‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 13

"Laura," The Play

Vera Caspary’s second attempt to turn “Laura” into a play, in  collaboration with George Sklar.

 


 

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 examined the early writing career of “Laura” novelist Vera Caspary,  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, and a brief detour to “Easy Living,” in which we found that in adapting Caspary’s original story for the screen, Preston Sturges discarded everything but the title and the principal plot device: a fur coat.

At long last, we will return to the point in Part VI, in which Caspary said she had tried to write a “mystery play.”

In her autobiography, “The Secrets of Grown-Ups,” Caspary wrote: “In a suitcase lay the scruffy typescript of the play I’d written as an escape from political argument.”

The Making of “Laura” Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | | Part 12

Before “Laura” was a film, it was a novel. And before “Laura” was a novel, it was a play – and not a very good one, like the others Caspary had written up to that point.

Some online sources identify the play that would become the bestselling novel as “Ring Twice for Laura,” but the statements are made without attribution and it’s impossible to independently confirm the title.

Caspary does not mention the play’s title in her autobiography, nor is there any apparent trace of it in her archives at the University of Wisconsin. There is a 1942 synopsis of the story and clippings that are apparently about the novel and the film. But nothing about this original version of the play.

As an author, Caspary had many gifts, but writing plays was apparently not one of them. She worked diligently at the craft. In her autobiography, she writes of outlining more than 100 plays to study their structure. And at the same time she was writing mediocre stories for the studios in the 1930s, Caspary also worked diligently at writing plays, but without much success.

A bit of research reveals the following plays and their copyright dates.

“One Year to Pay,” a three-act play with Samuel Ornitz, Aug. 22, 1933.  (Unproduced).
“Case History” (1934) A three-act play with prologue, Jan. 20, 1934.    (Unproduced).
“Geraniums in My Window,” a three-act comedy, with Samuel Ornitz, April 16, 1934.

Research shows that “Geraniums” received 27 performances, Oct. 26, 1934 – Nov. 17, 1934, according to Playbillvault.com.  A copy of the play is apparently in the Caspary archives, but it seems to be forgotten and justly so.

Writing in the Oct. 27, 1934, New York Times, critic Brooks Atkinson described “Geraniums” as “a misshapen piece of Broadway clap-trap.”

He added of Caspary and Ornitz: “Although their dialogue is studiedly monstrous and their notion of plot is as fraudulent as a pulp-magazine serial, they seem to have an understanding of plain people that no dull-witted storytelling can quite disguise.”

“If the authors have this much insight into characters they ought to be able to write a buoyant folk tale. But Mr. Ornitz and Miss Caspary have hidden their light under a bushel of false class notions and under a heap of hack writer’s trash.”

His review was kind compared to that of Arthur Pollock in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 27, 1934:

image

 

To be continued.

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1934, 1944, Books and Authors, Film, Hollywood and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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