Cast & Crew
Documentary that explores the life and career of Frances Marion, the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood for nearly three decades and the first female writer to win an Academy Award. The program includes interviews with leading women in entertainment today, film historians and many of Marion's friends and associates.
Mary Lea Bandy
Eric Roy Anderson
Shannon Davis Forsyth
Hugh M Hefner
Glenn A Jordan
Carl H Lindahl
Without Lying Down -
It was the early days of Hollywood, where women like Lois Weber were more than just actresses; they were directors, producers, and screenwriters. Without Lying Down is primarily about Frances Marion, but it is also about the role of women in a business that was, and remains, dominated by men. Directors and writers like Callie Khouri, Martha Coolidge, and Fay Kanin are interviewed both about Marion and their own experiences as women in the film industry.
Frances Marion was born Marion Benson Owens in San Francisco in 1888, and grew up in a home that frequently had guests like writer Jack London and singer Enrique Caruso for dinner. After the earthquake and fire in 1906, Marion changed her name and struck out on her own as a photographer's model, but her artistic talent as a painter got her a job in Los Angeles, painting movie posters.
From her childhood, Marion had been a talented writer, and now that she was in Hollywood, she worked at night, creating film scenarios in the hopes of becoming a screenwriter. It was her good looks that got her into the business as an actress, but she wasn't interested in being in front of the camera. Meeting Mary Pickford, the woman who was to be her best friend and partner, would change her life. Pickford put Marion in A Girl of Yesterday (1915) as her costar, but Marion didn't want to act in the film - she wanted to write it. She realized that she "would have to shock the producers into paying some attention to me," so she went to New York, got some stationery from the very expensive Astor Hotel and wrote to producers, saying she would work for two weeks for nothing, and if they approved of her work, she'd accept $200 a week - this at a time when the average film scenarist made only $75. Her plan worked. Producer William Brady hired her to write over 50 films at his World Studios.
Mary Pickford was now powerful enough to demand the Marion write the scenario for her next film, Poor Little Rich Girl (1917) to be directed by Cecil D. DeMille. DeMille was used to having total control over everything and refused to give in to Pickford. He walked off the picture and was replaced by Maurice Tourneur, whom Pickford and Marion pestered into letting them add slapstick comedy. When the studio executives ran the film, they hated the mix of weird fantasy, slapstick and a definite rage against the greed of Wall Street. Adolph Zukor said that it was so "putrid" that he would rather shelve the film than damage Pickford's career. Marion later said, "It was our darkest moment." Zukor had to reverse his decree because exhibitors were demanding their promised Mary Pickford film. Marion and Pickford disguised themselves and watched a preview with an audience, literally sick to their stomachs. "Our names on the screen thumbed their noses at us. But soon we were awakened to the fact that everyone was laughing. At the end, applause sounded like thunder. Our hearts stood still." Poor Little Rich Girl was a tremendous hit. Pickford now had total creative control and Frances Marion would write for her, exclusively.
Marion was 28 and Pickford was 25. They were rich, successful, and at the top of their game. They lived two blocks away from each other, drove to work together and, over the course of two years, made 12 films that would become classics, including Pollyanna (1920) Stella Maris (1918), The Little Princess (1917) and M'Liss (1918). When the United States entered World War One, Pickford, her boyfriend Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and Marion's good friend Marie Dressler, went on war bond tours, while Marion went to Europe as a war correspondent. Shortly before she left, she was introduced to famous athlete Fred Thomson, whom she called, "the most attractive man I had ever seen. No one believes in love at first sight but it just happened to me." During the war, Thomson served in the military, and Marion was the first American woman to cross the Rhine River. The horrors and destruction she witnessed were "utterly beyond my powers of comprehension." She would never see the world quite the same again.
Back in the United States, Marion and Thomson were married, shortly followed by Pickford and Fairbanks, and the four honeymooned together. On their return, Pickford asked the non-actor Thomson to be her leading man in The Love Light (1921), a film that Marion was to direct, so that Thomson could spend more time with his new wife. The film made Fred Thomson a bankable actor, but Fairbanks was jealous of him and thought Pickford was playing her love scenes too well. Pickford, for her part, thought Frances Marion made her husband look too good in the film at her expense. The jealousies ended Pickford and Marion's professional relationship, although the friendship lasted the rest of Marion's life.
The marriage with Thomson, now the highest paid Western star, was a happy one. They collaborated on his films and had two children. Producer Irving Thalberg, the "boy genius" of MGM hired Marion to a long-term writing contract, allowing her to have a say in directors and casting. Her life was almost perfect - until Thomson's sudden death from tetanus, after being scratched by a nail. He died on Christmas Day, 1928. Frances Marion never remarried. She returned to work four months later, just as sound films were coming into prominence. MGM was worried about their biggest star, Greta Garbo. How would she sound in a talking film with her heavy Swedish accent? The only person Thalberg would trust to write Garbo's sound debut was Frances Marion. Garbo talked, and Anna Christie (1930) was a smash hit.
Marion continued to crank out hit after hit, like The Big House (1930), which she researched at San Quentin prison. There, she found herself the object of repressed ridicule, but she was undaunted. She observed and she listened to the way the prisoners spoke and turned that experience into a film that won Marion her first Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1930.
Marion would often create roles for her friends who needed work, like Zazu Pitts and Hedda Hopper, and had resurrected Marie Dressler's career with Anna Christie , at a time where Dressler, a former top star, was preparing to become a house cleaner. Marion's films helped make Dressler the top box office star in the United States during the darkest days of the Great Depression. Those films made MGM the only studio to stay in the black during the economic crisis.
Marion's career highlights included The Champ (1931), which respected film historian Kevin Brownlow said typified her total understanding of human relationships. The Champ made Marion the first person to win two Academy Awards, but it was the beginning of the end. MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer was jealous of Thalberg's success and thought that he was becoming too powerful, so he brought in his son-in-law, David O. Selznick, who was given free reign, and reduced Thalberg's output.
All of the Hollywood studios were cutting salaries by 50% because of the Depression. Marion didn't mind it so much for herself, but for those making the lowest wages. She and a group of writers formed the Screen Writer's Guild, and Marion became its first Vice President. To punish her for her union activities, MGM dropped her contract. Thalberg hired her back to work for his production unit, but while Marion was on a trip to London with her children, she received word that Thalberg had died of a heart attack at the age of 37 on September 14, 1936. Her plans to write, produce, and direct films died with him.
When the industry grew into a powerhouse, roles for women as anything but actresses dried up. As Leonard Maltin said, "People forgot just how strong a part they played in the early days." Marion was asked by Mayer to be a script doctor, but she refused. While she would occasionally work on films until 1953, the majority of her time was spent in a studio she built in her back yard sculpting, painting, writing novels and the first textbook on screenwriting, although she never wrote her autobiography. In 1973, she died of cancer at the age of 84.
Frances Marion once said, "I hope my story shows one thing: I owe my greatest success to women - real women who gave me aid when I stood at the crossroads."
By Lorraine LoBianco
Without Lying Down -
Without Lying Down (Review) - WITHOUT LYING DOWN: FRANCES MARION AND THE POWER OF WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD
Only recently have motion picture historians begun to recognize these women and how invaluable they were to many movie classics. Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood is a Turner Classic Movies documentary from 2000 that uses the story of one of the greatest screenwriters of either sex to illuminate the contribution of all women who work behind the camera. For those of you who missed it or would like a copy to keep, Milestone Film & Video has now released this special on VHS and DVD along with A Little Princess (1917) a feature-length movie written for Marion's friend Mary Pickford.
By the mid-teens Pickford had gained control over her movies and one of the smartest moves she made was to hire her friend Marion to write them. From 1916 to 1921 Marion wrote the films with which Pickford would always be associated such as Poor Little Rich Girl (1916), Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), and Pollyanna (1920). Marion's sure touch with humor was matched by her uncloying sentiment that delighted audiences around the world. She went on to become M-G-M's most valuable screenwriter, the only one Irving Thalberg would trust with such valuable properties as Anna Christie (1930), Dinner At Eight (1933) and Camille (1936). The Academy Awards honored her with Oscars for The Big House (1930) and The Champ (1931).
With Marion and almost everyone she worked with deceased, the makers of this documentary would expect to have trouble making this story relevant to modern audiences. Director and co-writer Bridget Terry, working with Cari Beauchamp, author of the a biography of Frances Marion, deftly sidestepped the problem by having current women filmmakers such as Martha Coolidge (Rambling Rose) and Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) discuss what it means to be a woman working in such a male-dominated industry. Clever editing of stills and film clips with narration by Uma Thurman and Marion's own recollections read by Kathy Bates make this story of early Hollywood fresh and always interesting.
A Little Princess (1917), the Mary Pickford feature that accompanies the special, is a perfect example of what made Pickford so popular. Sentiment, humor and fantasy intertwine in the story of a rich girl left at an English boarding house by her father while he serves in India. She makes friends by concocting elaborate stories of slave girls. Also in the cast is nineteen-year old Zasu Pitts in her screen debut. The director is Mickey Neilan who crafted Pickford's best performances. Neilan's well-known problems with alcohol led him to be absent for a couple of days of the shoot. His place was taken by his assistant director, Howard Hawks (Bringing Up Baby, The Big Sleep) in his first work as director.
Milestone's presentation is a great celebration of women's talent in moving pictures and the entertainment apparent in both these films leaves no doubt they have mastered the art.
For more information about Without Lying Down, visit Milestone Films. To purchase a copy of Without Lying Down, visit TCM's Online Store.
by Brian Cady