The Shocking Miss Pilgrim
A Writer in Early Hollywood
Publication Year: 1999
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
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This is a hard introduction to write. Thirty years ago, when I started as a film historian, early Hollywood was dismissed as a place of sin and sacrifice, a modern Sodom and Gomorrah. One author called it Hollywood Babylon. I thought this obsession with the lurid overshadowed the important and often remarkable work being done at the...
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I would like to thank these family members. friends. and professional acquaintances for their gracious and very helpful support: my nieces. Roberta Torrance Tovar and Phoebe Torrance Simpson: my great-nephew Tony Tovar: my nephew Louis Maas: and my friend Margaret Lemky: Grace Houghton. director of Emprise Publishing. Inc.: Kevin...
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At a house party in November 1988, I happened to meet an eager young writer named Sidney D. Kirkpatrick. fascinated by Hollywood's lurid past. especially the silent era, he had just written a bestseller, The Cast Killers. I met him again a few weeks later, at Dutton's Bookstore in Beverly Hills, where the youthful author-celebrity was enjoying...
1 Family Roots
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My mother was a graduate of Moscow University in the early I 880s. She had also been a piano student at the Moscow Conservatory of Music and aspired to be a concert pianist until Anton Rubinstein, who was head of the conservatory and one of her teachers, told her that her hands were too chubby, her fingers too short, for...
2 From Columbia to Universal
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When I was seventeen. I was a freshman at Columbia University. on 110th Street near Broadway in New York City. All the boys I knew were either Over There or about to go Over There to fight Huns and save the world for democracy. Woodrow Wilson. whom I idolized. was president of the United States and was being blamed for
3 Story Editor
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Two weeks after becoming Universal's story editor. I had my first "downstairs" conference with the company brass. They had given me the job. and they would want to know what to expect. I had to prove that. despite my age. I had what it took to run a story department. I was equally determined to prove not only that I was qualified...
4 Purchase of The Plastic Age
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Shortly after my return from the West Coast. Universal decided to come up in the world. The company opened up spanking new offices on fifth Avenue near fifty-seventh Street in a brand-new thirty-some-story building where Universal occupied the ninth and tenth floors. The only flaw in this arrangement for me was that the new...
5 My Introduction to Hollywood
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A temperature of 101 degrees greeted me when I arrived at the Los Angeles station. The year was 1924. before the beautiful Union Station of today. with its Spanish tiles and flowered patios. was built. There was no one to meet me. Soon. my five suitcases and I were deposited in a cab. My destination was The Halifax. an...
6 Hollywood Parties
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Not knowing what being a screenwriter in films was going to be like, I had high aspirations and expectations. for weeks after I turned in my script on Dance Madness, I was deluged with stories, plays, and scripts and asked to read them. Most were garbage, plain garbage, and I said so. One or two had possibilities, but I never...
7 My Friend, Riza
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About this time, I received a letter from my dear friend Virginia Morris in New York. who was now handling publicity for Preferred Pictures. It referred to a young woman, Riza Royce, who had appeared in a New York play on Broadway and drawn the attention of J.G. Bachman, treasurer of Preferred Pictures. He had signed her to a three-month...
8 The Troublemaker
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In the Fall of 1926. I had a sudden and violent abdominal attack in the middle of the night. Doubled up with pain and not having a doctor of my own. I summoned Dr. James Reed. an orthopedic surgeon who ministered to the medical needs of half of filmdom. At Orthopedic Hospital. he diagnosed my distress as tubular reaction and indicated...
9 Meeting Ernest Maas
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The thought of spending the rest of my career writing flimsy fare like The First Night-to say nothing of contending with studio politics and the insanity of Hollywood life-had become unbearable. Perhaps. I reflected. my true vocation lay in writing novels and short stories and not in the movie business at all. The more I considered this possibility. the more excited I became....
10 Honor Among Thieves
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Ernest had a months reprieve from Fox, and we had planned our honeymoon carefully. After a week in New York and a week spent in train travel. we had two precious weeks left after returning to Los Angeles. The first thing we did was pick up Ernest's Chrysler roadster, which Lucy Carter had taken care of in our absence. My Moon...
11 The Maases Go to Europe
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Our decision at the end of June 1928 to go to Europe was a sudden one. Father had a younger brother in London. Uncle James. a bachelor and very. very rich (having invested heavily in African diamond mines). had been completely indifferent to the existence of his American relatives until this Frederica Alexandrina decided to...
12 "Swell Fish"
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Upon our return from Europe in September 1928. we expected to return to the West Coast. But that plan was altered when Ernest was offered a one-year contract at the Astoria Studios of Paramount to direct a feature film in the East. Walter Wanger was eager to challenge his West Coast adversary. Ben Schulberg. and expedite his...
13 The Depression Years
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We had our tickets back to California in hand. our goodbyes said to family and friends. our bags checked at the station. We were ready to board the Twentieth Century Limited at 8:45 A.M. With a few minutes to spare before our train left for Chicago. we stopped at a kiosk to buy a paper. They were sold out. Hefty...
14 Marriage in Crisis
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When we first moved back to New York, Ernest had looked up a good friend in charge of the New York office of the Hollywood Reporter. His name was Abe Bernstein. Abe had been Ernest's secretary when he founded his documentary company, Roycroft Productions. In the fall of 1934, Abe engaged the Maases to cover openings...
15 Motion Picture Peddler
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The last post I ever expected to fill was as a motion picture peddler. But that was what happened to me next. Arthur Landau, when dealing with literary material for the Edward Small Agency years back in New York. had handled the sale of Rex Beach's The Goose Woman. That deal netted him a handsome commission...
16 World War II
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Using the experience I had gathered as an agent. I was able to procure writing contracts at Paramount for Ernest and myself. Paramount had acquired a mass of story material that needed culling. and we were hired for the job at an inflated salary I was able to arrange. With this money we were able to acquire a house in the new...
17 The Desecration of Miss Pilgrim's Progress
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Immediately after the war we sold our house on Homedale. Mother Nature had treated us to one deluge too many. which. despite our new drainage system. once again wrecked our seven terraces and ruined our rugs and furniture. Enough was enough! We sold the house with all the salvageable furnishings (including my beloved...
18 Civil War Stories Are Out
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Despite what had happened with "Miss Pilgrim's Progress." Ernest and I continued to work on original stories. We had index boxes full of ideas. We wanted to see original movies that were good enough to be made into novels and plays. reversing the industry's procedure. We felt that the effect a best-selling novel or hit play has on...
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It was August 5. 1989. our sixty-second wedding anniversary. although our private little joke had always been to add on that extra year we had lived together in sin before we decided to make it legal. The taxi stopped and the driver helped me alight. I parted with ten fifty-cent taxi coupons from my Senior Citizen Coupon Taxi Book....
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Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 1999