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I believe in comedies, in their social efficacy, in their value as entertainment. And I believe in compromise. . . . I believe that half a truth is better than none, that it is better to get some good stuff in a picture rather than a perfect script on a shelf. —Paul Jarrico, 1944 The newly married couple lived in a studio apartment on $100 a month provided by their mothers. Sylvia was taking psychology courses in preparation for her admission to the graduate program at UCLA. Jarrico was looking for a job. Fate intervened in the forms of Edwin Knopf, head of the MGM writers’ department (and brother of publisher Alfred A. Knopf); Rufus Von Kleinsmid, president of USC; and Frank Baxter, Jarrico’s favorite English professor. Knopf had asked Von Kleinsmid to send to him the names of graduating seniors with literary potential. Von Kleinsmid turned the assignment over to Baxter, and Baxter gave him four names, including that of Israel Shapiro. Jarrico was nervous about the approaching interview, especially when he learned that Knopf had been curt and almost insulting when he had interviewed Hal Smith, Jarrico’s college friend, just two days earlier. After the interview, Jarrico wrote, “I had thought that I was beginning to acquire a little poise, after all these awkward years—but I was nervous during that interview! With his secretary taking down my stuttered words in shorthand.” But Knopf was affable and friendly. He boasted about the uniqueness of MGM’s program (a long-term apprenticeship with an established 2 Screenwriting and Communism, 1936–39 writer) and asked Jarrico to send the studio some samples of his writing. The job paid $35 a week.1 In early August, Knopf wrote Jarrico that the junior writers’ department would not be making any further appointments. But, bitten by the screenwriting bug, Jarrico sent stories to Warner Brothers and RKO. He received rejections from both studios. In November, Knopf wrote again, saying Jarrico would have a job in the next week or so. Then, four weeks later, he wrote, “There seems to be little chance we can take you on.” Frustrated by what he considered a “stall,” Jarrico decided on a policy of “Hollywood or bust.” His vow was enormously aided when Hal Smith introduced him to Dore Schary. Schary, who had just been hired by MGM, had accumulated more than one dozen screenwriting credits from several major studios . He was also a politically active left liberal: he worked for the Anti-Defamation League and had campaigned for the reelection of President Roosevelt. Schary advised Jarrico to write an original script, because the studios would not employ him on “faith, hope, or charity.” Jarrico took the advice seriously, and he wrote Endfield, “I have been brooding about a detective story involving a professor of oriental civilization, and a chinese revolutionist, and a newspaper man taking graduate work in chinese and chinese civilization. Not being a detective story fan, I bogged down. Not knowing new ways to kill, I got stuck.” But he was forcing himself to write every day, which made writing easier, if not better. “Too often have I begun, only to quit because I was not in good form, or had nothing to say at the moment, or thought of something else to do. And every time I excused myself from writing, I became a worse writer. It is important to me that I keep this resolution, that I keep this pledge, no matter how disappointed I am in what I am writing.”2 Schary’s interest in Jarrico grew. He was, wrote Jarrico, “plugging me and the [manuscript], advising, correcting, telephoning, getting me appointments, and punching me in the ribs with the joke that says—I’m your pal. . . . I’m a little awed at Dore’s good fellowship . And if nothing came of it, I would still be thankful that guys like Dore are around.” The manuscript in question was a satire of the escape-to-the-south-seas dream, which Jarrico had developed into what he called “a fairly fresh comedy romance.” Schary arranged 26 SCREENWRITING appointments for Jarrico with RKO, Columbia, and Warner Brothers and put him in touch with Nat Goldstone, Schary’s agent. Al Lewis, a producer at RKO, asked Jarrico to come to the studio for an interview . Jarrico wrote Hal Smith, Before the appointment Dore pulled wires and found what the offer would be, coached me in the right answers. So when Lewis said “I like the...


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