We have another great blog from volunteer Belle Law as part of our series on discovering female screenwriters in our Rank script Archive.


Since my last blog post late last February that explored the hidden histories of female screenwriters and their collaborations with one another, we have discovered  an explosion of  female screenwriting talent in the Rank Script Archive, which holds a rich catalogue of scripts predominantly dated between the 1940s and 1960s. These scripts originally come from The Rank Organization, the British entertainment conglomerate, but were sourced from Pinewood Studios. In addition to finding more female screenwriters in the archive, I have also been exploring both American and British writers and their collaborations with one another; this was aided in a visit to the New York Public Library, where I was lucky enough to observe an exhibition containing screenplays from American screenwriting talent. In this blog, I would like to relate my newest findings on female screenwriters in the Rank Script Archive to some of my observations at the New York Public Library. This blog builds on my past findings, the work done by my fellow volunteers, Anna Rose Craig and Amelia Moran, as well as scholars such as Professor Melanie Williams.

Recently, a name I have been exploring is Janet Green, a British screenwriter and playwright who wrote a screenplay for an unproduced film entitled A Long Way from London, adapted from the 1954 novel A Long Way from Pimlico by Robert Standish. What interested me about Green is that she exemplified a pattern of how female screenwriters operated, not only did she write with her husband, John McCormick, but here she is seen adapting work, a common trend within the industry and particularly for women. Additionally, Lesley Storm, another female writer, wrote her own version of A Long Way from London, emphasising once more this passing over of works from one female screenwriter to another, a collaborative effort that I have explored previously between Moie Charles and Diana Morgan in my last blog.

Scripts of Janet Green and Lesley Storm's versions of 'A Long Way From London' (EXEBD 94584) and Ketti Fring's 'Look Before You Love'

Within the archive Green also wrote numerous scripts with her husband, one is titled A Matter of Conscience which eventually became the 1962 British drama Walk in the Shadow, directed by Basil Dearden. Another script is titled Life for Ruth, which is different version of Walk in the Shadow and the original title of Dearden’s film. Green became best known for her work on Sapphire (1959), a groundbreaking drama about racism, which was nominated for a BAFTA in 1960 in the category “Best British Screenplay”. (see Featured image of the top of the blog of sheet music produced for Sapphire EXEBD 52960).  She also co-wrote Victim (1961), the first British film to deal directly with homosexuality, which was also nominated for a BAFTA in 1962 in the same category, a nomination which she shared with McCormick, displaying the talent of Green both independently and within her screenwriting partnership.

Press book for Victim (EXEBD 19213)

Green is also known for The Clouded Yellow (1950), and a draft script of The Clouded Yellow dated February 1950 can be found within the archives.

Janet Green's script and Rank Publicity material for The Clouded Yellow (EXEBD 57991)

Liz Charles-Williams is another name that caught my eye when exploring the archives. Her work with her husband, David Osborn, on an undated treatment for a film titled The Mad Motorists, provided another example of a married screenwriting duo. Although the film was never produced, the treatment is adapted from Allen Andrew’s 1965 novel The Mad Motorists: The Great Peking-Paris Race of '07, which is based on the real life 1907 motor race from Peking (now Beijing) to Paris. Osborn was an American screenwriter and Charles-Williams was a British screenwriter, demonstrating collaboration both across the Atlantic and through their marriage. The duo are best known for writing together on Some Girls Do (1969), Open Season (1974) and Deadlier Than the Male (1967).

These husband-and-wife screenwriting duos exhibited by Janet Green and John McCormick as well as Liz Charles-Williams and David Osborn were fresh in my mind as I entered the New York Public Library, and through the exhibitions on display I quickly made the connection that this pattern of husband-and-wife partnerships continued in the Hollywood film industry. Behind the glass of one of the displays sat a typewriter belonging to S.J. Perelman, a prolific American comedy playwright, novelist, and screenwriter. In 1928, Perelman married Laura West, and together they wrote multiple screenplays and established themselves as one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriting duos, much like Janet Green and John McCormick in the British film industry. Laura and S.J. Perelman are best known for their collaboration on Ambush (1939), The Golden Fleecing (1940) and Paris Interlude (1934). However, Laura Perelman also wrote independently outside of her partnership with her husband, such as for the film Boy Trouble (1939). Additionally, the exhibition had a letter from S.J. Perelman to his wife about a potential screenwriting opportunity that would involve her collaboration, suggesting that Laura Perelman gained writing opportunities she wouldn’t otherwise have had if it wasn’t for their marriage. It was a privilege to be able to examine the nature of different husband-and-wife screenwriting teams from both Hollywood and Britain, whilst observing the similar positions of Janet Green, Liz Charles-Williams and Laura Perelman as female screenwriters in the 20th century film industry.

The New York Public Library also held a draft script titled To Be Young, Gifted and Black, a play centred around playwright Lorraine Hansberry, adapted from her works by her ex-husband and writing partner Robert Nemiroff. Although the pair divorced in 1962, Hansberry and Nemiroff once again demonstrate the pattern of writing partnerships between husbands and wives that is so notable internationally throughout the industry. Interestingly, the draft script had revisions and handwritten notes which many of our own scripts at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum contain. The page of draft script on display is a scene taken from Hansberry’s 1959 play Raisin in the Sun, which was a historical milestone as the first work by an African American woman to be exhibited on Broadway. Raisin in the Sun was so successful that it received an adaptation to the screen in 1961, with Hansberry as the sole writer credited on the film.

Not only did I find female American screenwriters at the New York Public Library through Laura Perelman and Lorraine Hansberry, but I also discovered some in the Rank Script Archive. Born Katherine Hartley, Ketti Frings, an American playwright and screenwriter, wrote a film alongside Reginald Long called Look Before You Love. In the archive I discovered undated scene revisions for Look Before You Love, which was produced in 1948 and directed by Harold Huth. Alongside the scene revisions, there was a press book that appears to have been produced after the film’s release as campaign material. The press book credits Ketti Frings as well as Phyllis Stanley for the original story that Look Before You Love was based on, emphasising this pattern of female collaboration. However, Stanley was never credited as a writer on the final production of the film. Ketti Frings is best known for writing Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), Hold Back the Dawn (1941) and The Accused (1949). Phyllis Stanley was a British actress with no screenwriting credits, although it is clear through her contribution to the original story of Look Before You Love she had some connection to writing. Stanley is best known for her roles in They Met in the Dark (1943), The Next of Kin (1942) and Thunder on the Hill (1951)

Beyond American screenwriters, I previously mentioned Lesley Storm and her work with Janet Green on A Long Way from London. Lesley Storm is the pen-name of Mabel Cowie, a Scottish screenwriter that has become popular throughout my research through her numerous screenplays and treatments under her Lesley Storm alias. A range of material including treatments, draft scripts, synopsis and notes for an unproduced film titled A Man From the Sea, a film based on a dream from British actor Kenneth More, credits Lesley Storm as a contributor to the script alongside Irish writer Patrick Campbell and British screenwriter Denis Cannan. Lesley Storm’s own treatments for the film are dated October 1955, but it appears Denis Cannan became the sole writer of the draft scripts. Lesley Storm also wrote with other female screenwriters, such as Martha Ostenso, another American writer who worked with Storm on an unproduced film titled The Doctor’s Story. The shooting script for The Doctor’s Story is dated 1946 and is based on Ostenso’s original narrative written for Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1945. Once again, like Ketti Frings and Phyllis Stanley, Storm and Ostenso’s work reflects American and British female screenwriting talent collaborating together. Finally, Storm wrote two screenplays dated 1952 and 1953 respectively for a film titled The Day’s Mischief, which was produced in 1953 under a different title, Personal Affair, becoming one of the works Storm was best known for alongside The Fallen Idol (1948) and Golden Salamander (1950). Ostenso was an Norwegian-born American author, screenwriter, and poet, best known for her 1925 novel Wild Geese that was adapted in 1927 for the screen under the same title.

As I am graduating in July, I will dearly miss the privilege of working in the Rank Script Archive at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, and my trip to the New York Public Library has only made me more passionate about my research. Being able to uncover these female screenwriters and their work has been a pleasure, and I know that future volunteers will be able to discover more writers and carry on my own findings. Clearly, there is a strong pattern of married screenwriting teams both in Hollywood and Britian in the early to mid-20th century, affording female screenwriters more opportunities to show off their talents and participate within the industry. As I start my Masters in Screenwriting this September, I am certain I will carry with me the many voices, histories, and stories of female screenwriters I have uncovered at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.  



Belle with the Script Collection

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