Levien, Sonya (1888–1960)

views updated

Levien, Sonya (1888–1960)

Russian-American screenwriter who won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Interrupted Melody. Born near Moscow, Russia, on December 25, 1888; died on March 19, 1960, in Hollywood, California; graduated from New York University with a law degree; married Carl Hovey, in 1917; children: two, including daughter Tamara Gold Hovey (a screenwriter and biographer).

Filmography as writer or co-writer:

Who Will Marry Me? (1919); Cheated Love (1921); First Love (1921); The Top of New York (1922); Pink Gods (1922); The Snow Bride (1923); The Exciters (1923); Salome of the Tenements (1926); The Princess of Hoboken (1927); The Heart Thief (1927); A Harp in Hock (1927); A Ship Comes In (1928); The Power of the Press (1928); Behind That Curtain (1928); Lucky Star (1928); The Younger Generation (1928); Trial Marriage (1928); They Had to See Paris (1928); South Sea Rose (1928); Frozen Justice (1928); Song o' My Heart (1930); So This Is London (1930); The Brat (1930); Surrender (1930); She Wanted a Millionaire (1932); After Tomorrow (1932); State Fair (1933); Warrior's Husband (1933); Berkeley Square (1933); Mr. Skitch (1933); Change of Heart (1934); The White Parade (1934); Here's to Romance (1935); Navy Wife (1935); The Country Doctor (1936); Reunion (1936); In Old Chicago (1938); Kidnapped (1938); Four Men and a Prayer (1938); Drums Along the Mohawk (1939); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939); Ziegfeld Girl (1941); The Amazing Mrs. Holiday (1941); Rhapsody in Blue (1941); (remake) State Fair (1943); The Green Years (1946); The Valley of Decision (1946); Ziegfeld Follies (1946); Cass Timberlane (1947); Three Darling Daughters (1948); The Great Caruso (1951); The Merry Widow (1952); The Student Prince (1954); Hit the Deck (1955); Interrupted Melody (1955); Oklahoma! (1955); Bhowani Junction (1955); Jeanne Eagels (1957); Pepe (1960).

As co-writer with S.N. Behrman:

Lightnin' (1930); Liliom (1930); Delicious (1931); Daddy Long Legs (1931); Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1932); Tess of the Storm Country (1932); Cavalcade (1933); As Husbands Go (1934); Anna Karenina (1935); The Cowboy and the Lady (1938); Quo Vadis (1951).

Born in a small village outside Moscow in 1888, Sonya Levien immigrated to the United States with her parents when she was quite young. She received a law degree from New York University and practiced briefly before deciding on a career as a writer. Working as a journalist first, she was a staff writer for both Woman's Journal and Metropolitan magazines. In 1919, Levien's first screen credit appeared on the film Who Will Marry Me?

Levien worked as a journalist and as a freelance screenwriter, but in 1929 she seems to have given up journalism when she joined the writing staff of 20th Century-Fox. During this time, often called Hollywood's "Golden Age," the studios cranked out hundreds of pictures every year, and it was not unusual for writers to work on several movies simultaneously. As is the case with Levien, it is difficult to determine her exact contribution to a film because she was given co-screenwriting credit or sometimes no credit at all. What is clear is that she was a well-respected writer. In an interview conducted by Tina Daniell in Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist, Levien's colleague Marguerite Roberts said of Levien: "She was sweet, kind and simple and a damned good writer. She was also decent and not many people in the picture business were."

Levien left 20th Century-Fox in 1941 and joined the staff of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she worked until 1956. At both studios she was assigned to quality projects which allowed her to work with such notable directors as George Cukor, John Ford and Frank Capra. She won an Academy Award in 1955 for her work on Interrupted Melody. Starring Eleanor Parker , also a nominee that year, the film was based on the life of Australian opera star Marjorie Lawrence. In 1960, in a career that spanned 40 years, 72-year-old Levien received her final screen credit on the hit movie Pepe. She died that year on March 19 of cancer.


Basinger, Jeanine. American Screenwriters. Edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1984.

Ceplair, Larry. A Great Lady: A Life of the Screenwriter Sonya Levien. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996.

McGilligan, Patrick, and Paul Buhle. Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Variety: Obituaries, 1905–1986. Vol. 5. NY: Garland, 1988.

Deborah Jones , Studio City, California