Jane Hall on the cover of Cosmopolitan, October 1939. Image: terapeak.com
We can tell you’re dying to know about our recent classic Hollywood discovery.
You’re going to be excited!
We’ve gone all fangirl for Jane Hall, a young woman who thumbed her nose at tradition and became a scriptwriter at MGM Studios in the late 1930s. Not only did she write screenplays, she also wrote witty behind-the-scenes-in-Hollywood articles for Good Housekeeping.
Just look at these highlights from her resume, all of which were accomplished before she turned 30.
Published one of her earliest pieces in the Los Angeles Times. Age: 10.
Sold stories to popular magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post and Cosmopolitan. (Note: Cosmopolitan of the 1930s isn’t the same literary gem we see today.)
Signed a contract with MGM in 1937 as a scenario writer. Age: 22.
As a child, Hall lived in Arizona, then California. However, when she and her brother were orphaned as teenagers, they were sent to New York to live with well-heeled relatives. Here she enjoyed a privileged life as a debutante.
Yet, she was a hard worker and a keen observer. Take a peek at some of her impressions of Hollywood:
Hollywood has no cocktail hour… Lights burn late on the Lots out here, and executives Die Young. And that is why – in Hollywood – it’s Noon that counts. Noon is when you find yourself Married or Fired or rewriting Shakespeare. Noon is when the legal office Exercises – and all the up-and-coming Agents stalk all the Other Agents’ clients – and producer’s wives preview each other’s $40 hats. (Such Mad Fun, p. 182)
Hall is best known for writing the screenplay for These Glamour Girls (1939), based on her Cosmopolitan short story. It’s an amusing, stylish film starring Lana Turner in one of her first Big Roles.
Cutler gives us a well-researched and insightful view of 1930s Hollywood and the business of writing movies. As history, you can’t help but notice how objective the author is: Jane Hall was Robin Cutler’s mother.
“In the 1950s, my mother was often a mystery to me,” writes Cutler. “[I]f her bedroom was off limits, I would head straight for her mirrored dressing table just to look at, not to touch, the artist’s tools that she needed to transform herself into a glamour girl before she could be seen in public.”
Cutler presents Hall as a witty, independent woman who is a fascinating study. Much of the research for this book comes from Hall’s own diary and personal papers.
The book also examines the world of Well-To-Do Urbanites during the Depression, something we found surprisingly helpful.
The Irving Thalberg Building, MGM Studios, where Hall worked. Image: thestudiotour.com
Shortly after we finished reading this book, we watched a 1930s screwball comedy. “This is Jane Hall’s world,” we thought. With Hall’s adventures in mind, we found ourselves experiencing the film in a different way.
In fact, it was almost as if we were watching a screwball comedy for the first time.
We realized Such Mad Fun filled a gaping hole in our knowledge of 1930s America. You see, we (as in, yours truly) have read very little about rich New Yorkers during the Depression. Cutler explains the culture of the rich and, in doing so, gives us a greater understanding of them as portrayed in the films of the 1930s.
We’re not joking when we say we regard this book as an anthropological guide.
We highly recommend Such Mad Fun for its engrossing look at an extraordinary woman of the 1930s, one who is still considered remarkable nearly 100 years later.
We encourage you to grab a copy when it’s released on September 8th.
You can order a copy of Such Mad Fun: Ambition and Glamour in Hollywood’s Golden Age by Robin R. Cutler (in any format) HERE.