Rose Franken
Date of Birth
Dec 28, 1896
Birth Place:
Gainesville, TX

Biography

Rose Franken was, along with her contemporaries Edna Ferber and Fannie Hurst, one in a triumvirate of the most popular and influential Jewish women writers of the early 20th century. In contrast to Hurst and Ferber, however, Franken was also a highly successful playwright, in addition to authoring a series of hit novels. She was born Rose Lewin in Gainesville, TX, to Michael Lewin and the former Hannah Younker. At age 12, the family left Texas and moved to New York City where Rose attended the Ethical Culture School until she was 18. She intended to study at Barnard College at Columbia University, but instead, met and married Sigmund Walter Anthony Franken, an oral surgeon. She began writing initially as a means of entertaining Dr. Franken; her first novel, Pattern, came to the attention of legendary literary editor Maxwell Perkins, who arranged to have it published in 1925. The book was a failure, however, but her first play, Another Language, was brought to Broadway in 1932 as the first starring stage vehicle for actress Dorothy Stickney. The piece ran for 453 performances, a serious hit by the standards of the time (when 250 to 300 performances were considered a respectable run). The play -- a searing account of a family torn apart by the son's marriage -- earned excellent reviews. Another Language was her last play for nine years, but during the interim, the movie Another Language was produced with Helen Hayes in the starring role.

More directly important to the author's fortunes were the "Claudia" stories, which began running in magazines such as Redbook and Good Housekeeping. These turned Franken from a promising Broadway neophyte into a household name. In contrast to her first play depicting family destruction, the Claudia stories depicted a positive and optimistic view of married life. Women across the country adored her tales of domestic relations and marital bliss achieved out of chaos and tears. Franken later gathered the Claudia stories into eight novels, all of which were huge sellers in their own right, and they became the basis for a radio series (and, many years later, a television series as well). The stories also served as the basis for Franken's second play, Claudia, which ran on Broadway for 722 performances, making a star out of Dorothy McGuire. (Ironically, one of the other actresses who auditioned for the play was future serial queen Kay Aldridge, who was given serious consideration but was ultimately rejected because she was too well known as a glamour girl at the time.) The first two of the Claudia novels -- which encompassed stories about a couple and their children, servants, and relatives -- were later sold to Hollywood and became the basis for two hit movies, Claudia (1943) and Claudia and David (1946), starring McGuire as the child bride who is forced to grow up quickly during the war, and Robert Young as her husband who is constantly amazed and delighted by his wife's surprises. Franken was paid an extraordinarily large licensing fee of 187,500 dollars for the original play, and both movies were major hits: the first, a delightful domestic relief from the stresses of World War II, while the second, Claudia and David, depicted the early postwar flourishing of suburban America.

Franken went to Hollywood in the mid-'30s following the death of her first husband and wrote screenplays for 20th Century Fox (Elinor Norton) and Samuel Goldwyn (Beloved Enemy). She subsequently married William Brown Meloney, who was also a writer and occasionally collaborated with her. Franken later described herself as very much a writer who works in spurts, taking years between attempting plays, but capable of authoring an entire act in a single day. She had two more successful plays, Outrageous Fortune (1943) and Soldier's Wife (1944), with one failure, Doctors Disagree, between them. She attempted one more play, entitled The Hallams, in 1948, but it closed after only 12 performances. She continued mining the Claudia stories throughout the '50s and lived to age 92 -- long enough to see the two movies, as well as the original play, become beloved period artifacts. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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