Furthman, Jules

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Writer. Pseudonym: Stephen Fox. Nationality: American. Born: Julius Grinnell Furthmann in Chicago, Illinois, 5 March 1888. Education: Attended Northwestern University Preparatory School, Evanston, Illinois, 1904–05. Family: Married Sybil Travilla, 1921. Career: Magazine and newspaper writer in early 1910s; 1915—began writing film stories for American, Fox, and Paramount studios (used the pseudonym Stephen Fox, 1918–20); 1920–23—under contract to Fox, and later to Paramount, 1926–32, and MGM, 1932–39; then freelance writer; 1960—retired. Died: Of a stroke in Oxford, England, 22 September 1966.

Films as Writer (used pseudonym Stephen Fox, 1918–20):


Steady Company (De Grasse—short) (story); Bound on the Wheel (De Grasse—short); Mountain Justice (De Grasse—short) (story); Chasing the Limited (McRae—short) (story); A Fiery Introduction (Giblyn—short) (story); Little Blonde in Black (Leonard—short) (story); Quits (De Grasse—short) (story)


The Frame-Up (Sloman); Souls in Pawn (H. King)


The Camouflage Kiss (Millarde); More Trouble (Warde); A Japanese Nightingale (Fitzmaurice); All the World to Nothing (H. King); The Mantle of Charity (Sloman); Hobbs in a Hurry (H. King); Wives and Other Wives (Ingraham); When A Man Rides Alone (H. King)


Where the West Begins (H. King); Brass Buttons (H. King); Some Liar (H. King); A Sporting Chance (H. King) (story); This Hero Stuff (H. King) (story); Six Feet Four (H. King); Victory (Tourneur); The Lincoln Highwayman (Flynn) (adaptation)


The Valley of Tomorrow (Flynn) (story); Treasure Island (Tourneur); Would You Forgive? (Dunlap); Leave It to Me (Flynn); The Twins of Suffering Creek (Dunlap); A Sister to Salome (LeSaint); The White Circle (Tourneur) (co-adaptation); The Man Who Dared (Flynn); The Skywayman (Hogan); The Great Redeemer (Brown) (co-adaptation); The Texan (Reynolds); The Iron Rider (Dunlap); The Land of Jazz (co-story, + d)


The Cheater Reformed (Dunlap); The Big Punch (Ford); High Gear Jeffrey (Sloman); Singing River (Giblyn); The Last Trail (Flynn); The Roof Tree (Dillon); The Blushing Bride (+ d); Colorado Pluck (Colorado Jim) (+ d)


Gleam O'Dawn (Dillon); The Ragged Heiress (Beaumont); Arabian Love (Storm); The Yellow Stain (Dillon); Strange Idols (Durning); Calvert's Valley (Calvert's Folly) (Dillon); The Love Gambler (Franz); A California Romance (Storm) (story); Pawn Ticket 210 (Dunlap)


Lovebound (Otto); St. Elmo (St. Elmo Murray) (Storm); North of Hudson Bay (North of the Yukon) (Ford); The Acquittal (Brown); Condemned (Rosson)


Try and Get It (Tate); Call of the Mate (Neitz)


Sackcloth and Scarlet (H. King); Any Woman (H. King); Before Midnight (Adolfi); Big Pal (Adolfi)


The Wise Guy (Into the Light) (Lloyd) (story); You'd Be Surprised (Rosson); Hotel Imperial (Stiller)


Casey at the Bat (Brice); Fashions for Women (Arzner) (co-adaptation); The Way of All Flesh (Fleming); Barbed Wire (Lee); City Gone Wild (Cruze); Underworld (von Sternberg)


The Dragnet (von Sternberg); The Docks of New York (von Sternberg)


Abie's Irish Rose (Fleming); The Case of Lena Smith (von Sternberg); Thunderbolt (von Sternberg); New York Nights (Milestone)


Common Clay (Fleming); Del mismo barro (Howard); Ladron de amor (Cuando el amor rie) (Howard and Scully); Renegades (Fleming); Morocco (von Sternberg)


Body and Soul (Santell); Merely Mary Ann (H. King); The Yellow Ticket (The Yellow Passport) (Walsh); Over the Hill (H. King)


Shanghai Express (von Sternberg); Blonde Venus (von Sternberg)


The Girl in 419 (Somnes and Hall) (story); Bombshell (Blonde Bombshell) (Fleming)


China Seas (Garnett); Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd)


Come and Get It! (Hawks and Wyler)


Spawn of the North (Hathaway)


Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks)


The Way of All Flesh (L. King) (co-story)


The Shanghai Gesture (von Sternberg)


The Outlaw (Hughes)


To Have and Have Not (Hawks)


The Big Sleep (Hawks)


Moss Rose (Ratoff); Nightmare Alley (Goulding)


Pretty Baby (Windust) (co-story)


Peking Express (Dieterle) (adaptation)


Jet Pilot (von Sternberg) (+ pr)


Rio Bravo (Hawks); Girl on the Subway (Rich) (co-story)


By FURTHMAN: books—

With William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett, The Big Sleep (screen-play) in Film Scripts One, edited by George P. Garrett, O. B. Harrison, Jr., and Jane Gelfmann, New York, 1971.

Morocco and Shanghai Express (screenplays), New York, 1973.

With William Faulkner, To Have and Have Not (screenplay), edited by Bruce F. Kawin, Madison, Wisconsin, 1980.

On FURTHMAN: articles—

Présence du Cinéma (Paris), June 1962.

Koszarski, Richard, in The Hollywood Screenwriter, edited by Richard Corliss, New York, 1972.

Pennington, Renée D., in American Screenwriters, edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1984.

National Film Theatre booklet (London), April 1984.

* * *

Jules Furthman's output of film stories and scripts numbers something over one hundred projects, most of which were silent films that unfortunately no longer exist. Because so few of his early films are extant, Furthman's reputation as a screenwriter is somewhat unfairly determined by his later work in sound movies. His reputation is further restricted by the fact that he wrote for two of Hollywood's most famous directors, Howard Hawks and Josef von Sternberg, and their preeminence as moviemakers has greatly overshadowed Furthman's contribution to their collective projects.

Furthman began writing for films in 1915, and for the next dozen years he supplied stories and screenplays and occasionally dialogue titles for scores of silent movies, most of them westerns and run-of-the-mill romances and adventure films. His first major break came when he and his brother were involved (without credit) in writing the script for Josef von Sternberg's Underworld, a collaboration which continued on von Sternberg's next movie, The Dragnet, and on Thunderbolt which was filmed in 1929. Jules also wrote solo two additional von Sternberg projects, The Docks of New York and The Case of Lena Smith. All of these early von Sternberg films deal with the lower classes, often criminals, who eke out an existence in the "underworld" of American society. They most often focus on men and women who have endured hard lives but remain capable of warmth and love.

The second half of Furthman's collaboration with von Sternberg began after the filming of The Blue Angel in Germany when the director brought the star, Marlene Dietrich, back to America with him. Furthman was to script three of the six films von Sternberg and Dietrich made together in Hollywood: Morocco, Shanghai Express, and Blonde Venus. The first two were adventure films in which the character played by Dietrich, although used and abandoned by the central male character, followed him nevertheless into the dangers of the future. The third film also dealt with a self-sacrificing woman who falls from respectability to prostitution in order to finance an operation for her scientist husband, and after several plot twists is reintegrated back into the rather smug world of her family and husband. Although Dietrich became the focus of these films, as she was of von Sternberg's obsession, the scripts Furthman wrote remain remarkably unified. All of the scripts involve the discrepancy between classes and how traditional notions of morality determine such differences. In all cases the good/bad woman proves to be worthy of admiration because of her self-sacrificing nature and because of the basic purity of heart which she has retained although her life has been subjected to extremes of poverty and vice.

By the early 1930s Furthman was working at MGM, where he remained throughout the decade except when he was loaned out for projects at other studios. He won his only Academy Award nomination during this period for his work on the adaptation of Mutiny on the Bounty in 1935. In 1936 Furthman coauthored a script of Edna Ferber's Come and Get It! for Howard Hawks and William Wyler, which began the screenwriter's most memorable collaboration with a director. In 1939 Furthman again worked for Hawks and wrote Only Angels Have Wings, the first of their three major collaborations. Only Angels Have Wings was based loosely on Hawks's experience flying in South America and starred Jean Arthur and Cary Grant. It is one of the earliest of Hawks's adventure films in which a newcomer is initiated into a smaller group of individuals who are facing some sort of danger. Furthman repeated the situation in To Have and Have Not, a film he cowrote with William Faulkner based on Ernest Hemingway's novel. This plot format was repeated one more time by Furthman in his final script for Hawks, and as it turned out, of his career, when he wrote Rio Bravo, a western starring John Wayne, which also has an acknowledged relationship to the earlier von Sternberg film, Underworld.

In between working for Hawks, Furthman wrote one more film for von Sternberg, The Shanghai Gesture, a melodrama set in a brothel; and he also scripted Howard Hughes's notorious film, The Outlaw. Furthman also adapted Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep for Hawks, a successful vehicle for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall who worked so well together in To Have and Have Not. In all of these projects Furthman proved himself an adaptable and professional craftsman.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Jules Furthman has proved a difficult artist to categorize. Some critics have characterized him as the perfect Hollywood writer, self-effacing and undistinctive, one who could grind out dialogue and scripts to order; adventures, melodrama, love stories, westerns, it did not make any difference, Furthman could do them with efficiency and speed. Other film scholars have isolated what they describe as Furthman's distinctive talents which bridge various acting styles and directors to produce individual characterization and dialogue. It is too early for any sort of final judgment on Furthman's place in the Hollywood pantheon, but the controversy over his worth as an artist has stirred a healthy debate about the place of the screenwriter in the collaborative effort of film.

—Charles L. P. Silet