The fur coat — all that remains of Vera Caspary’s original story “Easy Living” — lands on Jean Arthur in Preston Sturges’ script.
In case you just tuned in, I’m using Louella Parsons’ May 15, 1944, item on Rouben Mamoulian being replaced as the director of “Laura” to take a meandering look at the making of the film, which was released in Los Angeles in November 1944. So far, we have looked at the early writing career of “Laura” novelist Vera Caspary and four murder mystery films made between 1932 and 1938 based on variations of a story titled “Suburb,” which Caspary sold to the studios eight times before Paramount told her to knock it off.
Further research reveals that Preston Sturges discarded virtually all of Caspary’s original story in writing the screenplay for the 1937 film “Easy Living.” The only plot element he retained was an expensive fur coat. In Caspary’s story, it is stolen by the leading lady; in Sturges’ script, the expensive fur coat is thrown from an apartment terrace and lands on working girl Mary Smith (Jean Arthur), who is passing in an open-air bus.
In “Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges,” Page 109, James Curtis writes:
The Caspary story was a tiresome little chestnut about a poor girl who impulsively steals a mink coat and, draped in its finery, sees her life altered completely. One deception piles atop another and, in the end, her lies cost her the man she loves and she is left with nothing. Unimpressed, Sturges still thought he’d better make the best of it and not reject the first property offered him. He told [Arthur] Hornblow he might have an angle for it and secured permission to alter it as he pleased. Promptly, he junked the story – salvaging only the plot device of the mink coat – and began work on an original comedy he would nonetheless call “Easy Living.”
Caspary does not name “Easy Living” or Preston Sturges in “The Secrets of Grown-Ups,” demonstrating rather clearly the problems that may be posed by an individual’s autobiography.
To be continued.