WATCH FOR “NANCY GOES TO RIO” ON TCM . The film is a remake of ”It’s A Date” which Jane worked on in 1939. She kept her story and screen credit.
Here’s a bit of background for the posts and images in the Salome to Hollywood Blog and Gallery. (Posts began on 11/16/2011.) Who was Jane Hall and why is her journey of interest today?
“I was a candle on the President’s birthday cake!” On January 30, 1934, Jane Hall was exuberant as she whirled around the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria at a pageant in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fifty-second birthday. For nineteen-year-old Jane, this ball and other glamorous evenings like it were not just fun, they were research. Jane’s roots in Arizona and California had not prepared her for this world of eastern glitter. Just four years earlier she had been an orphan who knew what it meant to be heartbroken and hard up. But once she arrived in the nation’s cultural capital to live with her aunt and uncle, her life was transformed.
Like an undercover agent, she brought keen eyes and ears from the wide-open West into what appeared to be (but of course was not) a dream world. In his definitive history of Depression – era culture, Morris Dickstein refers to the “split personality” of the 1930s as Americans confronted disaster and sought to “create art and entertainment to distract people from their trouble. . .”* Jane Hall did just that in her stories, essays and screenplays as she came to terms with the tragedies in her life.
Named a “literary prodigy” by at least two papers by the time she was fifteen, Jane’s work frequently appeared in print between 1925 and 1942. Her sharp wit and superb ear for authentic dialogue soon caught the notice of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In October 1937 Metro offered her a contract as a scenarist, and over the next five years she worked on several films. In August 1939, “These Glamour Girls,” which had already been published as a novel in Cosmopolitan, opened in New York City. It was “the best social comedy of the year” according to the New York Times. And the film gave Lana Turner her first starring role. That same month, Jane’s feature-length article about her visit to the set of “The Wizard of Oz,” received high praise from the editor of Good Housekeeping. It seemed she was on her way.
Jane’s journey from a desert hamlet in Arizona to Manhattan’s Café Society and then to Hollywood is a story of resilience that is often exhilarating and always captivating. Her father, Dick Wick Hall, Arizona’s best-loved humorist in the mid 1920s, was the dominant influence on her until an unexpected illness cut his life short in April 1926. By then, “Little Jane” had already decided she would be a writer; her work first appeared in the Los Angeles Times when she was ten.
As she reached twenty, literary magazines such as Good Housekeeping, The Saturday Evening Post, and especially Cosmopolitan began buying her stories on a regular basis. In the middle of the Depression, Jane wrote fiction with a twist of satire about the romantic predicaments of her socialite contemporaries. As editors soon learned, she was as much fun as the characters in her stories. But she had agonizing choices to make and kept a unique record of her professional and emotional journey. Drawing on her diaries, sketches, photographs, telegrams, and hundreds of letters, we will travel across America with this articulate young woman, who was also my mother, as her small-town values were tested, and she made decisions that would affect her for the rest of her life.
A critical turning point for Jane came between 1938 and 1940 when her life “belonged only to Louis B. Mayer.” She worked long hours, often six days a week, in the Thalberg Building at Metro – for much of the time in an office next to F Scott Fitzgerald’s – (see Gallery). But she still managed to dance with the stars at night. Her voice from Culver City is candid, refreshing and, at times, disturbing as she describes her response to Hollywood and the creative process at MGM during its Golden Age. (She also did some contract work for Universal Pictures and RKO. )
In posts (that began on November 16, 2011), you can follow this self-conscious, sturdy tomboy as she matured into a sophisticated, glamorous young woman and in October 1939* became one of Cosmopolitan’s iconic cover girls. In this image, her complexion is flawless, her features perfect, but the expression in Jane’s green eyes is wistful. Always unsure of her looks as a young girl, by 1939 her sense of who she should be had been redefined by Hollywood and by cover artist Bradshaw Crandell. The image is symbolic; the world of glamour was seductive but it came at a cost. Her aunt and uncle — her guardians–had been hard-hit by the Depression and felt enormous relief when, in September 1940, Jane became engaged to Robert Frye Cutler, a handsome businessman and theatrical producer, who could provide some assurance of financial security. Unforeseen complications that followed her marriage kept Jane from being the writer she had hoped to be. But she left a priceless record of the years between 1925 and 1942, when she helped create and assess the vibrant culture of a tumultuous era.
These posts are just an introduction to Jane’s story. A forthcoming book will tell the full story – much of it in Jane’s own voice. For photos check out the Salome to Hollywood gallery and the individual posts.
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