16. Chapter 10 Honor Among Thieves
    (pp. 138-151)

    ERNEST HAD A MONTHS REPRIEVE from Fox, and we had planned our honeymoon carefully. After a week in New York and a week spent in train travel, we had two precious weeks left after returning to Los Angeles. The first thing we did was pick up Ernest’s Chrysler roadster, which Lucy Carter had taken care of in our absence. My Moon, stored in a commercial garage, caught the eye of a Rolls-Royce chauffeur who made me a good offer, and I sold it for cash. Lucy Carter had some interesting news. She was leaving the Mayfair and taking over the...

  17. Chapter 11 The Maases Go to Europe
    (pp. 152-162)

    OUR DECISION AT THE END OF JUNE 1928 to go to Europe was a sudden one. Father had a younger brother in London. Uncle James, a bachelor and very, very rich (having invested heavily in African diamond mines), had been completely indifferent to the existence of his American relatives until this Frederica Alexandrina decided to change that. I wrote to him, and a lively correspondence ensued that lasted almost a year—until his solicitors in London informed us of his death and that he had willed the sum of seventy-five thousand dollars to father and me. The money would be...

  18. Chapter 12 “Swell Fish”
    (pp. 163-179)

    UPON OUR RETURN FROM EUROPE in September 1928, we expected to return to the West Coast. But that plan was altered when Ernest was offered a one-year contract at the Astoria Studios of Paramount to direct a feature film in the East. Walter Wanger was eager to challenge his West Coast adversary, Ben Schulberg, and expedite his takeover of the West Coast studios.

    To be in New York again meant that I could see more of my family, especially my mother. We attended daytime concerts together, attended matinees at the opera, and visited art galleries. We loved Central Park, where...

  19. Chapter 13 The Depression Years
    (pp. 180-190)

    WE HAD OUR TICKETS BACK to California in hand, our goodbyes said to family and friends, our bags checked at the station. We were ready to board the Twentieth Century Limited at 8:45 A.M. With a few minutes to spare before our train left for Chicago, we stopped at a kiosk to buy a paper. They were sold out. Hefty deliverymen appeared carrying high stacks of yet another edition. Almost before the stacks were put on the stands, frenzied travelers snatched the papers. We managed to buy a copy of theNew York Times.Its headlines reported WALL STREET STOCKS...

  20. Chapter 14 Marriage in Crisis
    (pp. 191-209)

    WHEN WE FIRST MOVED BACK TO NEW YORK, Ernest had looked up a good friend in charge of the New York office of theHollywood Reporter.His name was Abe Bernstein. Abe had been Ernest’s secretary when he founded his documentary company, Roycroft Productions. In the fall of 1934, Abe engaged the Maases to cover openings of the most promising plays on Broadway. The less promising plays were assigned to others on his staff. Thus it happened that Ernest and I had the best seats for the best plays for all the opening nights on “The Great White Way” during...

  21. Chapter 15 Motion Picture Peddler
    (pp. 210-218)

    THE LAST POST I EVER EXPECTED TO FILL was as a motion picture peddler. But that was what happened to me next. Arthur Landau, when dealing with literary material for the Edward Small Agency years back in New York, had handled the sale of Rex Beach’sThe Goose Woman.That deal netted him a handsome commission and earned for me an expensive beaded handbag for purchasing the story for Universal.

    Now Arthur Landau was in business for himself and Edward Small, having transferred his operations to the West Coast, was looking for someone to run his story department. The job...

  22. Chapter 16 World War II
    (pp. 219-229)

    USING THE EXPERIENCE I HAD GATHERED as an agent, I was able to procure writing contracts at Paramount for Ernest and myself. Paramount had acquired a mass of story material that needed culling, and we were hired for the job at an inflated salary I was able to arrange. With this money we were able to acquire a house in the new Westwood Village.

    Westwood Village was a Jans Real Estate development. It was an acreage of wide, open fields begging for real estate ravishment. Its perimeters were the city of Beverly Hills on the east and the city of...

  23. Chapter 17 The Desecration of Miss Pilgrim’s Progress
    (pp. 230-240)

    IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE WAR we sold our house on Homedale. Mother Nature had treated us to one deluge too many, which, despite our new drainage system, once again wrecked our seven terraces and ruined our rugs and furniture. Enough was enough! We sold the house with all the salvageable furnishings (including my beloved Steinway) for little more than we had paid for them, but we were deliriously happy to get rid of that headache we could not afford.

    We moved into a brand-new, two-bedroom apartment on Midvale Avenue in Westwood, not far away from the university buildings and the campus...

  24. Chapter 18 Civil War Stories Are Out
    (pp. 241-251)

    DESPITE WHAT HAD HAPPENED with “Miss Pilgrim’s Progress.” Ernest and I continued to work on original stories. We had index boxes full of ideas. We wanted to see original movies that were good enough to be made into novels and plays, reversing the industry’s procedure. We felt that the effect a best-selling novel or hit play has on society, an original movie could do with film.

    What was it that propelled us to pursue this folly? For my part, it was the deep affection I felt for my husband. He would not abandon the industry or seek another pursuit. While...

  25. Epilogue
    (pp. 252-258)

    IT WAS AUGUST 5, 1989, our sixty-second wedding anniversary, although our private little joke had always been to add on that extra year we had lived together in sin before we decided to make it legal.

    The taxi stopped and the driver helped me alight. I parted with ten fifty-cent taxi coupons from my Senior Citizen Coupon Taxi Book. I knew now how much the fare would be, including the tip. I had made the same journey to 6667 Hollywood Boulevard in 1986, 1987, and 1988. I gently pushed the door open and entered Musso-Frank’s.

    It was nearing 2:00 P.M.,...

  26. Index
    (pp. 259-265)