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This documentary, first shown on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, tells of the life and career of screenwriter Frances Marion. By the mid 1920s, she was the most respected and highest paid script writer in Hollywood. She also became the first person to win two Oscars for her work (for The Big House (1930) and The Champ (1931)). Written by
David Glagovsky <email@example.com>
Not just the story of one woman, but basically all women behind the camera in early Hollywood
Frances Marion is the centerpiece of this documentary, but it is in many ways the story of so many female pioneers in early Hollywood. Frances' career as a screenwriter spanned roughly two decades - 1915 to 1936. She did some work after that, but was basically forced into retirement after Irving Thalberg's death, when Louis B. Mayer, who then had all the power at MGM but really wasn't an innovator like Thalberg, failed to see the value of Frances Marion's work.
Frances Marion was born into a prominent family in San Francisco, but you might say she got her lucky break at age 17 with the great earthquake of 1906. Her family lost everything and she was free to go earn a living, no longer having to live up to society's expectations of immediately settling down to a marriage within her class. She traveled to Los Angeles to paint, but soon became fascinated with the movies. She arrived there about the time so many filmmakers were traveling west, trying to escape Edison and his hardball tactics and monopoly on the east coast. So Frances would paint by day for money to live on, and write scenarios by night to break into the business.
The documentary goes into great detail about her friendship with Mary Pickford and their collaboration, her marriage in 1919 to a Presbyterian minister who later became one of the biggest Western stars of the 1920's, and later his tragic early demise in 1928 at only age 38. Frances wrote the screenplays for many of the films that we remember from the 1910's through the early 1930's - "Stella Maris", "The Flapper", "Son of the Shiek" and "The Wind" in the silent era. She wrote the screenplays of some of the best of the early talkies - almost exclusively at MGM - "Anna Christie", "The Big House", "Min and Bill", and "The Champ" are among her credits. Ironically, the dawn of sound was a boon to writers such as Frances since it was much easier to convey ideas via words rather than gestures alone when writing a script. We all know the stories of what happened to many of the silent stars.
During the early 1920's she would have large meetings and social functions at what amounted to an Algonquin Round Table of Hollywood Women including directors, screenwriters, and actresses including the now almost forgotten Talmadge sisters.
The documentary talks about how all of this golden age of creativity in the film industry for women came to an end once the men realized that the film business was here to stay - about 1935, after the moguls had managed to make it through the transition to sound and the worst years of the Great Depression. Frances could have stayed on and done the clerical work MGM offered her after Irving Thalberg's death, but again, she worked on her own terms and decided to turn to sculpting and painting as an occupation rather than just correct the work of male screenwriters. She was already immensely wealthy and did not need the money.
I guess if I have one criticism of this documentary it would be how it gives a somewhat false impression of the friendship between Mary Pickford and Frances Marion. It says that the friendship changed and the collaboration ended after they both got married because before they were young single women and now they were married women - I'm almost quoting the narration. In fact, both Frances Marion and Mary Pickford were married women when they met. Frances was married twice before she met Fred Thompson, who most certainly was the love of her life. The first time was from 1906-1911, the second time from 1911-1917, so she was still married to husband number two when she met third husband Fred. Frances married a fourth time from 1930-1933, to George Hill, who directed several of her early sound films. All of her marriages but the one to Fred ended in divorce. This paragraph is not to criticize Ms. Marion at all. Her personal life is no reflection on her talent one way or the other, but this IS a documentary and it should stick to the truth. If the whole story is too complex to fit into the time allowed, then don't modify it for the purpose of romanticizing it.
Frances Marion shows us all what is necessary for success in any field in any age besides great talent - confidence, a willingness to make a gutsy move to prove yourself, loyalty to friends, and maybe, above all, likability, which Frances Marion surely had based on the memoirs of those who knew her. This documentary is definitely worth your time.
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