Screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas (1900 – ) started out as the New York story editor for Universal in 1920. She was a bright, confident young woman, anxious to learn this new business of moving pictures. Her true ambition was to be a screenwriter. After four grueling years of reading manuscripts and attending the theater, the scrappy and talented young woman moved to Hollywood to break into the movies.
In her captivating but brutally honest memoir—she trashes numerous Hollywood legends— The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, Sagor Maas describes her very first visit to a motion picture set:
Hours of preparation preceded the actual shooting. I found it extremely boring. In the years to come, I rarely visited a set unless something was being shot or I was a participating writer creating stories and scenes on the set as the action progressed. This first day, I watched them shoot a picture starring Norman Kerry. Kerry, a romantic lead in the film, was a dapper fellow, proud of his carefully waxed mustache, good crop of hair (he was always combing it), and good physique. The business in the scene involved lighting a cigarette while salaciously eyeing a young woman. Unfortunately, at this moment, he could not hold the cigarette between his fingers and light it without dropping it to the floor. He tried again and again. Finally, after innumerable takes, the exasperated director called him over.
“Norman,” he bellowed before the whole crew, “for chrissakes, go home and sleep it off, will you? We’ll try it again tomorrow if you can manage to come in sober.”
“I’m perfectly sober now,” Norman Kerry retaliated, trying hard to stand up straight. “One more li’l drink and I’ll be f-f-fine.”
Norman Kerry and Lillian Gish, Annie Laurie, 1927.
Norman Kerry, real name Arnold Kaiser, (1894-1956) was a popular matinee idol who starred opposite Patsy Ruth Miller in the Lon Chaney Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). He appeared with Mary Philbin in another Lon Chaney classic, Phantom of the Opera (1925). In 1927, Kerry co-starred with Lillian Gish in the lovely Annie Laurie. But his career faltered badly with the advent of sound. Alcoholism exacerbated his decline and Kerry ended up joining the French Foreign Legion.
Frederica Sagor Maas along with screenwriting husband and partner Ernest Maas, quit Hollywood in 1950. They were fed up with the broken promises, the stolen credits, the merciless back room politics.
Now 109 years old, Frederica Sagor Maas is one of the very few motion picture pioneers still with us.