Booth, Margaret

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BOOTH, Margaret

Editor. Nationality: American. Born: 1898; sister of the actor Elmer Booth. Career: Entered films as "joiner" for Griffith; then worked in Paramount Laboratories; 1921—assistant editor for Mayer (later MGM); 1939–68—supervising film editor, MGM. Awards: Special Academy Award, 1977.

Films as Editor:


Why Men Leave Home (Stahl) (co); Husbands and Lovers (Stahl) (co)


Fine Clothes (Stahl) (co)


Memory Lane (Stahl); The Gay Deceiver (Stahl)


The Enemy (Niblo); Bringing Up Father (Conway); Lovers? (Stahl); In Old Kentucky (Stahl) (co)


Telling the World (Wood) (co); The Mysterious Lady (Niblo); A Lady of Chance (Leonard)


The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Brabin); Wise Girls (Kempy) (Hopper)


The Rogue Song (L. Barrymore); Redemption (Niblo); Strictly Unconventional (Burton); The Lady of Scandal (The High Road) (Franklin); A Lady's Morals (The Soul Kiss; Jenny Lind) (Franklin)


New Moon (Conway); The Southerner (The Prodigal) (Pollard); It's a Wise Child (Leonard); The Cuban Love Song (Van Dyke); Five and Ten (Daughter of Luxury) (Leonard);Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise (The Rise of Helga) (Leonard)


Lovers Courageous (Leonard); Smilin' Thru (Franklin); Strange Interlude (Strange Interval) (Leonard); The Son-Daughter (Franklin)


White Sister (Fleming); Peg o' My Heart (Leonard); Storm at Daybreak (Boleslavsky); Bombshell (Fleming); Dancing Lady (Leonard)


Riptide (E. Goulding); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin)


Reckless (Fleming); Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd)


Romeo and Juliet (Cukor)


Camille (Cukor)

Films as Editorial Supervisor:


A Yank at Oxford (Conway)


The Owl and the Pussycat (Ross); To Find a Man (Huston)


Fat City (Huston)


The Way We Were (Pollack)


The Sunshine Boys (Ross); The Black Bird (Giler) (uncredited)


Murder by Death (Moore)


The Goodbye Girl (Ross)


California Suite (Ross)


Chapter Two (Moore) (+ assoc pr)


Seems Like Old Times (Sandrich) (+ assoc pr)


Annie (Huston)

Other Films:


The V.I.P.s (Asquith) (prod adviser)


The Cheap Detective (Moore) (assoc pr)


The Toy (Donner) (assoc pr)


The Slugger's Wife (Ashby) (exec pr)


By BOOTH: articles—

Film Weekly (London), 9 October 1937.

"The Cutter," in Behind the Screen, edited by Stephen Watts, London, 1938.

Focus on Film (London), Summer/Autumn 1976.

On BOOTH: articles—

Film Comment (New York), March/April 1977.

American Cinemeditor (Los Angeles, California), Spring/Summer 1977.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), October 1979.

Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1982.

* * *

Margaret Booth was one of the great film editors in Hollywood history. She started out as a patcher (film joiner) for D. W. Griffith and ended her career some 60 years later as one of the true insiders at MGM. The classic Hollywood film is surely defined by its characteristics of editing. Booth was one of the innovators who shepherded the classic Hollywood editing style through the coming of sound, color, and wide-screen.

Like many of her contemporaries, Booth joined the American film industry without any formal training. She took her first job with D. W. Griffith's company right out of high school. She then moved to Famous Players and the Mayer studios. By the early 1930s she ranked as one of the top editors at MGM. In 1939 she was appointed MGM's supervising film editor, a position she held until the studio collapsed in 1968.

Booth was, if anything, a survivor. Once she left MGM, she began to work as a freelance editor on such 1970s blockbusters as The Way We Were, The Sunshine Boys, and Murder by Death. She was one of those rare individuals whose career encompassed the history of Hollywood from its beginnings through the studio years into the age of television.

There have been few opportunities for women behind the camera in Hollywood. "Film editing," noted the New York Times in 1936, "is one of the few important functions in a studio in which women play a substantial part." And at MGM Booth was able to advance in the ranks so that she held a position of substantial creative power in the 1930s and 1940s. Her patron was Louis B. Mayer himself, for Booth had worked as a secretary with the old Mayer studio before it ever merged into MGM.

Booth's career neatly divides into two parts. During the first, up through her appointment as head of editing at MGM, she cut many a noted film. These include a number of MGM classics: The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Romeo and Juliet, and Camille. Somewhat surprisingly for one with so much industry power and influence, Booth received only one Academy Award nomination for film editing. This was for the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. She did not win the award. However it should be noted that Booth did get an Honorary Oscar in 1977 to denote "sixty-two years of exceptionally distinguished service to the motion picture industry as film editor."

In the second half of her career Margaret Booth worked strictly as an editing supervisor. In her own words she did no actual editing for 30 years. But she assigned those who did, and approved their work and performance. As such she held immense power and continued the tradition of a style of classic editing for which Hollywood films of the studio years have now become famous. All filmmakers from the late 1930s through the late 1960s who worked at MGM had, in the end, to go through Booth to have the final editing of sound and image approved. Thus for three decades she represented one of the truly important but relatively unknown powers in the history of Hollywood filmmaking.

—Douglas Gomery

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