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Frederica Sagor Maas 1900-2012

16 01 2012

Usually when someone is a super-centenarian (110+), that is their biggest claim to fame.  However, for Frederica Sagor Maas, she was also a trail blazing female screenwriter in early Hollywood.

Born on July 6, 1900, Frederica Sagor obtained a degree in journalism from Columbia University before taking a position as a story editor for Universal Pictures, and then as a screenwriter for Preferred Pictures in 1924.  Two of her most prominent titles were the Clara Bow and Garbo vehicles The Plastic Age and Flesh and the Devil.  Following solid work in the industry for several years, like many in the silent era, her workload declined in the 1930s.  Her last credit was for The Shocking Miss Pilgrim was in 1947.

She married fellow screenwriter, Ernest Maas, in 1927; the couple would remain married until his death in 1986 at the age of 94.  After many rejections of both her and her husband’s screenplays, coupled with the stock market crash of 1929, Maas and her husband became disillusioned and impoverished.  Eventually, however, she started a second career as a stenographer for an insurance agency, in time moving to the role of adjuster due to “adjusting” her age by 10 years on her resume.

Never one particularly fond of the movie industry or how it treated its employees, she wrote her tell all memoir “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim” in 1999 at the age of 99.  Perhaps her greatest feeling of satisfaction was being able to tell her story and knowing that all those that did her wrong or whom she despised were in the ground.  In an interview with Salon in 1999, she said, “I can get my payback now. I’m alive and thriving and, well, you S.O.B.’s are all below.”

It is with some personal sadness to hear of Frederica’s passing last week at the age of 111.  In 2008, I contacted her about the possibility of doing an extensive on camera interview about her life and times in Hollywood.  I was contacted back by her niece, Phoebe, who told me that, though Frederica’s mind was sharp many days, that would be a taxing thing for her and that some days were better than others.  Being 108 at the time, that is not a shocker at all and I completely understood.  I further found out that famed film historian Kevin Brownlow had beat me to the chase so to speak by doing a series of interviews with Maas in 1999, though I don’t know that any of the footage has been released or used as of this time.  I’m sure Mr. Brownlow is waiting for the most opportune medium to present the footage.

Though we didn’t end up doing an interview, Frederica’s niece Phoebe was extremely kind and said there were several boxes full of correspondence and other items from Maas’s time in Hollywood that she would be happy to look through if any of the information was helpful for any of my writing efforts.  Furthermore, nearly a year later, Phoebe sent me a wonderful article from the San Diego Times regarding Frederica’s solidification as one of the oldest inhabitants of California.  I sent a gracious “thank you” note and Christmas card that year.  According to Phoebe, Frederica was ready for her time to come; after a certain age, it becomes difficult to go on when all your friends, family and loved ones are gone and it’s hard to do the things you once loved.  Though it’s always tough to see someone go, I’m sure Frederica is at peace now with her husband and other friends and family with an eternally youthful mind and body.  We are so lucky, as a film historian community, to have had someone with her knowledge so willing to share her experiences and stories of that early time in cinema’s history.

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