Badass Writer of the Week: Frances Marion

Frances Marion

Frances Marion

By Sean Tuohy

Have you ever encountered someone who has done so much in such a short time that you feel lazy and useless? That’s how I felt once I found about Frances Marion, one of the most successful screenwriters of all time. Marion was also a combat journalist, author, and playwright. She is credited with more than 130 scripts during the 1920s and 1930s. It takes a village to produce the Badass Writer of the Week post. Think about that.

Marion, born as Marion Benson Owners in California to a divorced couple, was known as a kid who did her own thing. At 10 years old, she was kicked out of school for drawing a “mean” cartoon strip about her teacher. At 16 years old, she went to art school and did, well, art school stuff. Marion became a combat reporter after the outbreak of World War I. You read that correctly, folks. She charged into battle armed with a notepad. As bombs fell from the sky and machine gun fire sliced through the air, Marion was reporting about the war.

After the war, Marion found herself in Los Angeles and was approached by a director to be an actress. Marion was a looker, so she became a hot-item actress for the booming film industry. However, she felt more at easy behind the camera. Hang on a second. If I were told I was good looking by someone in the field I wanted to pursue, my response wouldn’t be, “Eh, thanks, but I’ll just chill back here.” Just saying.

Anyway, Hollywood never won Marion over. She could really care less about the glitz and glamour of the city. For her, the city was just a place to earn a paycheck. Marion became the most in-demand screenwriter in Hollywood during the 1920s and 1930s. Every producer, actor, and director wanted to get her to pen a movie for them. “Anna Christie” was one of her most well-known works and was the highest grossing feature of 1930. The film also introduced Greta Garbo's voice to the world, so there’s that.

Nearly every movie Marion wrote became a blockbuster hit. In 1930, Marion was the first woman to win Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards for her script for “The Big House.” We all assume that Marion, with her distain for Hollywood, simply looked at the Oscar and then tossed it in the trash with a weak shrug of the shoulders. Marion ended up winning two Oscars in her career, another first in Hollywood.

By the 1940s, Marion grew bored with Hollywood and decided to leave. Also, she had made a ton of money and no longer needed the city. At the height of her career, Marion was pulling in $3,000 a week. Sounds good, right? Well, if you adjust for inflation, that total skyrockets to $40,648.08 in 2014. That’s nearly $2 million a year. That’s a lot of cabbage to walk away from.

Marion went on to work on stage plays and books. She passed away in 1972, a year after publishing her tell-all book about her time in Hollywood.

Throughout her life, Marion did what she wanted to do. She didn’t really care about anything else. Money, fame, respect, whatever. She just wanted to tell a damn good story and folks, that is what she did.