Picks and Pans Review: Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood
Frances Marion's reputation has faded along with popular taste for the sentimental weepers that she scripted for the legendary Hollywood studio moguls. But Cari Beauchamp's new biography of the highly paid and prolific screenwriter may restore some luster to a woman who was very much in demand from 1916 to 1946.
In a career that spanned the first silent films and, later, sophisticated comedies like Dinner at Eight (which Marion cowrote with Herman J. Mankiewicz), this energetic, resourceful and beautiful San Francisco native wrote 325 screenplays including Stella Dallas and Anna Christie, which brought her an Oscar in 1930. She tried her hand at directing, married four times, raised two sons, had a series of lovers and maintained long friendships with actresses like Mary Pickford and Marion Davies and writers such as Anita Loos and Adela Rogers St. Johns. Along the way she surmounted censorship, bias against women and the studios' insistence that their films have happy endings.
Though her portrait of Marion remains a bit sketchy, Beauchamp gives us a dense and panoramic view of the studio system, of early Hollywood society and the importance of female friendships in that fascinating era—the old-girl network that sustained a group of creative women through the infancy of American film. (Scribner, $30)