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text 2015-03-08 20:17
Reading in Progress: Without Lying Down - Just One More Quote
Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood - Cari Beauchamp

I know I'm enjoying a book when I have the urge to tell someone "oh this bit, check this out, isn't this fun?!" Plus this quote gives you an idea of Marion being a normal woman, as well as understanding how women think differently. Neat story all round.


Backstory: Marion is on her third husband (she's in her 20s), and totally in love and happy - they both have careers in film, they both love each other's intelligence, all the good stuff. But she has eyes, and this sense of humor. (Never fear, she's not the type to have an affair - that's not where this goes. Her current husband, Fred Thomson, is a former Olympic calibre athlete/Presbyterian army chaplain turned cowboy star. Yes, his biography is just as interesting as that sounds.)


Marion is working for Goldwyn on the 1926 film The Winning of Barbara Worth. (Ebook here!) Goldwyn's secretary asks Marion to see if she can't put in a good word for the secretary's boyfriend, as he's trying to get one of the parts in the film. (Also backstory: Hopper has been a friend of Marion's for years. Which is how she knows Marion's reaction in this story.)


p. 182-183: 

“At six foot four, with brown hair and chiseled if irregular features, the young man appealed to Frances immediately. Hedda Hopper claimed that he was so “her type” of man that when Frances first saw him standing against the wall of the studio building, “she gave him a second look and as she went through the door, even risked a third.”


[The actor boyfriend had sent a screentest for the part but the male execs didn’t think much of it.]


...Frances concluded it was because male stars still tended to be “pretty boys”; the director and producer didn’t think women would be attracted to what she was the first to admit was a “gaunt, slow moving self conscious young man.” But knowing how both she and Sam’s secretary reacted to him, Frances suggested organizing a screening of his and other actors’ tests in front of a group of female office workers at the studio. The immediate response from their collective libido proved that the two women were not alone and Frank Cooper, changing his first name to Gary so that he would not be confused with another actor with the same name, was hired at fifty dollars a week.


...Yet when she viewed the daily rushes, Frances suddenly realized they had a problem on their hands.


“This guy is going to steal the picture,” Frances announced to King and Goldwyn after watching Gary Cooper’s dramatic portrayal of an exhausted man collapsing.“


While Cooper had a somewhat awkward time learning to act, he had improved so quickly (and took to direction so well) that Marion had to write him out of a later scene or he would have been mistaken for the hero of the film. And of course Cooper went on to become a major star quickly after that. Goldwyn was mocked by the industry for not giving him the salary raise Cooper asked for - Paramount snapped him up days later.


I did have to eyeroll at the concept of two men being so completely sure they knew what type of man all women would and wouldn't find attractive. (Not to mention that Marion had to get backup responses - but the way she chose to do this was brilliant - using women already working for the studio.) Again, this sort of thing didn't end in the 1900s - and it works for all genders really. We've all heard varions of (mix the genders as you will, or substitute your own): "Wait, women/men like him/her?! Why?! Ugh, not attractive at all."


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text 2015-03-08 17:51
Reading in Progress: Without Lying Down by Cari Beauchamp
Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood - Cari Beauchamp

Once again I'm having fun with multiple-book-juggling! I now have three sometimes-overlapping book reading needs:

1) commute reads: reading for the train, can't be too engrossing or I'll miss my stop (I am NOT exaggerating about that),

2) evening reads: something I can put down easily so I can remember to get sleep, and

3) paper books that aren't portable and have to be read at home.


Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood is in the third category because it's just heavy enough to be a pain to carry, along with all the other items I'm toting to and from work. At the moment it's also an evening read, but that's a problem because I'd classify it as almost too interesting.


Wikipedia: Frances Marion


[On the book cover Marion is on the right and the woman on the left is Mary Pickford.] 


It's completely normal to have never heard of Frances Marion. The only reason I have is because I studied film history, and because I've read a handfull of books about women writers in the 1920s. Marion was one of many writers who wasn't exactly part of the Algonquin Round Table but was tied to it by living at the hotel for a time and by knowing some of the "members." (It wasn't exactly an official club.) She was also conscious that she wasn't really part of "that crowd" because her writing was often dismissed because it was only for film. Even today some people consider writing for film/television/etc. not "real" writing. (I am soooo into scare quotes suddenly, yerg.)


The one thing that you find over and over is how many witty, bright, and interesting women writers were involved in the magazine and film writing industries in early 1900s America. This isn't the first book I've read to posit that one reason women were able to be taken (somewhat, for the times) seriously in these fields was because of how disreputable the business was - women were let in because no one was taking those fields seriously. Because no one respected writers. There's a weird myth of that being a respected career, and that's never been the case. There's a very narrow field of Writers of Literature that got some respect, as well as certain types of academic writing - but there were thousands of other writers making a living who weren't considered valuable members of society, or even artists. And whose names we don't know today. If you think anything has changed, go read interviews of writers working in the film and television industry. Not the ones whose names you've heard of - again, that's a very small, select group. Most screenwriters are rarely are known by name and are just as disposable to the studios now as those writers in the 1900s. Something doesn't work? Fire the current writer and bring in someone else.


What I love about Marion is her attitude. She can do it all - write, direct, produce, edit - and she chose writing as the thing that made her happiest. (Since she was pretty they tried to nudge her into acting - which she always knew wasn't her thing.) She kept control of her career by not signing up with just one studio, and instead freelanced so she could choose who she worked with and what projects. She managed to become one of the best known screenwriters of the time - a recognized name in the fan magazines and newspapers.


I haven't yet read to the part in the book where the entire film world undergoes a Big Change with the coming of sound. It's one of those earthshaking industry moments - like television suddenly competing with film (and film fighting back) or mp3s changing the entire music industry (and the music industry fighting back). I honestly love reading about these moments because

1) everyone in the industry always flips out about them initially (in extremely dramatic ways, because careers suddenly undergo massive change, businesses rise and fall, etc.) and

2) each one always makes the media more interesting for consumers and more complex for scholars/workers in that field.

And I do love a good, meaty history-of-tech story.


Oops, this was all leading up to a quote from the book - got a bit carried away with history squee. Well, I'll just pop that in after the break.


(Also WTF is this one week it's snowing us in and the coming week it's going to be 60 degrees?! And here I thought I was being overly careful bringing some summer clothes along with me. The US east coast is winning the changeable weather award - given by me - over west coast - well, for this season anyway.)

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text 2015-03-05 20:28
Snowed in with a Book!
Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood - Cari Beauchamp

We had a heads up it'd be bad today and so stayed home from work - but I didn't really think it'd be snowing ALL day. (Remember, I'm the person who's not lived in a place with snow for decades now. I've lived in Kansas and Massachusetts, but you grow out of practice with snow and stuff.) So I'm about to leave the computer and go back to where I spent my morning - snuggled up with a book under a blanket, with the curtain open so I can see the snow fall and appreciate what I'm not going to walk through outdoors. Also I have several Cadbury Creme Eggs. Am very pleased about this.


I'm assured that all of this doesn't mean we can't make it out of our area and in to work tomorrow, but I feel skeptical.


Have been hopping from this book about Frances Marion to various Le Fanu ghost stories. Ghost stories just go with snow somehow - if I had a fireplace with a fire they'd be perfect. But Marion - well, I'm quickly becoming a fangirl. She's very focused on pursuing her writing in a field that's new to her, and doing it by herself. Not to mention being divorced twice by her mid twenties.


In 1915 she participated in the march for suffrage parade in NYC - historical background:


PBS This Day in History

New York Historical Society 

(Both links have photos of the parade. Though not of the hecklers - it was not always a safe thing to take part in these, and in some cases there was violence. And the police weren't necessarily going to help out.) 

p. 55: "Francis and friends like Adela Rogers had marched in parades before, yet they nursed a nagging suspicion that women were "trading superiority for equality." Women had been voting in California since 1911 and it seemed such an "obvious right" it was almost insulting to have to convince others."

It's always good to remember that no matter the state of women's rights there were always times when practical women would ask "is this really necessary - it's clear we're capable." Also that, in the early days everyone still clung to the idea that "women are special" (the whole putting the gender on a pedestal, sacredness of motherhood, etc.) and that that attitude could be a positive. (Nope, for the most part it tended to be used to argue that women should stick to "their world" - meaning wife/mother/housekeeping.)


I also forgot the whole part about many states allowing women to vote in regional elections long before the national law passed. Which reminds me I have a paper book on women's suffrage I've been meaning to read. Meanwhile this book on Marion mentions SO many interesting women in the arts - and as usual I'm noticing  a lot of them don't have their own biographies. Not that I'd have time to read them all, of course.


Ok, off to my blanket and Cadbury eggs!

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review 2014-06-04 02:00
Review: Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her
Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her - Melanie Rehak

It's been very hard to write about this book and not make it sound sound like it's The Story of Mildred Wirt Benson. That's my bias right there - after reading so much about her (and then reading more online) I'm now a huge Mildred fan, and in the rest of this I'll have to try and restrain myself from just quoting Mildred's words and background info.

Now that I've confessed that up front, let me reassure you, this is not a book about just one person. This is a book filled with multiple biographies and chunks of US history - all of which are tied together by the Nancy Drew books.

The most biographical information is shared about:

Edward Stratemeyer: publisher who organized a "syndicate of writers." Stratemeyer would come up with the character names and book concepts, and he'd write plot outlines which would be assigned to various authors. Authors were paid for each book they completed and signed a form which gave all the rights to Stratemeyer Syndicate. All the books were published under pseudonyms and the company collected the royalties and answered the fan mail. (To be clear, no further money went to the writers, and they were told never to seek any public recognition for their work.)

Mildred Wirt Benson - the book covers her education and early life, and how she gradually learned to make a living from her writing. Because she needed money to support her family Mildred wrote throughout her pregnancy, and then while her husband was ill and then dying. By authoring books as well as working at the Toledo Blade (an Ohio newspaper) she was able to support her child after her husband's death. Mildred continued writing for the Blade into her 90s, dying soon after she'd handed in (what she didn't realize was) her last column.

Harriet and Edna Stratemeyer: Stratemeyer's daughters. The book covers their education and lives up to their father's sudden death in 1930s, when they were forced to take over management of the Stratemeyer Syndicate when a buyer couldn't be found for the company. Eventually Harriet became the sole manager of the company, and she took over all the plot outlines and finally the writing (via dictation) of the Drew books.

Nancy Drew - Edward Stratemeyer sketched out all the outlines for her early books, and Mildred wrote 23 of the first 30 (numbers  1-7, 11-25, 30 - to be exact). After 1953 Harriet, who had been writing the plot outlines as well as editing the Drew books for years, started both writing the outlines and the books. In later years Harriet became more and more fiercely protective of the character's image, possibly because publishers continually pushed to modernize her.

Issues the book touches on:

- women and college education (it was just beginning to be more "acceptable" for women to seek out a degree when Mildred and Harriet got theirs)
- women in the workforce before and after WWII
-women trying to balance demands of work with family life (this is not a new thing)
- the rise in popularity of children's/young people's literature
- parents/society leaders fear of children's literature teaching them bad lessons (1920s worry that books were having too much influence on kids reading them- does this sound familiar?)
- the publishing industry and payment of authors, use of pseudonyms
- changes in the publishing industry from 1930s to present day
- post war baby boom that created a huge audience of young readers
- change of Nancy through the years mirroring changes in women's lives
- Nancy Drew as a feminist icon/symbol
- power of fandom in re-publication of early, unrevised Nancy Drew books
- power of fandom in uncovering/popularizing Mildred's story

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