Tarkington the Scenarist

IMDb lists seventy entries for Tarkington, most as “story” or “novel” credits. In the film world, of course, he is most notorious for having originated the stories of Orson Welles’ The Magnficent Ambersons, widely cited as one of the greatest of American films, and the Oscar-nominated Alice Adams. Not coincidentally, those two novels also won Pulitzers.

What IMDb doesn’t note is that Tarkington actually wrote a dozen stories specifically for Hollywood… and then never repeated the effort. Per biographer Woodress, “in 1919 he turned out a dozen short scenarios for an ‘Edgar Pomeroy’ series of boy adventures reminiscent of Penrod, and in the early Twenties he wrote sketches for three full-length features. ” One of those three, Boy of Mine, Tarkington actually liked a great deal, according to Woodress; but in general, Tarkington was less than enamored of Hollywood product, merely selling the movies rights “and letting Hollywood do what it wanted with its purchase.”

The movies, he felt, were an inferior but ephemeral sort of entertainment and would have no effect to either preserve or destroy the books they were based on. He had neither the energy nor the interest to give to feeble dramatizations which he knew in advance would ignore his meticulous details of character and setting. (Woodress, 237)

Nonetheless, the Edgar series did enjoy a measure of success and notoriety. For one, the shorts featured child star Lucille Ricksen who, by the age of fourteen, had already been used up and spit out by the Hollywood machine–promoted as an adult leading lady, literally dead from exhaustion. I recently ran across an interesting visual history of the actress, which includes a photo of the girl on the stoop of Tarkington’s Indianapolis home, hoping for a visit with the vacationing author.

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