MARY C. MCCALL, Behind the Scenes

Enjoying  the western, Ride The Man Down (1952, Rod Cameron, Ella Raines), I was interested to see the script was by Mary C. McCall (1904-1986) who was new to me.
In 1932, this writer had her first novel, “The Goldfish Bowl” purchased by Warner Brothers. She was hired on a 10 week contract to write Street of Women(Kay Francis).

(‘The Goldfish Bowl’ was filmed as It’s Tough  to Be Famous, with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,though Mary didn’t get to do the script.)

By 1934 she had a long term contract with Warners and she became active in the Screen Writers Guild, helping secure the Guild’s first contract with the studios and a wage minimum increase from $40 to $125 per week for writers in 1942.

She was the first female president of the Screen Writers Guild ,1942-44. In the 1930s  and 40s, MGM had nearly 50 full time writers, and 25% were women.

 

Also know as Mary McCall Jr. her  most famous  scripts , which resulted in a long running series , happened when she adapted a novel, ‘Dark Dame’ into  Maisie in 1939.

 

Prior to Maisie at MGM,  she also wrote at Columbia for three years. When she scripted Craig’s Wife , director Dorothy Arzner  had Mary on the set for consultation. Having the writer on set was unheard of and Mary said it was a great experience.
The photo below is rare , showing 4 of the women involved in the film:

Viola Lawrence (editor), Rosalind Russell, Mary McCall, Dorothy Arzner.

(Viola Lawrence (1894-1973) was active from 1917 and worked at Columbia from 1931 to 1960, becoming their head editor. She edited Only Angels Have Wings, Cover Girl, In a Lonely Place.)

 

(Later remade as Harriet Craig with Joan Crawford.)

There’s a good print of Craig’s Wife on You  Tube and I watched it for the first time – and was very impressed. Much preferred it to the Joan Crawford remake. Rosalind Russell proving what a fine actress she was as the cold, manipulative wife of John Boles who adores her though all she cares about is her status in society and her house. And finally that’s all Harriet Craig has – the house . Everybody leaves her. Nice to see Alma Kruger in a sympathetic role as Craig’s aunt who finally tells him what she really thinks of his wife.
Jane Darwell  also very good as the housekeeper  and Billie Burke as a kindly neighbour. Thomas Mitchell has a small but crucial role at the beginning of the film.

Interesting too to see Raymond Walburn , as a friend of Craig’s, not his usual bumbling,comic character.
And Bess Flowers too!
By the way, I thought John Boles played the husband very well though his realisation that his wife doesn’t love him came rather suddenly.

John Boles, Rosalind Russell

 

Rosalind Russell, Jane Darwell

 

 

On the set with director Dorothy Arzner, Billie Burke, Rosalind Russell.

 

In addition to 8 Maisie screenplays, Mary scripted Dr. Socrates, A Slight  Case of Murder , Panama Hattie, Keep Your Powder Dry, The Fighting Sullivans.

For The Fighting Sullivans in 1944, Mary got $15,000 and 5% of the producers’ profits. Her salary by 1945 was $3,000 per week, putting her in the top tier of screenwriters.

 

 

 

Mary was very active in the Screen Writers Guild and in politics generally. According to J.E. Smyth, author of “Nobody’s Girl Friday” (2018), Mary was fired  by Warner Brothers in 1936 for union activities.
Mar’s first husband, Dwight Franklin was a costume designer and her second husband David Bramson was also a writer. She had four children and in 2017, her two daughters Mary- David and Sheila discussed their mother’s career after a screening of Craig’s Wife at the Screen Writers Guild  Foundation .

Although exonerated by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954, her name was listed in the publication, Red Stars in Hollywood and work dried up.
She worked briefly on television on shows like Sea Hunt, I Dream Of Jeannie.

I’m still reading J.E.Smyth’s book, Nobody’s Girl Friday ( which is subtitled ‘The Women Who Ran Hollywood‘,)  and look forward to finding out more about the few women behind the scenes during the studio system.
They didn’t run Hollywood but when given the chance, their contribution added a lot to the classic films we love. People like Mary C.McCall deserve more than a footnote in Hollywood history.

On the book’s cover is Barbara McLean(1903-1996) who was chief editor at Twentieth Century Fox. She edited The Rains Came, All About Eve, The Robe and won an Oscar for Wilson (1944).

Half of her editing output was for director Henry King’s films including one  of my favourites , Twelve O’ Clock High.

6 responses »

  1. Fascinating post. I watched Craig’s Wife recently as I am a big fan of the remake and thought it would be interesting to compare them. The main difference is a murder-suicide subplot which was eliminated from the Crawford version. Two other prominent writers were Virginia Van Upp and Lenore Coffee.

    • It’s always interesting to compare two films with same basic plot. Rosalind was only 29 at the time of filming but managed to appear older.

    • Thanks, Patricia. I just watched Craig’s Wife a second time, there is so much in it .
      I’m hoping I’ll get some interesting insights in J.E. Smyth’s book.

  2. I also watched it again. The character of the aunt was also eliminated in the remake and a subplot, not in the play, was added in which the husband has a job offer in Japan which Harriet does her best to spoil!

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