A Writer in Early Hollywood
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A sprightly memoir by a pioneering female screenwriter. Born in 1900 to Russian radicals who had immigrated to New York City, Frederica Sagor answered an ad for story editor at Universal and by her mid-20s had written several hit films, including The Plastic Age and The Waning Sex. By the time she left the business in 1950, she and her husband, writer-producer Ernest Maas, had worked on dozens of movies with major directors and stars. Charlie Chaplin sat at her commissary table; John Ford cut out of a party early with her; Joan Crawford was a hick named Lucille LeSueur who entreated the well-clad writer to take her shopping and dress her like a star. The breezy text is chockablock with colloquialisms, and slang fans will especially appreciate Maas’s descriptions of women: girls with plenty of “ginger,” or great “gams,” or who, like the author herself, “learned about the good old pessary and so felt free to play the field.” In his foreword, film historian Kevin Brownlow rightly places the book in the context of film history. But Maas does not write with Film History in mind; she tells of how she made her living in a tough profession and enjoyed a lasting marriage. Brownlow says that the book will make readers “angry,” and some injustices do raise ire, such as MGM stealing the couple’s idea for an in-theater promotion or 20th-Century Fox gaudily transforming their upright story, Miss Pilgrim’s Progress, into the Betty Grable vehicle The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. But for the most part, the blackballing, debauchery, and mogul mendacity described sound just like Hollywood today. The names may have changed, the films may have acquired sound, but the small-minded boss is eternal. Not a literary masterpiece, but more important proof of women’s participation—if not recognition—behind the scenes in early Hollywood. A filmography would have been welcome. (30 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8131-2122-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999