Wednesday 13 November 2013

Author and Screenwriter Michael Druxman takes on ‘The It Girl’

For a period during the late silent era, Clara Bow, was firming seated at the dizzying heights of Hollywood’s Dream Factory. Her face drove the press pack and studio’s publicity machines and her films ensured Paramount’s financial stability for most of her short career. But her entire life from childhood to adulthood was filled with shocking scandal and tragedy alongside the fame and fortune of film stardom.  Her youth was plagued by poverty, a psychotic and violent mother and an abusive parasitic father. Her one solace was the movies and a desperate desire to be a part of that perfect community. Wining a magazine contest began Bow’s journey to becoming the ‘It Girl’ of the silver screen and with it several relationships with Hollywood elite, including Gary Cooper and Victor Fleming. However, her time in the sun was short lived with mental and physical breakdowns, scandals and conflicts with studio heads prompting her early retirement from acting aged only 28.  Her personal and private life was more volatile and complicated than any film plot; screenwriter, author and playwright, Michael Druxman, attempts this difficult task of analysing Clara Bow for his one-woman play, Clara Bow. 

Emma: Clara Bow was a complicated woman, what elements of her life and personality did you focus on for the play?

Michael: Clara’s life, in many ways, mirrors the life and career of Marilyn Monroe.  Both women were the reigning movie sex symbols of their day.  Both had mentally ill mothers.  The studios and the men in their lives “used” both women, and both were perfect fodder for the scandal newspapers and magazines. 

In a play, as opposed to a full biography, one has to pick and choose what you are going to focus upon.  In Clara Bow, I deal with the major elements of Clara’s life and I also try to bring her to some sort of resolution, so that she is, finally, “at peace” with who she is and what she has accomplished.

The play, much of it told via flashback, is set on the morning of the funeral of her estranged husband, former cowboy star and Nevada’s then-Lieutenant Governor, Rex Bell.

Clara Bow may, indeed, be a sad, tragic tale, but the story is also told with humor, because Clara was an out-going, warm and likable person.   Her problem was that she trusted the wrong people.

Emma: She was known as much for her private life as her professional achievements, did these relationships and scandals also become a part of your representation of Miss Bow?

Michael: They absolutely became a part of the play.   Aside from the mentally disturbed mother who once tried to kill her, Clara Bow deals with the actresses’ relationships with actors Gary Cooper and Gilbert Roland, song-and-dance man Harry Richman, film director Victor Fleming and others.

In researching the play, I interviewed Roland, Charles “Buddy” Rogers (her Wings co-star), and I even flew from Los Angeles to Las Vegas where her son allowed me to go through her trunk, which contained some intriguing personal letters.

Clara Bow and Gary Cooper, 1927

Emma: Tell me the basic information about where the play can be read and purchased?

Michael: The paperback version of the play can be purchased on Amazon, through Barnes & Noble or can be ordered though any bookseller.  The play is also available on Kindle, and has now been adapted to audio with Nancy McLemore, a terrific actress from Birmingham, AL, performing the role of Clara.  This version, which is presented in the style of a radio drama, with music and sound effects, can be downloaded from Amazon, audible.com and iTunes.

Emma: You have also completed many other one-person plays focusing on acting greats – Carole Lombard, Al Jolson, Errol Flynn and others. What made you interested in these characters and classic Hollywood in general?

Michael: I have always been a fan of classic Hollywood.  In the early 1980’s, I became intrigued with the one-person play format and decided to give it a try.  Up to that point, Hal Holbrook had done Mark Twain, James Whitmore had done Harry Truman and Will Rogers, Henry Fonda did Clarence Darrow and Julie Harris had played Emily Dickinson…but nobody had really done a great movie star, so I chose Clark Gable.  A local theater staged it, with my friend, actor Michael Ansara, directing.  The play was a huge success, so I started writing more one-person plays.  I now have 9 such plays, several of which have been produced in various venues around the United States.  These works, as well as a 2-person play (Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy), are available individually in paperback and Kindle or in a single volume, entitled The Hollywood Legends.  Orson Welles, performed by Ed French, is also available as an audio download.

Emma: Before you began writing stage plays, your writing career began composing scripts for Hollywood films. How did you get a start in this industry and what were your highlights?

Michael: Actually, I wrote several of the plays before I started selling my screenplays.

I began in the industry as a self-employed publicist.  I opened my own office and, very shortly, began representing some very important people.  I did that for about 35 years.  In the early 1970s, I started writing my non-fiction books about Hollywood and the movies, then the plays and, finally, I made my first screenplay sale in, I believe, 1989.  After that, off-and-on, I wrote several pictures for producer Roger Corman, including Cheyenne Warrior w/Kelly Preston, Dillinger and Capone with Martin Sheen and F. Murray Abraham and The Doorway with Roy Scheider, which I also directed.

You can read about my Hollywood adventures in my two memoirs, My Forty-Five Years in Hollywood and How I Escaped Alive, and the recently published, Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Hollywood: More of My Wacky Adventures in Tinseltown.

Clara Bow and her father

Emma: You also moved into writing nonfiction works and biographies as well as novels, was this an easy transition? Is it a different process writing books then it is creating scripts and plays? 

Michael: As I said in my previous answer, the non-fiction writing came first.  It’s definitely easier to sell non-fiction because you already have somewhat of a pre-sold audience.  People either want to read a book or play about Clara Bow or Basil Rathbone or movie remakes or whatever… or they don’t.  With fiction, you are, essentially, starting from scratch.  You have to “wow” the potential reader  (or producer) with your story concept, so that they will buy (or read)  your book or screenplay.

Certainly, the major difference between writing plays and screenplays, as opposed to books, is “real estate”.  In a dramatic work, you only have a limited amount of pages in which you can tell your story, so you must boil it down to its essence.  With a book, within reason, you do not have that limitation.

Emma: You have had a long and exceptional career; do you have any plans for future projects?

Michael: I now reside in Austin, TX, but I always have future projects.  Currently, I am researching a couple of new plays for The Hollywood Legends collection, a one-woman play and also a 3-person drama. 

I’m also planning to update a biography I wrote over 30 years ago about singer Dinah Shore.  Due to a legal dispute between the publishers of the hardback and paperback editions back then, the book was never published…although I did received some very nice advances which I was able to retain.  Now BearManor Media has asked me to update the material (no specific deadline), so this biography will, eventually, be published.

Clara Bow in ‘Call Her Savage’ (1932)

Sunday 10 November 2013

A Little Bit Precode-er: Top 5 Exploitation Films

Sometimes disguised as documentaries or news reports, Precode exploitation cinema focused on education, knowledge and warning audiences against dangerous behaviours…or so the films promoted. They mostly aimed to make money and tempt audiences through a filmmaker’s favourite method – lots of sex, violence, nudity and drugs. Below is my top five accompanied by amazingly saucy and provocative poster art:

1) Ingagi (1930)

A ‘documentary’ film from the Nat Spitzer's Congo Pictures company. It was promoted as a factual journey of Sir Hubert Winstead in Africa and his encounter with a gorilla-worshiping tribe of women. The film was denounced by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association for the fabricated scenes and subject when it was announced that the picture was mostly filmed in Los Angeles. The nudity and insinuation of sex between women and gorillas made Ingagi a notorious exploitation movie.

2) Elysia, Valley of the Nude (1934)
A look into the lifestyle of people in a nudist camp. The 45 minute ‘documentary’ was film in the largest nudist camp in California, located 10 miles from Lake Elsinore. This Bryan Foy Productions film is seen through the eyes of a newspaper reporter sent to investigate the people living within the Elysia nudist camp.    


3) Road to Ruin (1934) 
This exploitation film, directed by Dorothy Davenport (aka Mrs Wallace Reid), shows the journey of a young girl whose life is destroyed by drugs and sex. The movie concludes with main character, Ann (Helen Foster), pregnant suffering drug and alcohol addiction and forced to get an abortion. This movie is part of the precautionary sub-genre of Pre-code exploitation but was considered tamed compared to the original 1928 silent version.


4) Narcotic (1933)
Another precautionary tale, Narcotic, shows the impact of drug use on promising medical student, Dr. William G. Davies. The story continues with his downward turn into opium dens and the deterioration of his medical practise. The doctor slowly reverts to more powerful drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, causing hallucinations and an eventual mental breakdown. This hour length feature stars Harry Cording, Joan Dix and Patricia Farley.    


5) Maniac or Sex Maniac (1934)    
A loose adaption of Edgar Allen Poe’s story “The Black Cat” and with references to "Murders in the Rue Morgue". It follows lab assistant Don Maxwell who is dutifully assisting mad scientist, Dr. Meirschultz, with his work of reanimating corpses. After being asked by Meirschultz to commit suicide for another radical experiment, Maxwell murders the doctor and covers up the crime by impersonating his employer. The character of the doctor begins to overpower Maxwell as he begins a downturn into insanity.