- Frank Fenton (writer)
name = Frank E. Fenton
birthname = Frank Edgington Fenton
February 13 1903
location = flagicon|England
deathdate = death date and age|1971|8|23|1903|3|12|mf=y
deathplace = Flagicon|USA
Los Angeles, California
spouse = June Martel (1941-1943)
Mary Jane Hodge (1945-1957)
Frank Edgington Fenton (
February 13, 1903- August 23, 1971) was a British-born but American-bred writer of screenplays, short stories, magazine articles, and novels.
Early Life and Career
Frank Fenton was born in
Liverpool, England, in 1903. He came to the United States at the age of three and settled in Ohio. He graduated from Ohio State Universitywith a degree in journalism and worked at various jobs during the Great Depression. He sold shoes, drove a gravel truck, and caddied at a local golf course. While working his way up to assistant caddy master, he developed a single-digit handicap and a life-long love affair with the game.
After writing for small newspapers, he relocated to California, where the entertainment industry beckoned:
“(I) labored for two trade magazines before the idea of writing movies occurred to me. The lure of easy riches seized me. I got a hold of a discarded scenario and read it. Thereupon I wrote one myself, two hundred pages in two arduous weeks. In the bitter end I sold it for two hundred and fifty dollars… ["A Place in the Sun", Author Autobiography (Dust Jacket Flap)]
That scenario, “Behind Jury Doors,” was sold to producer Fanchon Royer in the fall of 1932. ["Los Angeles Times", November 7, 1932, Pg. A7] And although Fenton did not receive a screen credit when it was released on December 1, 1932, his new career was underway. His first two credited writing assignments were also for Mayfair, although "Revenge at Monte Carlo" and "Dos Noches" were merely English and Spanish language versions of the same script. Both films were released in 1933, on February 1 and July 15.
In the fall of 1934, Fenton co-wrote an original story, “Dinky,” with
John Fante, which they soon sold to Warner Bros. Studios on the strength of the latter’s exaggerated resume. ["Full of Life", Cooper, Pgs. 140-41] Within five years, Fenton’s partner would write the classic novel, "Ask the Dust", but at the time he was just another fledgling screenwriter and novelist. In 1935, Fenton began working with another friend with writing ambitions. Lynn Root, an acting protégé of Antoinette Perry, ["Variety", August 26, 1997] had four Broadway roles under his belt, and the two chose to collaborate on a play of their own.
“Stork Mad” premiered at Broadway’s Ambassador Theater on September 30, 1936. ["New York Times", September 27, 1936, Pg. X1] The show, which starred the comically taciturn
Percy Kilbride, met with tepid reviews ["New York Times", October 1, 1936, Pg. 28] and closed after five performances. The two wrote one other play, “It’s a Cinch,” ["New York Times", April 19, 1937, Pg. 26] which remained un-produced. ["New York Times", May 4, 1937, Pg. 28] But the ever-resilient pair reworked “Stork Mad” and shopped it to Twentieth Century-Fox, who bought it as a vehicle for child-star Jane Withers. ["New York Times", November 28, 1936, Pg. 13]
Following their initial success on juvenile scripts for Withers and others, the two expanded into screwball comedy ("Woman Chases Man", "Keep Smiling"), intrigue ("International Settlement" and "While New York Sleeps") and happy hokum ("Down on the Farm"). They also provided two scripts for both the Saint ("The Saint in London" and "The Saint Takes Over") and Falcon ("The Gay Falcon" and "A Date with the Falcon") series pictures. Both series starred
From 1937 to 1946, Fenton and Root partnered on twenty-one film projects for Twentieth Century-Fox, Goldwyn, RKO and MGM.
In 1938, Fenton branched out into magazine writing, penning a total of nine short stories for "Collier's" in just over a two-year period (see "Short Stories" in "Selected Bibliography" below). He also wrote what many consider to be a classic (and satirically biting) look at the way "original stories" and screenplays were produced in Hollywood in an article for "The American Mercury". [“Hollywood Literary Life” "American Mercury" 45:280-86, November 1938] During these years, Fenton could be found in one of three primary places: behind his typewriter, out on the town with his writer friends (often in the back room of Musso & Frank's restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard ["The Dream Endures", Starr, Pgs. 298-300] ), or on a golf course.
Fun and Games
By the early 1930s, golf had become a sport of choice in Hollywood. Popularized by
Bing Crosby, Bob Hopeand other entertainers, charity tournaments were held often, giving the public a chance to see their idols up close and personal out on the links. Shortly after Fenton established himself in Tinseltown, he established himself on the local links as well. Beginning with the Fox Studio Links Championship in 1937, ["Los Angeles Times", April 19, 1937, Pg. A14] his name appeared as often on the Sports pages as it did in the Entertainment section, and was seldom missing from the leader boards of club, studio, regional and state contests.
This was especially true from the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s, when he played in the Southern California Amateur Championship, ["Los Angeles Times", June 18, 1943, Pg. 25] ["Los Angeles Times", June 11, 1944, Pg. A6 ] the Southland PGA Pro-Amateur ["Los Angeles Times", June 22, 1943, Pg. A10] and the Southern California Open Championship. ["Los Angeles Times", October 28, 1945, Pg. A6] He even co-founded a "Forgotten Man" tournament with Academy Award-winning director
Frank Borzagein 1945. ["Los Angeles Times", December 19, 1945, Pg. A9] As late as 1948, he was still playing to a 5 handicap. ["Los Angeles Times", May 24, 1948, Pg. A10]
In 1937, Fenton also began to establish himself with actress
June Martel. The couple were soon appearing all over town, and in Read Kendall's "Around and About Hollywood" column, where inquiring minds were clued in on the couple’s developing relationship, one tidbit at a time. ["Los Angeles Times", May 20, 1937, Pg. 10] ["Los Angeles Times", May 5, 1938, Pg. A19] ["Los Angeles Times", December 7, 1938, Pg. A18] The couple finally wed on February 27, 1941, exchanging vows at the Robertson Community Church with the only two guests in attendance -- Lynn Root and his wife Helen -- also serving as best man and matron of honor. ["Los Angeles Times", March 1, 1941, Pg. 3]
On July 29, 1942, Fenton’s debut novel, “A Place in the Sun,” was published by
Random Houseto positive reaction on both coasts. This from "The New York Times":
“Fenton’s [book] is notable for its sensitive portrayal of a young man who lived with the inferiority of a physical handicap. [He] does a masterly job of balancing the forces which molded the character of Rob Andrews… [and] he succeeds in giving the story the glow of human fulfillment. ["New York Times", August 2, 1942, Pg. BR13] ”
Out west, the "Los Angeles Times" critic had this to say:
“Rob Andrews is a cripple, but he is also an everyman struggling to find his role in living. But the symbol never obscures the story. This does not follow a pat pattern. It is a strange and powerful tale, with deep tragedy, groping for meaning, and many scenes of lyrical beauty. There’s humor in it too…Mr. Fenton’s narrative is as absorbing as it is meaningful. ["Los Angeles Times", August 16, 1942, Pg. C6] ”
Over the next few years, others continued to champion the novel. San Francisco book critic Joseph Henry Jackson included a chapter from the novel in "Continent’s End", his 1944 anthology of California writing. In 1946,
Carey McWilliams, one of the most prolific, talented and influential of all western writers of non-fiction, placed Fenton’s novel in high company in his remarkable (and still in print) "Southern California Country: An Island on the Land":
"No region in the United States has been more extensively and intensively reported, of recent years, than Southern California...And yet, offhand, I can think of only four novels that suggest what Southern California is really like: "The Day of the Locust" by
Nathanael West, "Ask the Dust" by John Fante, "A Place in the Sun" by Frank Fenton, and "The Boosters" by Mark Lee Luther. ["Southern California Country", McWilliams, Pg. 364] "
Fenton’s second novel, titled "What Way My Journey Lies", arrived in late April, 1946 to similar acclaim. It's the story of a war-weary WWII veteran returning home to a life filled with changing worldviews and difficult choices. Again, "The Los Angeles Times":
“Fenton has a deft facility in that most difficult of all the novel’s techniques—the overlaying, underlying and intertwining of the many moods that go to make up life…The dialogue is marvelous, more right than Parker or Hemingway and more human. ["Los Angeles Times", April 28, 1946, Pg. C1] ”
More recently, historian
Kevin Starrused Fenton’s “tightly written, highly philosophical second novel ["Embattled Dreams", Starr, Pgs. 194-95] ” as a good example of the challenges faced by returning WWII veterans in "Embattled Dreams", the sixth volume in his "Americans and the California Dream" series.
But despite the positive reaction to his work, Fenton didn’t write another novel, returning instead to the frustrating but lucrative world of screenwriting. The remainder of his print work may be summed up as follows: one short story in each of two early ‘50s science fiction anthologies, ["New Stories of Space and Time", Edited by Raymond J. Healy (1951)] ["9 Stories of Space and Time", Edited by Raymond J. Healy (1954)] two magazine articles [“Hollywood’s Message,” Nation 179:424, November 13, 1954] [“Why is it All So Lousy?” Esquire 59:46, 48, 50 February 1963] and an introduction to a quiz book. ["I Knew It All the Time", Edited by Raymond J. Healy (Holt, 1953)]
From Film to Television
By 1950, Fenton was divorced from June Martel, had two children (a boy, Mark, and a daughter, Joyce) with his second wife, actress Mary Jane Hodge (whom he'd married on February 10, 1945 in Las Vegas, Nevada) ["Los Angeles Times", May 6, 1957, Pg. 4] and was living in a two-story rural English home in the
Cheviot Hillssection of Los Angeles, ["Los Angeles Times", June 4, 1950, Pg. F3] just down the street from his home golf links, The California Country Club.
On the studio front, he'd graduated to "A" pictures by the mid 1940s, and was now writing bigger scripts with longer development periods for the likes of
Jimmy Stewart& Spencer Tracy("Malaya"), Robert Mitchum("His Kind of Woman"), Stewart Granger("The Wild North"), Robert Taylor ("Ride, Vaquero!"), William Holden("Escape From Fort Bravo"), Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe& Rory Calhoun("River of No Return"), Gary Cooper& Richard Widmark("Garden of Evil"), Tyrone Power& Susan Hayward("Untamed"), James Cagney& Barbara Stanwyck("These Wilder Years") and John Wayne("The Wings of Eagles"). His final produced screenplay was for the 1959 release, "The Jayhawkers", starring Jeff Chandlerand Fess Parker.
By the end of the decade, however, things had become less steady. Mary Jane Fenton filed for divorce in 1957, ["Los Angeles Times", May 6, 1957, Pg. 4] and the near-constant shake-ups and re-organizations in the studio world had led to several announced writing projects being put on the back burner or simply being cancelled. Fortunately for Fenton, the early 1960s brought him steady work in the voracious television market, where he successfully adapted some of his unproduced screenplays for the small screen programs "Kraft Mystery Theater" and "Kraft Suspense Theater". Another project originally developed by MGM for the big screen, "The Dangerous Days of Kiowa Jones", was instead released in 1966 through their television arm.
After completing several assignments for episodic series dramas (including six for "The Virginian"), Fenton's final script -- the well-regarded "Something for a Lonely Man" -- came in collaboration with an old friend: John Fante. The two had last worked together in 1940 (along with Lynn Root on MGM's "The Golden Fleecing"), but it was clear that much time had passed, and neither was in good health. Fante would eventually lose both his legs and his eyesight to diabetes, and Fenton's fondness for nightlife and the 19th hole (bourbon, rum and gin rocks ["Los Angeles Times", August 19, 1945, Pg. A6] ) had taken a toll as well. Neither man would receive another screen credit in their lifetimes. ["Full of Life", Cooper, Pgs. 333-34]
On Monday, August 23, 1971, Frank Edgington Fenton died, a week after suffering a stroke. ["Los Angeles Times", August 25, 1971, Pg. C3]
In the 1943 film "The Sky's the Limit" (co-written by Fenton & Root),
Robert Ryan's character is named Reg Fenton.
In John Fante's "Dreams of Bunker Hill", the final installment of The Saga of Arturo Bandini, the author partially based a character on Fenton, a screenwriter named "Frank Edgington". ["Full of Life", Cooper, Pg. 362]
He is often confused -- in print and online -- with film and stage actor
Frank FentonMoran (April 9, 1906 - July 24, 1957). Even his own obituary had an incorrect age based on the actor's birthdate of 1906. ["Los Angeles Times", August 25, 1971, Pg. C3]
By Frank Fenton
*"A Place in the Sun" (New York: Random House, 1942).
*"What Way My Journey Lies" (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1946).
*"Continent’s End: A Collection of California Writing" edited by Joseph Henry Jackson (New York: Whittlesey House, 1944) Contains: “Breathe In—Breathe Out” (Chapter 11 of "A Place in the Sun")
*"New Stories of Time and Space" edited by Raymond J. Healy (New York: Holt, 1951) Contains: “Tolliver’s Travels” An original short story by Fenton and fellow screenwriter Joseph Petracca.
*"9 Stories of Time and Space" edited by Raymond J. Healy (New York: Holt, 1954) Contains: “The Chicken and the Egg-head,” an original short story
*"I Knew It All the Time" by Raymond J. Healy and John V. Cooper, (New York: Holt, 1953) A hardcover quiz book (74 quizzes/1600 Questions). Fenton wrote the book’s introduction.
*“Jitterbug” "Collier’s" 102:14-15, December 3, 1938
*“Boy Meets Gorilla” "Collier’s" 102:16-18, December 31, 1938
*“Interrupted Honeymoon” "Collier’s" 104:20-21, September 23, 1939
*“Respectable Woman” "Collier’s" 104:12-13, October 21, 1939
*“Pie-Eyed Piper of Hollywood” "Collier’s" 105:21-22, April 13, 1940
*“Beautiful People” "Collier’s" 105:14, April 20, 1940
*“Flying Dutchman” "Collier’s" 106:9-10, October 20, 1940
*“High Cost of Love” "Collier’s" 106:14-15, November 2, 1940
*“Actor in the Family” "Collier’s" 107:16, January 18, 1941
*“Hollywood Literary Life” "American Mercury" 45:280-86 (November 1938)
*“Hollywood’s Message” "Nation" 179:424 (November 13, 1954)
*“Why is it All So Lousy?” "Esquire" 59:46, 48, 50 (February 1963)
*"Continent's End," Edited by Joseph Henry Jackson (New York: Whittlesey House, 1944)
*"Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante" by Dr. Stephen Cooper, Revised Edition, (Santa Monica: Angel City Press, 2000, 2005)
*"Southern California Country" by Carey McWilliams (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1946)
*"The Dream Endures" by Kevin Starr, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)
*"Embattled Dreams" by Kevin Starr, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
*"Dreams of Bunker Hill" by John Fante (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1982)
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