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.





JFK: The Movie and the Man

23 11 2011

Copyright 1991 Warner Brothers Pictures

Yesterday marked 48 years since that fateful day in Dallas where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza.  When possible, I mark the anniversary with a viewing of Oliver Stone’s 1991 epic JFK, a three-hour ode to the problematic points in the Warren Report and chronicle of New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) to set the records straight.  Unfortunately, this year I was able to screen the film for the anniversary, but may likely catch up a day late tonight.

Why do I screen this film almost annually in remembrance of a man who died 20 years before I was born?  The answer is simple: I believe that on that day an injustice took place in this country that destroyed the innocence of a nation and propelled a recovering country into a senseless state of war and social mayhem.  With current times seemingly reliving the unrest and anguish of the period after Kennedy’s death, it seems even more so fitting to celebrate the life of a man who wanted to avoid war, avoid discrimination and avoid social injustice.

Not only do I feel that Oliver Stone’s film is an important historical piece, but it is also a brilliant movie.  Rarely do you see a film so perfect, and I think the reason stems from Stone’s own personal feelings on the subject matter.  With an all-star cast, beautiful Oscar-winning cinematography and editing, JFK embodies all the elements that make so many question the “official” findings of the Warren Report, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting on his own volition, was the sole gunman from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository.  The film, as does the content, urges one to lift the veil from over their eyes and search for the truth.  One or two complications of fact doesn’t warrant a conspiracy, but when you have more contradictions than evidence on any subject, there can be no other way to classify it.

Over the years, I’ve collected quite a collection of books on Kennedy’s death from “Best Evidence” to a fine copy of the Warren Report itself.  Now, even 20 years after Stone’s film, it’s still hard to say whether we’ve come much further in regards to hard evidence on the case.  The real theme, however, of the film is to never give up.  When there is injustice, it takes those who seek the truth to hunt it down and right the wrongs, no matter the length of time passed, no matter the change of era.  As mentioned earlier, now is as good a time as any to carry such a mind set.  We live in times that could make or break our country, and no matter the cost, we have to be willing to fight for justice, equality and what is right.  As the age old quote states, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  This film professes that logic and is a great example of how a piece of filmmaking can invigorate and incite people to search for what they feel is right.





Barbara Kent: Last of the Silent Film Stars

21 11 2011

Barbara Kent (1907-2011)

With all the commotion in my personal life and relatively little amount of coverage it received, I just recently heard of the passing of Barbara Kent at the age of 103.  Her passing signifies the last living connection we had to the dawn of cinema, an era defined solely on the visual content of the medium.  There are a few child actors still alive as of this writing, as well as screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas who turned 111 this year, but Kent was the last adult silent actor still living, at least in regards to American cinema.

Born Barbara Cloutman in Gadsby, Alberta, Canada, on Dec. 16, 1907, she graduated high school from Hollywood High School and, subsequently, got involved in motion pictures after winning the 1925 Miss Hollywood beauty pageant.  Under contract to Universal Pictures, she mad a few appearances in uncredited roles, before making a strong impression as the protagonist, Hertha, in the 1926 Garbo vehicle Flesh and the Devil.  No Man’s Law followed in 1927 and created a bit of an uproar with a scene that looked like she was swimming in the nude, though it was later revealed that she was wearing a flesh colored bathing suit.

Also in 1927, she was selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of that year and would eventually make a smooth transition into sound films with the 1929 Harold Lloyd comedy Welcome Danger.  She further appeared with Lloyd in Feet First in 1930 and would continue to appear in various films sporadically until 1935.  Never wanting to become an actor, her interests in the profession waned dramatically in the 1930s and she would make her final appearance on film in Guard That Girl in 1935.

Kent married Hollywood agent Harry Edington in 1932 and remained married until his death in 1949.  She met and married Lockheed engineer Jack Monroe in the mid-1950s and would remain with him until his death in 1998.  She became an avid golfer and even received her pilot’s license following her film career.  For the past decade, she made her home in an assisted living facility in Palm Desert, Calif., and was mentioned by many on various forums online to be in good mind and spirits even well into her 100s.

Never glamorizing her career or having much of an interest in the past, Kent rarely gave interviews or even acknowledged her time in motion pictures.  In the end, I guess it is ironic, yet fitting that one of the last remaining stars of that era remained, for lack of a better word, mostly silent of her time in the industry.








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