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Biography

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Overview (2)

Date of Birth 29 April 1904St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Date of Death 25 July 1995Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA

Mini Bio (1)

Eleanore Griffin, the Oscar-winning screenwriter who won her Academy Award along with co-writer Dore Schary for Boys Town (1938), was born on April 29, 1904, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Griffin began writing screenplays at Universal in 1937, being credited for the comedies When Love Is Young (1937) (directed by Hal Mohr) and Love in a Bungalow (1937) (directed by Ray McCarey, the younger brother of famed director Leo McCarey). Moving over to MGM, she penned the Mickey Rooney / Judy Garland musical Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) for Maurice Rapf's production unit. It was there she hit paydirt with the script based on the true story of the priest who launched Boys Town in 1917, a reformatory for wayward boys. Directed by Norman Taurog, "Boys Town" was nominated for Five Academy Awards, bringing Oscars for Best Actor to 'Spencer Tracy (I)' (v) and for Best Original Story to Griffin and Dore Schary. It also made Edward Flanagan famous and spawned a sequel, Men of Boys Town (1941).

Griffin worked as a screenwriter for almost 30 years, but ironically, "Boys Town" - which came very early in her career - would remain the summit of her achievement. Part of this was due to the exigencies of studio production, in which even a highly paid screenwriter would win an Oscar one year and be penning B-picture potboilers the next. However, it was the vertical integration of the studios, which was complete by the time she established herself in Hollywood in the late 1930s, that likely limited her career, as it did all women from the mid-1930s to the turn of the century.

Women had been a major force in the film industry during the silent era, particularly in the area of screenwriting (since dialogue wasn't needed, and inter-titles were a separate discipline, screenplays were called "scenarios", with the concept of "play" devolving onto the movie itself, which commonly was called a "photoplay" in the first generations of cinema). June Mathis, who helped make Rudolph Valentino a superstar, wrote the scenarios and screenplays for over over 100 films, and also as an "editorial director" on others, from the mid-Teens until 1930.

Women directors were not uncommon during the silent era (in fact, the first "feature" film was directed by a woman, back in 1896), but with the vertical integration of the movie industry in the 1930s women were squeezed out after the advent of the Talkies. It is a truism of organizational theory that the more complex the structure, the more control is exerted over all aspects of the organization, and the more conformity is demanded from organizational players. The corporate hierarchies were dominated by men, and the pressure for conformity made the vertical, publicly traded studios inhospitable to women, who by their very gender, could not conform to the dominant corporate paradigm.

After the early Talkie period, it was unusual for there to be powerful women, i.e., directors or producers, and conformity was demanded even the writers (a craft with decidedly little power due to the industrial mode of production used by the vertically integrated studios, in which piece-work was the dominant paradigm). Only Frances Marion, a double Oscar winner able to write across genres, survived and it is significant that her two Oscars came during the early talkie period, in 1930 for Best Writing Achievement for the prison picture The Big House (1930) and in 1932 for the Best Original Story for The Champ (1931). Though she worked on such prestigious pictures as Camille (1936) at MGM, the most powerful of Hollywood studios, she only received one more Oscar nod, in 1934, for Best Writing, Original Story for The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933). By 1937, the year Griffin got her start at Univesal, the career of Hollywood's greatest woman screenwriter was virtually over.

After Griffin's Oscar victory at MGM, she moved over to Paramount for the musical-comedy St. Louis Blues (1939), directed by Raoul Walsh. At Columbia she contributed to the treatment of Howard Hawks' classic Only Angels Have Wings (1939), the screenplay of which was written by Jules Furthman. She also contributed the story for Mitchell Leisen's Army Air Crops melodrama I Wanted Wings (1941).

During World War II her career lost its momentum, despite the legions of male screenwriters who went to war. At Columbia she wrote the story for the B-movie series entry Blondie in Society (1941), as well as the stories for the comedy Hi, Beautiful (1944) starring 'Noah Beery' Jr.' and Hattie McDaniel at Universal and for Henry Hathaway's melodrama Nob Hill (1945) starring George Raft at Fox. Back at MGM she contributed the story for George Sidney's The Harvey Girls (1946)_ and wrote the screenplay for the 'Margaret O'Brien' vehicle Tenth Avenue Angel (1948).

Most writers in Hollywood during the sound era made their living rewriting, polishing or adding to scripts. Griffin's next major credited spurt of activity came in the mid-1950s, when she wrote two Henry Koster films, the religious drama A Man Called Peter (1955) and Good Morning, Miss Dove (1954)_ starring 'Jennifer Jones' in the title role.

Her contribution to Universal's 1959 remake Imitation of Life (1959), Fannie Hurst's novel, was largely forgotten due to the film being almost wholly attributed to Douglas Sirk, a main beneficiary of the auteur theory that elevated the director to the status of a film's sole author (which is rather ridiculous within the industrial paradigm of Hollywood film, particularly in a factory such as Universal, which ground out product for the Big and little screens like so much sausage). For "Life" producer Ross Hunter she adapted another of Hurst's novels into a film, Back Street (1961), which starred Susan Hayward and John Gavin.

Her last credited film was an adaptation of Norman Vincent Peale's autobiography "Minister To Millions", produced by Frank Ross as One Man's Way (1964).

Eleanore Griffin died on July 25, 1995, in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. She was 91 years old.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

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