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)