Born December 1898, Gainesville, Texas; died 1988
Also wrote under: Margaret Grant, Franken Meloney
Daughter of Michael and Hannah Younker Lewin; married Sigmund Franken, 1915 (died 1933); William B. Meloney V, 1937
Rose Franken's parents were separated when she was a few years old, and her mother took the four children to New York City to live with Franken's grandparents and several aunts, uncles, and cousins in a large house in Harlem. She attended the Ethical Culture School, but, having failed a sewing course, did not obtain a high school diploma. At sixteen, she married a prominent oral surgeon 10 years her senior. Two weeks later, they learned that he was tubercular. Their first year of marriage was spent in a sanitarium.
To take her mind off constant worrying about her husband's health, Franken began writing short stories. After the publication of a novel, Pattern (1925), her husband suggested she try playwriting. Her first dramatic effort, Fortnight, was optioned but never produced or published. Her second play, first presented under the title Hallam Wives in a summer 1929 production in Greenwich, Connecticut, later became the very successful Another Language (1932).
After Sigmund Franken's death in 1933, Franken moved with her three sons to California. She married and collaborated with her second husband on a number of screenplays, then moved the family to a Connecticut farm. Using the pen name Franken Meloney, they regularly published novels and magazine serials, to which he contributed the plots and she wrote the dialogue.
Another Language is a comedy-drama about the dangerously self-righteous attitudes of a middle-class family dominated by a possessive matriarch who encourages their tasteless and materialistic instincts. When Franken brought the same family back to the stage in 1948 with her sixth and last professionally produced play, The Hallams, the characters had not changed.
Beginning with her dramatization of Claudia (1941), Franken directed all of her own plays. Her second husband produced her third Broadway play, Outrageous Fortune (1943), and all subsequent ones. The latter play departed from her established style by raising questions about such social concerns as homosexuality, the treatment of black servants, marital difficulties in middle age, and anti-Semitism. Despite misgivings about Franken's attempt to handle so many themes in one play, some critics believed it to be her best work for the stage.
Her "Claudia" novels, begun in 1939 as a series of stories for Redbook magazine, became the basis for a play, a radio series, and two motion pictures, and they were widely published in translation abroad. It was Claudia that made Franken's name familiar to the public for two decades. Beginning with the first days of Claudia's marriage at eighteen to David Naughton, the series of novels chronicles, with humor and sentimental appeal, the gradual maturation of a child-wife. Eternally artless, impulsive, and charming, Claudia comes to grips with such problems as hiring servants, testing her sex appeal, becoming a mother, shopping in a posh dress salon, and coping with her own mother's death. Although the Claudia novels rely heavily upon illness, accidents, and death for the emotional upheavals that lead Claudia toward increasing self-awareness, they are essentially the saga of a blissful marriage.
Referring to her 20-year involvement with Claudia, Franken wrote in her autobiography, When All Is Said and Done (1963), that "the sheer technical task of remaining within her consciousness became increasingly onerous and demanding." Franken, however, was able to draw upon her own notably successful marriages. Her particular skill as a novelist and playwright is the ability to inject sparkle into trivial nuances of everyday life, and to unfold a narrative action largely through dialogue. The formula is suggested in the second chapter of Claudia: "They were all bestsellers, but for the life of her, Claudia couldn't see why. She wished petulantly, that somebody would write a plain story about ordinary people like herself, with as little description as possible, and a lot of everyday conversation."
As an inexperienced screenwriter in Hollywood, Franken acquitted herself honorably for several years in that rarefied atmosphere, perfecting the formula for light fiction from which she later rarely deviated. The ease with which Franken achieved success as a writer of popular fiction and plays could well be attributed to the spontaneity and freshness of her style.
Mr. Dooley, Jr.; a Comedy for Children (with J. Lewin, 1932). Twice Born (1935). Call Back Love (with W. B. Meloney, 1937). Of Great Riches (1937). Claudia and David (1939, screenplay by Franken, 1946). Strange Victory (with W. B. Meloney, 1939). When Doctors Disagree (with W. B. Meloney, 1940, dramatization by Franken, 1943). American Bred (with W. B. Meloney, 1941). The Book of Claudia (containing Claudia and Claudia and David, 1941). Another Claudia (1943). Beloved Stranger (with W. B. Meloney, 1944). Soldier's Wife; a Comedy in Three Acts (1944). Young Claudia (1946). The Marriage of Claudia (1948). From Claudia to David (1950). The Fragile Years (also published as Those Fragile Years; a Claudia Novel, 1952). Rendezvous (English title, The Quiet Heart, 1954). Intimate Story (1955). The Antic Years (1958). The Complete Book of Claudia (1958). Return to Claudia (1960). You're Well Out of a Hospital (1966).
Mantle, B., Contemporary American Playwrights (1938).
American Novelists of Today (1951). CB (1947). TCA, TCAS
NYT (8 Jan. 1933). NYTMag (4 May 1941). Players Magazine (Spring 1974).
—FELICIA HARDISON LONDRÉ