Wednesday 30 July 2014

A spec screenplay, 1912

The stories came from everywhere, from gag-writing professionals, from the actors (Mary Pickford is credited with several), from Griffith himself. Some even came from the public. By now there were movie fan magazines, and Biograph, like other companies, ran a contest in their pages, offering a $100 prize and production for the best screen story submitted, the assumption being that anyone who'd seen a movie could write one. This ruse to get cheap material backfired; expecting one thousand entries, Biograph was flooded with ten thousand. There was no time or money to read them all, and besides they were either replicas of movies someone else had made, or if they were original, repeated the same story, invariably: an orphan boy or girl makes good.
    But the public finally came through—an unsolicited story dropped over the Biograph transom in 1912, titled The New York Hat, written by A. Loos. The story department, finding it cogent, witty, and entire, must have wept with relief. They bought it, and Griffith shot it with two leads, Mary Pickford in her last Biograph movie and a struggling painter named Lionel Barrymore.
                                          "What Happens Next," by Marc Norman.

Anita Loos (1888-1981) began writing as a child and by age 13 was already contributing stories and sketches to magazines. Her family moved to San Diego when she was a teenager, and she briefly acted in a theater company managed by her father.
    Loos went to work as a screenwriter while still in her teens, writing more than 200 movies that showcased such early stars as Douglas Fairbanks. But her real fame as a writer came in 1925 when she wrote a humorous novel called Gentleman Prefer Blondes, which she started while on a long train ride. She claimed she wrote the book, about scatterbrained blond gold-digger Lorelei Lee, as a spoof to entertain her friend, the writer and intellectual H.L. Mencken, who supposedly had a taste for brainless blonds. The book became an international bestseller, was printed in 14 languages, and ran through 85 editions. It was also made into a hit Broadway play in 1949 and a movie musical in 1953 starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, who crooned the famous tune "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."
    Loos, who stood less than 5 feet tall and weighed only about 94 pounds, wrote several other plays and a memoir of her days in early Hollywood.


And, if you're in the mood, here's Mary Pickford's color screen test.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Mary Pickford certainly knew how to use the screen. This neat drama may be influenced by an actress's values: the initial act of cruelty is the refusal to buy a new hat, the hat eventually cheers a girl grieving for her mother. But it works because the climax is the saving of a virtuous girl's reputation.