Without Lying Down

Frances Marion flourished during the silent movie era when actresses such as Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford, directors like Lois Weber, and screenwriters such as Anita Loos and Bess Meredyth had as much power as the men in Hollywood. Marion, born Marion Benson Owens in San Francisco, came to Los Angeles in 1912 and quickly evolved from artist to actress to screenwriter.

Marion wrote films for stars such as Gish, Pickford, Marion Davies, Ronald Coleman, Norma Talmadge, and Rudolph Valentino and worked with directors like Frank Borgaze, John Ford, and King Vidor. She had considerable control over her projects and even directed a few of them, but after MGM forced a happy ending upon THE WIND (1928), Victor Seastrom’s powerful melodrama with Gish, Marion saw the dwindling of her influence—and that of the other women who helped make Hollywood what it was. Even though she won Academy Awards during the sound era, for THE BIG HOUSE (1930) and THE CHAMP (1931), and worked on such classics as DINNER AT EIGHT (1933) and CAMILLE (1937), she was increasingly alienated by the assembly-line system of writing screenplays. Despite over twenty years of loyalty during tempestuous times, she was fired by MGM in 1946 and turned to painting and writing novels.

Cari Beauchamp provides a vivid picture of the early days of Hollywood. If she fails to paint a clear picture of her protagonist as a person, beyond the screenwriter’s sacrifices to her friends, Beauchamp excels at conveying Marion’s complicated, often frustrating, relationships with such powerful men as Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer, William Randolph Hearst, and Joseph P. Kennedy.