A few years back, in a community college film class, I saw a documentary called Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood. The TCM-produced documentary was based on a book of the same name by film historian and Vanity Fair writer, Cari Beauchamp. It was about one of the most prominent screenwriters in early Hollywood, Frances Marion.
My impression of the industry up until that point was that it was always male dominated, at least behind the scenes. Nothing could be further from the truth as the early film industry was very much female driven. Prolific female filmmakers like Lois Weber, Alice Guy-Blache, Anita Loos and June Mathis were hugely successful.
But, there was something about Frances’s story which stood out to me. She started as a journalist in San Francisco and worked her way up as a writing assistant to Lois Weber, another prominent female filmmaker. Frances was also an actress in the silent days, something she definitely could have pursued given that she was gorgeous.
She wrote over 100 films and was the first screenwriter to win two Academy awards, one for The Champ and one for The Big House. But while all of that is amazing and super interesting, it’s her personal life which intrigued me the most. She was married twice before entering the industry and was on her own for the first time in her adult life at 26 years old.
At the forefront was her friendship with famous film star, Mary Pickford. They were first introduced by Owen Moore who was Pickford’s husband at the time.
Their mutual sense of ambition united the two women immediately and, although Mary was initially more reticent than Marion, they quickly established that they had both been married a few months shy of their eighteenth birthdays and shared a sense of failure in their respective marriages as well. – Cari Beauchamp, Film Historian
Their friendship was so close that Mary had it written into her contracts that Frances would write the scripts. They both worked hard and were very independent and driven. They went on to collaborate several times, making The Poor Little Rich Girl, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and The Little Princess.
She was a true film pioneer and wrote up until her death in 1973. She stood out as a writer among both men and women. We owe her a debt for paving the way and inspiring all the female filmmakers who have come after her.