The main problem with the auteur theory that allows phrases like “Hitchcock film” to seep into our conversations is that it dismisses the work of the screenwriter who comes up with the theme, the plot, and the characters – or if they are adapting a novel, which themes, which plot lines and which characters they choose to include, combine or leave behind. The auteur theory is a false idea that grants all the credit for a film to one person despite our understanding that film is a collaborative medium. The films written and later produced by Joan Harrison prove this fallacy quite well.
Script contributor Dr. Rosanne Welch celebrates the female screenwriters who came before us with this month’s spotlight on prolific screenwriter and author Lorna Moon. Between her start as a Scottish author to her time as a Hollywood screenwriter Lorna Moon lived a life meant for the movies, yet no one has tackled her bio-pic yet.
In 1914 Phoebe Wolkind was born in New York City. She graduated from Hunter College and worked as a counselor at a summer camp where she met Henry Ephron, a stage manager for famous playwriting team George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. They married in 1934 and shortly thereafter they began writing together after encouragement from Kaufman and Hart.
Yet, it was not until after the birth of their first daughter, Nora, in 1942 that something they wrote, Three’s a Family, found financial backers for a Broadway production. Notably, it began their habit of using personal family experience in their stories. Three’s a Family ran for over a year. Rather than adapting their own play, RKO Studios hired Phoebe and Henry to adapt The Richest Girl in the World, a play by Norman Krasna, turning it into the film Bride by Mistake. With that assignment, they moved to Los Angeles full time and on to a contract at Warner Brothers Studios, where they became adept at adapting plays and writing screenplays based on stories created by other writers, including Reginald Denham’s Wallflower (1948), a second Norman Krasna play, John Loves Mary (1949), and Look for the Silver Lining (1949).
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Then, of course, we were talking about Nora Ephron but before we get Nora Ephron — that’s her mother Phoebe Efron — was a film writer in Hollywood in the 50s with her husband right but she’s the one who gave her daughter the phrase “Everything is copy.” Whatever’s happening in your life write it down that’s gonna be good in a movie someday, right? So Phoebe did all these films we’re looking at here. They did largely adaptations of musicals but they were very — Phoebe and Henry Efrain. This is Nora when she was in college. She got herself a sweatshirt that said Girl Writer because she worked at a newspaper and that’s what they were. They weren’t junior writers. They weren’t journalists. They were the girl writers who wrote the girl stuff for the newspaper, right. Do she just blazoned that on her chest and said fine Then I’ll be a girl writer right? I think it’s cute because you notice when we move into the television world that’s Madeline Pugh who wrote almost all of the I Love Lucy’s together with her male partner Bob Carol who she wasn’t married to and she called herself a girl writer. That’s all you were back in the day even though you invented Lucy for heaven’s sakes.
Dr. Rosanne Welch discusses the women in her new book “When Women Wrote Hollywood” which covers female screenwriters from the Silents through the early 1940s when women wrote over 50% of films and Frances Marion was the highest paid screenwriter (male or female) and the first to win 2 Oscars. Yet, she fails to appear in film history books, which continue to regurgitate the myth that male directors did it all – even though it’s been proven that the only profitable movies Cecil B. de Mille ever directed were all written by Jeannie Macpherson film ever won for Best Picture was written by Robert E. Sherwood (who people have heard of, mostly due to his connection to Dorothy Parker) and Joan Harrison.