Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rolled Stockings screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas dies at age 111

Silent era screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas, who penned a handful of Jazz Age comedies and dramas including the 1927 Louise Brooks film, Rolled Stockings, died on January 5th at age 111.

Frederica Sagor's name appears in this 1927
newspaper advertisement for Rolled Stockings.
It was a rare honor for a writer and
suggest the esteem with which she
was once held.
The former La Mesa, California resident and "supercentarian" was one of the last surviving personalities from the silent film era, and perhaps the very last individual associated with one of Brooks’ silent films. Maas was also considered the second (or third according to some reports) oldest person in California.

As a woman, Maas was often assigned work on flapper comedies and light dramas. Her first big success, The Plastic Age (1925), was a smash hit for Clara Bow, the “It girl.” Maas' screenwriting and story efforts – sometimes credited, sometimes not – include other Bow films like Dance Madness (1926), Hula (1927), and Red Hair (1928), two films featuring her friend Norma Shearer, His Secretary (1925) and The Waning Sex (1926), the Garbo movie Flesh and the Devil (1926), and the now lost Brooks film Rolled Stockings (1927).

Rolled Stockings is a romantic drama set among carousing college students. It was one of a number of similarly-themed films aimed toward the youth market. To add a bit of verisimilitude, Rolled Stockings was filmed largely on and around the campus at the University of California, Berkeley. Local papers of the time reported on the arrival and activities of the film crew and cast.

The Richard Rosson-directed film was made for Paramount, and features the Paramount "junior stars." Besides Brooks, its cast includes then up-and-comers Richard Arlen, James Hall, Nancy Phillips, and El Brendel. Rolled Stockings, adapted from an original story idea by Frederica Sagor, proved popular in the summer of 1927 – and not only in the United States. It also played across Latin America and Europe.

In its review, the New York Morning Telegraph wrote, “Freddy Sagor has written quite a nice little story . . . . ,” while Robert E. Sherwood, writing in Life magazine, called Rolled Stockings “ . . . a surprisingly nice comedy . . . the characters are of importance, and they are nicely represented by the adroit Louise Brooks.”

Even the critic for the Ann Arbor Times News, a college town newspaper, appreciatively stated “The three stars, Louise Brooks, James Hall and Richard Arlen are so thoroughly likeable and the story so different from the usual line of college bunk, that Rolled Stockings proves to be a delightful bit of cinema entertainment.”


In 1999, at the urging of film historian Kevin Brownlow, Maas published her autobiography, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood (University Press of Kentucky). Maas was 99 at the time. In the book, which features an introduction by Brownlow, she recalled her life both in and out of Hollywood - as well as her remembrances of Rolled Stockings and impressions of Brooks.

A youthful and lovely Frederica Sagor
adorns the cover of  her 1999 memoir.
I first met Frederica Sagor Maas in May of 1999 at a lunch held in her honor at Musso & Frank's restaurant in Hollywood. At the time, I was attending the national booksellers convention in Los Angeles while scouting film books for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. At her publisher's booth I spotted an advance copy of her book, and queried about the author. Learning of her connections to silent Hollywood, I managed to get myself invited to the lunch being held the following day. That night, I stayed up late reading her engaging memoir. And that's when I discovered she had penned the story to one of Brooks' films. (Subsequently, I read the manuscript of that story, which is held at the Margaret Herrick Library in Burbank.)

My meeting with Frederica at the annual booksellers convention led to a later July event at the San Francisco bookstore where I was then working. At the time, Maas was nearly blind and frail, and at this - her first ever bookstore author event - she agreed instead to be interviewed about her remarkable life. I sat with her and asked questions about the many remarkable personalities she had known - Brooks, Clara Bow, Norma Shearer, Erich von Stroheim and others.

During that memorable evening, Maas told many stories, including one about Joan Crawford, who was then known as Lucille LeSueur and was just starting out in the movies.

As an experienced Hollywood insider, Maas was assigned by her studio to greet the young actress at the train station. She did so, but found the young actress rather uncouth. LeSueur, seeing Maas as a person of experience and sophistication, nevertheless asked the well-dressed scriptwriter to help build her wardrobe and shape a more glamorous image. Maas agreed, but found the experience challenging. She thought Crawford a “tramp.” The assembled crowd howled with laughter.

The next day, Maas appeared at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, where she addressed a crowd of more than 1000, drew a thunderous round of applause, and signed copies of her book – which quickly sold out.

Over the years, I kept in sporadic contact with Maas' guardians. I remember when she turned 100. And then 110. And then 111. I still have my double autographed copy of her memoir (signed by Kevin Brownlow as well!) - as well as a rare autographed photoplay edition of The Plastic Age which Frederica signed especially for me. Both are treasured books, and memory evoking keepsakes.

Frederica Sagor Maas with LBS Director Thomas Gladysz (standing)
Christy Pascoe at the Castro Theater in San Francisco in 1999.

Following her death, a number of obituaries and articles have appeared on-line including those in the Los Angeles Times and Hollywood Reporter and on Alt Film Guide and Patch.com and examiner.com

2 comments:

  1. What a fascinating story. It's nice to hear about women screenwriters, especially from the silent era! So glad she had a long life.

    ReplyDelete

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