Writer, director, and actress and editor. Nationality: American. Born: Frances Marion Owens in San Francisco, California, 18 November 1890. Education: Attended Hamilton Grammar School; St. Margaret's Hall; University of California, Berkeley. Family: Married 1) Wesley De Lappé, 1907 (divorced 1909); 2) Robert Pike, 1910; 3) Fred Thomson (died 1928); two sons; 4) George William Hill, 1930 (divorced 1931). Career: 1909—reporter, San Francisco Examiner; then commercial artist, advertising designer, model, and poster painter for Oliver Morosco's Theatre; 1914—assistant to Lois Weber; 1915–17—writer for World Company Films (association with Mary Pickford), and Paramount; 1918–19—war correspondent in France; after 1920, wrote for Hearst's Cosmopolitan Studios, MGM, and Columbia; 1925—first novel published; 1940—retired from screenwriting; taught scriptwriting at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Awards: Academy Award for The Big House, 1930 and The Champ, 1932. Died: 12 May 1973.
Films as Writer, Actress, and Editor/Assistant Editor to Lois Weber:
False Colors; Hypocrites; It's No Laughing Matter; Like Most Wives; Traitor
Films as Writer:
Camille (Capellani); 'Twas Ever Thus (Janis) (+ ro); Nearly a Lady (Janis) (+ ro)
The Foundling (O'Brien); The Yellow Passport (August); Then I'll Come Back to You (Irving); The Social Highwayman (August); The Feast of Life (Capellani); Tangled Fates (Vale); La Vie de Bohème (Capellani); The Crucial Test (J. Ince and Thornby); A Woman's Way (O'Neil); The Summer Girl (August); Friday, the 13th (Chautard); The Revolt (O'Neil); The Hidden Scar (O'Neil); The Gilded Cage (Knoles); Bought and Paid For (Knoles); All Man (Chautard); The Rise of Susan (S.E. Taylor); On Dangerous Ground (Thornby)
A Woman Alone (Davenport); Tillie Wakes Up (Davenport); The Hungry Heart (Chautard); A Square Deal (Knoles); A Girl's Folly (Tourneur); The Web of Desire (Chautard); A Poor Little Rich Girl (Tourneur); As Man Made Her (Archainbaud); The Social Leper (Knoles); Forget-Me-Not (Chautard); Darkest Russia (Vale); The Crimson Dove (Fielding); The Stolen Paradise (Knoles); The Divorce Game (Vale); The Beloved Adventuress (Brady and Cowl); The Amazons (Kaufman); Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (Neilan); A Little Princess (Neilan)
Stella Maris (Neilan); Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley (Neilan); M'Liss (Neilan); How Could You, Jean? (W. Taylor); The City of Dim Faces (Melford); Johanna Enlists (W. Taylor); He Comes Up Smiling (Dwan); The Temple of Dusk (Young); The Goat (Crisp)
Captain Kidd, Jr. (W. Taylor); The Misleading Widow (Robertson); Anne of Green Gables (W. Taylor); A Regular Girl (Young)
The Cinema Murder (Baker); Pollyanna (Powell); Humoresque (Borzage); The Flapper (Crosland); The Restless Sex (Leonard and d'Usseau); The World and His Wife (Vignola)
Just around the Corner (+ d); The Love Light (+ d); Straight Is the Way (Vignola)
Back Pay (Borzage); The Primitive Lover (Franklin); Sonny (King); East Is West (Franklin); Minnie (Nielan and Urson)
The Voice from the Minaret (Lloyd); The Famous Mrs. Fair (Niblo); The Nth Commandment (Borzage) (+ artistic supervisor); Within the Law (Lloyd); The Love Piker (Hopper); Potash and Perlmutter (Badger); The French Doll (Leonard)
The Song of Love (Franklin) (+ co-ed); Through the Dark (Hill); Abraham Lincoln (Rosen); Secrets (Borzage); Cytherea (Fitzmaurice); Tarnish (Fitzmaurice); In Hollywood with Potash and Perlmutter (Green); Sundown (Trimble and Hoyt)
A Thief in Paradise (Fitzmaurice); The Lady (Borzage); The Flaming Forties (Forman); His Supreme Moment (Fitzmaurice); Zander the Great (Hill); Lightnin' (Ford); Graustark (Buchowetzki); The Dark Angel (Fitzmaurice); Lazy Bones (Borzage); Thank You (Ford); Simon the Jester (Melford) (+ pr); Stella Dallas (H. King)
The First Year (Borzage); Partners Again (H. King); Paris at Midnight (Hopper) (+ pr); The Son of the Sheik (Fitzmaurice); The Scarlet Letter (Sjöström); The Winning of Barbara Worth (H. King)
The Red Mill (Goodrich); The Callahans and the Murphys (Hill); Madame Pompadour (Wilcox); Love (Goulding)
Bringing Up Father (Conway); The Cossacks (Hill); Excess Baggage (Cruze); The Wind (Sjöström); The Awakening (Fleming); The Masks of the Devil (Sjöström)
Their Own Desire (Hopper and Forbes)
Anna Christie (Brown); The Rogue Song (L. Barrymore); The Big House (Hill); Let Us Be Gay (Leonard); Good News (Grinde and MacGregor); Min and Bill (Hill); Wu Li Chang (Grinde)
The Secret Six (Hill); The Champ (Vidor)
Emma (Brown); Blondie of the Follies (Goulding); Cynara (Vidor)
Secrets (Borzage); Peg o' My Heart (Leonard); Dinner at Eight (Cukor); The Prizefighter and the Lady (Van Dyke); Going Hollywood (Walsh)
Camille (Cukor); Love from a Stranger (Lee); Knight without Armour (Feyder)
Green Hell (Whale)
Films as Actress:
Caprices of Kitty (Janis); Betty in Search of a Thrill (Janis); A Girl of Yesterday (Dwan); City Vamp; The Wild Girl from the Hills; Captain Courtesy (stunt double)
By MARION: books—
Minnie Flynn (novel), New York, 1925.
The Scarlet Letter (script) in Motion Picture Continuities, by Frances Patterson, New York, 1929.
The Cup of Life (play) in Hollywood Plays, edited by Kenyon
Nicholson, New York, 1930.
The Secret Six (novel), New York, 1931.
Valley People (novel), New York, 1935.
How to Write and Sell Film Stories (nonfiction), New York, 1937.
Molly, Bless Her (novel), New York, 1937.
Westward the Dream (novel), New York, 1948.
The Powder Keg (novel), Boston, Massachusetts, 1954.
Off with Their Heads! (autobiography), New York, 1972.
By MARION: articles—
Film Weekly (London), 10 November 1935.
"Scenario Writing," in Behind the Screen, edited by Stephen Watts, London, 1938.
On MARION: articles—
Tully, Jim, in Vanity Fair (New York), January 1927.
Bodeen, Dewitt, in Films in Review (New York), February and March 1969, additions in April 1969 and August-September 1973.
Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.
Bodeen, Dewitt, in More from Hollywood, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1977.
Olin, Joyce, in American Screenwriters, 2nd series, edited by Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1986.
Berg, A. Scott, "Frances Marion: A Mediterranean Villa for the Oscar-winning Writer of The Champ," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.
Beauchamp, Cari, "Frances Marion: 'Writing on the Sand with the Wind Blowing," in Creative Screenwriting (Washington, D.C.), Fall 1994.
McCreadie, Marsha, "Pioneers (Early Women Film Script Writers)," in Films in Review (New York), November-December 1994.
Basinger, Jeanine, "The Women Who Write the Movies: From Frances Marion to Nora Ephron," in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (Abingdon), June 1996.
Beauchamp, Cari, "The Big House," in Creative Screenwriting (Washington, D.C.), Winter 1996.
Taubin, A., "Frances Marion and Her Circle," in Village Voice (New York), 24 June 1997.
* * *
Generally ranked with the leading screenwriters of all time, Frances Marion had more than 130 screen credits during her 25-year career, spanning the years 1915 to 1940, from the rise of the star-laden silent features to the height of the Golden Age of talkies. Her work encompasses such diversities as the 1915 Camille starring Clara Kimball Young and the 1937 Garbo version, A Poor Little Rich Girl with Mary Pickford in 1917 and Riffraff with Jean Harlow in 1935; but she was best known for her "four-handkerchief" pictures (StellaDallas, The Champ) and high dramas (The Big House, Dinner at Eight).
Marion arrived in Los Angeles from San Francisco in 1913 at age 23, twice married and divorced, talented and ambitious, having already worked as a journalist, artist's and photographer's model, commercial artist/illustrator, and writer of published stories and verse. She got into film work under a system that today would be called "networking," when her close friend Adela Rogers St. Johns introduced her to director-producer-writer Lois Weber, who took Marion into Bosworth studios as her protégée, doing a little bit of everything—acting, writing, cutting, publicity. There Marion met actor Owen Moore who introduced her to his wife, Mary Pickford. Marion and Pickford became and remained the best of friends, and frequent colleagues, for life.
If that sounds like the start of a heartwarming movie script, one could add other similar episodes. Friendship was one of Marion's special talents, so when Lois Weber died penniless and forgotten after a significant career, it was Marion who, at the peak of her own fame and fortune, arranged and paid for Weber's funeral. When Marie Dressler, another old friend, couldn't get work on stage or screen, Marion revitalized her career with lively hand-tailored scripts—and helped get her cast as Marthy in Anna Christie which Marion had also scripted. After that, there was no stopping Dressler, who consulted Marion at every turn. Among other close friends for whom Marion wrote scripts were Alice Brady, Elsie Janis, Billie Burke, and Marion Davies. She also wrote vehicles for Ronald Coleman, Rudolph Valentino, John Gilbert, and Wallace Beery, and helped discover Gary Cooper and Clark Gable.
Although by tradition Hollywood writers usually travel in their own circles, Marion also had many good friends among producers: William A. Brady, who gave her a writing contract at $200 a week in 1917; William Randolph Hearst, who let her direct her first film, Just around the Corner, in 1921; Joe Kennedy, who encouraged her third husband, the ex-chaplain and college athlete Fred Thomson, to star in westerns; Samuel Goldwyn, her favorite producer, who called her his favorite scriptwriter; Irving Thalberg, who over several years sought her advice on production problems and on other writers' scripts.
What distinguished Marion's scripts, according to DeWitt Bodeen (who researched and interviewed Marion in her later life), were her original characters with their dramatic but genuinely human conflicts, and her eye-minded stories, written always with the camera in mind. Her screenplays moved, and could be acted, Bodeen wrote. As one of the few scriptwriters who made a successful transition from silent films to talkies, Marion often wrote sequences without any dialogue, relying on pantomime (and the especially expressive faces of Garbo, Beery, and Dressler) to reach audiences more effectively than words could.
Soon after Marion started a long-term $3,500-a-week contract at MGM, as one of Hollywood's highest paid scriptwriters, tragedy came into her life: her husband died suddenly of tetanus, leaving their two young sons for her to raise alone. A later short-lived marriage to George W. Hill, a director-friend, was followed by his suicide a few years after their divorce. Already feeling vulnerable, as screenwriting was being handled more and more on an assembly-line basis, Marion decided that she would have to be a writer-director or writer-producer to maintain the integrity of her scripts.
She had already tried directing and it seemed to go nowhere. Following her first effort for Hearst in 1921, Marion had directed Mary Pickford in The Love Light. A few years later, when the film's director was too ill to work, Marion had finished directing her own script for The Song of Love, a Norma Talmadge production. But her efforts to produce her own scripts in the late 1930s and 1940s never got off the ground. She turned instead to magazine stories and serials. Her book How to Write and Sell Film Stories emphasizes visual over verbal communication, stresses simplicity and detail, colorful personalities, and everyday emotions. Her later book of reminiscences, Off with Their Heads!, tells more about her friends than about herself. She mentions merely in passing that she directed three films but writes nothing about her experiences or why she stopped.