cover image Without Lying Down: Screenwriter Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood

Without Lying Down: Screenwriter Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood

Cari Beauchamp, Author Scribner Book Company $29.5 (352p) ISBN 978-0-684-80213-8

Beauchamp seems betwixt and between. Is this a biography of Frances Marion (1888-1973), one of Hollywood's most prolific screenwriters, or a study of women in the early film industry? For the former, there is disappointingly little character analysis or, for that matter, information about Marion's non-film careers, such as journalism (she was one of the first female war correspondents). For the latter, there is little sociological or economic inquiry. Instead, Beauchamp's narrative of Marion's life is heavy on gossip, with as much about her famous friends--Mary Pickford, Louis B. Mayer and William Randolph Hearst, among others--as about her. Although the writer of such well-known screenplays as Stella Dallas and Dinner at Eight, Marion remains relatively unknown, a state of affairs not helped by the fact that she was frustratingly private, as Beauchamp admits in her notes. Beauchamp demonstrates how Marion's career as a screenwriter known for her clever plots and astute literary adaptations (Anna Christie, Camille) evolved with a changing Hollywood. She shows Marion's adjustments to market demands: from the silents to the experiment of the talkies to the squeaky-clean films demanded by the Hays Commission and the growing business of film promotion and distribution. Beauchamp's focus is the considerable emotional and professional support that Marion and her celebrated female friends offered each other. Beauchamp's portrait of Marion seems to reflect someone perfect, hardly human: ""Frances was a raving beauty and she was also very happily married and immensely successful and innovative in her work."" As a result, by book's end readers will have absorbed a lot of PG-rated tidbits about the wealthy in Hollywood but won't know Marion in any real psychological depth. (Mar.)