Edna Ferber's Hollywood: American Fictions of Gender, Race, and History

Edna Ferber's Hollywood: American Fictions of Gender, Race, and History

Edna Ferber's Hollywood: American Fictions of Gender, Race, and History

Edna Ferber's Hollywood: American Fictions of Gender, Race, and History

Synopsis

Edna Ferber's Hollywood reveals one of the most influential artistic relationships of the twentieth century--the four-decade partnership between historical novelist Edna Ferber and the Hollywood studios. Ferber was one of America's most controversial popular historians, a writer whose uniquely feminist, multiracial view of the national past deliberately clashed with traditional narratives of white masculine power. Hollywood paid premium sums to adapt her novels, creating some of the most memorable films of the studio era--among them Show Boat, Cimarron, and Giant. Her historical fiction resonated with Hollywood's interest in prestigious historical filmmaking aimed principally, but not exclusively, at female audiences. In Edna Ferber's Hollywood, J. E. Smyth explores the research, writing, marketing, reception, and production histories of Hollywood's Ferber franchise. Smyth tracks Ferber's working relationships with Samuel Goldwyn, Leland Hayward, George Stevens, and James Dean; her landmark contract negotiations with Warner Bros.; and the controversies surrounding Giant's critique of Jim-Crow Texas. But Edna Ferber's Hollywood is also the study of the historical vision of an American outsider--a woman, a Jew, a novelist with few literary pretensions, an unashamed middlebrow who challenged the prescribed boundaries among gender, race, history, and fiction. In a masterful film and literary history, Smyth explores how Ferber's work helped shape Hollywood's attitude toward the American past.

Excerpt

Among the literary giants of early twentieth-century America whose works were adapted into Hollywood movies, few, if any, cut a larger figure than Edna Ferber. From her breakthrough success in 1924 with the best-selling Pulitzer Prize–winning novel So Big, which became a major motion picture that same year, to the pinnacle of her career with Giant three decades later, Ferber enjoyed a remarkable run of successful novels—and a few hit Broadway plays, including Dinner at Eight and Stage Door (co-written with George S. Kaufman), which in turn became hit movies. Ferber, in fact, was the top-selling woman writer of the twentieth century, and one clear measure of her impact on Hollywood was that just three of her best-selling novels—So Big, Show Boat, and Cimarron—generated eight movie adaptations from 1925 to 1960.

Although Ferber’s stature with the New York literati earned her a seat at the legendary Algonquin Round Table, literary critics and scholars have consistently undervalued or overlooked her work—due, no doubt, to its popular and commercial success, as well as to its obvious appeal to women. and perhaps not surprisingly, that critical neglect has extended into film studies. Despite the impact of her writing on the movie industry, and despite the scholarly interest in film adaptations of the work of such Ferber contemporaries as William Faulkner and John Steinbeck, film scholars, as J. E. Smyth points out, “have persistently ignored Edna Ferber.”

Until now, that is. With Edna Ferber’s Hollywood, Smyth eradicates decades of inexplicable indifference toward what she aptly terms the “historic partner-

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